On the Anniversary of Roe – A Call to Action

This article originally appeared at Amplify.

Amidst all the deserved attention being paid to
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the earthquake in Haiti, health care reform, the
Senate election in Massachusetts, there is another deserving issue that goes
largely unnoticed unless it is in crises– except for one day a year.  Rather
than bemoan the lack of attention or the reasons for it, I want to use the
occasion of this anniversary of Roe v. Wade to remind all of us of the
importance of this issue to every woman, indeed every American.

It has been a journey of more than 40 years since I sat in a hospital
conference room, interrogated by men who held my fate, my family, and my choice
in their hands. After all these years, I can still feel the humiliation, the
shame, and the anger as though those doctors were sitting in front of me now,
demanding to know whether I was capable of dressing my children in the morning
and being intimate with my husband at night. This indignity was in the service
of deciding whether I met the criteria for a diagnosis as " unfit for
childbearing" necessary for permission to have an abortion in a hospital
rather than a back alley.

Roe v. Wade changed all that by recognizing a woman’s
constitutional right to make decisions in matters of pregnancy, childbearing
and abortion in privacy, safety and with dignity. It saved women from the shame
and degradation of illegal abortion and its humiliating consequences. And Roe
was an important milestone for women in their long and difficult journey to
full equality, dignity and economic security.

I have travelled a great distance since those wrenching days in 1969, and so
has America. The choice denied me, that
the review board and the government had the power to make, has now been recognized
as every woman’s constitutional right. The majority of Americans believe it
should remain so.

Sadly, those who would take women back to the days of the interrogation room,
the back alley, or the prospect of forced childbearing, a possibility so unfathomable
for most people, so distant that we are reluctant to believe it possible, have
made progress over the years. Throughout the nation, millions of women face
increasing obstacles to effective education about their sexual health and
access to reproductive health care. Abortion remains stigmatized and
marginalized, women who decide to have an abortion are considered
irresponsible, doctors who perform them are demonized, harassed and even
murdered as in the tragic case of the death of Dr. Tiller in Kansas this past
year. Comprehensive sex education nationwide is a long way from becoming a
reality inspite of overwhelming evidence of its positive impact on the lives
and health of young people. Family planning and contraceptive care remain a
target of the right wing at the state and local levels.

We witnessed a generational shift with the election of President Obama. We had
reason to be elated. Democrats took control of the both the House and Senate. We
thought finally we could stop the assault of the Bush years.

There has been
progress. Abstinence only education funding has been curbed and the government
now is focused on comprehensive sex education. But health care reform proved
once again that we must never take our rights and liberties for granted, that
we must be actively vigilant and that elections are not an end in themselves
but rather a means to an end. The willingness of National Democratic leaders to
secure passage of health reform by prohibiting abortion coverage under private
insurance plans represents a significant setback for women. It must be a
wake-up call to the advocacy community generally, and the women’s rights
community in particular, that political power without accountability will
always fail us. It must remain our mission to continually set the course, to
define the values and to demand that our political friends stand up for what is

On this anniversary of Roe, in the context of the extraordinary election of
President Obama, America stands at the brink; but we have not yet crossed it. Our
freedom belongs to us; it is our right, and it is our responsibility to protect
it; and we have the power to do so. Decades ago when Roe was not yet imagined
and abortion was in so many places illegal, a small but passionate movement of
Americans decided to transform the world. They did. Today the movement they
have bequeathed to the next generation of pro-choice activists is large and
powerful and vast; the freedom they left us remains in jeopardy; and to save
it, we need only activate, with a sense of personal responsibility and dire
urgency, the movement they built.

The younger generation bear an even bigger responsibility and face an even
greater danger than my generation did–the possible loss of the entire right. Young
people today do have the choice that Roe made possible…that we all need to be
mindful of the risk to women’s basic right to privacy the other side would
gladly rescind…evidenced by the obstacles that women, particularly poor
women, must tackle when faced with the most important and often difficult
decision of their lives -lack of facilities and trained doctors, the need to
travel many miles to obtain care…imagine oneself in the situation I was in 40
years ago today and the ramifications for women if this right is overturned. We
have a tendency in these times of intense media hype over sensationalized
events to overlook or take for granted precious but vulnerable constitutional
rights such as the this one. We must not. This can be the cause of the next

It’s been said that all the great civil rights battles have been fought and
won. But for the rights that matter most, the fight never ends. There has not
been a single day since 1973 when this right has been secure, nor has there
been a single day when it’s been more endangered than now. And the danger isn’t
the far right. They’ve been around forever, and when we’re paying attention, we
beat them every time. The most insidious danger is the apathy and
inattentiveness of the mainstream/middle. In our history, we always turn to the
young in such moments.

If we fight hard and lose, that will be a tragedy. But if we lose because we
didn’t fight, that will be a crime — and our guilt will far exceed that of the
religious right. We depend on the new generation to know this and act.

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  • republicanblack

    Right on with this story. But what we on the pro life side needs to do is understand that the issue is much more profound. There are things that us conservatives overlook that seriously impacts our point of view. I saw this article that challenged my principles concerning faith, the constitution and the abortion law, as a pro lifer its worth the read, its something all conservatives should consider


  • jgbeam

    Typically, no acknowledgement of what an abortion really is – the ending of a young life. I will agree with you on one point, though. Pro-choicers are apathetic. On the day you should be celebrating Roe v. Wade you were outnumbered by pro-lifers opposed to Roe by about 300,000 to 60 on the steps of the Supreme Court.

    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • prochoicegoth

    Pro-choicers are apathetic.

    Have any proof of this? If I was so apathetic, would I grin and coo over pictures of my friend’s new baby girl? This friend, by the way, is 100% pro-choice too. Honestly, must you lifers TRY to demonize us?

    It’s pro-choice or
    NO choice.

  • ahunt

    Thank you, Kate…for just everything.

  • ahunt

    And once again, Jim…you "disappear" women from the equation. When, in your view, do women become visible to you? We already know you see the uterus clearly.

  • princess-rot

    If we are going to throw petty generalizations around, then I would argue that ‘lifers become apathetic once the fetus is born and needs any sort of living assistance. Anything to oppress it’s mother – whether it is forced-gestation or keeping her in poverty or attached to an abusive man – that child should be reminded daily that it is a punishment for sex.

  • jgbeam

    Abortion is causing the disappearance of over 500,000 women per year in this country alone.


    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • prochoiceferret

    Abortion is causing the disappearance of over 500,000 women per year in this country alone.

    Oh, that’s nothing. A lot more would-be women are "disappeared" per year in this country due to abstinence!

  • prochoicegoth

    I wasn’t aware abortions were also magic shows. I guess all the women I know who aborted went to crappy doctor/magicians? Do stop with the theatrics. Female feoti are not women.

    It’s pro-choice or
    NO choice.

  • cat

    Sorry, I am a fairly new reader of this site, so if you (Kate, the author) have already explained this, sorry to bring it up again, but were you seeking the diagnosis of “unifit for parenting” because you were trying to find a loophole as you wanted an abortion, or were you pregnant and in the midst of defending against unwanted abortion or sterilization? My knowledge of the history of the “unfit for parenting” diagnosis was that it was generally used to coercively sterilize or forcibly perform abortions upon women who had disabilities, women of color, and queer women.

    Of course, both issues involve issues of reproductive justice and choice, Roe really only addresses the one of the wanted abortion. To my knowledge, the Supreme Court has never officially overturned Buck V. Bell, the case which upheld eugenics motivated sterlizations. Choice, for disabled women, is not held at a federal level as a constitutional right. Choice means the right to not be forced in to sterilization or abortion as well as the right to choose sterilization or abortion.

  • paul-bradford

    Decades ago when Roe was not yet imagined and abortion was in so many places illegal, a small but passionate movement of Americans decided to transform the world. They did.




    You and I read history differently.  From my perspective, the "small but passionate movement" of reproductive rights activists had no influence whatsoever on the Roe decision.  Roe was decided by the nine individuals we have entrusted with the job of interpreting our constitution.  They determined, correctly, that the government has no right to violate our privacy in the way your privacy was violated in 1969.  Millions of angry Pro-Lifers and millions of angry Pro-Choicers mattered for nothing.  The considered opinion of nine justices decided Roe.  The rest was window dressing.


    Even in 1992, when all the stars were aligned in favor of the enemies of Roe, the Supreme Court upheld our right to privacy in the Casey decision.  The violation of privacy that you endured is un-American and that’s why those of us who wish to defend a right to life for the unborn have to find ways of fostering respect that don’t violate privacy rights (or move to a country that is less interested in the issue of human dignity).


    As long as America continues to be America, there is no chance that our unborn will be ‘protected’ by forced childbirth.  The only thing that will protect the very young is the willingness of their mothers to choose life. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice