As its 50th anniversary looms, Roe v. Wade still matters

This Sunday would have been the 50th anniversary of the right to choose abortion. Years ago, plans began to mark the occasion, including a major conference and exhibit at

Harvard. Those events are still going on, but Roe v. Wade itself never made it to 50. Jan. 22 will still see protests from supporters of abortion rights and a smaller version of

the antiabortion March for Life, and there is no doubt that the abortion wars are still raging. Nevertheless, there is a somber feeling about the 50th anniversary of the Roe

decision. After all, the age of Roe seems to have come to an end. But a look at our recent history makes clear why Roe still matters: It’s a reminder that our rights have

never just depended on the federal courts — and that even when the Supreme Court acts, it responds to political parties, social movements, and ordinary voters. Start by

noticing all the things that Roe has come to mean. When the justices originally decided Roe, they focused on the prerogatives of doctors — so much so that reading the original Roe

decision is a strange experience for anyone who thinks of it as being about women’s rights. But by the end of the 1970s, Americans used Roe to symbolize self-determination for

women, and even the Supreme Court started to follow suit in its own decisions.