Happy Anniversary!

by Honora Gandhi

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to make safe, legal abortion available to women in our country. In Roe v. Wade, it was determined that abortion qualified as a private matter between a woman and her physician.

Despite the fact that with every federal and legislative session, new bills to restrict abortion rights are introduced, the majority (63%) of Americans still hold that abortion is a basic human right. …Hallelujah for that small, consistent majority. Without it, we could be sent back to a time more horrifying than most of us can imagine.

There are a lot of people, many of whom with political power, who claim to want Roe v. Wade reversed. I have to believe none of them knows what that means. It wouldn’t save any babies. It would kill women.

NARAL published a study recently that showed Millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000) are largely unaware of Roe v. Wade, its subject matter or importance. Not knowing what the case was about is inexcusable – it’s a landmark in US history (seriously, get it together). But I can say that as a Millennial, none of us has a clue how horrific, frightening and gruesome things were before Roe v. Wade.

Before Roe, women dying from blood poisoning and other complications of illegal abortion was commonplace. There is a saying, ‘Nothing can stand between a woman and a wanted or unwanted pregnancy.’ If a woman wants to get pregnant, she will; if a woman wants to terminate her pregnancy, she will. If the latter means killing herself in the process, she still will. Estimates of how many women in the US died from illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade (1973) range from 5,000 to 10,000 per year. 70,000 to 100,000 women around the world still die annually from illegal abortion – mostly in countries with restrictive abortion laws. Why a significant portion of the US would like to become one of those countries is beyond me.

Decriminalizing abortion was one of the most significant steps we’ve ever taken toward lightening the consequences of socioeconomic disparity. Abortion has always been and will always be available to wealthy women. Before it was legal here, wealthy Americans had the option of traveling to England for it – which they did, in droves. So while poor women underwent “back alley abortions” and “kitchen abortions,” both of which tended to end in sepsis and death, wealthy women had safe access to a low-risk medical procedure. The same was true when abortion was only legal in some states – women who could afford to make the trip across state lines got care, while women who couldn’t were in trouble.

So, thanks again, Roe – our grip on your victory might be increasingly tenuous, but you paved the way for a world in which gender equality isn’t completely inconceivable; a world in which women can assert control over their own futures without risking their lives and health; a world in which access to basic healthcare extends (however inadequately) across economic lines. Four decades ago, history was made in our favor. Be proud, celebrate, and fight to uphold the 1973 ruling that shaped our lives for the better.


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