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Reproductive Freedom and the Promise of Equal Opportunity

Louise Melling,
Deputy Legal Director and Director of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty,
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September 17, 2008

In her searing dissent in the most recent reproductive rights case to go before the U.S. Supreme Court — Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) — Justice Ginsburg wrote, “[A]t stake in cases challenging abortion restrictions is a woman’s ‘control over her [own] destiny.'”

While the decision of whether and when to have children is the immediate question undergirding the right to reproductive freedom, as Justice Ginsburg signals above, at the core of this right lies even broader concerns: the rights of equality and opportunity. Until the recent Carhart decision, the Court understood that constitutional protections for reproductive freedom were also constitutional protections aimed at ensuring women’s ability to participate fully in the “economic and social life of the Nation.” At the core of the right to reproductive freedom is opportunity: the opportunity to obtain a good education, to shape one’s economic circumstances, to participate in the democratic process, to find love, to build families, to decide what makes for a good life, and to have the opportunity to live that life.

The Roberts Court recklessly veered away from these important constitutional principles when it upheld for the first time in the history of the Supreme Court an abortion restriction that failed to include protections for women’s health. This could be a troubling sign of what’s ahead. This November, voters in South Dakota will face a ballot initiative to ban nearly all abortions in that state. If the ban becomes law, the ACLU will join Planned Parenthood Federation of America in bringing a legal challenge to stop this assault on abortion rights. The case could end up before the Supreme Court. The Court will then have the opportunity to reaffirm the right — or severely curtail it and with it women’s equality and opportunity.

We hope that the next president, if given the chance, will restore the Court’s commitment to freedom, equality, and opportunity for all. Our destiny as a nation is what is at stake in this election. Be a Constitution Voter.

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