Columnist Northampton Youth Commission’s Dahlia Breslow: The freedom of choice

  • Abortion rights activists protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 11 in Washington. AP

Published: 5/27/2022 11:58:39 AM
Modified: 5/27/2022 11:56:42 AM

As teenagers, my peers and I are focusing our sights on the future to life beyond high school. This period is one of transition and of many choices: What are we going to pursue after leaving high school? What people do we want to become?

Although we are young, we deserve the chance to make our own choices and determine for ourselves the people we will become. Recently, however, this optimistic outlook on the future was threatened when a draft of the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs was leaked. If adopted as the official opinion of the court, this decision would overturn the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade and eliminate the constitutonal right to obtain an abortion, enshrined for nearly 50 years. As a young woman, I felt my choices slipping away from me.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe communicated to generations of women like me that our bodies are valued, that we are valued — rare in the face of a Constitution that never mentions women outright. By establishing the right to an abortion, Roe developed a greater, broader concept: the freedom of choice. This freedom means that those with a uterus have the choice about when and if they want to have a child.

By examining the rights established by Roe v. Wade through the context of planning for this next, adult phase of my life, I finally understood the immense impact that choice has on my future. I realized that while Roe cements the freedom of choice in regards to pregnancy, its influence extends far beyond bodily autonomy.

Through control over my body, I am free to live the life I wish for. In this way, Roe promises that the hopes I hold for my future can be realized. It would be naive to assume that as we grow up, the choices we make and our reasons for making them will not change. Nevertheless, it is important that we are allowed the opportunity to choose. The freedom of choice means being able to change my mind. I retain the power to shift the trajectory of my future. I, and only I, hold that complex, life-altering choice in my hands.

If the Supreme Court’s final decision in Dobbs overrules Roe and eliminates the constitutional right to choose an abortion, it will hardly be a defining moment within the fight for the freedom of choice. Because this freedom has never been starkly clear nor universally protected, the decision in Dobbs will not mark a distinct before and after. Rather, the struggle for women’s rights began long before Roe and will continue long after Dobbs, and consists of moments great and small leading right up to today, in state houses and courthouses and, yes, our own houses.

The conversations, arguments, and struggles that we engage in around this issue will continue to change the world as we know it. For example, in 2020, Massachusetts lawmakers succeeded in passing the Roe Act, which removes the parental consent requirement for 16 and 17 year olds to acquire an abortion and allows abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases with a fatal fetal anomaly and in instances when a physician deems it necessary “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.”

Meanwhile, the Texas state legislature passed Senate Bill 8 in 2021, which bans all abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually at six weeks, and includes no exemptions for rape or incest. It was these steps by state legislatures that took a constitutional right and reduced it to a privilege dependent on financial situation and state of residence.

In actuality, if adopted as the opinion of the court, the leaked draft opinion in Dobbs will have few real consequences in my own life. I am privileged to both live in a state that respects and protects freedom of choice, and to live in a household in which I could easily obtain an abortion, in terms of finances, transportation, and shared pro-choice values. Because of this, my personal rights would remain intact until these protections also inevitably slip away.

But this is overwhelmingly not a universal experience. Access to abortion in the United states is clearly variable and inconsistent, is largely dependent upon race and class, and has been that way long before the leaked draft opinion threatened Roe v. Wade. This lies in direct opposition with what a right ought to be. If abortion is only accessible through privelege, it is not a right. A right must be fundamental, universally guaranteed to all, independent of privilege, and not in a constant state of vulnerability, as the right to abortion is and has been.

The freedom of choice — over our bodies and our futures — must be extended universally.

Dahlia Breslow is a junior at NHS and co-chair of the Northampton Youth Commission.
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