By Julianne Malveaux
I was 20 years old when Roe v. Wade was decided. A year before the decision, a young woman who lived in my dormitory attempted to abort herself and hemorrhaged so badly that she was hospitalized. I’ll never forget the blood on the floor of her room, and the anguished screams of her roommate. The young woman never returned to school, her promising future cut short because she could not obtain a legal abortion. Now, there is an effort to return to the days of back alley abortions, or the days relatively wealthy women left the country to obtain legal and safe abortions. Republican-dominated legislatures in several states are committed to limiting and perhaps even eliminating women’s right to choose.
The same Republicans who would limit a woman’s right to choose, are the same who say there are too many government regulations. Some would dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, institute a flat tax, eliminate the minimum wage and dismantle affirmative action. In North Dakota, the governor signed legislation to outlaw abortion after only six weeks of pregnancy. The law may not be constitutional but its passage sends a dangerous signal to women who support choice.
Texas State Senator Wendy Davis garnered national headlines (and the appreciation of many women) when her 11-hour filibuster defeated (at least temporarily) a proposed law that would forbid abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If enacted, the Texas law would also require abortion clinics to have additional equipment, making them far more expensive to operate.
The North Carolina legislature has presented a similar law to the governor, who promised not to sign such legislation when he ran for office. But the governor does not have to sign the legislation for it to become law, since his failure to sign will effectively ratify the law. Should Gov. Pat McCrory veto the law, there are enough votes to override his veto.
Senator Marco Rubio is likely to introduce similar legislation in the United States senate, making the effort to limit women’s right to choose a national mandate.
Meanwhile, a January Gallup poll indicated that just 29 percent of all Americans support overturning Roe v. Wade. Eighteen percent said they had no opinion, and 53 said that Roe should not be overturned. The Republican push to limit abortion rights, though, effectively limits or overturns Roe v. Wade. While many suggest that African Americans are more conservative on things like abortion rights, a 2012 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, two-thirds of African Americans, support a woman’s right to choose. Marcia Ann Gillespie, former editor of both Essence and Ms. magazines once wrote, supporting the right to choose, that choice is the essence of freedom, and many of those who support abortion rights do so not because they want women to have abortions, but because they want women to have choices.
Limiting abortions to less than 20 weeks, increasing licensing requirements, forcing women to wait 24 hours (or more) before getting an abortion, requiring doctors to show pictures of fetuses, are all ways to erode abortion rights, and limit women’s choices. Many Republicans don’t want to increase the minimum wage, but they want to limit women’s options. The zeal they exhibit for limiting abortion isn’t matched by zeal to feed children once they are here. Indeed, between sequestration and proposed legislation, dollars available for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the old Food Stamps program) have been falling. In other words, these folks care about unborn children until they are born, then they can go for self.
Many of those who would not regulate the economy, would regulate what a woman does with her body. And this movement is gaining. Some cite religion, and others quite cynically talk about the children that are “killed” even before a fetus is viable. While Republicans are not the only people who oppose abortion rights, as more state legislatures have turned Republican, the effort to pass laws limiting abortion rights has renewed impetus.
I don’t think anybody “likes” abortion, but it is an effective way to end unwanted pregnancies, and many women make this choice for financial and other reasons. Shouldn’t women use birth control? Of course, but there is no form of birth control that is infallible (not to mention the abortions some women have in cases of rape and incest), and attacks on organizations like Planned Parenthood reduce the amount of sex education and contraception available. Forty years ago, women were shackled by their inability to make choices. Now, women have options and possibilities. Any woman who has an aversion to abortion doesn’t have to have one. It’s that simple.
I don’t remember the girl’s name that hemorrhaged in my dorm. I do remember her big orange Afro, her quick smile, and her love of learning. And when I think of her, I think of Langston Hughes writing about “a dream deferred.” We can’t go back to those days of back alley abortions. Just as Republicans are going state by state to limit women’s rights, those who support choice should go state by state to preserve them. We need more state legislators like Senator Wendy Davis. We can’t go back!
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.