Supreme Court decision highlights right-wing sexual hypocrisy

Jerry Sternberg


The next time you find yourself sitting in a local church or synagogue, or in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, or even attending an Asheville City Council meeting, take a look around. According to 50 years of data from the federal National Survey of Family Growth, 95% of the adults gathered around you will have participated in premarital sex at some time in their life. The same must be true for legislators, judges and clergy.

When I was growing up, in the 1930s and ’40s, sex education was almost nonexistent. At some point there was supposed to be the obligatory, totally embarrassing discussion about “the birds and the bees.” It usually consisted of the admonition that “Sex is bad. Go do your homework.” The girls probably got a little more information when they had their menses, were in pain and thought they were going to bleed to death.

I have strange memories regarding sex education in those years.

When I attended Claxton School, there was a fellow student who everyone somehow knew was a “bastard.” The way the teacher treated him, relegating him to the back of the room, and the attitude of some of the students whose parents were uncomfortable with this poor kid’s mere presence in the classroom made me think he must have done something terrible.

The “literature” that gave us what sexual information we did get consisted of little comic books that had Maggie and Jiggs or Blondie and Dagwood performing lewd sex acts. Most of us didn’t understand the things they depicted, but it certainly piqued our interest.

When I was at Lee Edwards High School, there were girls in our class who simply vanished one day — and, in some cases, never returned. It was rumored that they were in “the family way” and had to go off somewhere to have it taken care of.

Solely the woman’s problem?

By the time I graduated from high school, attended college and then went into the military, sex and drinking had become rites of passage. There were admonitions about using condoms when one performed sex, but the emphasis was on preventing STDs.

When I joined the Navy, we were required to view documentaries about the consequences of unprotected sex. Sailors returning from liberty could visit a “prophylactic station” offering treatment to try to prevent venereal disease.

Never, though, was there any discussion of the possibility of unwanted pregnancy, because — apart from using condoms, which were never foolproof anyway — the responsibility for preventing pregnancy was strictly the woman’s. For the most part, if she conceived an unwanted baby, the problem was hers to solve. Meanwhile, for men, particularly married men, “safe sex” meant paying a prostitute. If she got pregnant, it was totally up to her to deal with.

In June, we celebrate Father’s Day, but back then, many men were deprived of the chance to be so honored because they had no idea that they’d fathered a child by a long-lost lover or sex worker.

By the 1960s, however, “the pill” was in widespread use, giving women more control over their own reproductive systems. Improvements in IUD technology and, later, “the morning-after pill” and medication abortions provided other options. No longer were women without resources to prevent pregnancy or to choose not to deliver an unwanted child, especially in cases of rape or incest.

Face the facts

In the 1960s, the first Planned Parenthood affiliate in North Carolina was established here in Asheville as an education-only facility. A couple of decades later I was privileged to participate, along with other concerned community members, in establishing Asheville’s first women’s medical clinic, providing health care, family planning information and abortion referrals in a nonjudgmental manner to thousands of patients each year. In 2015, we moved the clinic to a stand-alone building on McDowell Street and added abortion to the list of services offered on-site.

One of our most effective educational programs enlisted teenagers to perform short plays in Asheville and Buncombe County high schools. These presentations were designed to dispel myths and present factual information about sex in an age-appropriate way, and they were very well received.

I write all this in response to the recent dreaded announcement by the Supreme Court that abortion is no longer a constitutional right. Two of the five oh-so-righteous justices who supported this ruling have been involved in highly publicized sexual transgressions themselves.

Conservative legislators in red states, most of whom are men, have already set to work eliminating every right a woman has to prevent unwanted pregnancy. And if our right-wing North Carolina legislators follow the lead of their counterparts in other states, our clinic will no longer be able to offer abortions and could conceivably be forced to close lest, in the process of providing women’s health care, we give out information on family planning or birth control.

You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned abstinence as the solution to unwanted pregnancies, but apparently, that approach didn’t work out for 95% of our adult population. Hormones trump morality, and sex is highly recreational — particularly for men. So why should women be the ones who pay the price for an unwanted biological mishap?

Teen pregnancies

By striking down Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has eliminated the last option many women and children had to avoid being forced to deliver an unwanted child. Many of these children, some as young as 10, are in lower-income and minority communities, and in some cases they will have no responsible person who will be able to care for them.

In 2020 there were 7,749 pregnancies reported among girls ages 15-19 in North Carolina, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Asheville and Buncombe County accounted for 129 of those, nearly half of them in minority communities.

I don’t even want to think about how tiny the percentage of those sperm donors probably was who took any responsibility for supporting these girls: After all, unwanted pregnancy is the woman’s problem, right?

As the full impact of overturning Roe v. Wade kicks in, will our streets become populated by these abandoned offspring, some of whom will inevitably commit serious mischief in order to survive? And at that point, will the hardcore pro-birthers demand those children’s abortion-by-death-chamber — in their 24th trimester?


Asheville native Jerry Sternberg is a longtime observer of the local scene. An anthology of his columns is available from Pisgah Legal Services for a $25 suggested donation. All proceeds will support the nonprofit’s work. To order your copy of The Gospel According to Jerry: 90th Birthday Edition, visit, or send a check to: PLS, P.O. Box 2276, Asheville, NC 28802.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

10 thoughts on “Supreme Court decision highlights right-wing sexual hypocrisy

  1. Mike R.

    Unfortunately, the author like many Americans, doesn’t understand the true basis of the Roe v. Wade overturn.
    The Supreme Court has NOT banned abortion in America. It simply rescinded a previous decision by an earlier Supreme Court that overstepped its bounds. The Constitution does not speak to abortion. Therefore, the Supreme Court really doesn’t have the authority to decide. The decision must come from the states and/or the Congress. That is really what this is all about for the most part.
    Abortion is a very contentious issue. There are as many people that think it is a right as there are that feel it is morally wrong. In a democracy, elected representatives have to decide these things; NOT a handful of people nominated to the Supreme Court and specifically when the Constitution does not address the concern. If Congress can’t pass the appropriate authorization, then it will have to be decided at each state level.
    There is no perfect solution for this issue. What makes it extra hard is that it has been legal at the national level since the Roe v. Wade decision was made many years back. Unfortunately, that decision didn’t come from the correct place in our 3 part democracy. It needs to come from the legislative branch; not the judiciary.

    • Peter Robbins

      Two points. First, Jerry did not say that the Supreme Court made abortion illegal. He correctly stated that it took away the constitutional right to abortion and left women at the mercy of the states.

      Second, there is a text-based approach to reach the result in Roe v. Wade. The Thirteenth Amendment expressly bans “involuntary servitude” except as punishment for a crime. The Fourteenth Amendment expressly forbids deprivations of “liberty” without “due process of law,” wording that long has been held to mean that a state cannot deprive a person of “fundamental liberty” absent a compelling justification. (There’s also a narrow-tailoring requirement, but leave that aside.) Forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term to further the ends of the state may not be exactly the same as slavery, but it has enough in common with involuntary servitude to trigger the compelling-justification requirement, and a near total ban on abortion (the law at issue in Roe) does not satisfy that standard. Hence, the result in Roe is arguably correct on an entirely text-based theory, even if the implied right to privacy (on which the decision was actually based) has textual shortcomings. All one has to do is interpret the Fourteenth Amendment in light of the Thirteenth Amendment, which is a perfectly conventional way to read the Constitution. On that reading, it is no more necessary for the Fourteenth Amendment to expressly mention “abortion” than it is for the Fourth Amendment to expressly mention “telephones” or “motorboats.” See

  2. Leesa Romo

    Thank you for this excellent article! It really explains the history of sex education (abysmal) and how the burden of an unwanted child has always been the sole responsibility of the pregnant woman. Honestly, not much has changed. I disagree with the first comment, the word woman isn’t in the constitution at all, yet this ruling document affects every woman in the country! The constitution needs to be interpreted for the current times. People think it’s morally wrong to have an abortion, then don’t get one. Preventing a woman to do what she wants with her own body based on the majority’s religious beliefs is unAmerican and goes directly against what this country stands for- separation of church and state. What will happen when these unwanted children grown up? Read Freakonomics, which shows how legalized abortion correlates with the drop in crime. Maybe the antiabortionists can fund building more prisons, as they certainly don’t show any interest in helping mothers with unwanted children. It’s criminal.

  3. Anthony Rolando

    When I was in high school back in 1991, I went to the Planned Parenthood in my town to get free condoms. I got them, but I also got some other resources about safe sex that really helped me make better choices in the years that followed. I had not received much sex ed back then, so I am very thankful that Planned Parenthood helped me with that.

  4. Robert Petty

    Well-written and thought out, — as usual for Jerry Sternberg. The Supreme Court has dealt our country and many of its citizens a difficult to impossible to play hand. It doesn’t seem that many of our citizens have sympathy or common sense regarding this issue and the serious consequences of removing choice. I suspect that many of those opposed to abortion are in no danger of facing the consequences of removing abortion as an option to terminate a pregnancy for themselves or someone they love. The highly restrictive allowance of abortion that doesn’t even allow abortion in the case of rape, incest, etc., is an especially cruel and heartless limitation.

  5. g batra

    This is a well written article giving an “I was there” historical view of sex education or the lack of it plus who was responsible for outcomes of sex. I’ve lived the same history and remember the back alleys and coat hangers/knitting needles to abort pregnancies. It seems we a going back to those years. Very scary and dangerous. Keep abortions legal and safe.

  6. lexicon

    I’m thankful to Jerry and Mountain Xpress for sharing this opinion article in support of our local Planned Parenthood clinic. In addition to abortion services, Planned Parenthood provides other critical healthcare services that people in our city need.

  7. Nancy Ackermann Cole

    The always thoughtful and well-expressed views of Jerry Sternberg are a gift to those of us in WNC. A cool, calm analysis of an off-taboo subject is handled with alacrity by Jerry in the case of our cultural response to women’s rights. I am not convinced that anyone has a right to control a woman’s body; does anyone have the right to control a man’s body? No man would want his body controlled; consequently why would men want to control the body of women? We deem men capable of making their own decisions; can not women do the same? I believe the deeper issue might be that men want to protect their sperm, even if it means compromising a woman’s health, her life. If we were to consider legislation that treats men equally to women I might be convinced otherwise. Thanks, Jerry

  8. Bonnie m Smith

    Thanks to Jerry for this insightful article about the recent Supreme Court ruling making abortion no longer a constitutional right. An area of concern related to this decision is the very real problem of increased maternal mortality which can impact any person who becomes pregnant. A recent study shows that among high income countries, the U.S, has the highest maternal mortality rate and that number has been steadily climbing. In 2020, the rate was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. In states where the number of Planned Parenthood clinics have been forced to close or reduce services, maternal mortality increased by 8% and where abortions are restricted by gestational age the rate increased to 38%. So per the wisdom of the Supreme Court and their insightful ruling on abortion, we will be seeing increasing pregnancy-related deaths that could have been prevented.

  9. Melissa

    Though it pains me personally, how about a compromise? Could we agree on a REASONABLE period of gestation such as 20 weeks, when pregnancy termination is allowed, no questions asked? And also exceptions for health of the mother or fetus in later term abortions? I don’t really understand this “all or nothing” attitude I see propagating in so many states. I’m a PhD biologist and can say wholeheartedly that developmental biology, like all biology, is messy. Nature is dynamic and complicated and stuff gets messed up and goes haywire, ALL THE TIME. Current fetal screening techniques, such as amniocentesis, that test for chromosomal anomalies in developing fetuses, can’t be deployed until around 15 weeks. So if parents discover their developing child has profound complications at 16 weeks, they need to be able to make their difficult choices privately and legally as they best see fit. Who are we, as members of the public who elect the government that make the laws, to tell them what is right? I read an article last week about a 24-year old woman in Tennessee who wanted her child but learned that the fetus did not have a skull. The developing fetus’ brain matter was leaking through the umbilical cord and making the young woman gravely ill. The mis-developed fetus would not survive, and it was almost inescapable that the young mother would die of sepsis long before the skull-less baby would be birthed. The mother decided to terminate the pregnancy, so that she would have the opportunity for a healthy baby in her future. However, she lived in Tennessee and Roe v Wade was overturned before her abortion procedure. Luckily, she was able to get to Georgia for an abortion before they banned this live-saving procedure for her. This example demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that we MUST have exception clauses in these regulations and bans for the health of the mother and the health of the fetus. These are the messy examples of biology and nature. Our laws regulating people’s lives need to reflect this immediate and practical reality. All or nothing abortion bans do not work for our society. Clearly, many people feel strong moral convictions based on their religious worldviews. So as a society, let’s compromise. Let’s honor the reality of nature and biology and let’s honor each other. Compromise, like nature, can be messy, but at this point in history, I think it’s necessary.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.