January 28th 2022
In the film “The Cider House Rules,” Toby Maguire’s character Homer Wells lives in a rural Maine orphanage until he leaves to work at a cider mill. There, he lives with the Black migrant workers in a bunkhouse with a document labeled “The Cider House Rules” posted on the wall. Wells is the only one who knows how to read the posted rules.
During his years at the orphanage, Wells becomes the trusted assistant for Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), a physician who not only oversees the institution but also provides abortions for young women with unwanted pregnancies, too scared or financially incapable of securing one elsewhere.
Wells’ experience working with Larch becomes invaluable at the cider house when a young woman, impregnated by her own father, needs an abortion to preserve any chance for a normal life.
The young woman’s mental and physical trauma, combined with the potentially tragic circumstances she would face, are not dissimilar to horrific experiences endured by many young women today all over the country .
Regardless, a majority of Supreme Court justices are poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow each state to decide when and if abortions can be performed. Rather than preserve the uniform pro-choice policy of Roe, the Court is prepared to defer abortion eligibility to state politicians whose current policies too often simply rubber stamp their constituents’ reactionary preferences. Although the Court has declared that federal legislation is preferable, the chances of bipartisan congressional action on abortion are as likely as Super Bowl opponents deciding in advance which team should win.
Many on the Court still harken to originalist constitutional interpretation on the abortion issue. They are convinced that the pro-life vs. pro-choice controversy should reflect the founders’ intention that such issues should be deferred to the states. Texas and Mississippi have already enacted unduly restrictive abortion laws and the Court seems intent on upholding their right to do so and that of others that will soon enact laws with similar restrictions.
Most, if not all, of the justices grew up in privileged environments and were rarely, if ever, exposed to “Cider House” type incidents of incest or rape. In the event that one of their contemporaries needed an abortion, professionals were available to terminate the pregnancy.
Before it’s too late, the Supreme Court needs to realize that Roe must be preserved to protect women from trauma similar to that faced by the young girl in “The Cider House Rules.”
Protecting a woman’s pro-choice right needs to become a primary, not secondary focus for the Court. Their decisions on this issue should not be held hostage by an antiquated originalist interpretation of the Constitution — drafted to provide a foundation for the government, not determine women’s reproductive rights, nearly 250 years ago.
Steve Kramer is an attorney and former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts from 1980 to 1987.