“The speech that high school valedictorian Paxton Smith pulled from inside her graduation gown was not the one she had shown the school. So she took a deep breath before launching into it, wondering whether she would be allowed to share her thoughts about Texas’ new restrictive abortion law.”
She said in part:
“Recently, the Heartbeat Bill was passed in Texas. Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.
“Six weeks. That’s all women get. And so before they realize — most of them don’t realize that they’re pregnant by six weeks — so before they have a chance to decide if they are emotionally, physically and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy, before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world, that decision is made for them by a stranger.
“A decision that will affect the rest of their lives is made by a stranger.
“I have dreams and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. And we have spent our entire lives working towards our future. And without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us. [applause]
“I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter. I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you.”
The legal question that Paxton Smith’s speech raises is addressed by her very words. The new Texas law makes it very difficult for women to use abortion. The right to abortion is limited to the first six weeks after conception. Most women do not even know if they are pregnant in the first six weeks. If they do not act within that time frame, their lives are turned upside down. They have to carry the fetus to term, even if they do not want it and even if they cannot afford to have a child. It doesn’t matter if the conception is caused by rape or simply because the contraception they are taking to prevent pregnancy fails to work. In a country which prides itself on freedom of choice, this is a bizarre outcome.
What is the purpose of this law? Supposedly, it is to protect the life of a human being. In fact, however, the purpose of the law is to support the religious beliefs of a group within the society that opposes abortion. It doesn’t matter what the religious beliefs of the potential mother is; she must bear the burden of a child she doesn’t want. The most aggravating part of the law is that it places the financial and psychological burden of an unwanted pregnancy on the mother without any support by the society that imposes the law.
The First Amendment of the Constitution provides in part that 1. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.. .” and I. 2. “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].…” Although it is patently clear that anti-abortion laws impose requirements motivated by religion, the Supreme Court will not strike down the Texas law on that ground.
“Roe v. Wade set the stage for the present first amendment controversies by ruling that states can neither prohibit women from electing an abortion for pregnancies in the first trimester nor adopt regulations other than those related to maternal health for pregnancies between the first trimester and viability. The decision in Roe was based on a woman’s right of privacy which the Supreme Court found to be guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment’s concept of personal liberty. This right of privacy, being a fundamental right, requires a compelling state interest to justify any imposition of limitations. Because the Court found no such state interest during the first trimester, it struck down as unconstitutional a criminal statute which prohibited abortions except when the mother’s life was endangered.” Notice that the First Amendment is not involved in this analysis.
The Court’s creation of a “right of privacy” to deal with abortion places the entire protection of the right to abortion at risk. With the present Court that is 6-3 against abortion, there is a significant likelihood that this “right of privacy” will be reinterpreted or even eliminated, creating a huge victory for those who oppose abortion. The result would be that mothers must bear the cost of unwanted children, despite the fact that they have done nothing which merits such a fate.
Although there is nothing in the Constitution that requires it, governments should not be permitted to impose such hardship without bearing part of the burden themselves. On the one hand, there is some merit in the notion that preventing abortion safeguards the life of the fetus. Indeed, the government may want to prevent abortion in order to boost the population (although that would be a foolish goal, indeed). Overall, however, the government should not be permitted to impose such a rule without bearing at least its financial cost. If the government wants to force a mother to have a child, at a minimum it should be willing to pay to raise that child. Mind you, the Constitution does not impose such a requirement, although it should.
The entire issue involving abortion is one with impossible contradictions and conflicts. From the standpoint of those opposing abortion, granting the mother complete freedom of choice means that she makes the decision on whether the fetus lives. They cannot accept that. From the standpoint of those supporting the right to choose, a law such as the new one in Texas basically prevents the mother from having a fair right to choose. They cannot accept that. But given that the motive behind the law is basically one of religion, the law should not stand. It is indeed unfortunate – and contrary to the moral fabric of the Constitution – that the Court will argue its way out of seeing the First Amendment as the appropriate way to resolve this matter.