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Happy 40th Birthday Roe v. Wade! (And Many More…)

Forty years ago today, the Supreme Court decided to legalize abortion which was a life changing (and saving) win for women’s health. Despite the ongoing attacks on women’s reproductive rights and health care access, abortion is still legal and available, though it is more difficult in some states than others. Even though it is technically legal across the country, economic status is a huge barrier to access with poor women facing greater obstacles to obtaining abortions and other vital health care services. Thus, we still must continue to raise our voices and ensure these rights are not taken away.

Although there has been bevy of media coverage about the importance of reproductive rights today, sadly there is not always this much attention paid to women’s lives every day in the media. From my experience when abortion and reproductive health are talked about in mainstream spaces, the focus is on legislation and restrictions which can eliminate the real stories and experiences of women.  I want to highlight some of the important personal stories and commentary to show how reproductive health and justice directly affects all of our our lives.

“My great-grandmother was a first-generation American and the mother of three small children. When she and her husband were faced with the prospect of another child, she took drastic measures to end that pregnancy—an illegal, self-induced abortion that cost her her life, left her husband a widower, and left her children without a mother…It is unacceptable that 40 years after Roe, some women in America face circumstances that are not so different from those my great-grandmother faced a century ago. We should not be ashamed to talk about abortion or apologetic for defending our rights. We should be outraged that we still need to do so.” Jessica Arons, Center for American Progress (for the Daily Beast)

“I had to lie to my coaches. I couldn’t tell them I had an abortion. What would they think of me? I kept it from all but one or two of my teammates. I felt a lot of shame about my decision. Not because I thought it was morally wrong but because I had to hide it from so many people in my life. The stigma around abortion meant that I had to lie to people because telling them opened me up to unnecessarily punitive judgment. The hardest part about having an abortion was the stigmatizing environment in which I was having it. I knew it was the only decision for me and even though I didn’t know a lot of women who had them, I knew they were ashamed—so I was ashamed too. We’ve created a culture in which we’ve attached a certain set of feelings to a specific set of circumstances. I was ashamed and grieving out of obligation when all I really felt was relief….The narrative that abortion gives women and transpeople an opportunity to live the rest of our lives, to become a doctor or a lawyer or whatever isn’t true for everyone. For some of us, abortion just provides one more day. One more day to live our lives exactly the way we want to. For some of us the decision isn’t political, it’s essential. It is essential to taking care of the children we already have, to circumventing difficult medical experiences or to just not be pregnant. There is nothing heroic about having an abortion. It is an essential part of reproductive health care.” -Shanelle Matthews, Crunk Feminists Collective

“”Growing up in the South, I had a traditional religious upbringing,” he says. “There were certainly lots of unwed pregnancies, but it was just sort of implied that if a woman became pregnant it was her obligation to continue the pregnancy.” But when he began practicing as an ob-gyn, Parker says, “I was faced with seeing women all the time who had unplanned pregnancies. So that started a 12-year path of wrestling with the morality of providing abortion care. [In the end,] I felt obligated ethically, morally, and spiritually. So I did.”” -Dr. Willie Parker, speaking to Mother Jones

“Even with “Roe” on the books, the promise of bodily autonomy remains out of reach for many women. And the central opposition to abortion rights isn’t about saving babies, promoting family or protecting women; it’s about controlling female sexuality and trying to return to a time when women were forced or coerced into subservience.” -Jill Filipovic for The Guardian

“When I think about frightened 19-year old soon to be 20-year old Aishah in 1989, I know that I was in no position to carry out the powerful responsibility of being a mother. My pregnancy resulted from either my rape or from very consensual (and pleasurable) sex with a different man less than 24-hours after my rape. It’s important that those of us who are able, share our complex sexual herstories, which are often a mixture of trauma and pleasure. I’m so tired of these debates about the “innocent” victims vs. the “jezebels”/”sluts”/”whores” who “get what they deserve.” This plays a role in the deafening silence of so many women who have been assaulted/violated by an acquaintance, friend, or lover, vs. the strange unidentifiable man. This is so common with any woman who dares to (strive) to own her sexuality.” -Aishah Shahidah Simmons, The Feminist Wire

“While volunteering, I had the honor of meeting incredible, resilient women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. The most striking part of this experience was when I realized that despite how seemingly different each woman is, we are also all deeply connected by the human experience, and that I needed to check my assumptions at the door.” -Samara Azam-Yu, Colorlines.com

Here is a primer on how to live in the grey area: 

  • See the person. A woman is more than her abortion. An abortion is more than a right. A person is more than their gender. In the grey area, we don’t always have perfect words, but we see the whole person before an issue.
  • Acknowledge hidden voices. The voices and experiences of women who have had abortions and our loved ones are typically neglected or hidden from public conversations, or our stories get used to make a political point. Creating room for the complexity of our voices and can reveal new insights about abortion.
  • Listen and share stories. Connection, as well as feeling heard and understood, are defining values of the grey area. Listen and share stories to build relationships that are personal and meaningful.”

-Aspen Baker, founder of Exhale, for Mother Jones

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