Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the decision that affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to legal abortion. As an activist for reproductive justice, I have celebrated this day for several years.
But something has changed since this photograph was taken on a previous Roe anniversary: I’m pregnant. To be exact, I’m 21 weeks pregnant. I’m starting to show. And as I’ve written about, pregnancy has made me more committed to realizing the promise of reproductive justice - a world where the human right has been secured to prevent pregnancy, to end pregnancy, to pursue pregnancy, to get prenatal care, to be respected and supported adopting or bearing children regardless of race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, to health care and accurate education provided freely on the basis of science and medicine, to celebrate sexuality as a source for joy and humanity rather than shame and restriction in our lives.
Last week, I attended an excellent Roe 2.0: Strategies for the Next Generation of Reproductive Rights Activism panel discussion at the Center for American Progress. One of the things discussed on the panel was how restrictions on abortion rights have come to result in widespread interventions (even arrests) of pregnant women in the United States — even women with wanted pregnancies, like me. At the end of the discussion, I asked a question about engaging more pregnant women in the movement, since we have so much at stake.
After the session, an anti-abortion rights counselor from a ministry I won’t name for the sake of privacy came up to me with a pained look on her face, clutching her abdomen. “I’m pregnant too,” she said. “May I ask you a question?” She truly seemed to be shocked. And she was. Multiple times she asked if I had an ultrasound, and didn’t seeing my baby have an effect on me? Didn’t it change my view?
I believe her question was genuine. My open response, which includes what I said to her in person, is here:
Congratulations on your pregnancy! That’s wonderful. Yes, I saw my ultrasound. Trust me – I am just as excited as you are to have a baby. On a personal level, my support for abortion rights today is about my civil rights and my access to healthcare if something happens and I need it.
(But didn’t you see your ultrasound? Weren’t you excited? How can you see your baby and support abortion?)
Trust me – I am just as excited as you are to have a baby. Restrictions on abortion rights have resulted in pregnant women who want to be pregnant like you and me getting thrown in jail, pregnant women having cesarean sections forced on them by the state and other legal interventions. I know I can handle my pregnancy and be trusted to do what is right — I don’t need the government getting involved. In fact, I think it’s dangerous. Further I don’t know what might happen. I could get sick. I could be denied medical care I need because of laws restricting abortion rights. I don’t want that to happen to me. And I don’t want that to happen to you, either. Congratulations again.
I strongly support and celebrate the right to abortion without shame, stigma or obstacles designed to make legal abortion practically impossible to obtain. Yet, the conversation needs to be broader to include those of us with wanted pregnancies who are placed in grave danger by outright bans, funding restrictions and other obstacles to abortion. In the past year we lost a happily pregnant, and later dangerously sick, Savita Halappanavar, who asked for an abortion that would have saved her life but couldn’t get one due to “pro-life” rigidity. There is nothing that justifies her death.
It is on this 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade that I wish for more people, especially pregnant women, women of color, and younger people, to move from the margins to the center of the conversation and political leadership that must ensure our human rights to full reproductive justice.