Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, a limited and limiting bit of jurisprudence, yes, but also the Supreme Court’s landmark recognition—even if in a partial and problematic way—that women have a human right to control their own internal organs, including the reproductive ones. It’s sometimes frustrating that Roe is the ruling that we’re stuck having to defend, but January 22 is the jubilee day in which most abortion was decriminalized in every state in the U.S., and it is a good day to celebrate the remarkable story of the radical feminist movement. (You do know that it was radical feminists who organized the first abortion speak-outs and who drove the movement for abortion law repeal rather than weak health-of-the-mother
reform, don’t you?) Roe was the capstone victory in a remarkable struggle that exploded, seemingly out of nowhere, with the first abortion speak-out in 1969, and transformed the lives of millions of women for the better over the course of 4 years. And if that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.
In honor of the occasion:
Digging even deeper into the archives, I can’t encourage you enough to give a read to Lucinda Cisler’s Abortion law repeal (sort of). It’s a remarkable, sometimes depressingly prescient, essay written four years before Roe, on the opportunities and dangers that lay ahead, and on the need to be consistent and completely unapologetic about abortion rights. It’s a woman’s right to control her body that’s at stake here, and there’s no excuse for letting anti-choicers Mau-Mau us into acting as if they had some kind of monopoly on moral discourse.
The most important thing feminists have done and have to keep doing is to insist that the basic reason for repealing the laws and making abortions available is justice: women’s right to abortion.
There are many reasons why a woman might seek a late abortion, and she should be able to find one legally if she wants it. She may suddenly discover that she had German measles in early pregnancy and that her fetus is deformed; she may have had a sudden mental breakdown; or some calamity may have changed the circumstances of her life: whatever her reasons, she belongs to herself and not to the state.
Hopefully you have some kickass events planned for the day, however, if Thursday’s festivities left you feeling like you have little left to celebrate, then take a moment to reflect on what you’re willing to do to for the reproductive rights movement.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, encourages that: “We need to talk to neighbors around the kitchen table about the values of freedom and privacy; we don’t run away from the arguments. Our movement is on stronger ground when we take seriously the moral dimensions of the issue.”
Of course Keenan is absolutely right that there is a moral principle here, and it’s one worth being unapologetic over. The Well-Timed Period makes that especially clear by offering us a harrowing history lesson. Criminalizing abortion is State violence against women. We must never go back.
BlackFeminism.org marks the occasion by reminding that for all too many communities, Roe is only a slip of paper, since abortion providers have been run out by the bullies, the thugs, and the constant daily assault from reactionary state governments. Today is a day to celebrate what we’ve won; but it’s also a day to commit ourselves to a struggle that is far from over.
And finally, L. reminds us of just how far we have come, and how important that struggle has been:
So just do me a favor and thank dumb luck or the deity of your choice that you were born in an age of reasonably effective birth control and open, legal abortion Better yet, thank your mothers and your grandmothers, for what they forced into being and what they lived through, and admire their strength without being nostalgic for its necessity. You don’t have to wallow in any grim hypothetical details, though there are plenty to be had. Just pause for a few seconds and consider that, yeah, ok, it really is better this way.