Robin Marty and Jessica Pieklo, two of my compatriots at our group project The Broad Side, have been working long and hard on their book about what has happened to women’s reproductive rights since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 through today. On the 40th anniversary of the historic ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to decide her own reproductive destiny, their book Crow After Row: How Women’s Health is the New “Separate But Equal” and How Change That, that examines how those rights have been whittled away in the last four decades, will be released soon.
Robin and Jessica have provided this exclusive excerpt as part of our commemoration of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling:
Wendy Long, the 2012 Republican challenger to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, notoriously told local news outlet Capital New York that if Roe was overturned, it was highly unlikely anyone would even notice at this point. “[I]f Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, nobody would even notice, because the states are legislating their own laws about abortion, completely independent.”
Would anyone notice? Yes, of course they would, depending on the state that they lived in and their economic means. Access to abortion will always be a reality for women in certain states like California, New York, Washington and other places that value a woman’s right to control her body. But in states like Texas, Arizona and Kansas, it’s a different story. As The Center for Reproductive Rights reported in a 2004 study “If Roe Fell,” only twenty states (at the time) would have safe, legal abortion if Roe were overturned. The other thirty states would have limited access, and twenty-one of those would likely have no access at all based on their own trigger laws or previous state court verdicts.
If “nobody would even notice,” it would only be because in many states, restrictions prior to having an abortion have become so onerous that access has become a matter of where a woman lives or how much money she has. From laws that ban abortion at different points prior to viability such as in Nebraska and Ohio, to laws that ban certain types of abortions such in Wisconsin, legislators are inserting themselves as authorities on medical best practices and turning providers into criminals. In Indiana, they are seeking ways of criminalizing women for “endangering” their pregnancies, while in Idaho, prosecutors have taken steps towards jailing women for procuring their own abortions. Washington D.C., Texas and Kansas have all found different means to use funding as a way to cut off women’s access to reproductive health services, while South Dakota, Oklahoma and Mississippi use “informed consent” and “women’s safety” as a means to deny the right to choose. Arizona simply bans everything and hopes one of the laws will eventually make it to the Supreme Court.
With 40 years of judicial precedent that has incrementally rolled back abortion access to work with and a panel of Supreme Court justices who appear more willing than ever to re-open an issue that is considered settled law, women’s reproductive rights have never been more vulnerable. And thanks to a handful of state legislators determined to make their political names and reputations by advancing legislation meant to crumble those protections offered by Roe, we may fragment into a new Confederacy of pro- and anti-women’s health states sooner than anyone could have imagined. To prevent that from happening, we need to move away from just defending a woman’s right to choose and back to an aggressive stance where we once more demand that bodily autonomy belong to all woman, regardless of their race or class.
Anti-choice activists have set the battleground in states like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Idaho, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, Kansas, D.C., Arizona, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Mississippi. They have used the legislatures to create the laws that regulate abortion practically out of existence and padded the judiciary with abortion-hostile justices to control legal challenges. But by examining each individual prong in the attack on Roe it is clear that the assault is not simply on women, but on women who have the least means to fight back by themselves and for themselves. Together we can create a game plan to bring the fight back to these states and across the country as a whole in order to create an equitable health care system that offers reproductive justice for all.