January 22, 2011
Roe v. Wade: The Battle Continues
January 22 is the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the historic Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion throughout the United States. This was a huge victory. Access to safe, legal abortion and freedom from forced sterilization are as fundamental as the right to breath the air. No woman should ever need to apologize for taking action to control her own body and life.
Roe still stands, but it's been a rough year for reproductive justice. The new federal health care system severely restricts insurance coverage for abortions. At the state level, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, "legislatures considered and enacted some of the most extreme restrictions on abortion in recent memory, as well as passing laws creating many other significant new hurdles." State legislatures and medical boards have created rules allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions. Other measures include mandatory waiting periods, parental notification, allowing health care providers to refuse services related to abortion or contraception, and outright bans on abortion, even when a woman's health is in danger.
There were a few bright spots. The District of Columbia reinstated public funding for abortions. Wisconsin mandated that sex education be medically accurate. And Colorado voters defeated an initiative that would have defined a fetus as a human being from the moment of conception.
But these are only skirmishes in an intensifying battle. The ultra-right has rallied its forces, fueled by economic depression, skyrocketing prices and desperate competition for jobs. They blame single moms, immigrants, people of color, queers, and unionists for society's problems. A fundamental pillar of their ideology is misogyny. They strive to turn women into unskilled workers and unpaid breeders and nursemaids, whose lives can be ruled by husbands and fathers, pharmacists, and religious decrees.
Some women's groups have sought to appease conservatives by claiming a shared interest in preventing abortions by increased access to contraception. This opportunist strategy has been a predictable failure that has merely fueled the far-right.
Other organizations have relied on Democratic politicians to defend women. But these allies have proven false. President Obama's call to "end the polarizing debate on abortion" was a request to stop agitating for reproductive rights. In negotiations for federal healthcare legislation, Democrats bartered away abortion and allowed contraception to be eliminated from covered benefits. Debate still rages over whether contraceptives will be available without a co-pay under the federal Affordable Care Act.
To defeat the bigots, a powerful movement must be built to demand that women have the right to make the most crucial decisions about their lives. Visible, bold, multi-racial organizing is what won abortion rights and virtually every other gain of working people. That is what is needed today - in the streets, outside women's clinics, in the media, and wherever our opponents raise their reactionary program.
Radical Women calls on feminists to join together to build a united front to stop the ultra-right. If you are interested in collaborating on this kind of effort, contact Anne or Margaret for National Radical Women at RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com or 206-722-6057.