40 years ago today the Supreme Court released its 7-2 decision affirming a woman's right to have an abortion.
Since then, this right has been upheld, but over time has been restricted and chipped away at. Last year alone, 43 laws in 19 states were passed to restrict a woman's access to abortion services.
I remember in 1988, two days after the elder Bush was elected president, I went down to NARAL NY because the Reagan White House had asked the Court to overturn Roe. I was there every day for a long time, volunteering to do tabling, clinic defense, speaking at house parties, going to Albany repeatedly to lobby for the NY State clinic Access bill. I soon joined the board and stayed. I am proud to be the longest serving board member to this day.
What we knew then has been confirmed--this is a right we have to fight to hold. But unfortunately, the movement as a whole has not been vigilant enough in this fight.
Just look at where the debate is. All around the country, we are back to fighting the battles of yesterday as red states use any means necessary to restrict access to abortion services. Not only that, we've even found ourselves in the position of defending contraception.
The fact is, abortion is an economic issue for women. The right to make a decision whether to have a child or not to have a child has enormous economic and political consequences for women. Which is why it was a mistake to have retreated on the Hyde Amendment; it was a mistake to have made a movement decision that we accept the frame that restricting low income women's access to only this healthcare right is not only okay but a federal tradition.
Our retreat took that choice away from low income women. And it has grown to limit the right and access of millions of women to abortion services. If Medicaid covered abortion, low income women would have the same ability to make choices as higher income women do. Indeed, not fighting against Hyde, via the Nelson amendment to the healthcare reform bill, may result in millions of women losing access to abortion that they already had through their insurance.
We also need to take care not to categorize one kind of abortion as somehow more worthy than any other. That's what's implied by the suggestion that if only these women had economic resources, they would not choose to have an abortion. That is a dangerous, slippery slope, and typifies the movement's failure to properly engage on this battlefield where the right wing has been waging war for decades.
That said, there is some good news. For one, we have a pro-choice President for at least four more years filling whatever Supreme Court vacancies come up, as well as crucial lower court openings. In addition, the right's overreach has opened people's eyes, particularly women, who are more politically engaged than ever (leading to the defeat of personhood amendments even in deep red states as well as the election of a record number of women members of Congress.) And we have a revived movement, ready to engage on the same level as our opposition has for so long.
We must commit ourselves to this fight, now more than ever, so that we can look back in 40 more years on how much progress we've made.