In a piece discussing Roe v. Wade, Salon entirely misses how the Supreme Court decision functions.
“Now here we are again, having just passed the 49th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which gave women agency over their bodies and their lives,” Salon writes. “It is inconceivable for those of us who remember life before legal abortion and who fought hard for reproductive control to find ourselves back in the trenches, fighting for the sovereignty of self as the Supreme Court drags us backward.”
This isn’t how it happened, however. Roe did not “make abortion legal,” rather, it made it illegal to make abortion illegal. This is a significantly different point. For, at the time that Roe was decided, some 30 states had general bans on abortion and 20 others (and also the District of Columbia) had laws that allowed it under rules of differing levels of restriction. The situation in New York, for example, changed remarkably little after Roe was decided.
The point is not about abortion per se, nor even Roe. It’s about the memory hole that all too many of these issues fall into when discussed in polemic journalism. Many Black Americans had voting rights before the Voting Rights Acts – that doesn’t change whether those acts were a good idea or not at all. It’s just a fact. Abortion law was changing gradually across the country in the late 1960s and into the 70s to make abortion more widely available, as it was in many other countries at the time.
It’s entirely true that Roe made it the one, national – constitutional rights-based – law but that’s not the same as saying that it didn’t exist nor wouldn’t have become more available without Roe. The importance of this is that if Roe is overturned then the situation will return to what it was before. It will again be legal to have restrictions upon abortion and some states will have significant restrictions and some won’t. An overturn of Roe doesn’t mean that abortion will become illegal everywhere. It just means that localities will decide.
Journalistic claims that Roe is the only reason abortion is allowed are simply untrue as history shows us. So journalists shouldn’t be making that claim.
Salon is a significant news source for the progressive part of the political online world and it gains near 9 million views a month. This makes it influential in progressive politics. Salon’s readers would be better served by their telling it like it is, not just how they think it ought to be.
It’s entirely possible that Roe is the way things should be, or that it isn’t. But the claim that abortion didn’t exist before it, couldn’t exist without it and won’t if it goes is simply untrue. So it’s a claim that shouldn’t be made, right?