Roe vs. Wade: The Path We’ve Taken

Dear Friend and Reader:

It’s amazing, isn’t it? We made it through two terms of baby Bush without losing Roe vs. Wade. Today is the 36th anniversary of the Roe decision, so take a moment to appreciate it — we’ve scraped through with three-and-a-half decades of reproductive freedom in this country. That’s my entire lifetime plus a dozen years; anyone would call that a safe margin.

Reproductive rights was priority one in the 1970s, during the second wave of feminism: the first wavers were the suffragettes, the third started in the 1990s. [This revolutionary period was also marked by Eris’ presence. You can read more about Eris and the 1970s feminist movement in this article.] And, though R v. W is probably the moniker I’d stitch into the proverbial second wave bathrobe — yes, it’s morning in New York — some advances have found survival a little more challenging.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest sexual and reproductive health care provider, started a program called Planned Parenthood International in 1971, two years before the Roe case was decided in the Supreme Court. Their primary aim has been to offer reproductive education and technology to developing countries, meaning access to birth control, condoms, abortions and explaining how pregnancy happens and how to prevent it.

In 1971, the program was funded by the US government. Then, in 1984, Reagan instituted the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, which bans US funding for international programs that perform and/or promote abortion.

There is a pretty interesting pattern that’s developed since 1984. Because the presidential inauguration falls on Jan. 20, the celebration of Roe vs. Wade always comes a couple of days after a new president takes office. And, since Reagan, the Roe anniversary has been the day for the new president to execute his pro- or anti-choice beliefs by rescinding or re-instating the Mexico City Policy.


Here’s the play-by-play: in 1984, Reagan instituted the policy, and daddy Bush kept it. Clinton rescinded it in 1993: baby Bush re-instituted it in 2001. Today, Jan. 22, 2009, President Obama took it away again, allowing public funding to reach organizations that support abortion. Is your head spinning? Mine is getting more of that tennis-match feeling.

To boil it down, it’s much easier for the current president to play ping-pong with policy than with Supreme Court decisions, and that’s why Roe has made it to the ripened age of 36. But public funding for poor people in developing countries hasn’t had the same staying power as our domestic law permitting abortions. At least today, and thanks to our Democratic president, things have switched back to the brighter side and I’m looking forward to that swish sound money makes when it shoots through the pipes and into Planned Parenthood offices. They’ll only do good things with it.

When we think about reproductive rights, we tend to think about the right to abortion. Really, it’s about family planning, and thinking about this takes me to Arkansas. The Arkansas Unmarried Couple Adoption Ban will be one month old on Feb. 1, and it’s prevented couples from adopting children if they’re not married. This is not just affecting same-sex couples, the Ban applies to single people, cohabiting straight couples, anyone without a marriage contract stowed away in their linen drawer.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Ban on Dec. 30, two days before the Ban was enacted, with 29 couples and children from over a dozen families participating in the case. You can read the ACLU’s brief here, and it includes the stories of a handful of the families involved in the suit. They run the gamut, and it really illustrates the diversity of unmarried people who still manage to be upstanding citizens. Go figure.

I don’t know where Focus on the Family, the religious right organization that supported this ban, thinks this is going. If they had it their way, there’d be both a ban on abortion and a ban like Arkansas’ against unmarried people adopting and fostering. What are they envisioning, some kind of mutant hybrid of Oliver Twist and Multiplicity? There are enough children without permanent homes as it is, I truly don’t understand the logic behind reducing the number of available foster homes and adoptive parents.

Eight years ago, I was finishing my last year of high school, watching the television broadcast the results of the presidential election. I distinctly remember the feeling of a wide, dark cloud passing overhead, and a lot of this came from my fear for Roe. I was so sure it would be overturned during the Bush administration that I started reading Wise Woman Herbal and vowed to learn how to give natural abortions. It’s not from lack of trying on Bush’s part, especially with his nominations of Roberts and Alito,В but Roe did survive, we made it through to the other side.

With the Obama sails at our backs, and a jump-start with the overturning of the Mexico City Policy, things are looking hopeful again. It’s going to be harder to shut down abortion clinics, to allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense medication (read: RU-486, birth control pills) they disagree with morally and to fund abstinence-only sex indoctrination. Abstinence-only is one of the most damaging programs we have in this country, and one that Planned Parenthood has fought consistently and intelligently. The stage is set, all we have to do is get on it.

Yours & truly,

Rachel Asher

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