As Richard Wolf reported in his 2015 piece for USA Today, The 21 Most famous Supreme Court decisions, our nation’s history has been marked by numerous decisions that have shaped more than just our history. They’ve shaped how we view people and their experiences, and they’ve changed the course of countless people’s lives.
Take, for example, the Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967, that invalidated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
Or, how about the unanimous decision that separating black and white students in public schools is unconstitutional, in the Brown v. The Board of Education decision in 1954.
More recent decisions that have impacted the lives of countless individuals and our greater culture include:
The 2013 case of United States v. Windsor, which set the precedent that the Federal government must provide benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Following on the heels of that decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, in 2015, legalized same sex-marriage
across all 50 states.
There may be disagreement in our society over these landmark decisions, but I think we can all agree that they’ve made in indelible impact for generations to come.
I’d be remiss, of course, not to include the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that women have a constitutional right to an abortion during the first two trimesters. As I look upon the vast history of culture-shaping Supreme Court decisions, Roe v. Wade has had the greatest impact in my life.
In August of 1977, just four years after the landmark case, a saline infusion abortion was forced upon my 19-year-old biological mother against her will. The abortionist indicated in the medical records that he estimated her to be approximately 20 weeks pregnant at the time.
A saline infusion abortion involves injecting a toxic salt solution into the amniotic fluid, which poisons the child to death. Premature labor is then induced, and the deceased child is expelled from the womb. Typically, the procedure is completed within about 72 hours. In my birthmother’s case, the medical professionals at St. Luke’s Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, tried, without success, to induce her labor numerous times after that toxic salt solution was delivered into the amniotic fluid, and the procedure lasted five days, instead of three.
On that fifth day of the abortion procedure, I was delivered in the final step, and was believed, of course, to have been a successful abortion—a deceased child. But low and behold, I was born alive. I weighed 2 lbs. 14 oz., which indicated to the medical professionals that my birthmother was much further along in her pregnancy than 20 weeks, and, in fact, one of the first notations in my medical records (which include statements like “a saline infusion for an abortion was done but was unsuccessful”), is that I looked like I was approximately 31 weeks gestational age.
The doctors initially thought that I had a fatal heart defect because of the amount of distress that I was under. I suffered from respiratory problems, jaundice, and seizures for a period of time. The doctors were understandably guarded about my prognosis. Yet, here I am today, now a healthy, forty-one year old woman.
Many people in our world describe lives like mine as the “dreaded complication” of abortion—a child who survives. As someone’s daughter, wife, sister, and mother, I can tell you my life has been nothing to be dreaded, but everything to be thankful for.
Yet, that’s exactly what the Roe v. Wade decision has done; it has shaped our culture to the point that my life is seen as something to be dreaded by many, and I’m seen as an unfortunate by-product of a woman’s right to choose.
The furor over Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination and the behaviors exhibited in these hearings have communicated loud and clear that there is passion on both sides of the aisle, particularly as it surrounds the Roe v. Wade decision and what people see as a threat to the precedent that it has set.
As you can imagine, I’ve looked upon both Justice Gorsuch and now Judge Kavanaugh’s nominations with great interest. All of the talk and concern over precedent in the hearings, as frustrating as it has been at times, has illustrated that legislators and citizens are vastly aware of the impact that Supreme Court decisions have on our individual lives and larger culture.
Roe v. Wade has become, in the words of many, the “law of the land,” and subsequently has led to over 60 million lives lost since 1973. I was meant to be one of those lives.
Just as same-sex couples fought for support of the Supreme Court decisions that supported them, as Black Americans fought for inclusion in public schools, there is a population of Americans who have been directly impacted by the decisions of the Supreme Court, but who remain marginalized because of their unprecedented decision in Roe v. Wade—the unborn child.
Additionally, there are hundreds of abortion survivors, if not thousands, as I’ve found in my work with The Abortion Survivors Network, who live with the personal knowledge of just how impactful such Court decisions can be. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are constitutional rights, yet we were denied that basic right when we were subjected to abortion attempts meant to end our lives.
Martin Luther King, Jr., stated that “we are not makers of history, we are made by it.” Roe v. Wade has permeated our society, it has shaped our thoughts, touched our emotions, and overtly and covertly impacted the way we view and treat the unborn, the lives of abortion survivors, and, in my opinion, one another. Once one group of people are denied basic human rights, then the slippery slope begins.
Yes, we are, indeed, made by history, and Supreme Court decisions are a part of that history. If nothing else positive comes from these hearings, I hope it brings about an honest conversation about how we’ve all been shaped and our culture impacted by the Roe v. Wade decision.