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July 09, 2009

Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Purpose of Roe Was to Reduce the Number of Undesirables

Not an exact quote, but the precise quote is pretty much the same thing:

Question: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

Ginsburg: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn't really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

She does allow that, based on subsequent rulings, her initial belief that Roe was a eugenics program first and foremost turns out to have been wrong.

I guess that's something.

Her "perception" undermines the entire stated reason that Roe is a constitutional right. The decision itself casts it as a right to reproductive freedom of an individual. And in court cases, if a dispute can be cast as the individual versus the state, the individual will almost always win.

Ginsberg, however, seems to think that the whole purpose was not to advance the interests of the individual, but to advance the interest of the state in culling undesirables from the population. Thus understood, Roe is not about defending an individual woman's right to abortion, but about defending the state's right to encourage and facilitate selective population control of low-desirability "populations." (Guess whom she might mean.)

One can argue plausibly that an individual has the right to do what she wants with her body; but it's a much harder case to make that each woman has the "right" of the state to encourage her to destroy unwanted children for the genetic and social improvement of the state.

A friend of mine used to darkly joke that he believed in every woman's right to have an abortion forced on her. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice (and wise Hebraic woman, I suppose) believes that at least at one point my friend's black joke really was the entire purpose of Roe.

Misfire: I incorrectly paraphrased her belief. She isn't talking about the "purpose" or Roe or its justification; she is talking about a "concern" that existed at the time, which may be independent of the purpose of Roe. (Or, might not be.)

I overstated that a bit, I think.

Still... her belief that sound public policy goals were being served by paying off the poor to abort babies, and that such policy goals were of constitutional relevance (!), is pretty extreme, even without my overstatement. She may or may not have thought this was a proper factor in deciding Roe, but she definitely believes it should have been a factor in a later case, following Roe.

She believes that that concern -- that we as a nation wouldn't be able to efficiently reduce certain "populations" through abortion down to manageable levels -- should have had some bearing on a Supreme Court case. (The case concerned whether Medicaid must be available for abortions. Her answer? Yes, of course it must, we have to keep the poor and black from becoming too numerous.)

She was "surprised" that it turned out the Court didn't share her belief that reducing the population of the poor and black was a consideration rising to the level of a constitutional imperative.



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posted by Ace at 02:27 PM

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