There is something fundamentally wrong with a situation in which you have eight men who have never been pregnant dictating the fate of pregnant, teenage girls. More than half of our population is female and yet there is only one female on the highest court, which is now wading with both feet into the body of law governing women's reproductive well-being.
The eight male U.S. Supreme Court justices are about as qualified in those matters as are the ostensibly celibate priests who try to force women to have unwanted children from the bully pulpits of the Roman Catholic Church. Do women try to make rules governing the terms and conditions under which men are allowed certain medical procedures? Of course not.
How and why we sit still for allowing men to determine how we handle pregnancies is a mystery. They know nothing of the health and economic consequences of pregnancy other than from second-hand experience. It is not at all unlike the old men who sent the young men off to fight in the Vietnam War.
The Supreme Court's decisions limiting the ability of women to secure safe abortions are couched in the usual high-minded legalese about what is constitutional and what isn't. That, as this court has demonstrated more than any court in history, is being dictated by politics. Twenty-five years of civil rights legislation was shredded by five court decisions last year.
So was 15 years of safe, legalized abortions when the court upheld the right of states to set conditions that made it more difficult for women to obtain them. Only four justices remain firmly in the abortion-rights camp a mere 15 years after the court ruled that a woman had a fundamental right to privacy in reproductive matters.
This week the court has again upheld state laws that will impede abortions. The victims, this time, are teenage girls -- as naive, helpless and politically weak a class of people as you could find. The court majority, under the guise of protecting them, subjects them to procedures that suit its goal of limiting abortions.
The court ruled that states could insist that parents be notified before a teenager gets an abortion, as long as teenagers who feel they can't notify their parents can go before a judge and get a waiver of the notification requirement.
Think about this a moment. A scared, pregnant 15-year-old who for whatever reason feels she can't tell her parents can go before a black-robed judge she's never seen in an intimidating courthouse where she's never been to tell him she's pregnant and wants an abortion.
There is no guarantee that she won't draw an antiabortion judge who will refuse to help her. The Fund for the Feminist Majority, which is producing a video on the impact of parental consent laws, found that only six to eight waivers a year have been granted in Indiana in the four years its law has been in effect.
Fund President Eleanor Smeal tells of a 14-year-old who was a ward of Indiana and in permanent foster care. She became pregnant. The state forces its wards to go before a judge. The foster mother recommended abortion as did the court-appointed referee.
"The court denied it," Smeal says. "The young woman appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that they would not look into the merits of the case as long as the judge followed the right procedure. He's the final word. In Indianapolis, the judge is a known right-to-lifer." In talking to clinics for research for the video, says Smeal, video producers could find only one case in which an Indianapolis teenager had gotten a judicial bypass.
In other states, such as Minnesota and Massachusetts, thousands of bypasses have been granted. In Michigan, however, an 11-year-old was impregnated by her mother's boyfriend. "A right-to-life judge delayed and delayed until she was forced to have the child," says Smeal. "The next year he took the baby away because she was too immature and neglectful."
We live in a society in which girls are taught to be submissive and boys are taught to be aggressive. A teenage girl is highly vulnerable, in part because she is taught so little about reproduction and contraception.
"She's the one who pays and pays a lot," says Smeal. "Nobody asks who the boy is. We don't notify his parents. He can go on and ruin another girl, and does. There is in this such an element of punitiveness.
"The real purpose of this is to make her against her will have a baby at an age that she can neither sustain it emotionally, physically or economically. As one doctor said, it stops them dead in their tracks."
In the case of Becky Bell, the 17-year-old from Indianapolis who did not want to let down her parents and who died of a botched abortion, the notification law simply left her dead.