On this, the 30th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, which secured for women the fundamental civil and human right to make our own childbearing choices, that is exactly what we all face – a country where abortion rights could disappear completely.
When abolitionist Wendall Phillips warned that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” he was of course talking about the scourge of slavery, not the dangerous specter of citizens and public servants hell bent on violating the rights of women. But in the 30 years since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide, activists for abortion rights have been forced to stand constant guard at the gate of reproductive freedom.
Starting with the executive branch, George W. Bush put a faux feminist spin on his war on terrorism when he told the U.N. last fall, “Respect for women … can triumph in the Middle East and beyond.”
Forget respect for women. By denying women their reproductive rights, Bush is writing the book on repression of women. He’d been installed as president about a minute when he reinstated the global gag rule; another minute when he named staunchly anti-choice Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general of the United States; another few minutes when he eliminated funding for the United Nations Population Fund and tripled funds for harmful abstinence-only sexuality education. Reproductive rights activists are working harder than ever to hold on to the rights so many before us worked toward.
The radical right-wing politics of the judicial branch have also forced us to stand sentry at the gates of justice. In 2002 alone, reproductive rights activists fought to block five vehemently anti-choice nominees to the federal bench: Charles Pickering, Priscilla Owen, Michael McConnell, Miguel Estrada and Dennis Shedd. While Pickering and Owen were defeated, McConnell and Shedd were confirmed by the Senate just weeks after the midterm elections. Last month, Bush named Douglas Kmiec, a proponent of “natural law,” which places religious or transcendent concepts above manmade law, to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. This appellate court is considered second in importance to the Supreme Court and a stepping-stone to the Supreme Court for judges who serve on it.
So, on this 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that secured for women one of their most basic human rights, we are not only celebrating, we are standing sentry at the hallowed gate of reproductive freedom. We call on every citizen who values human rights to work to protect the freedom to make their own childbearing choices.