Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny For Your Thoughts

We knew it was coming, but the actual release of the Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, and ended the five-decade long health care protections for women, their families, and their medical providers stunned nonetheless. The decision automatically put women’s health care into crisis, as health clinics in some states notified patients that they could no longer provide needed care, and closed their doors.

Hiding behind the excuse that “the issue should be left to the states,” the Court guaranteed that access to reproductive health care would be denied to millions of women and girls by means of simple geography.

Perhaps even more chilling was an addendum to the Court’s ruling, authored by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who opined that, in light of the Roe v. Wade decision, other “settled rights” should be revisited, including same sex marriage, access to contraceptives, and LGBTQ protections.

Basic to these decisions is the right to privacy, long held sacrosanct by the Court and other governmental institutions, but now apparently in grave danger.

It may be true that the framers of the U.S. Constitution did not anticipate, nor could have foreseen, the many diverse issues that face the nation today.

However, I doubt that the framers expected the Constitution they wrote in 1787 would remain simply a piece of parchment to be viewed in a glass case at the Archives Building. Why else would they have included a process for amending it? A difficult process, to be sure, but one that permits the Constitution to change with time and progress.

The Court’s recent rulings, especially about guns, reproductive rights, and prayer (on a public school football field!) make one question that progress.

Even now, state legislatures are invoking outdated laws from the 1800s, but still in force, as the basis for increased restrictions in health care and personal choices.

Some old laws, like restricting horses from roadways on Sunday, or how women can dress, or not serving pretzels with beer at a bar (that North Dakota law apparently still is in force), are fodder for stand-up comedians.

Far more serious is the attempt to use outdated legislation to explain (or mansplain?) why certain long-protected rights no longer are protected.

If abortion no longer is a protected and private choice between a woman and her doctor, what’s next? State legislatures outlawing access to contraceptives, as happened in Connecticut as recently as 1965, or refusing to allow other medical procedures (tubal ligation, hysterectomy) to prevent pregnancy?

Government has no business intruding in personal medical decisions, just as it has no business interfering in consensual relationships between adults. Personal privacy still is a treasured foundation in this country, despite some Justices’ ruling.

Curiously, as the midterm election cycle nears, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri brags that his campaign is a “movement to restore freedom, to restore individuals as masters of their own lives.”

The candidate is the same fellow who, along with his wife, famously brandished firearms to “protect” their property during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest march in 2020. His overwhelming support for overturning Roe v. Wade certainly belies his promise to “restore individuals as masters of their own lives.”

Sounds like, in his world, only certain people — not females, not some males, not members of the LGBTQ community — get to manage their own lives.

Henry David Thoreau is credited with writing something about the best government being the one that governs least. Individual freedom always has been the linchpin of American society, even as the Court struggled to define the parameters of those freedoms.

Sadly, individual freedom appears to be the real victim today.

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