At 88, Gloria Steinem has long been the nation’s most visible feminist and advocate for girls’s rights. But at 22, she was a frightened American in London getting an illegal abortion of a pregnancy so unwanted, she actually tried to throw herself down the steps to finish it.
Her response to the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Roe v. Wade is succinct: “Obviously,” she wrote in an email message, “without the precise of men and women to make decisions about our own bodies, there isn’t a democracy.”
Steinem’s blunt remark cuts to the guts of the despair some opponents are feeling about Friday’s historic rollback of the 1973 case legalizing abortion. If a right so central to the general fight for girls’s equality will be revoked, they ask, what does it mean for the progress women have made in public life within the intervening 50 years?
Gloria Steinem of the National Organization for Women attends an Equal Rights Amendment rally outside the White House on July 4, 1981, in Washington. Reproductive freedom was not the one demand of second-wave feminism, as the ladies’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s is understood, however it was surely probably the most galvanizing issues, together with workplace equality. (AP Photo/Scott Applewhite, File)
“One among the things that I keep hearing from women is, ‘My daughter’s going to have fewer rights than I did. And the way can that be?’” says Debbie Walsh, of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “If this goes, what else can go? It makes every thing feel precarious.”
Reproductive freedom was not the one demand of second-wave feminism, as the ladies’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s is understood, however it was surely probably the most galvanizing issues, together with workplace equality.
The ladies who fought for those rights recall an astonishing decade of progress from about 1963 to 1973 including the precise to equal pay, the precise to make use of contraception, and Title IX in 1972 which bans discrimination in education. Capping it off was Roe v. Wade a 12 months later, granting a constitutional right to abortion.
Most of the women who identified as feminists on the time had an illegal abortion or knew someone who did. Steinem, in reality, credits a “speak-out” meeting she attended on abortion in her 30s because the moment she pivoted from journalism to activism — and eventually felt enabled to talk about her own secret abortion.
Protesters hold signs in Portland, Ore., in regards to the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Roe v. Wade, June 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)
Craig Mitchelldyer via AP
“Abortion is so tied to the ladies’s movement on this country,” says Carole Joffe, a sociologist on the University of California, San Francisco medical school who studies and teaches the history of abortion. “Together with improved contraception, what legal abortion meant was that ladies who were heterosexually energetic could still participate in public life. It enabled the large change we’ve seen in women’s status during the last 50 years.” Joffe says many ladies, like her, now feel that the precise to contraception might be in danger — something she calls “unthinkable.”
One among them is Heather Booth. When she was 20 and a student in Chicago, a male friend asked if she could help his sister obtain an abortion. It was 1965, and thru contacts within the civil rights movement, she found a solution to connect the young woman, nearly suicidal on the prospect of being pregnant, to a health care provider willing to assist. She thought it might be a one-off, but Booth ended up co-founding the Jane Collective, an underground group of girls who provided secure abortions to those in need. In all, the group performed some 11,000 abortions over about seven years — a story recounted in the brand new documentary “The Janes.”
Booth, now 76, sees the Roe v. Wade upheaval as a chilling challenge to the triumphs of the ladies’s movement.
“I believe we’re on a knife’s edge,” she says. “On the one hand, there’s been 50 years of a change in women’s condition on this society,” she adds, recalling that when she was growing up, women could only reply to employment ads within the “women’s section,” to list only one example.
“So there’s been an advance toward greater equality, but … in the event you ask about where we stand, I believe we’re on a knife’s edge in a contest really between democracy and freedom, and tyranny, a dismantling of freedoms which have been long fought for.”
Demonstrators gather on the federal courthouse following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, June 24, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Some opponents of the choice are feeling despair over the historic rollback of the 1973 case Roe V. Wade legalizing abortion. If a right so central to the general fight for girls’s equality will be revoked, they ask, what does it mean for the progress women have made in public life within the intervening 50 years? (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
In fact, not every woman feels that abortion is a right price preserving.
Linda Sloan, who has volunteered the last five years, along along with her husband, for the anti-abortion organization A Moment of Hope in Columbia, South Carolina, says she values women’s rights.
“I strongly imagine and support women being treated as equals to men … (in) job opportunities, salary, respect, and lots of other areas,” she says. She says she has tried to instill those values in her two daughters and two sons, and upholds them along with her work at two women’s shelters, attempting to empower women to make the precise selections.
But in relation to Roe v. Wade, she says, “I think that the rights of the kid within the mother’s womb are equally necessary. To cite Psalm 139, I think that God ‘formed my inner parts’ and ‘knitted me together in my mother’s womb.’”
Elizabeth Kilmartin, like Sloan, volunteers at A Moment of Hope and is deeply pleased by the court’s decision.
In her younger years she considered herself a feminist and studied women’s history in college. Then, through the years she got here to deeply oppose abortion, and now not considers herself a feminist because she believes the word has been co-opted by those on the left. “No women’s rights have been harmed in the choice to stop killing babies within the womb,” Kilmartin says. “We have now all types of girls in power. Women aren’t being oppressed within the workplace anymore. We have now a girl vp … It’s just ridiculous to think that we’re so oppressed.”
Cheryl Lambert falls squarely within the opposing camp. The previous Wall Street executive, now 65, immediately thought back to the gains she made earlier in her banking profession, becoming the primary woman to be named an officer on the institution she worked for. She calls the court decision “a sucker punch.”
“My thought was, what era are we living in?” Lambert says. “We’re moving backwards. I’m just furious on behalf of our youngsters and our grandchildren.”
Lambert herself needed an abortion as a young mother when the fetus was found to hold a genetic disease. “I assumed it might get easier, not harder, to have an abortion on this country,” she says.
Now, she and lots of other women fear a return to dangerous, illegal abortions of the past — and a disproportionate impact on women without the means to travel to abortion-friendly states. Still, many are attempting to see a positive side: that as bleak because the moment could seem, change could come via latest energy on the ballot box.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” says Carol Tracy, of the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia.
Steinem, too, issued a note of resolve.
“Women have at all times taken power over our own bodies, and we’ll keep right on,” she wrote in her email message. “An unjust court can’t stop abortion, however it guarantees civil disobedience and disrespect for the court.”
AP Reporter Maryclaire Dale contributed to this report.
For AP’s full coverage of the Supreme Court ruling on abortion, go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion.