Saturday, February 18, 2012

THE LEGAL WORLD : ABORTION... Who Gets to Decide Really?


Abortion has always been a sensitive issue, clouded by emotions invested in pro-life or pro-choice beliefs. To truly explore this topic, I find it best to pull away emotion and look at abortion through a legal framework deep within american society. The term ‘abortion’ tends to be associated with women the majority of the time, simply because women are the carriers of our children. Because of this, more often than not, the men responsible for these pregnancies are excluded from the final decision: to keep the fetus, or to abort the fetus. Does the biological father have any right in the decision making process? Can a man impede a woman's right to undergo an abortion?

The answer: no, he cannot. In Griswold v. Connecticut of 1965, the Supreme Court ruled the choice of a husband and wife to use contraceptives was a privacy right, protected by the 14th Amendment. Griswold's ruling went on to establish that the government could not interfere with marital affairs. 

As a result, the court inferred that it would become a burden for women to allow fathers a right in the decision making process. As an individual, a woman has the right to keep her pregnancy private. The idea of the fathers choosing the fate of the fetus was decidedly unconstitutional; the court ruled that they did not have the right to tell a woman how she should act in her marriage (or with her partner) or what information she is required to reveal to him. No court wanted to force women to tell their husbands/boyfriends/lovers, not only because the state cannot interfere with the private lives of its citizens, but also because a woman’s body is her own property and no one else's. 

The Roe v. Wade case (1973) marked the beginning of an era in which no woman would be subjected to criminal offenses for having an abortion. The case itself protected a woman's right to personal privacy (with the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th, & 14th Amendments). With this case, women were given the ability to seek an abortion. In no section of the ruling does it state that she must inform a person in order to do; there is no required joint decision with her partner.


Marriage, as decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, does not void the individual rights that women are born with-- the rights of a woman to decide for herself whether or not she wishes to have a child. As the judges in the case argued, “it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person…” (Planned Parenthood v. Casey). As a result, fathers have no right in determining whether a woman can or cannot have an abortion. 

Many women who do tell their partners of their pregnancy are, from that moment on, forced into keeping the child or forced into aborting it. This transference of knowledge could also put the mother's life in danger. Why would the state force battered women to divulge the news of their pregnancy to their abusive partner? Surely, this would not be productive, only inducing more violence or making it harder for the women to leave the relationship safely.

The law has found that women and their bodies are the ones who need protection-- not men. For women in an abusive relationship, having an abortion without needing her husband’s permission is a sanctuary for her, one that the court cannot and will not take away. The government has acknowledged that a woman, regardless of her marital status, has individual rights. It reminds us that women are not property, but beings with the ability to bring about life. Only women can bare children, so shouldn't only women decide how to exercise this potential? Who do you want in charge of your body? You or the partner lying next to you?

The Woman Behind the Legal World Section:
 Christina Ontiveros is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. She is double majoring in Legal Studies and Anthropology, and is an excellent and dedicated student. She is passionate and loyal; we can all count ourselves lucky that one day she might just be our lawyer! 

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