Reproductive Justice: A Timeline by Emma Staffaroni

Emma Staffaroni is a first-year Master’s candidate in SLC’s Women’s History program. A ruthless feminist, she slays haters with her pen and then eats them for dinner, covered in cheese. She also enjoys basset hounds, trains, and red wine.

Full disclosure: I am 23. That means that up until the last couple of years, most of the fighting for women’s reproductive rights in the United States took place before my time. When I first learned about Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case affirming a woman’s right to choose, I was exactly the same age that my mom was in 1973: fifteen. Fifteen is a big age; it is a tempestuous time. It is, in my opinion, a bit too late for a young woman to be learning about the right to choose. Unfortunately, 2003 was right smack in the heart of the “Bush years”, so even though my Connecticut public high school dodged most of the abstinence-only education craziness, our health class still shimmered with overtones of SEX IS DIRTY AND WRONG. My mom and I are thirty years apart, but as fifteen-year-old women we got similar messages from our public education system.

For me in 2003, learning about some court case that legalized abortion thirty years ago might as well have been ancient history. “Cool,” my simple, teenage brain thought. Glad they took care of that! Of course it wouldn’t be until my Women’s Studies classes in college that I’d understand why abortion had been illegal in the first place. Up until around 1930, abortion practices were often crude and dangerous, leading to thousands of deaths. (For that reason, many prominent feminists and suffragists were against the practice – not for any kind of religious reason, but because it was a dirty, scary thing that killed women.) When practices started to improve in the 30s and 40s, mortality rates dropped significantly.  Sure enough, the Supreme Court justices who ruled on Roe in 1973 reasoned that with modern medicine’s advances, legal barriers were no longer appropriate or relevant.

My mom was in college when the Hyde Amendment barred all federal funding for abortions. I was in college when, in the midst of health care reform debates, Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Representative Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) tacked onto the healthcare bill an amendment in their names that would have blocked any federal funds from covering a health plan that includes abortions. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment passed in the House but was shot down in the Senate. Little did I know that it was just the beginning of an onslaught against women’s choice starting with the mid-term elections in 2010. The parallels of history are uncanny – I can almost hear “The Circle of Life” playing.

For lots of women’s rights activists, the politics of the reproductive justice movement feel like a nauseating merry-go-round – in part because it rests on a paradoxical notion of freedom. Roe v. Wade granted the right to choose based on the Constitutional right to privacy. “Privacy,” of course, gets redefined and circumscribed anew with the changing demands of society, technology, and the state. The 1992 ruling of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey is a lesson in this; by evoking language of public health, the court created space for state intervention in women’s experience of reproductive freedom and autonomy. The Casey ruling, while affirming the right to an abortion, also created cracks in the foundation through which state regulation and limitation could seep.

But this tension between individual freedom and state intervention is problematic for many feminists because it vilifies the state’s role in protecting women. Indeed, the entire Bill of Rights is about keeping the government’s nose out of the individual’s business. And yet in so many ways, this view of freedom – the hands-off kind – is precisely that which has eroded the welfare state and placed barriers to President Obama’s full vision of universal health care.

Nevertheless, bodily autonomy is the most fundamental and basic of all rights for a woman. It recognizes her personhood and separates her childbearing capacity from any child-rearing imperative. By isolating the act of abortion from its context, i.e. the woman involved, the anti-choice movement “keep[s] women slaves to their biology,” in the words of Ellen Willis. “They do not concede women the right to an active human existence that transcends their reproductive function,” she writes.

Gloria Steinem takes it even further. In an interview in 2004 before Bush was re-elected, Steinem presaged the destructive effects of another four years of right-wing government. When asked about Bush’s evocation of Christian law, Steinem responded that “pro-life” is not really about religion.

I think the deep reasoning here… is to control women’s bodies as the most fundamental means of production. Because unless you control that process, you can’t make the decisions about how many workers a country needs, how many soldiers, what races should reproduce more than others. The ability to control reproduction is one of the two pillars of nationalism. The other is the ability to control territory. I think this goes very deep and really does not have that much to do with religion. …The cloaking of political imperatives in religious language is the problem.

What the right to bodily autonomy ultimately represents, then, is women’s full participation in democracy. If we don’t own our bodies, then we don’t own our lives. It’s as simple as that.

No matter how far we’ve come (or haven’t) it is crucial for women of my generation to know what women of my mother’s generation witnessed firsthand. It is vital that we see the links between the kinds of attacks on women’s autonomy that followed Roe in the late 70s and early 80s, and the rehashed attacks on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers we face today. If we want to prevent the current anti-choice movement from pulling the historical rug out from under us, we need to remember our history and keep fighting for it. We must understand why we have the rights we have, and also why they are still in jeopardy.

So, with a little help from the Historical and Multicultural Encyclopedia of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States, I’ve put together a timeline of some of the cornerstones of the reproductive justice movement since the 1960s. Starting with Griswold v. Connecticut and leading up to the aforementioned Casey ruling, this will hopefully provide a longer-view of the circuitous route of justice for women in this country. If we want current fifteen-year-old young women to, thirty years from now, still hold the same status as women do today, we best know our history.

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) – This case came about when Estelle Griswold, the executive director of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, opened a birth control clinic. Three days later she was arrested for dispensing contraceptives to a married couple. The Supreme Court invalidated this law by a majority of seven to two, ruling that a constitutional right to privacy protected the right of married couples to use contraceptives. Many amendments in the Constitution created “zones of privacy” that protect one’s home, one’s person, and one’s possessions. These zones would be key for the eventual Roe ruling.

Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) – This was the step between Griswold and Roe that further articulated privacy. It affirmed the reproductive autonomy of every individual, married or not. This meant that the individual was to be “free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

Roe vs. Wade (1973) - In this ruling, the Supreme Court stated that the rights recognized in Griswold and Eisenstadt are “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” This decriminalized abortion in all U.S. states. With developments in modern medicine the laws against the procedure, which had been in place to protect women, were no longer necessary. This decision also established the trimester principle.

Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth (1976) – This was the first Supreme Court ruling on a state law that attempted to restrict and discourage abortions in the years after Roe. The restrictions in this law will sound familiar, as many states have rehashed similar and more draconian laws today. Danforth succeeded in defining viability of the fetus as “when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life-support systems”; the case also succeeded in requiring abortion providers to keep records for public health officials. Aside from that, the Supreme Court struck down Danforth’s demands that married women must receive the consent of their husbands, which is a term that has held since.

Hyde Amendment (1976)- This amendment prohibits the use of federal funding for abortions. This affects Medicaid recipients, federal employees (1983), disabled women on Medicare (1988), military personnel & Peace Corp volunteers (1979), Native American women (1988), residents in D.C. (1977), and women in federal prisons (1987). There were a few exceptions: when the woman’s life was in danger, when two physicians certified that the woman would suffer long-term damage, and when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. In 1981 this changed to only include exceptions for preserving the woman’s life. In 1993 it expanded to include pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Some states fund abortions beyond the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas City v. Ashcroft (1983) – This case reaffirmed the fundamental right for a woman to obtain an abortion but also clarified the boundaries of that right. The Supreme Court ruled against the Missouri statute that all second-trimester abortions had to be performed in a hospital; six out of nine justices found this unconstitutional. However, the Court ruled in favor of Missouri’s other restrictions, including the most highly contested “two-physician rule.” Missouri did not even require two physicians to be present for childbirth, yet this rule was seen as an “accepted medical practice,” so the Court upheld it. A similar setback was the parental consent ruling, which the Court upheld. Minors would be forced to get parental consent unless they could prove maturity and receive a “judicial bypass.” Ashcroft is seen as both a victory and a setback for reproductive rights. It granted a lot of latitude for states to impose restrictions on the abortion process.

Global Gag Rule (1984)- Ronald Reagan instated the Global Gag Rule or “GGR” which denies family planning funds to any foreign NGO that – with its own non-U.S. money – provides legal abortion services and counseling, gives information or referrals about safe abortion, or even takes part in a public debate that improves access to services.  This has been overturned and reinstated, back and forth, between conservative and liberal presidencies. Most recently, Obama overturned the GGR in 2009.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) – Many believed that this would be the case that would overturn Roe, but it did not. Instead the conservative majority in the Supreme Court weakened the ruling but kept it in place. Southeastern Pennsylvania had instated the 24-hour waiting period, as well as the mandated counseling services. For the first time, the Court accepted the notion that the state had an interest in protecting “the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.” This limited the scope of the Roe rights by introducing the “undue burden” standard. Put simply, as long as the state’s intervention does not burden the woman’s right, it is legitimate. (Of course this can be interpreted in myriad ways!) This opened the door for a number of state regulations, most recently the “TRAP” laws or Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers – laws which actively target abortion-providing clinics with regulations that block their funding and force them to jump through hoops.

 {Battles on the horizon} – Since the 2010 mid-term elections, abortion providers in states like South Dakota and Indiana have faced unprecedented opposition. Women in those states may know that their right to an abortion exists at the national level, but it doesn’t seem that way in their own backyards. For an up-to-date and thorough look at the full extent of regulations across the United States today, check out this comprehensive graph. It is organized by type of regulation: from parental consent requirements, to waiting periods, to mandatory counseling and ultrasounds, to blocked insurance funding. These attacks not only degrade women’s basic healthcare access but they also undermine the legal system. As citizens we want to have faith in the courts, but more often than not individuals with power (e.g. conservative governors) get the last word. What’s next for the reproductive justice movement? What will this graph look like thirty years from now?

Police join protesters in Wisconsin; Thousands rally in New York

or, “THIS IS NOT A BUDGET ISSUE, THIS IS A CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE”

Today, as reported by Jenn Breckenridge at The Understory, police officers joined protesters inside the Wisconsin State Capitol:

From inside the Wisconsin State Capitol, RAN ally Ryan Harvey reports:

“Hundreds of cops have just marched into the Wisconsin state capitol building to protest the anti-Union bill, to massive applause. They now join up to 600 people who are inside.”

Ryan reported on his Facebook page earlier today:

“Police have just announced to the crowds inside the occupied State Capitol of Wisconsin: ‘We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what’s right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!’ Unreal.”

read the full article at The Understory.

Across the country, thousands of New Yorkers rallied with Planned Parenthood to protest the Pence Amendment which cuts all federal funding from the provider.

courtesy NY1

“They give out HIV and STD screenings, they give out cancer screenings, they give out safe sex kits, they do safe sex classes for so many women. And so many women in so many towns like New York don’t have access to anything except Planned Parenthood,” said one demonstrator. “So if you slash that, you’re literally slashing their health and their rights.”

see the NY1 article for more information & a video.

– Kate Wadkins

Monday Night: The Assassination of Dr. Tiller on MSNBC

Tomorrow night, MSNBC will air its documentary “The Assassination of Dr. Tiller” at 9pm EST.  Rachel Maddow narrates this story of the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller at his church in Wichita, Kansas on May 31, 2009.

The video above is a segment of The Rachel Maddow Show introducing the documentary and trailer.

Ginny Thomas reminds women we should be thanking Anita Hill

Anita Hill

This is an excerpt from an article by Devona Walker posted on AlterNet. You can read the full article at AlterNet.

The Anita Hill case was a turning point for American women, who have endured sexual harassment and gender bias on the job. Even though they dragged her name through the mud, she was unflappable on the stand and gave women everywhere in the U.S. courage to stand up and say “enough is enough.” Subsequent to her testimony the U.S. Supreme Court made employers more liable for sexual harassment in 1998. The Society for Human Resource Management has reported that 62 percent of companies now offer sexual harassment prevention training programs, and 97 percent have a written sexual harassment policy.

For those of us who knew Anita Hill told the truth, the appointment of Clarence Thomas was a defeat, a slap in the face.

But because she had the courage to speak out there were long-term consequences. There soon was national awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace. Between 1991 and 1996, awards to victims of sexual harassment under federal laws nearly quadrupled, from $7.7 million to $27.8 million.

Another repercussion was that women started getting involved in politics. The following year, in fact, the media heralded the 1992 election as the “Year of the Woman.” A record number of women ran for public office and won. In the U.S. Senate, eleven women ran and five won seats. In the House of Representatives, twenty-four women won new seats. Why? Because women across the country realized that the only reason her grievances were not taken seriously is because she was being judged by a Congress, not an electorate, who was 98 percent male at the time.

Read the full article here.

Silence

by Olivia Harris

Silence is, by definition, pretty impossible to study because it is a non-event.  But silence is also a learned act that is taught by modeling in social groups. In modern American society there are many taboo topics noted by academics from all across the fields of study: money, death, sex and sexuality, incest, class, medical issues, bodily functions, authority and power.  There is public silence maintained by every individual surrounding each of these that acts on most Americans in a way that Emile Durkheim would describe as functional. By not discussing these “controversial” topics openly, people actively feed into a culture of silence that reinforces a shared cultural ideology.  After all, “it only takes one person to produce speech but it requires the cooperation of many to produce silence.” (Norman Pittenger)

That makes silence a social act, and one inherently involved in power.    “Open” or “public” secrets are topics that are generally known and understood but never discussed.  These secrets are a form of public denial that function to protect the community as a whole and are learned through socialization (Zerubavel, 2006).  Often “not here” or “not now” are the phrases associated with such secrets: nobody is denying the existence of such truths, but each individual utilizes silence as a means to keep it from the public eye.  So some form of conversation (spoken or not) is necessary to promote the act of maintaining a public secret.  These secrets are often covered with talk about everything but the specific secret at hand. Continue reading

Dorothy Height: Unsung Hero of the Women’s Movement and Civil Rights

by Erika Stump

Photo credit: David Kohl, AP

Dorothy Irene Height died on April 20, 2010.  She was 98.  Although not a common household name like her dear friend, Rosa Parks, Ms. Height was a fundamental force of the civil rights movement and an icon in the struggle for women’s rights. Not to mention her role as an impeccable model of style…oh, those hats!

Born in Richmond, Virginia in 1912, Ms. Height’s displeasure with racial inequality began early in her life. The Pittsburgh YWCA refused to let her swim in their pool when she was a child.  Then, at nine years old, a white girl said they could no longer be best friends because Dorothy was black. As a young adult, Height was admitted to Barnard College, but when she arrived, she was told she could not enroll as the two seats for black students had already been filled.  Given her renowned resilience, she immediately hopped on a subway and registered at NYU, where she earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in five years. Continue reading

A War Justified by “Women’s Rights”

Photo composite by New York Times

Today, the New York Times reported that the American death toll in Afghanistan has reached 1000.  I think it’s worth taking note of this “grim milestone” here at RE/VISIONIST for several reasons.

Neither the war in Iraq nor the war in Afghanistan receives front-page attention anymore, despite the fact that violence and killing go unabated.  This war in particular has been branded and marketed as a fight for women’s rights, framed with the goal of helping young girls go to school (Laura Bush has been at the forefront of this campaign.)  Afghan women have been portrayed as helpless victims of Islam, which has come to justify the violence. Continue reading