Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Roe Anniversary Roundup

Forty years ago today, on 22 January 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 7-2 decision, on a case known as Roe v Wade, declaring that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy to term. The original case that the court agreed to hear was a challenge to a 19th Century Texas law that prohibited abortion except where necessary to save a woman’s life.

Given the efforts since Roe to curtail abortion access in the U.S., and the publicity it gets, some are surprised to learn that New Zealand’s abortion law is actually much more regressive than U.S. federal law on abortion. Here, abortion remains criminalised (that is, governed by the Crimes Act); in the U.S., it generally is not.

What throws people off is that although our law is worse, the practice here is often much more liberal – at least, more liberal than it is in conservative U.S. states. Which just goes to show that it’s often just as much how a law is implemented as it is what that law actually says that makes the difference. (It also shows that no matter what the law on the books, abortion access is always vulnerable to rollback.)

There have already been lots of articles written to mark the anniversary of Roe, and there will surely be more. But today’s the day, so what follows is a (limited) round-up that tries to traverse a few of the main issues. Please feel free to add links to other good pieces in comments. Oh, and the usual rule applies: The place to debate the morality of abortion is here, not here.

Perhaps the biggest splash in anniversary reporting was made just over a week ago in a Time magazine cover story headlined like this: “Forty Years Ago Abortion-Rights Activists Won an Epic Victory With Roe V. Wade: They’ve Been Losing Ever Since”  One of the controversies it sparked was its coverage of “a rebellion” in the pro-choice movement between younger feminists and what the author, Kate Pickert, called “legacy feminist organisations” – a rebellion, she wrote, that “threatens to tear it in two”.

Several writers at the reproductive health site RH Reality Check responded to Pickert, including Steph Herold with  Young People Are Not Fragmenting the Pro-Choice Movement, Renee Chellan’s The End of Right to Lies, and a piece by Charlotte Taft, who works in abortion care and was interviewed by Pickert, titled “What Choice? *Our* Choice”.

There’s also been a lot of debate about opinion polls on abortion and whether they actually tell us anything. For example, does the fact that increasing numbers of Americans identify as ‘pro-life’ rather than ‘pro-choice’ tell us much about whether or not they think abortion should be outlawed? Or maybe it’s about poor pro-choice messaging?

Pew carried out a poll specifically on the Roe decision that showed a majority (63%) of Americans don’t want Roe overturned. However, the poll also showed less than half 18-29 year olds know that the Roe v Wade decision was about abortion. E.J. Graff at The American Prospect doesn’t think this is actually a problem, writing: “The young’uns may not know Roe v. Wade by name—but they know that their bodies are their own. If it comes to a new battle, they’ll fight for it again.”

Guttmacher and many others have reported on the unprecedented success of anti-abortion activists in having restrictions on abortion access introduced into state legislatures across the U.S. (the right may be protected, but states can still regulate around that right). Bloomberg Business Week has this weird chart that tries to visually depict the new restrictions, while The New York Times estimates that if Roe were overturned, half of U.S. states would outlaw abortion within a year.

As Pickert put it in that Time article said, “getting an abortion in America is, in some places, harder today than at any point since it became a constitutionally protected right 40 years ago.”

Do those curbs on access mean fewer abortions? Well, the rate has gone down in the U.S. Some argue it’s because of better long-term reversible contraception (the figures are up to 2009 so don’t reflect the recent tsunami of abortion restrictions) but others suspect there may be a parallel rise in illegal abortions taking place. That prospect was highlighted late last year in a piece by Ada Calhoun in The New Republic titled “The Rise of DIY Abortions”, which looks at the harrowing case of Jennie Linn McCormack of Idaho, a single mother with three children, who tried to end a pregnancy with abortion pills from the internet because she simply didn’t have the time or the money to access a legal abortion in a state that has lots and lots of restrictions. The pregnancy was much farther along than McCormack apparently realised and she aborted a 19-23 week fetus, on her own, in the bathroom. She was later arrested. (Women in New Zealand are most likely also accessing abortion meds over the Net too, as I outlined in an article last May with a similar headline “Return of the DIY Abortion”.)

Finally, on a slightly different but related note, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women has a new report out looking at how “personhood” efforts continue to criminalise pregnancy in the United States. It seems that turning pregnant people into criminals goes hand in hand with restricting abortion access. (This should link to a PDF (!!!) of the actual NAPW journal article: “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973–2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health” )

Some Other Links:

• "We Have Always Resisted," by Kortney Ryan Ziegler. Huffpost. (A look at the place in reproductive justice activism of trans women of colour.)
• "The Fight for Women's Reproductive Rights Can't Just Be About Winning or Losing the Abortion War," by Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights. (Another response to Time.)
• "This is 40: The Anniversary of Roe v Wade," by Jill Lepore. The New Yorker.
• "Defending Roe at 40," by Peter Rothberg. The Nation (Contains useful list of prochoice orgs.)
• "This is Roe at 40," by the editors of The Nation
• "40 Years Later, Roe v Wade Abortion Ruling’s Legacy of Bitter Unrelenting Division," by Associated Press.
• 40 Years After Roe, It's Time New Zealand Decriminalised. Media Release by ALRANZ
• Finally, Robyn Marty of RH Reality Check and law professor Jessica Mason Pieklo have a new book coming out on the post-Roe world titled "Crow After Roe: How 'Separate But Equal' Has Become the New Standard in Women's Health and How We Can Change That."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't really see the need for the cissexist language in this article. Can we once have a discussion about abortion without assuming that uterus=woman. Just once.

Thanks in advance.