Revisiting Constitution Day lecture

Category:  News
Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 at 8:04 PM

A presentation covering a hot-button political issue took place in Compton Hall on the evening of Sept. 20. 

Dr. James Fisher, a professor of politics and legal studies at Edinboro, along with being the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, shared information in his Constitution Day presentation, “The Future of Abortion Rights in America.”

This information ranged from the constitutional right of abortion, TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws and other restrictions on that right, to fetal viability and other facts about pregnancy. 

According to the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, pregnant women can have an abortion for any reason until the point of fetal viability, or the ability of a fetus to survive outside the uterus, which is at around 24 weeks of development. After fetal viability, a state can criminalize abortion except when a woman needs an abortion to preserve her life or health. 

Following the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in 1992, states became able to regulate abortion more closely, for three reasons: to benefit the health of pregnant women, to assist women in making an informed decision about abortion, and to enhance the dignity of the fetus. A state, however, may not regulate abortion in a way that creates an “undue burden” on the ability of women to obtain an abortion. 

 Fisher asserted that, with changes to the composition of the United States Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade could be overturned, creating the possibility that any state could re-criminalize abortion.

“Whether you like that idea or not, the math is there,” said Fisher, referring to the potential for this to happen.

 Another statistic mentioned by Fisher is that almost half of all pregnancies in the United States each year are unintended, which increases the possibility that a pregnancy may eventually be terminated.

 Various regulations that are currently constitutional under the cases Roe and Casey can interfere with a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion, including mandatory waiting periods (these periods are between counseling and the actual abortion). Not all states have them, but those that do, like Pennsylvania, typically require a woman to wait 24 hours. If the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a state — even if it did not outlaw abortion — could pass additional regulations making access to abortion more difficult. For example, a state could extend its mandatory waiting period to a week or even up to 14 days. 

Some women terminate their pregnancy using pills, a “medical abortion,” which allows for the abortion to occur at home. In some countries, this is the most common method of abortion. The legality and safety of this method of abortion is still being debated by pro-choice and pro-life activists in the U.S.. If the right of abortion were overturned, states could also decide to regulate or ban medical abortions. 

Fisher asserted that pro-life activists would like to re-criminalize abortion. He also explained that some believe a fetus has constitutional rights, but giving the fetus rights could result in abortion laws so restrictive that it would be “way too extreme” for most Americans. Most pro-life activists would instead prefer that states be left to re-criminalize abortion with some exceptions, he told the audience. 

Fisher proposed that two-thirds of the American population would accept a policy making abortion legal before 12 weeks and illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape, or pregnancies that threaten the life or health of the woman.

According to Fisher, activists in the pro-choice and pro-life have different advantages and disadvantages. For example, pro-life activists are skilled in “apologetics” about the morality of abortion, while those involved in pro-choice are not, according to Fisher, because they avoid talking about fundamental issues regarding abortion, in particular the moral status of the fetus. 

An advantage of the pro-choice movement is that its views are consistent with what Fisher says is “the concrete context of individuals’ lives”; in other words, the reality that women have always sought and had abortions, regardless of its legality. 

Near the end of the discussion, Dr. Rhonda Matthews, also a professor of political science, questioned Fisher about whether those involved with the pro-life movement “hate” women. Dr. Fisher said that he would not use the word “hate,” but they agreed to disagree.

Amber Chisholm can be reached at

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