By Gwen EmmonsPlease note: this was posted on the ACLU blog on January 22, 2013, the actual anniversary of Roe v. Wade and no edits have been made.
Today marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade
, the historic Supreme Court decision recognizing that women have the right to choose abortion. While lawmakers and pundits have twisted themselves into knots analyzing the impact and significance of the decision, for generations of people, the meaning of Roe
is quite clear: It is the key to securing women’s place as equals in society.
For 10 years, Linn Duvall Harwell could only guess as to why her mother died so suddenly in 1929. But when she found out that her mother, Clara Bell Duvall, died of an illegal abortion, Linn instantly understood. “She loved her children…She was desperate because she wanted to care for them beautifully,” she told thePhiladelphia Daily News
in 1986. While Linn understood the sacrifice her mother made, she knew it was a senseless loss.
Linn held many jobs in her life, but the one nearest and dearest to her was pro-choice activist – as a member of NARAL Pro-Choice Americ a, the National Organization of Women and the founder of the Clara Bell Duvall Education Fund (now the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project of the ACLU of Pennsylvania
). In a letter addressed to Representative Karen Ritter in 1990 Linn wrote, “The last thing a woman wants to consider when faced with an unwanted pregnancy is some bureaucrat sitting in an office in Harrisburg or a robed judge in a courtroom…. No woman can make advances in a career without the protection of her reproductive rights.” It’s chilling to think that those words are just as true today as they were in 1990.
Linn wasn’t the only person fighting for reproductive rights. As a college student in 1970, Peter Goldberger smuggled a friend to a secret location in Delaware, where she could obtain an abortion. “I knew it was civil disobedience, but I don't think I considered any part of it other than doing the right thing for a friend in trouble,” he recalled. “It was the right thing to do because it is what she
had decided.” It was only last week that he realized that, had he been caught, he would have faced up to five years in jail.
Later as a law student at Yale, Goldberger thought back to that night as he sat in classes and watched his colleagues on the frontlines of public interest law. When Roe
was decided in the second semester of his first year of law school, he reflected that the decision itself wasn’t a “gigantic event” on campus. But for him, it was monumental. “The freedom to make that choice…is critical to women’s ability to succeed and be on an equal plane.” He added that he had always thought that – but seeing it codified was another thing.
Jumping forward to today, we see a national climate that is as hostile as ever to reproductive justice. But we also see a debate that has become more nuanced and more diverse than in previous decades. “Women born after Roe v. Wade
– known as millennials -- see ‘choice’ as more complex than their predecessors,” says Alanna Tievsky, born a decade after Roe v. Wade
. “So many of our fundamental rights are under attack – we can no longer narrowly focus only on access to abortion.”
Indeed, the battle is no longer just about safe, legal abortion – it’s defending the right to contraception, to maternal leave, to bodily integrity. It’s about honoring the rights of women and men whose lives may not look like ours – and valuing their voices in the conversation. And it’s about remaining constantly vigilant in a political climate that is slowly but surely chipping away at Roe
and the full spectrum of reproductive choices we depend upon.” The legacy of millennial women will be reframing the debate around abortion to a dialogue that is more encompassing, more diverse, and more in tune with the needs of women and men, at every stage of their reproductive lives,” argues Gwen Emmons, a millennial and a reproductive justice activist. “It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”
Unfortunately for millennial activists in this field, it’s challenging to get a toehold in the leadership structure of the ‘old school’ abortion rights organizations. “Despite the fact that young reproductive activists are working in these organizations, losing sleep on the campaign trail, or manning the phones at abortion hotlines, previous generations argue that we ‘lack passion for abortion rights,’” says Emmons. “If we’re to be the next guardians of reproductive choice, things have got to change.” Tievsky notes the numerous strategies this generation has been using to combat the onslaught of anti-women’s health legislation locally and nationally. “A difference in strategies does not make us less passionate than Peter,” she argues. “A belief in a broader vision of what choice
is does not mean we cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Linn.” But that is the opinion of too many leaders in the choice movement.Roe
has had a profound impact on the fight for women’s equality. Each generation has reacted to the continued attacks on women’s health with their own brand of activism. For Linn Duvall Harwell, it was to volunteer and speak out at every opportunity she could. For Peter Goldberger, it was to do the right thing – even if it was illegal. And for Alanna Tievsky and Gwen Emmons, it’s to question the strategies and direction of previous generations – and plot a new course for the future. As we look ahead to another 40 years of Roe
(and beyond!), the goal must not only be to defend this monumental decision – it must be to nurture, inspire, and trust
the next generation of activists who will be protecting it.Thank you to Gwen & the ACLU for participating in our Roe v. Wage Blog Carnival. Check out more information about them at: http://aclupa.blogspot.com/2013/01/roe-at-40-looking-backward-looking.html
"Never did I imagine that this fundamental, logical, and progressive ruling
could be challenged- or worse- overturned in our modern society."
By Sarah Robinson
It has been 40 years since the Supreme Court decision in favor of women’s health in the monumental Roe
v. Wade case from 1973. I feel fortunate that my entire life, this decision has protected my right to legal and safe abortion, should I ever need to consider that option. My attitude is forever grateful for the women and men activists who fought to ensure this right to American women. Never did I imagine that this fundamental, logical, and progressive ruling could be challenged- or worse- overturned in our modern society. If anyone told me those activists endured the fight in vain, I would react with disbelief. That is, until about two years ago.
Currently, in the national and statewide political arena, some politicians have irrationally taken an opposing position against women and their bodies, in direct contrast to the requests of their constituents. Not to mention, in blatant substitution or disregard for dire, undecided issues like the housing market or unemployment. How did our country get here? How long can we allow the government to take us back in time?
I suppose we as citizens are partially to blame. We have let politicians use us as pawns; where wombs become the battleground. Cunningly, market generated labels like pro-choice and pro-life have boxed-in and polarized
otherwise open minded voters. Laws cloaked with the false intent for “patient safety” or movements to define “personhood” have made us lose sight of the basics of the decision in Roe. It is a question of privacy and dignity.
It is undeniable: the decision to have an abortion is not black and white. And yet, in the current political climate we are asked to make it so. It is entirely unreasonable to render one country, or even one state, capable of conforming to a single set of acceptable and unacceptable choices. That’s why I really like the new campaign from Planned Parenthood called “Not in Her Shoes.” The video helps explain how complex any given situation regarding abortion or parenthood can be. The campaign invites advocates and voters to develop a fresh perspective by shedding the old pro-this and anti-that labels.
The bottom line is this: abortion is never a goal. It is a deep, complex decision that most Americans agree a woman must determine for herself with the support of her family and physician. Organizations like Planned Parenthood, who do provide abortion services, also offer countless family planning, contraceptive, and educational services as well. Arguably, Planned Parenthood does more than any other organization to prevent unintended pregnancies, thus drastically decreasing the need for abortions. The ruling from Roe v. Wade simply determines that abortion remains a safe and legal option should a situation arise within the first 3 months of pregnancy. Without access and rights, consider the options:
have an unwanted child and all it entails, or endure an illegal operation, risking fertility and life. Let’s get real. It is evident women will have abortions whether they are legal or not. Legality keeps abortion safe. When something is legal we as a society and legislature are able to regulate it.
Personally, having access to safe and legal abortions gives me the power to construct and determine my life as I see fit. It reinforces my dignity as a woman and leaves me responsible and trusted with important life decisions. Think of it this way: in the not so distant past, a woman could potentially have almost 10 pregnancies to full term before the age of thirty.
Reproductive justice has freed women from the constructs and roles of traditional femininity. I can be a mother, or not; an astronaut or perhaps even a lawmaker. Needless to say, I couldn’t imagine how dramatically different my
life would be without that cornerstone decision 40 years ago.
Thanks to Roe v. Wade, abortion remains a legal, medical procedure. It is a personal and complex decision that should be left up to a woman and her doctor! Individual women have endured unbelievable ridicule and criticism from complete strangers for too long. Now, the threats have got to end.
We have had enough!
Thank you to Sarah for participating in our 40th Anniversary Roe v. Wade Blog Carnival.
I haven’t always had health problems. Growing up I was generally fine and it wasn’t until my late teens I developed chronic and debilitating head pain. The condition continued, and continues, to worsen over time. These were no regular headaches or even migraines, but something much more rare. Thus began several years of being referred to countless specialists, all ordering different diagnostic testing to determine what I had and how to treat it. Thankfully I had health insurance—first under my parents’ coverage and after college I had a great job that covered me.
As life always changes, my partner and I ended up moving to a new city so he could attend graduate school. Even before moving, I started looking for jobs. And I knew getting new health insurance would be a top priority. I enrolled with COBRA to continue my benefits from my last job, but it was very expensive and through a regional carrier who didn’t even have providers in my new state. So while looking for a job and sending in dozens of cover letters, I was also trying to be a good consumer and compared all sorts of different health insurance plans to find the best one for me.
I decided on a plan offered by Aetna, filled out all the paperwork, and waited for a response. In a letter mailed to me a few weeks later, Aetna stated that considering my pre-existing condition, they wouldn’t let me purchase insurance from them. Disheartened but hopeful I tried for my second choice—Independence Blue Cross. Their letter wasn’t as bad, stating they would let me buy insurance, but nothing related to the pre-existing condition, so basically nothing ‘above the neck’, would be covered for the first year. That wasn’t too helpful since my condition was a major reason why I wanted health insurance.
Thankfully I was offered a job shortly thereafter that offered health insurance coverage starting immediately. But this experience left me extremely nervous. What if the economy takes a turn for the worse and I lose my job? This is why I was so happy when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed and stipulated that starting in 2014, I cannot be denied individual health insurance because of my condition. But this week, with the fate of the ACA in the hands of the Supreme Court, I am nervous all over again. I just hope the Justices do the right thing and uphold this critical law that will help me and so many others.
By Janna Frieman
“Don't Tread On Me.”
It's a favorite saying of anti-government tea partiers and libertarians alike. Dating back to the Revolutionary War, this motto-- paired with the image of a rattlesnake coiled to strike-- summons along with it a call to defend certain natural rights to privacy and autonomy, a fundamental resistance to the authoritarian impulses of state power. Leave me alone, the snake glares, or else. Though the iconic phrase has been co-opted for many causes over its long existence, today it seems as though only right-wing small-and anti-government advocates wave the Gadsden flag (as it is historically named) with pride.
But it’s no secret that tea partiers and the politicians who pander to them don't actually believe in freedom from government regulation -- at least, not without notable exceptions. For all their talk about financial, educational, and environmental deregulation, the glaring inconsistency of smaller-government activists and politicians lies in their fierce opposition
to the deregulation of a most fundamental site-- the (female) body. My body. And this isn't just a back-burner issue. This is a priority. In the first six months of 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers spent 30 percent of their days at the Capitol working to restrict access to safe, legal abortion when they should have been solving real problems.
Actually, that's small-minded of me. For some voters, activists, and lawmakers, my bodily autonomy is
a “real problem.” They are so uncomfortable with the idea that I currently can choose whether or not to have a baby that even my right to use birth control is coming under fire in popular discourse. Rick Santorum has infamously said that contraception is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” It's no stretch of the imagination to think that Santorum or any one of his like-minded colleagues will continue to push these paternalistic, religious, anti-sex, anti-liberty
And to them I say: don't tread on me. Writing under a pseudonym in 1775, Ben Franklin commented on the appropriateness of the rattle snake as a symbol for the freedom-loving American spirit: She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders... she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?
As the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade
approaches and my reproductive rights increasingly come under fire, I think it’s time to re-appropriate the Gadsden flag for its original purpose -- the symbolic defense of civil liberties against the creeping authoritarianism of the state. Like the Gadsden flag's rattlesnake, American women have generously given notice that these onslaughts against our basic bodily autonomy are unacceptable. So let this year be a year filled with pro-choice visibilities, actions, and activism -- a shot across the bow for opponents of personal liberty and reproductive privacy. Consider this fair warning: don't tread on me.Janna Frieman is an intern with the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project and a Master of Social Policy candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.
Thank you to Janna & the ACLU for participating in our Roe v. Wage Blog Carnival. Check out more information about them at: http://aclupa.blogspot.com/2012/01/roe-v-wade-anniversary-message-dont.html