If July 4 is the national holiday to celebrate America’s independence, then Jan. 22 should be the national holiday to celebrate women’s independence. Thirty years ago today, women in America were granted control of their lives and bodies through the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, Roe v. Wade. Three decades later, the choice is still ours, but in grave danger.
It seems odd to even entertain the idea of being granted control of one’s own body, but before Roe v. Wade, every woman in America was at the mercy of her state and federal government. Without Roe, destiny and life’s choices were stripped from women who unexpectedly became pregnant. Potential plans for a career, an education, or a childless life suddenly were no longer a woman’s choice.
Abortions did exist before Roe. Desperate women subjected themselves to abortions performed with filthy instruments in alleyways and on kitchen tables. Before legal abortion, thousands of women died from a medical procedure that should have been administered by a doctor in an appropriate facility.
Most undergraduate students in the university have not lived a single day without reproductive freedom. Imagine becoming pregnant while attending school. Possibly, the joy of a child would be welcomed into your life. But it is also very possible that a pregnancy would hinder life plans, graduation, internships or study-abroad programs.
The anti-choice community might dare to say that women having sex should be more careful or aware of the potential consequences of their actions. I say that women have every right to liberty of choice that sexually active men do. Women should not be held back simply because the tangible responsibility of a pregnancy rests upon them.
Fortunately, for three decades American women have enjoyed the freedom of choice and therefore the control of their destinies. Women have been able to pursue careers, participate in sports and receive an education with more liberty. Because of cases like Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut (the case that freed birth control), women have achieved the lifelong dream of creating a family at the right time.
While the celebration of Roe’s 30th birthday is a triumph, the future of Roe is dangling by a thread held by anti-choice, anti-woman politicians. Access to abortion is already greatly restricted. Poor women are denied because of the Hyde amendment that prohibits federal funds for this legal medical procedure. Minors often face parental-consent laws that force them into back-alley abortions. The government can’t dictate the course of women’s choices, but it will hand that control over to a parent.
Pro-choice advocates in Washington predict that Roe will be overturned in the next five years. The Supreme Court is currently split, with five pro-choice justices and four who are anti-choice. Women’s lives are balancing on only one vote. If given the chance, President Bush will surely nominate a right-wing, anti-choice judge. After all, his first act as president was to cut millions of dollars from international family-planning programs.
With the checks-and-balances system falling completely to the right because of November’s elections, women should be afraid for their lives. Every aspect of reproductive freedom is in danger. If an anti-choice judge were appointed right now, he or she would be overwhelmingly approved by our current Senate, but there are also just enough votes to filibuster.
Many feminist organizations, such as the Feminist Majority and NOW, have begun a filibuster campaign in hopes to solidify the 41 necessary votes before the nomination process begins. Sens. Feingold and Kohl both sit on the judiciary committee and must hear from pro-choice voices that we demand reproductive choice.
Freedom, on a grand scale, is only true if every person can live within it. Without access to abortion and birth control, women are catapulted out of the freedom that is within our Constitution. It must remain safe and legal. So celebrate today what has become women’s liberty, but also know that your voice must be used to maintain it. Freedom will only last as long as we defend it.
Lauren Besser ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science and English. She is vice president of Wisconsin NOW.