There's a perversely poetic symmetry in the
fact January 22, 2023 marked both the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit* -- that
universal symbol of fertility and prolific reproduction -- and
the would-be 50th anniversary of Roe versus Wade, the United States Supreme Court ruling that
revolutionized women's reproductive rights by effectively
legalizing abortion throughout the U.S.
Roe, though widely celebrated by women's rights advocates, was consistently fought from its earliest days, a fight that grew fiercer and more violent over the decades. Arguably, anti-abortion terrorism even helped fuel the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Even so, many of us clung to the increasingly thin hope that Roe would survive at least to the half-century mark. But when SCOTUS overturned Roe on June 24, 2022, that hope was dashed. And this weekend has been filled with marches and demonstrations that both celebrated and protested Roe's demise.
The anti-choice factions, whom I prefer to call the forced-birth fascists, have been exploiting the 50th anniversary of Roe not only to gloat, but also to double down on their commitment to ending abortion in America altogether, with "fetal personhood" being a key obsession. Pro-choice advocates, on the other hand, declare that the fight for reproductive freedom is far from over.
Still, there's no doubt that it is going to be a fight, and in so many ways it seems like we are right back at square one. In an opinion piece in The Guardian, US columnist Moira Donegan wrote:
In contrast to its political controversy, abortion in the Roe era was – as it is now – aggressively common. Approximately one in four American women will have an abortion at some point in the course of their reproductive lives.
The figure lends credence to the pro-choice assertion that everyone loves someone who had an abortion – and the accompanying quip that if you think you don’t know a woman who has had an abortion, you really just don’t know any women who trust you enough to tell you. But part of the legacy of Roe is not just that these women you know and love have been able to have freer, healthier, more volitional lives, but also that their abortions, for many of them, are not worth confessing. For most, abortions were not tragedies to be whispered about, or life-altering moments of shame, but banalities, choices to which they were unquestionably entitled, and from which they could move unconflictedly on. But Roe is gone. Now, for many women, these choices are crimes.
Donegan mused about how Roe opened a door for women to lives of greater dignity and self-determination, even though there were numerous flies in the ointment almost from the beginning.
This, at least, was the aspiration that Roe came to stand for: women’s freedom, their independence, their acceptance as equals in the American project. Of course, it never quite did work out that way: the Hyde amendment, which banned Medicaid funding for abortions, was passed just three years after Roe, in 1976, and effectively excluded poor women from Roe’s promise. Black women faced the dual barriers of moral judgement and eugenicist legacy – for them, often neither the choice to abort nor the choice to parent were fully free. Members of the anti-choice movement, assisted by a judiciary that became increasingly willing to do their bidding, were inventive and sadistically persistent in chipping away at abortion access, making it more expensive, more onerous, and more stigmatized than other kinds of medical care...
In an opinion piece on CNN.com, journalist and journalist professor Claudia Dreifus reflects on the awfulness of life before Roe. She had first-hand experience.
In my college circle, one routinely heard the most horrific stories: operations in motel rooms, surgeries without anesthesia, abortionists who’d raped women seeking their services. Strange as it seems today: this was common. I had a friend who developed a pelvic infection after a back-alley abortion; she was rendered infertile.
I found myself pregnant in 1964. I was 19. At first, I tried to self-abort. I failed. A friend of my mother’s connected me with a doctor in Pennsylvania.
On the way there, I felt terrified. What if he wasn’t a genuine physician? Would I contract an infection like my friend did? The thought that I might die kept repeating itself. As I drove through the bleak January landscape of rural Pennsylvania, I thought “Whatever the risks, you must do this. There’s no turning back.”
I’d drawn the lucky card. He turned out to be a real physician. I had the operation under anesthesia and with proper medication. He provided abortions because he believed in it, never charging more than $100. His community protected him....
happy-ending story was more the exception than the rule. Horror stories abound.
One of those horror stories was immortalized in the April 1973 issue of Ms. Magazine, in a cover article titled, "Never Again," written by journalist and advocate Roberta Brandes Gratz. The lead photo in the piece shows a nude and bloodied woman, sprawled face down on the floor of a motel room following an illegal septic abortion in 1964. That photo has haunted me, and apparently millions of other people, for decades. It became a graphic symbol of the pro-choice movement.**
Like many millions of other women, I had a safe and legal abortion in the Roe era, in a clinical setting. I was very young, and for many reasons, having a child would have been a disaster both for me and for the child. My procedure occurred during the earlier years of Roe, when widespread anti-abortion demonstrations and violence were still in the future. So I did not have to face a gamut of screaming protestors, or be escorted into the clinic by an armed guard, or go through a metal detector, or communicate to the receptionist through bullet-proof glass.
Yet the procedure was emotionally wrenching for me, as it is for most people who, for one reason or another, have to make this decision. I rode an emotional rollercoaster of fear and doubt and sadness, punctuated heavily by an overwhelming feeling of relief. My nights were marked by a series of vivid dreams, both before and after the procedure. I vowed that I would never again get into a situation where an abortion was necessary. I kept that vow through the years, and in case you're wondering, I had no regrets then, nor do I now, that I chose to end my pregnancy.
It saddens and angers me that regressive forces have worked so hard, and continue to work so hard, to deny other pregnant people the same rights I had so many years ago. But it is encouraging to know that in the highest levels of government there is an ongoing effort to restore and preserve reproductive rights. For instance, there's the official Statement from President Joe Biden on the 50th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Decision:
Today, instead of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, we are acknowledging that last year, the Supreme Court took away a constitutional right from the American people.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Americans, time and time again, have made their voices heard: women should be able to make these deeply personal decisions free from political interference. Yet, Republicans in Congress and across the country continue to push for a national abortion ban, to criminalize doctors and nurses, and to make contraception harder to access. It’s dangerous, extreme, and out of touch.
I’ll continue to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose. Congress must restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law – it’s the only way we can fully secure a woman’s right to choose in every state.
In keeping with this statement, Vice President Kamala Harris announced President Biden's new memorandum ensuring safe
access to medication abortion, and helping to safeguard patient
and provider safety and security.
Of course, that's just a presidential memorandum, issued by a president for whom the forced-birth fascists, many of whom are MAGAs, have no respect, and it's a pretty safe bet that they will do everything they can to get around it. But... it's something. And it shows that we have not and will not give in to those who would force a ten-year-old to bear the child of her rapist, or a woman with a dead fetus or an ectopic pregnancy to just grin and bear it.
In the Year of the Rabbit and beyond, reproductive rights, or lack thereof, will remain front and center in political battles all across the United States, and for that matter, in numerous other countries across the globe. We shouldn't expect the issue to go away any time soon. For abortion became a political issue decades ago, and as I've said a few times on this blog, in politix, as in Scamworld, there are no neat and tidy endings. If you want to join the fight for choice and progress, here's a Google link to some resources.
* Note: It is the Year of the Rabbit everywhere
except in in Vietnam, which stubbornly
insists that this Lunar New Year ushers in the Year of the Cat.
** The April 1973 Ms. article also features a dramatic illustration by the late artist Miriam Wosk. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I took the liberty of snapping a pic of the page in my copy of this issue, as I did the first page. No infringement of copyright is intended.