In 1973 after the Roe decision, I thought the battle had been won. How wrong I was.
When I went to a pro-choice demonstration in DC in the early 90’s, I couldn’t quite believe that we were still fighting this battle. But I was heartened to see so many young women there and thought that soon this would be settled and we wouldn't be wasting our energy fighting for this basic right. Wrong again.
When I dragged myself to DC for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives I began to worry that I might be fighting this battle until my dying day. Bush was president and had the power to shape the Supreme Court for years to come.
And now with a Democratic president and (before the November election) Democratic congress, we got a health care bill which fails to safeguard abortion rights.
There’s much in the health care bill which is a real advance: the expansion of Medicaid which will make a tremendous difference in the lives of the working poor; the end of life time caps on insurance policies which will mean that a major illness will not bankrupt families; the end of denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; parity for mental health in all policies offered on the new insurance exchanges; young people allowed to remain on their parents polices until age 26. But all these very real advances came at the price of a devil’s bargain with anti- choice politicians.
So prochoice activists are now gearing up for major battle in state legislatures as states develop the framework for the insurance exchanges mandated by the new health care law. Here we go again.
And if that weren’t bad enough, Philadelphians are facing the tragic consequences of the failure to treat abortion rights as a women’s health issue.
Please, please read Back-Alley Abortions in 2011: How Anti-Choice Zealots Force Women to Go to Dangerous Clinics Like Dr. Kermit Gosnell's.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been charged with murdering one woman and seven newborn babies at his West Philadelphia clinic, known as the Women’s Medical Society:
“Because of the Medicaid ban on abortion funding and state restrictions, poor women in the state and in Philadelphia really face horrific choices about what to do if they have an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, or a pregnancy that poses significant health problems,” says Rose Corrigan, a professor of politics and law at Drexel University. “So what I’ve seen is that women often shop around for abortion services. Women are so poor that a few dollars really make a difference.”
Corrigan is also a volunteer at the Women’s Medical Fund, a Philadelphia organization that offers financial assistance to poor women seeking abortions. She says that her organization has been advising women against visiting the Women’s Medical Society since the mid-1990s.“When women would call us we’d say, ‘There’s a reason it's cheap. Don’t go there.’”
“I think it’s also that abortion has become so stigmatized and that abortion care has become so ghettoized from mainstream medical care,” says Susan Schewel, executive director of the Women's Medical Fund. “It means that people aren’t talking about where’s a good place to go and where’s a safe place to go. And when women are harmed they’re afraid to go the authorities. We’ve talked with people here who have been mistreated at this clinic. And we’ve asked them to report it to proper state government authorities, and they said, ‘No way would we do that.’”
Women in my age cohort probably will not see the final victory over those who would deny women the right to control their own bodies. And to add to my dismay at having to gear up for this battle once again, we now have women opposed to abortion rights (like Sarah Palin and her Mama Grizzlies) who claim to be feminists! I get really depressed when women who are themselves pro-choice start buying into this saying things like: “Who are we to police the boundaries of feminism? Let’s be open to all women who want to identify as feminists.” Groups like Feminists for Life have been making these arguments for years but hearing this from members of the pro-choice community is something new.
There is some good news. Fortunately, there is a generation of young feminists out there ready to fight for reproductive rights. I don’t think young women are going to meekly stand by and accept the loss of hard fought rights. But women in my generation thought at one time that we had spared them the necessity of that fight.