Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s purported draft opinion supporting overturn of Roe v. Wade has significant constitutional implications for women, their families, and their health care providers. Curiously, in Fairfax County, other provisions of the U. S. Constitution came into play last week when Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors, requesting that the police establish expanded security perimeters around the homes of the three Justices who reside in Fairfax County. The governor’s letter also stated his “fundamental belief that demonstrations and picketing should not be allowed at the Justices’ homes as they are meant to intimidate and influence the Justices, not to mention, scaring their families and small children.”


Board Chairman Jeff McKay, in his response, noted that both “pro-life and pro-choice gatherings have occurred at Justice Alito’s home, and on both occasions, the groups peacefully assembled for a matter of minutes and self-dispersed without incident.” Governor Youngkin should know better. When he took the oath of office as Virginia’s governor in January, Mr. Youngkin swore to “support the Constitution of the United States.” Yet, as Chairman McKay pointed out, the governor’s request to establish a security perimeter that “limited unauthorized vehicle and pedestrian access to neighborhoods surrounding the Justices’ homes is paramount to a checkpoint that federal courts have held violates the Fourth Amendment.” Additionally, the First Amendment guarantees the exercise of freedom of speech and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”


By virtue of geography, Fairfax County is home to many federal officials and their families, and our police officers are well-trained and experienced in keeping everyone – officials, their families, affected neighborhoods, and demonstrators safe – regardless of the political opinions espoused by anyone or any group. That’s the way democracy and our Constitution are supposed to work, despite the efforts of some elected officials to rescind basic principles.


The firestorm that was created by the leak of Justice Alito’s draft opinion was not unexpected. Women’s reproductive health has been under attack for decades, and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision affirmed a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, and a later decision affirmed that her privacy rights are constitutionally protected. Years before Roe, I remember a visit by Eleanor Roosevelt to my hometown in March of 1959. As a young Catholic high school student, I attended her speech at MacArthur Court (the University of Oregon’s basketball arena at that time) and was rather stunned that this famous mother of six supported “birth control.” She didn’t offer much more detail, as she focused on the United Nations, universal human rights, and population control, especially the latter since global crop failures and political unrest were contributing to worldwide famines.


Mrs. Roosevelt was right. The first prescription contraceptives weren’t approved by the Federal Drug Administration until the following year, and the choice to have an abortion was rarely mentioned in those days. In Connecticut, the ancient Comstock Law of 1873 prevented prescribing, or sending through the mails, any contraceptive device or providing materials for the wife’s use to prevent pregnancy (I couldn’t find anything in that case that mentioned proscriptions on devices for husband’s usage); that law wasn’t overturned by the Supreme Court until 1965. I was working in the United States Senate when Roe was decided; it was another step in the long history of fighting for women’s rights in this country. For nearly 50 years, women have relied on the protections of Roe to make their very personal decisions about their health care without government interference. Those protections affect millions of women and must not be abrogated.


Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]