31 years after Roe v. Wade: New generation redefines pro-choice

With its Jan. 22, 1973, ruling that abortion could no longer be illegal, the Supreme Court ushered in a new era for the rights of women, children and families.

The decision came at a time when women’s lives were restricted in ways we might not be able to imagine today. For instance, young women playing high school basketball were only allowed to run half court and pregnant public school teachers generally had to take a forced leave or be fired.

Thirty-one years later, a generation of women who weren’t even alive for Roe v. Wade are fighting for reproductive rights, along with their older sisters and brothers. Everyone agrees that women are better able to make decisions about their own lives and childbearing than the government, yet, in responding to the 30-plus-year attack by anti-choice forces, this younger generation is helping to redefine the language and landscape as they go.

“Being pro-choice means the freedom to choose whether or not to have sex, getting access to sex education, and affordable health care,” Choice USA Executive Director Crystal Plati told the World in a phone interview.

Plati said the young people she and her staff meet are pro-choice when the definition is broadened. “Being pro-choice doesn’t mean you have to have an abortion. That is your decision – to have one or not to have one. Being pro-choice means you understand and support someone else’s decision to have an abortion.”

Plati, 30, said Roe v. Wade is a landmark decision to celebrate even though it didn’t guarantee “choice” forever or for everyone. “There has been a 30-year strategy to chip away at reproductive rights from the local, state and federal level by the anti-choice opposition,” she said. “We got started a little late, but we have to start somewhere organizing at the grassroots.”

According to Plati, this includes reaching out to women of color and low-income and young women, who have felt the brunt of this right-wing attack. It also means changing the language and redefining what being pro-choice means.

Reproductive rights look different to different people and communities, Plati said, and the pro-choice movement has to address these issues. For example, the Hyde Amendment prohibited Medicaid from covering abortion and that affects low-income women. Reproductive rights are part of a whole group of social justice issues, to which Choice USA and other women’s rights groups are making connections.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), one of six national groups organizing the April 25 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., has issued action alerts and statements protesting the Bush administration’s attack on a woman’s right to choose – from signing the so-called partial birth abortion law to the recent, secret installation of an ultra-right, ideological judge, Charles Pickering, to the federal courts – as well as other democratic and civil rights issues.

“Reproductive freedom is under attack like never before. George W. Bush and the right-wing-led Congress are literally signing away women’s reproductive rights,” NOW President Kim Gandy said in a recent press statement. “On this year’s Roe v. Wade anniversary, NOW activists will gather at the Supreme Court to tell the leaders of this country that we are prepared to protect our right to abortion, birth control and all reproductive health services, as well as our right to have children and plan our own families without government interference.”

Local groups are organizing buses to Washington for the April 25 demonstration. Choice USA is calling on young people to sign its Young People’s All-Access Pact and is organizing a young people’s contingent to the march.

For more information go to www.choiceusa.org or call (888) 784-4494.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org.