This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision by the US Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. Claire Beckenstein, a political consultant in Washington DC, looks at the political culture surrounding the issue to discuss how far American women have come and how far they still have to go.
By Claire Beckenstein, 22nd January, 2013
Abortion is an issue that evokes visceral responses from people at both ends of the spectrum. This issue has the ability to divide a nation and separate a family. It is so powerful that people will even kill in the name of the cause. On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, one could exhaust themselves for days thinking of the questions and assumptions around what America would be like without legalised abortion. If we continue to fight the issues from our past we cannot move forward. Therefore, it is best to focus on the present and note how monumental this decision has been for women and their health, especially to those women who view abortion as a choice, a freedom and as a right to take control of their future.
What strikes me the most about this issue is that everyone has an opinion; most notably those that have never had an abortion or have ever attempted to walk in another’s shoes. Let’s be clear, no one wants the procedure and no one wakes up excited to have one. It is not a decision people make lightly. It is painful in every sense of the word and there is no single reason for why people have an abortion. When you talk to women who have had one, their personal view is overshadowing by a national stigma against it. They are seen as selfish, promiscuous or unwilling to take personal responsibility with no respect for the sanctity of life. I believe that when you sit down and really listen to women who have gone through the medical procedure, the response you will get is so far from that stigma. You find a brave women who made the best decision based on the situation they were dealt. You may even see hope and a sigh of relief that they had the option to put their life and well-being first.
I have heard a lot of chatter recently in anticipation for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, mainly chatter focused on the decline of the “pro-choice” women’s movement and their inability to mobilize the base. While I agree with this decline and think that the movement only sees resurgence when they are under attack, I also believe we must change our perspective on a day that means so much for so many. We need to shift our attention away from the decline in the “pro-choice” movement and onto the lives changed and saved in the past 40 years from the legalization of abortion. This is about reproductive justice and the freedom to control our bodies. People need to accept that this is a medical option you can take without fear of being shunned. We need to use our voices and proclaim this is real and is happening as we speak. We can only do this by removing the curtain that stigmatises abortion and celebrate the progress we have made. Abortion has a face and that face belongs to your mother, sister, friend, aunt, neighbor, mentor or maybe even you.
This day should remind us all of how far we have come and how far we still need to go. It should not focus on a movement’s failures, generational divides or lack of energy, but celebrate the victories in the women’s movement that have led us to this moment. I hope that the women from 40 years ago marching for our rights would be proud of where we have come, and I hope I am proud of the next generation to hold the torch. Most importantly, I want everyone to take a second and pause today to think of what the world will look like as a woman 40 years from now, and what the progress we have yet to make will look like.