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 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!

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