U.S. Supreme Court Threatens Women’s Fundamental Rights

U.S. Supreme Court Threatens Women’s Fundamental Rights

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court issued three very important decisions: Carson v. Maikin, New York Rifle & Pistol Assn v. Bruen and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org. (Dobbs).  The Carson case relates to taxpayer funding of religious schools. NY Rifle affects firearm violence prevention. Dobbs eviscerates a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions.  This column addresses the Dobbs decision. I will discuss NY Rifle next week, Carson and the Governor’s budget amendments in future columns. 

The Dobbs case overruled the landmark Roe v. Wade decision which has been the law of the land since Jan. 22, 1973. That decision held that the right to privacy, embodied in various amendments in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, gave women a constitutional right to make their own healthcare decisions. Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the Roe case was wrongly decided and should no longer stand.

The Dobbs decision does not change Virginia law -- yet. In Virginia, abortion is legal and in 2020 we even repealed a series of restrictions on a woman’s right to make this decision, limits put in place between 2010 and 2019, including requiring an external ultrasound and a picture of the ultrasound’s results given to the woman, requiring a 24-hour wait after obtaining the ultrasound, the provision of medically inaccurate information, and revoking a mandate to the Board of Health to unnecessarily regulate abortion clinics like hospitals.

Today, a Virginia woman may obtain an abortion in the state without restriction during her pregnancy’s first two trimesters or during the third trimester if three medical doctors certify that the pregnancy will lead to the woman’s death or “substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that he will propose legislation to ban all abortions after the fifteenth week of pregnancy. Another Senator has announced that he will introduce legislation to state that life begins at conception. These bills will not pass the current Senate Education and Health Committee, but after the 2023 elections, if the membership and control of the State Senate changes, Virginia’s laws could be significantly modified or repealed.

I support a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions. In 2020, I even introduced legislation to codify Roe v. Wade, to put that policy into Virginia’s laws. Senator Dick Saslaw introduced legislation to start the process of placing Roe in the Constitution of Virginia. We withdrew our own bills at the request of several abortion rights organizations who did not want the legislation to be presented for various reasons. The current composition of the General Assembly along with Governor Youngkin’s views make it impossible to pass these bills today, but that could change after 2023 or 2025 when we could try again. 

I cannot convey how disturbed I am by the Supreme Court’s decisions. While past precedents have fallen before, the Court has never taken away a constitutional right. Americans rely on the Court to follow our Constitution and the law through reliance upon precedent and incremental change. Last week, the Court inappropriately behaved like a legislature. 

Five of the six justices who signed on to Dobbs and the other two opinions were nominated by presidents who did not win the American popular vote. All six told Congress that Roe was settled precedent in their confirmation hearings. One was confirmed after the U. S. Senate refused to hold confirmation hearings six months before an election. Three were confirmed after the Republican majority changed internal rules and exempted Supreme Court nominations from the filibuster.  All were confirmed by U. S.  Senators representing a minority of America’s population. 

The Court’s legitimacy derives from the public’s trust, that the public believes that the court bases its opinions on the law and not on a judge’s personal opinions or religious beliefs. This week’s decisions have eviscerated public confidence and will further inflame the divisions that have plagued our country for the last five years. 

I will do everything I can to protect the ability of Virginia’s women to have access to contraception and make healthcare decisions without government interference.