Today, January 22, is the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. This landmark decision in 1973 supposedly meant that a woman could now make her own decisions about a pregnancy. But the law has been under siege ever since.
In 2013, four states have passed laws that effectively end abortions: Mississippi, North and South Dakota, and Arkansas. In these states, there is either a single clinic that still offers these services – or no clinic. In the states that have a single clinic, the places are like fortresses, the employees take a different route to work each day, in a different car. After different routes to work, in different cars, and some of them carry concealed weapons.
In Wichita, Kansas, the last abortion clinic closed in 2009, with the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the only doctor in the state and one of the few in the U.S. who performed late stage abortions. He was shot and killed during a church service where he served as an usher, by Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion activist. Roeder was arrested within three hours of the shooting, and was charged with first-degree murder. Roeder publicly confessed to the killing in November 2009 and told the AP that he had shot Tiller because “preborn children’s lives were in imminent danger.” On April 1, 2010 (April Fool’s Day) Roeder was sentenced to life imprisonment without any chance for parole for 50 years.
During the presidential campaign of 2012, the assault on women’s health became obvious and horrifying. There was talk about mandatory vaginal ultrasounds on women who sought abortions, the assault on Planned Parenthood (which provides not only abortion services, but essential health screenings and birth control for women), and of course, assaults on Obama’s mandatory health care plan, which the Supreme Court ruled to be constitutional, much to the chagrin of certain Republican governors.
So the states run by extremists decided to make it nearly impossible for clinics that provided abortions to exist. Which brings us to Mississippi, North and South Dakota, and Arkansas. And brings us to a story I found terrifying, first reported by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women – yes, there’s actually an advocacy for these women – found that between 1973 and 2005, hundreds of pregnant women have been forced to undergo wanted medical procedures and have been jailed or locked up in psychiatric institutions because they were pregnant. Another 250 more interventions have occurred since 2005. In one case, for instance, a court ordered a critically ill woman in Washington, D.C., to undergo a C-section against her will. Neither she nor the baby survived. In another case, a judge in Ohio kept a woman imprisoned to prevent her from having an abortion.
Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said, “We’ve had cases where lawyers have been appointed for a fetus before the woman herself, who’s been locked up, ever gets a lawyer. And one court said pregnant women of course have a right to religious freedom — unless it interferes with what we believe is best for the fetus or embryo.”
Really? The judicial system knows what’s best for you and your pregnancy? For you and your body? Okay, let’s say you’re a female in your early twenties. Even though you’re college educated, the economy for women in your position, with your major, isn’t good. You get pregnant. You’re not married. You know you can’t afford to raise a child, that you can barely support yourself. Or perhaps you’re a woman in her forties who, for health reasons, can’t carry a child to term without great risk to your own health. Or perhaps you simply don‘t want children and your method of birth control failed. Or, worse,you were raped and got pregnant. Now what?
No woman goes into an abortion without emotional conflict. The decision to seek an abortion is not one you make casually, over breakfast and your morning coffee. There’s nothing casual about it. But it’s YOU who should make the decision – not a panel of men. It’s YOU who must come to terms with that decision – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually – not a bunch of male politicians. I don’t mean to sound sexist here, but if men were the ones getting pregnant, this wouldn’t be an issue.
I’m old enough to have known women who got abortions in back alleys, who went to the Bahamas or other countries where abortion were legal. And frankly, I can’t believe that after 40 years, legal abortion is still an issue in this country. Abortion, like guns and gay marriage, speaks to our divisiveness as a nation, to the interjection of religious beliefs that claim life begins at conception, that the second amendment means we can all carry assault weapons, and that gays who love each other should be denied the rights that other married couples have.
All of these beliefs are rooted in fear of change. But change is inevitable and it sweeps over us whether we’re ready or not. In the end, these decisions belong to the individual -not the state, not the government, and certainly not to a bunch of overpaid, bloated politicians who are out of step with the American people. In the end, these decisions are made in the privacy of our own hearts and spiritual beliefs.
A postscript: President Obama was sworn into office for a second term yesterday. I’m feeling enormously optimistic about the future with this visionary at the helm. He’s the face of the future. And after four years in which he was opposed at every turn, his resolve during his inaugural speech promises that the next four years will be quite different. He has apparently learned that attempted compromise with Republicans is a lost cause. Perhaps this next four years is when he really does become the agent for change.