The start of 2011 is a dire time for civil rights and liberties, including the right of women to control their own bodies. On Jan. 22, the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that nominally legalized women’s right to abortion, women’s access to abortion remains severely restricted. States have placed so many hurdles and restrictions on the right over the years as to effectively deny it to most women. Those unable to get abortions include poor women whose insurance or state’s Medicaid excludes it; young women, who in many states must get parental consent to the procedure; those far from urban areas, because abortion providers have been so harassed (and several murdered) that few of them remain; and more women because of degrading, delaying, and expensive hurdles such as mandatory waiting periods and anti-choice “counseling.”
Today even the legal right to abortion is increasingly threatened with elimination. This is a bedrock demand of the religious Right. The Supreme Court, now made up of a majority of right-wingers, could reverse Roe v. Wade. Or the states, Congress, and the President could simply make it impossible for anyone but the rich to obtain abortions. Even before they controlled one house of Congress, the Republicans managed to contort the new health insurance law into a vehicle for eliminating insurance coverage for abortions, and they imposed a ban that prevents abortion from being provided in the health care for women in the military.
The most immediate threat to women’s rights comes from the states. Last November’s elections increased the number of governors and state legislatures who vow to place more and more restrictions on abortion rights. Twenty-nine governors are now solidly anti-choice, and in 15 states, both the governor and legislature are anti-choice. Some of the laws they favor passing right away include outlawing abortion after the twentieth week, and forcing women seeking abortions to view ultra-sound pictures of the fetus.
Even in New York, where abortion rights are fully protected, an anti-choice group recently began picketing and harassing women when they enter a clinic in the Bronx. The anti-choice forces are undoubted emboldened not only by their electoral victories, but also by the temper of the times in Washington, where Obama has been willing to go along with many new restrictions on abortion rights.
Prior to Roe v. Wade, the slogan of the women’s movement had not been legalization alone, but rather “Free abortion on demand.” Our large and loud movement led to the Supreme Court decision. But afterwards, the movement was unprepared to keep fighting over and over, as it must do not only to keep the right legal, but to turn it into a reality for all women by treating abortion like any other health matter and by providing health care to all.
Like racism, the ideology behind controlling women’s lives can’t be uprooted by a law. It will take a revolution made by people who want to start a new way of life.