Forty Years After Roe, “Choice” No Longer Means Much in Michigan
From my vantage point in Michigan, celebrations of Roe v. Wade’s 40th anniversary have felt decidedly bittersweet. Earlier this month, Governor Snyder signed HB 5711 into law — Michigan’s anti-abortion super-bill, which will prohibit the telemed prescription of medical abortion, force all women seeking safe abortion care to undergo “coercion screenings,” and enact a number of costly regulations on abortion clinics and providers, inevitably forcing many clinics to close their doors. All of this is in a state that already required a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion, where minors cannot obtain an abortion without parental consent, and where 87 percent of counties do not have a single abortion provider. The meaning of “choice” here in Michigan — as in many other states in the country — has eroded a great deal since that day 40 years ago when the Roe decision was handed down. How did we end up here? And more importantly, how do we move forward?
Five Things I Learned About Abortion by Checking My Assumptions at the Door
Originally posted at Colorlines.
When it comes to the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I have this deep, yet complicated sense of gratitude to people who poured their hearts into the issue of making abortion a legal right. It is humbling to think about all the work that came before this moment in the civil rights, social change, and social justice movements. As a young woman of color and an activist, it can feel like being a tiny, relatively unimportant drop in a formidable tide of change. But one thing makes me certain I must continue to do this work: somehow, women of color, young women, low-income women, immigrant women, and women in rural areas are still waiting while barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, continue to trump legal rights and provision of health services, human dignity, and self-determination.
After college, while working on public policy related to reproductive health, I began to see a gap in the way our institutions treat people of color, and believe that I must do something to help change the situation. I volunteered for ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in 2007, providing rides and housing to women traveling long distances because they could not access abortion services in their area. On a very basic level, I volunteered because, were I to need help, I would want someone to be there for me.
I grew up in a conservative area and had internalized some challenging attitudes about abortion, poverty, and the death penalty — attitudes aligned with policy that worked against my (and my family’s) interests. Still, I discovered that I was ready to drop everything for a friend who needed my help. Eventually, I learned to hold this level of compassion for complete strangers, too.
While volunteering, I had the honor of meeting incredible, resilient women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. The most striking part of this experience was when I realized that despite how seemingly different each woman is, we are also all deeply connected by the human experience, and that I needed to check my assumptions at the door.
Here are some things I learned when I began to leave my assumptions behind.
The Originalist Argument for Abortion Rights: Compulsory Childbearing During Antebellum Slavery and Its Relevance Today
On the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade we can expect to hear the perennial criticism that the Court’s decision is insufficiently grounded in the text of the Constitution. Even among commentators who agree a woman has a fundamental right not to remain pregnant against her will, many are critical of its grounding in the right to privacy, locating it instead in explicit Constitutional guarantees like the right to equal protection before the law. The most vehement critics of Roe, however, are so-called originalists who not only deny there is any right to privacy, but are certain abortion cannot be protected by any constitutional provision based on the “original meaning” of the text.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who famously rejects interpretive methods that entail identifying the values the Constitution protects, purports to instead decide cases based on the meaning of Constitutional text when written. According to Justice Scalia, abortion is an “easy” case. There is no mention of abortion in the Constitution so it can’t be protected. However, in a recent essay, Andrew Koppelman challenges this assertion on originalist grounds: forced reproduction was intrinsic to slavery, which the framers of the Thirteenth Amendment sought to prohibit.
As Dorothy Roberts writes in Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, “[t]he essence of Black women’s experience during slavery was the brutal denial of autonomy over reproduction.” Female slaves’ ability to produce more slaves was central to the economic interests of slaveowners and, once the importation of slaves was banned, to the perpetuation of the institution of slavery. A woman’s reproductive capacity figured into her price on the market and was as valuable as labor in the fields. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man on the farm.”
Response to Time: What Choice? *Our* Choice
It is always exciting when one of our colleagues is featured in an important article such as Time Magazine’s Cover article What Choice? Many thanks to Abortion Care Network member Tammi Kromenaker and all her staff and patients at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, ND for inviting this journalist into their daily routine and letting her see firsthand both the caring provided by an independent abortion provider, and the ridiculous hoops that patients have to jump through. Tammi made sure that the journalist understood some of the complex reasons that women choose abortion. Pickert noted that when a patient wasn’t sure about her choice she was given more time to consider what she wanted to do. She shared many statistics that the public may not be aware of, for example that independent clinics provide the majority of abortions, and that most of the women who have abortions already have children.
But I was sorry to see that, like so much journalism, this article seemed determined to focus on conflict and failure, rather than on the extraordinary energy and transformative gifts of the movement for women’s reproductive choice have yielded over these past forty years.
I know Kate Pickert had access to another perspective of the movement because I had a lengthy interview with her. I shared the fact that there is really nothing new about the Reproductive Justice concept — that what the early women’s movement worked for was a panoply of changes including access to excellent child care; health care; housing; freedom from violence; access to credit; equal pay; progressive divorce laws; an end to forced sterilization; access to understandable consent information for any medical procedures; safe birth control; and, yes, safe and legal abortion. Of course we didn’t see abortion as separate from other aspects of women’s’ lives.
What we wanted is what we still want — a society that supports the ability of women to make real choices about their lives — not one in which women have children they don’t want to have because they don’t have access to abortion; or have abortions they don’t want because they can’t afford to have children.
Affirmative Action, Marriage Equality, and Voting Rights: A Look at the New Supreme Court Term
Last year’s historic decisions upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and striking as unconstitutional most of Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law set the tone for what promises to be an even more exciting and historic 2012-2103 term at the high court.
The term, which begins today, Monday, October 1, already promises a handful of marquee cases, including a direct challenge to affirmative action in the case ofFisher v. University of Texas. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in two separate but parallel cases — Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger — that universities have a compelling interest in creating a diverse student body and that they may consider race as one factor, among many, in deciding which students to admit. In 2005, after those cases were decided and in an effort to increase diversity of its student body, the University of Texas adopted an admissions program that was modeled in part on the Michigan program the Supreme Court had upheld in those decisions and as a supplement to its Ten Percent Plan — which automatically admitted the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class. The shift was based on the assumption that, de facto, most Texas schools are still segregated.
Abigail Fisher, a white student who was not in the top ten percent of her class, was denied admission to the school and challenged the policy by arguing that the court erred in looking at race as a factor in her admission decision. Now the Roberts Court will decide the case, a fact that makes many affirmative-action defenders anxious since the Chief Justice is on record as opposing any kind of policy that is not “race neutral” across the board.
The other sure-thing case before the Court is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case the Court will hear on the first day of arguments. In that case the Court will consider whether Congress intended the Alien Tort Statute, a law that says non-citizens can sue American corporations in American courts for conduct of those corporations abroad, to also hold American corporations accountable for human rights abuses committed abroad. The Kiobel challenge gets to the very heart of the law by questioning whether individuals who suffered severe human rights abuses abroad can sue those responsible for the abuses in the United States or whether those individuals are stuck with the laws and jurisdiction of where the abuses took place. If there’s been one consistent theme from the Roberts Court it is the expansion of corporate rights at the expense of individual rights and Kiobel looks to be another case that may cement that theme at a time when corporate accountability abroad is needed now more than ever.
There are two other big issues likely to come before the Court this term: marriage equality and a challenge to the Voting Rights Act. The question is how they get before the Court because that answer will tell a lot about how the Court will likely rule.