‘Strike’: Some women are afraid of reversing hard-earned rights – Associated Press

At 88, Gloria Steinem has long been the most prominent feminist in the country and an advocate for women’s rights. But at age 22, she was a frightened American woman in London who had had an illegal miscarriage of so many unwanted pregnancies that she actually tried to throw herself down the stairs to terminate it.

Her response to the Supreme Court decision annulling Roe v. Wade is succinct: “Obviously,” she wrote in an email, “without the right of women and men to decide their own bodies, there is no democracy.”

Steinem’s harsh remark cuts to the core of the despair some opponents feel about the historic annulment of the 1973 case that legalized Friday’s abortion. If a right that is so crucial in the overall struggle for women’s equality can be repealed, one wonders, what does this mean for the progress that women have made in public life over the past 50 years?

“One of the things I hear from women all the time is,‘ My daughter will have less rights than me. And how is that possible? ‘”Says Debbie Walsh, of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “If this passes, what else can pass? That makes everything feel insecure. ”

Reproductive freedom was not the only demand of the second wave of feminism, as the famous women’s movement of the 60s and 70s was, but it was certainly one of the most important issues, along with equality in the workplace.

Women who fought for these rights recall a staggering decade of progress from about 1963 to 1973, including the right to equal pay, the right to use birth control, and Title IX. 1972 which prohibits discrimination in education. The final part is Roe v. Wade a year later, giving the constitutional right to an abortion.

Many women who identified themselves as feminists at the time had an illegal abortion or knew someone who did. Steinem, in fact, believes that the meeting she “spoke” at which she attended about abortion in her 30s was the moment when she turned from journalism to activism – and finally felt capable of talking about her own secret abortion.

“Abortion is so tied to the women’s movement in this country,” says Carole Joffe, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine who studies and teaches abortion history. “With improved birth control, legal abortion meant that women who were heterosexually active could still participate in public life. This has enabled the huge change we have seen in the status of women in the last 50 years. ” Joffe says many women, like her, now feel the right to contraception could be compromised – something she calls “unthinkable.”

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One of them is Heather Booth. When she was 20 and a student in Chicago, a friend asked if she could help his sister have an abortion. It was 1965, and through contacts in the civil rights movement, she found a way to connect a young woman, almost suicidal in the prospect of being pregnant, with a doctor who was willing to help. She thought it would be a one-off, but Booth eventually co-founded Jane Collective, an underground group of women who provided safe abortions to those in need. In total, the group performed about 11,000 abortions over about seven years – the story is told in the new documentary “The Janes”.

Booth, now 76, sees Roe’s turnaround against Wade as a gruesome challenge to the triumphs of the women’s movement.

“I think we’re on the edge of a knife,” she says. “On the one hand, there have been 50 years of changing the position of women in this society,” she added, recalling that women, as they grew up, could only respond to job advertisements in the “female part”, to give just one example.

“So there has been progress towards greater equality, but … if you ask where we are, I think we are on the cutting edge of the knife in the real competition between democracy and freedom and tyranny, the destruction of freedoms that have long been fought for.”

Of course, not every woman thinks that abortion is a right worth preserving.

Linda Sloan, who has volunteered for the past five years, along with her husband, for the anti-abortion organization A Moment of Hope in Columbia, South Carolina, says she values ​​women’s rights.

“I firmly believe and support that women are treated as equal to men … (in) job opportunities, pay, respect and many other areas,” she says. She says she has tried to instill those values ​​in her two daughters and two sons, and supports them with her work in two women’s shelters, trying to empower women to make the right decisions.

But when it comes to Roe v. Wade, she says, “I believe the rights of the child in the mother’s womb are equally important. To quote Psalm 139, I believe that God ‘shaped my inward parts’ and ‘intertwined me in my mother’s womb.’ ”

Elizabeth Kilmartin, like Sloan, volunteers at A Moment of Hope and is deeply pleased with the court’s decision.

In her younger years, she considered herself a feminist and studied women’s history in college. Then, over the years, she deeply opposed abortion and no longer considers herself a feminist because she believes the word was accepted by those on the left. “The decision to stop killing babies in the womb did not violate any women’s rights,” says Kilmartin. “We have all kinds of women in power. Women are no longer oppressed in the workplace. We have a woman vice president … It’s just ridiculous to think we’re so oppressed. ”

Cheryl Lambert falls straight into the opponent’s camp. The former Wall Street director, now 65, immediately recalled the success she had achieved earlier in her banking career, becoming the first woman to be appointed a clerk at the institution where she worked. She calls the court decision a “violent blow”.

“My thought was, what time do we live in?” says Lambert. “We are moving backwards. I’m just angry on behalf of our children and our grandchildren. “

Lambert herself needed an abortion as a young mother when it was discovered that the fetus was carrying a genetic disease. “I thought it would be easier, not harder, to have an abortion in this country,” she says.

Now, she and many other women fear a return to dangerous, illegal abortions from the past – and a disproportionate impact on women without the means to travel to countries eligible for abortion. Still, many are trying to see the positive side: no matter how gloomy the moment may seem, change could come through new energy in the ballot box.

“We’re at it in the long run,” says Carol Tracy, of the Philadelphia Women’s Rights Project.

Steinem also issued a note of determination.

“Women have always taken power over our bodies, and we will continue to do so,” she wrote in an email. “An unjust court cannot stop abortion, but it guarantees civil disobedience and contempt of court.”


AP reporter Maryclaire Dale contributed to this report.


For full AP reporting on the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion.

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