|This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 1/21/99
Page C4, Opinion; Copyright 1999 by Beth David
Roe v. Wade didn't settle issue of women's rights
In January of 1995, I put an infuriating picture on my wall, a picture of then-Gov. William Weld and Cardinal Bernard Law. The headline boasted of a great abortion compromise, complete with negotiations and easing of tension.
Only days before, John Salvi's rampage on women's health clinics in Brookline had left two women dead in the name of life. So Weld and Law rushed to the rescue, two indisputably brilliant minds to save the day. "Calm down," they were saying to us hysterical feminists. "Everything's OK now; the men will take care of things."
But that's what got us into this mess in the first place. They supposedly represented the two sides: Gov. Weld, pro-choice but anti-women in fiscal policies; Cardinal Law, anti-abortion in all circumstances. Two men. Two rich, powerful, white men. One who would definitely be post-menopausal were he a woman, the other pretty close to it. Not a woman in sight. Sounds a lot like Congress, doesn't it?
We knew the real trouble had just begun. Because we knew that Roe v. Wade was not decided in a political vacuum. In 1973, grassroots activism flourished; the civil rights movement enjoyed great victories; the anti-war movement shook the world; the women's movement gained momentum by the minute. The country simply would not stand for anyone being denied the right to control her own body.
And so Roe was decided. Unfortunately, its logic had to be rooted in a Constitution written by rich white men at a time when women were chattel to their husbands and blacks were the property of whites. At best, Roe was a tenuous victory. And immediately, conservatives started to undermine it, beginning with the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for abortions for poor women, and culminating in Newt Gingrich's Congress, which passed nearly 100 votes restricting reproductive freedom.
Why do these guys get to decide what goes on inside women's bodies? Well, actually, they don't. Realistically, men play a tiny role in the reproductive process. And they can't stand it. Especially rich, white, powerful men. So they pass laws. Legislatures nationwide have passed parental consent laws denying medical care to a teen-age girl unless she appears before a judge. Even as our military showed off its high-tech prowess in the Middle East, Congress blocked clinical trials of RU486. Pennsylvania even tried to force married women to get permission from their husbands.
So far, Roe has survived the assaults, barely. And while Roe stands, women cannot be prosecuted for having abortions. But I know of no other right in America with as many restrictions -- some legal, some not, but all tolerated. Because the same institutions that trivialize other forms of violence against women, dismiss the hatefulness of the anti abortion movement. They are the anti-abortion movement.
So when the antis lay siege to health clinics it's called free speech instead of a blatant attempt to deny us our constitutional right. This is, simply put, institutionalized violence against women. And if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe, archaic state laws will be reinstated to literally enslave women to their biology, a problem that science routinely overcomes for men (need I mention Viagra?).
It's tiring and insulting to keep fighting the same fight over and over. But women cannot take their rightful, equal place alongside men without unfettered, de-stigmatized access to medically safe, legal abortion and contraception, regardless of age or income. That's why we need pro-choice legislators at every level of government. From school committee (which decides sex education policies), to mayor (who directs the police response to anti-abortion violence), to the state legislature (which passes parental consent laws), to governor (who appoints judges), to Congress (which blocks research on women's health), to the White House (which created the Rehnquist Court, the same Rehnquist who dissented on the Roe decision, the same court that our every right depends on).
We need to change the faces of these rich, white, post-menopausal men to a diverse group of men and women who know by their life experiences that letting the other guy decide is what got us into this mess in the first place.