• George Samuels

Roe v. Wade, Decentralization & Interpretations



This is going to be a hot topic. Please know upfront that my stance on all this is that: I support the right for women to choose what happens to their bodies.


NOTE: Since I'm generally inclined to try and see both sides to every situation, I used the site AllSides to read cases for and against. You'll find a comparison of left, right, and even center-wing news for Roe v. Wade here.


Before I heard the news about “Roe v. Wade” being overturned in the US, I knew little to nothing about it and its “controversial” ruling back in 1973. So I took it upon myself to get educated.


For those who aren’t familiar, back in 1973, the US Supreme Court made a landmark decision that the US Constitution covers a pregnant woman’s right to have an abortion. This decision struck down many localized abortion laws in individual states, which had a much larger impact on what role the federal government should have on religious and moral issues.


The History


The Roe v. Wade case was brought forth by Norma McCorvey, who used the pseudonym “Jane Roe”. In 1969, she became pregnant with her third child, and wanted an abortion but couldn’t get one due to the laws in Texas at the time. To add some nuance, Texas made it illegal to abort except when necessary to save the mother’s life.


A lawsuit was filed to the federal court on the basis that Texas’s abortion laws were unconstitutional. Roe won the case in 1973, based on the argument that a woman’s right to abortion falls under one’s fundamental “right to privacy” under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.


However, the Court also held that the right to abortion was not “absolute” and must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and prenatal life. Thus the trimester table was born to govern all future abortion regulations. The Court also classified the right to abortion as “fundamental,” which made it one of the most controversial in US history.


As a result, anti-abortion politicians and activists sought to overrule the decision for decades. The decision was considered by some in the legal community as a form of judicial activism, which is a judicial philosophy that the courts can and should go beyond the applicable law to consider the broader societal impacts of its decisions.


Thus came the broader issue of Roe v. Wade beyond just women and their abortion rights.


Decentralization


As we know, politics are deeply intertwined with people’s personal beliefs and views. To think it not would be naive. Justice systems do their best to stay impartial but, in reality, it is hard to. So people are given a chance to present their cases, and judges and juries make decisions on the facts presented. Some get it right, some wrong.


In the case of Roe v. Wade, what I found most interesting was the discovery of this “decentralization” aspect. Very fitting for my involvement in the blockchain space.


In reading more about the case, I learned that the broader issue was that of the power of the federal government over individual states. Although Roe v. Wade was a huge win for women, it was a huge “loss” for what some perceived as an entrenchment of power from the federal government over individual states.


The issue of decentralization in government is equally as important in blockchains, which all come back to power. The Roe v. Wade case begged the question, "how decentralized is power actually in the United States?" Which is a similar question being asked about modern blockchain projects. The company Trail of Bits published a research report about the "unintended centralities in distributed ledgers," arguing that popular blockchains aren't as decentralized as you may think. It seems like this same "reality" is reflected at a macro level, politically.


The United States is still a relatively young empire. One littered with as many issues as any other superpower from the past. However, to date, it has been one of the most successful experiments in "uniting" as many states as it has. Solidified through the signing of the US Constitution by its various founders.


Keeping power decentralized is a tenet of US culture, but it has led to various interpretations (and contentions) around the value, virtue, and word: “freedom”.


Literal Definitions vs Cultural Meaning


As an outsider looking in, a lot of what the US struggles with today seems to be based around interpretations of words like “freedom”, “privacy”, etc.


Without context or even education, most people end up adopting their definitions of such words.


Unfortunately, this means that some try to stay true to the original definitions, while others argue based on what such words mean to them personally in different contexts or times.

And this difference between literal definitions, and personal meaning, is what seems to cause so much tension. It carries on to so many other issues.


When it comes to freedom or the “right to privacy” in the Roe v. Wade case, which group's freedom seems to be at the core of the cultural conflict. Should an individual woman have the freedom to choose, or should the majority in an individual state have the freedom to choose who should have such liberties? Logic might dictate the former, but this just demonstrates the complexity of human relations and their interpretations of the written word.


This issue surrounding interpretations of the written word (e.g. US Constitution) parallels a history of misinterpretations with The Bible and even the Bitcoin whitepaper. As preposterous as it may sound in retrospect, these misinterpretations have led to many real consequences (e.g. wars, genocides, etc.).


The US Constitution, The Bible & The Bitcoin Whitepaper


Founders - whether politicians, religious leaders, or polymaths - have always attempted to codify their rules using the written word. What we’ve seen over time, however, is misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and even misuse of these words again and again.


As time goes on, we experience a classic game of Chinese Whispers. If you’ve never played the game before, suggest you try it out with a group of friends. You’ll see (in real-time) just how quickly one thing someone says can transform into something else entirely. How truths get twisted, then turned into accepted mythologies.


When it comes to the US Constitution, there are various interpretations argued in court. When it comes to the Bible, different interpretations led to the creation of different denominations (e.g. Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Mormon, etc.).


And even within the Bitcoin ecosystem, different interpretations of Satoshi’s whitepaper led to the brand splitting, creating BTC, BCH, and now BSV. I even wrote about these three brand archetypes in the past here.


Separating Issues, Discerning Facts


In my research (and thanks to open discussions on Twitter), I discovered some uncomfortable truths about the plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade case.


In 1987, the New York Times published a piece that Norma McCorvey (”Jane Roe”) later denied that she was raped. In a nutshell:


“Ms. McCorvey told Mr. Rowan that she had fabricated her account of being raped by three men and a woman in 1969 because she had hoped to circumvent a 100-year-old Texas law that banned abortions except when the woman's life was in danger. 'What I Thought Was Love’… Ms. McCorvey said that she had actually become pregnant ''through what I thought was love'' and that she decided to challenge the state law when her doctor told her that she could not legally have an abortion in Texas.”

This may seem like a blow, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it had a positive impact on the fight for women's rights thereafter, even if built on a lie. Strange, right?


If looking at just the Roe v. Wade case itself, and the statements later made by McCorvey, it brings into question the validity of the original arguments used to make the landmark decision back in 1973.


It also puts into question the ability of the justice system to determine truth, which was partly what the “legal community” was contesting all those decades.


And this is what brings us back to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.


Overturning Roe v. Wade


On one side, the 1973 decision helped the broader cultural movement of the fight for women’s rights. On the other, it challenged some core principles around the US Constitution’s definitions of freedom, the “right to privacy”, and the role of the federal government in handling moral or religious issues for individual states.


We of course have heard the religious reasons for why some are against abortion rights, but that is technically separate from the legal overturning of the case itself, because of its broader judicial implications.


Since we know religious beliefs do indeed influence laws and policies through voting - whether via elected officials or “the people” themselves - it cannot be completely ignored.

Facts are one thing. Cultural meaning is another.


Human beings are emotional creatures. We like to think we’re rational, but there are many examples throughout history proving the opposite.


Behavior & Cultural Shifts


It’s not just that Roe v. Wade was overturned. The factual reasons may be due to “decentralization”, but it’s what the overturning means to people. This meaning is what some don’t understand.


It reminds me of my times dealing with change management for the introduction of new tools at organizations. Time and time again, the more technical types would just want to “switch the tools on”, thinking people would just “get it” without any hand-holding.

But people aren’t that simple.


Training, organization, and support over time are required to ensure those tools stay for the long run. And as people get used to it, new behaviors form. With new behaviors come cultural changes.


The same is being seen with Roe v Wade. Regardless of whether McCorvey lied or not, the impact of the case was far-reaching. It shifted behaviors, in favor of women’s rights, which shifted the culture.


Undoing that now is going to be very, very painful, as you can see from this post by Michelle Obama.


Unintended Consequences


Overall, it’s crazy to see how intertwined these seemingly simple decisions have on wider ecosystems.


Again, as an outsider looking in, these types of decisions look like a step backward for the United States. Because it falls in line with various other indicators that the US may be going through a civilization decline, much like any other super-power before it has undergone.

What goes up, must come down.


But at a macro level, the “fall of the United States” would also mean the fall of many other aspects we take for granted in high-income countries. So although it might be trendy to hate on the US right now, it is also important to look at what alternatives we have.


And in looking at the alternatives, would they be better? Can we keep power decentralized enough, while also keeping things just? Can we, as a collective, better discern truth from fiction? And can we, as a society, figure out better ways of improving our understanding of things.


The overturning of Roe v Wade may mean different things to different people, but what happens next is what will matter most.

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