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Story and Perspective

When the Highest Court Denies the Rights of Women to their Own Bodies

Rebecca Herman, Senior Technical Advisor, Gender-Based Violence and Maternal and Newborn Health

History tells us that legality and justice— legality and moral rightness— do not always go hand in hand. Egregiously, the United States Supreme Court handed down a majority decision in the case of Dobbs v. Mississipppi (2022) that leaves little to interpretation.

What else are we to conclude from the ruling that “the constitution of the United States does not provide any fundamental right to abortion”? Either the majority of justices on this Court do not believe that bodily autonomy is part of liberty, or do not believe that female bodied people have the same rights as non-female bodied people.

Make no mistake: at its core, this ruling is a denial of the full and equal rights of women as citizens. It is a denial of the rights of women to make private decisions about their religious and moral beliefs. It is a denial of the rights of women to have the liberty to decide what happens to their bodies and the course their lives will take.

Denial of these rights materially and directly erodes women’s status as equal members of society.  Gender equity is the recognition, provision for, and ability of each person, regardless of gender, to have equal opportunity to contribute to society, to determine and pursue their own aspirations and goals. Equity acknowledges that differences exist, that individuals have different needs and abilities, and that fairness and justice do not demand sameness.

Our society doesn’t have a concept of sex equity, but perhaps we should. Perhaps if we acknowledge that female bodied people have unique needs and abilities that influence our ability to determine and pursue our private, free aspirations and goals, a majority male court would have realized that our constitutional fundamental right to liberty necessarily includes the right to determine if our body will serve as an incubator, host, and eventually mother.

As we collectively as a nation look to the future, remember that this decision has already silenced or dampened many voices. It has already limited the freedom of individuals to go where they want to go. It has already denied the truth of religious differences that define the start of life in very different ways.

This ruling reduces the opportunities of female bodied people to contribute and learn and heal in ways of their choosing. It is a denial of equity and equality.

To our leaders claiming to uphold an equitable democracy: Be Better. Do Better.

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