Roundup: Roe v. Wade’s 38th Anniversary

Amie Newman

The 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a day to acknowledge the importance of safe, legal abortion care as an issue of justice for women. It's also a time to recognize that barriers to this care still exist for far too many women in this country.

Every year since I opened the door to my own women’s health and rights advocacy the anniversary of Roe v. Wade has served as a marker for me. It’s a marker of why reproductive justice is indivisible from abortion access, of course but also why it’s indivisible from the basic human rights to bodily autonomy, freedom to live without violence or poverty or access to a range of health care. I thought of this at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration last week, at my childrens’ school, as one young man talked about how MLK, Jr. himself saw racism, poverty, classism, violence, and access to health care as indivisible from each other – in other words, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. 

The fight to maintain and increase safe, legal abortion access is integrally connected to issues of women’s rights, poverty, racism, gender-based violence, LGBT equality, and environmental justice to name just a few. The fight to retain the freedoms given to women and girls when Roe v. Wade was decided continues as states enact an increasing number of restrictions on abortion access disproportionately affecting lower-income women, younger women and women of color. Yet many around the world continue to work towards a day when Roe v. Wade, a historic ruling for sure, works in tandem with a system that allows for safe, legal abortion access– justice–for all.

Removing the Roe-se Colored Glasses

As Merle Hoffman, editor of On the Issues, and Founder and Director of Choices Women’s Medical Center, writes about the Roe v. Wade 38th anniversary,

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“While Roe established abortion as a legal right for women, current laws in many states mean women still have to cross state lines or face other restrictions to secure abortions.”

The reality for many women and girls around the country means that while abortion may be legal it remains inaccessible – either from an economic standpoint or, more literally, a geographic one. The Hyde Amendment, barring federal funding for abortion care, means poor women have limited to no access to safe abortion care. And now, Rep. Chris Smith, by introducing the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” Act is attempting to go miles beyond the Hyde Amendment.

Jessica Arons writes on Rewire about what she calls “a radical abortion ban.” She says his bill, “would go far beyond current law, seriously compromise women’s access to reproductive health care, and hamstring government operations.” The bill seeks to impose myriad destructive restrictions on legal abortion access, endangering women’s health and lives; from codifying into law federal funding restrictions (which now need to be reauthorized each year); to imposing tax penalties on those who pay for abortion care; to forbidding “any facilities owned or operated by the federal government and any individuals employed by the federal government from providing abortion care.”

In fact, the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade brings with it not only the fight to retain the legality of abortion but the fight to retain insurance coverage of abortion care as well. Although insurance coverage of abortion has been an issue in the states for years (some states allow for Medicaid funded abortion care, others outright prohibit it, for example), health reform has brought with it a renewed slew of restrictions, on the state level, in the yet-to-be created state health exchanges. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), in a release today, notes,

“On the 38th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, women’s access to abortion services faces an unprecedented barrier. While the nation moves forward to expand health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, women’s reproductive health care is being bargained away by federal and state legislators working in tandem with Religious Right organizations. Their target is the removal of abortion coverage from the insurance exchanges, the insurance marketplaces being formed by individual states. With more than 80 percent of insurers now covering abortion, the potential loss of coverage in the exchanges will be significant and will affect women in both public and private insurance plans.”

The group’s new campaign, “Insure Women, Ensure our Future” was created to “fight for justice” for women through assuring insurance coverage of abortion care.

Even the House repeal of the health care law, passed on Wednesday, January 18th, is meant to move the country one step closer towards broad abortion restrictions. Smith’s introduction of his bill, on the heels of the House vote for repeal, is no accident. It’s all part of a pummeling of reproductive rights from the anti-choice Republican-led House. Politico reports, “The legislation is supported by the chairman of an Energy Committee health panel, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), and the co-chairs of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). It also comes in tandem with the Protect Life Act, another measure meant to prevent taxpayer funding of abortion.” [emphasis mine]

The D.I.Y. “Option”?

In Campus Progress Ryan Brown writes on the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in “The Dangerous World of At-Home Abortions,” 

Thirty-eight years later, however, the impacts of Roe v. Wade continue to be felt unevenly across class, race and geographic barriers in this country, leaving some women in nearly the same precarious position they occupied four decades ago. Two chilling new studies—one in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the other in Reproductive Health Mattersreveal that even after two generations of legal abortion, a small but possibly growing number of American women are taking pregnancy termination into their own hands.

Why is it that after almost forty years of legal abortion in the United States, some women still feel that ending a pregnancy without medical care, putting their health and lives in danger, is an option? Brown writes:

In 30 in-depth interviews conducted by Reproductive Health, a third of participants cited financial reasons for self-inducing abortions. That should come as no surprise—abortions cost up to $1000, and under the provisions of a piece of federal legislation called the Hyde Amendment (which Campus Progress has previously written extensively about), they are almost never covered by Medicaid at the federal level. Other telltale signs of restricted access to legal abortions also emerged among the women who chose to self-induce. Several listed “distance to a clinic” as a factor, meaning they probably lived in one of the 87 percent of counties in the United States without an abortion clinic. And one 16-year old told the researchers, “I didn’t wanted my mom to know. I didn’t want to go to court ‘cause it was gonna be too long and probably he was gonna say no, so I just [said], you know, ‘skip all that, I’m gonna do it. Myself.’”

In other words, restrictive abortion laws which prohibit federal or state funding of abortion care, require parental consent or notification, and the consistent terrorist acts lobbed at providers help create the conditions for dangerous, “do-it-yourself” abortions. This is something Roe v. Wade, in all of its judicial glory, cannot remedy.

The Young and The Movement-less?

Though legislative restrictions continue to abound, as we commemorate the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the anti-choice movement is looking towards a new generation in order to “recruit” a new crop of activists. Amanda Hess, in her post on TBD.com today, “Anti-abortion movement attempts rebirth,”  writes,

As the March for Life approaches middle age, it threatens to alienate a grop [sic] that’s always been central to the anti-abortion brand: Young people. Outside abortion clinics, kids look cute with LIFE-emblazoned duct tape pressed over their mouths; at high schools, teens look fetching while telling their peers to wait until marriage. Each year, the March for Life manages to wheel plenty of youth down to the National Mall, whether by stroller or church group caravan. But the event has consistently failed to engage the youth of America on a meaningful level. Consider the theme of the event’s 2011 student poster design contest, advertised to kids as young as 12: “Thou Shalt Protect the Equal Right to Life of Each Innocent Born and Preborn Human in Existence at Fertilization. No Exception! No Compromise!”

So the organizers for the more youth-focused annual music event “Rock for Life” will introduce a new movement – the National Pro-Life Youth Rally – aimed at bringing in those younger folks. The director of “Rock for Life” Erik Whittington doesn’t do a great job at hiding what it’s about for him (health and rights? bodily autonomy? justice? Nope): “It’s about drawing people in. It’s about the music,” he says.

How does he entice the high-school crowd? Through graphic images and information he tells Hess. Unfortunately (for the anti-choice movement) once young people reach college-age they become less susceptible to propaganda and looking at the issue in black-and-white terms. It’s when reproductive justice organizations like Choice USA reach out and provide a forum for young women and men to explore the issue in depth. Writing about the group and its director, Kierra Johnson, Hess notes,

Johnson says that her movement benefits from that sort of advanced conversation. “Many young people—even people on our staff—identified as anti-choice at one point in their lives, but now that they’re out on their own and can look at the full story, they came to the decision to work toward reproductive justice for all people,” Johnson says. “Life is complex,” she adds. “The more you live it, the more you know it.”

Get Up, Stand Up and Don’t Forget to Fight

As the March for Life gears up for a protest in Washington DC, reproductive justice advocates are organizing as well. Germantown Reproductive Health Services in Germantown, MD is scheduling a host of events in both Maryland and DC, in honor of abortion providers, but in special recognition of Dr. Leroy Carhart. Carhart has been an indefatigable fighter for women’s health and rights, as he’s provided later term abortion care to women in Nebraska and now in Germantown, MD. From an Rewire reader diary on the January 22nd and 23rd events,

Dr. LeRoy Carhart, long-time colleague and friend of Dr. George Tiller (assassinated by an anti-abortion activist in May 2008) has remained undeterred in his life’s mission to provide women with safe, caring abortion services when they need them. YOU are needed in Germantown, MD and the DC area this coming weekend to stand up for Dr. Carhart and women’s right to abortion and reproductive control.

Join a host of reproductive justice advocates for any or all of these events!

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is also hosting a vigil in Washington DC on Monday, January 24th on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. More information here.

Cindy Cooper of Words of Choice has culled together a comprehensive (and impressive!) list of Roe v. Wade celebrations happening around the country. Not sure what’s going on in your hood? Check out Words of Choice for a round-up of events.

Please feel free to leave any events, celebrations, commemorations or remembrances in the comments!

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.