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« Carl Sandburg | Main | We The People »


Forty Years Later

By Diane Wahto
January 30, 2013

The news that the Supreme Court had decided in favor of Roe in the Roe v. Wade case in Jan. 1973, elicited a gasp from me. I had been somewhat active in the women’s rights movement for a few years, but I was more focused on the anti-Vietnam War movement. After all, I took birth control pills, which meant I didn’t have to worry about an unwanted pregnancy. The three children I had were wanted children.

Even so, I felt great relief at the news. Women and teenage girls who found themselves with unwanted pregnancies had few choices. I remember girls disappearing from my high school class, with no explanation, never to appear again. Some women knew where they would be able to get abortions, but to do so, they had to risk arrest, while putting their fate in the hands of so-called back-alley abortionists. Some of these practitioners were medical doctors, others were people who provided their secret services at a high cost, both in money and risk, to the women they operated on.

Abortion was formally criminalized in the late 18th century, thanks to the American Medical Association. Before that time, midwives performed abortions as part of their services. Doctors saw this as a threat to their medical practice, so they urged legislatures to make abortion illegal in the interests of a pregnant woman’s safety.

Criminalizing abortion did not stop it, of course. Women found ways to get the procedure done. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a clergy group banded together to help women find safe abortion providers in the country. At this time, Jane’s List, a group of women around the country also provided the same services, all of it underground.

Katha Pollitt, in her latest Nation Magazine column, "The Message and the Meaning: Is Pro-Choice Passé,” deals with the issue of labels. Apparently, Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, has decided that the term “pro-choice” has become “irrelevant.” Pollitt response is my response:

To me, “pro-choice” means you believe that whether a woman keeps a pregnancy is up to her—the position most Americans say they support when asked about Roe. That is the “moderate” position. The exact opposite of the pro-life position would be to override the woman’s will and let others—parents, doctors, social services, the government—decide she must have an abortion, as is happening in China. An “extreme” pro-choice position would be the one pro-lifers falsely claim Roe protects: it would permit abortion on demand up until the day before birth. No pro-choice organization calls for that.

As one woman who commented on Pollitt’s article said, and I paraphrase, I am pro-choice. I am not pro-abortion or pro-pregnancy. This is, as Pollitt points out, the moderate position.

However, I never refer to those who want to make abortion illegal as “pro-life.” They aren’t. They are “anti-choice” in every way and that is what I call them. They really don’t care about the lives of children. They care only about making sure a woman gives birth, no matter what her circumstances or her decision.

Forty years after the Roe decision, Julie Burkhart is going forward with plans to reopen the Wichita clinic that closed so suddenly after the tragic death of Dr. George Tiller. She is already facing harassment from the anti- choice group Operation Rescue. OR harassers have picketed her house and the clinic where workers are doing renovations. They’ve also started their legal nitpicking, charging that the construction company didn’t have the proper license to do the work, a charge that the Wichita city inspector threw out. Operation Rescue has also created a non-profit calling itself “Trust Women,” the name of Burkhart’s non-profit.

Despite this harassment, Burkhart plans to open the clinic and will offer comprehensive women’s health care, including abortions. it’s clear that members of right wing Kansas State Legislature will do everything in their power to make sure the clinic is a failure. They will also continue to go after Planned Parenthood, which will lead to more costly lawsuits for the state.

According to a recent survey, 70% of respondents support abortion rights. This is good news, but it’s going to take more than a survey to ensure that abortion rights endure. It will take working on political campaigns, writing letters to the editor, participating in demonstrations, and extensive lobbying to make sure women have the access to abortion that was guaranteed forty years ago.

The opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun in Roe said a constitutional right to privacy encompasses a woman's decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Seven of the nine justices agreed. "The decision vindicates the right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment up to the point where the important state interests provide compelling justifications for intervention," Blackmun wrote in a concluding paragraph, according to Women’s E-News.

The decision relating to an unwanted pregnancy will never be an easy one for a woman to make. However, women can make their decision based on what is right for them, thanks to Roe v.Wade..


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