Why Defending the Right to Abortion is Important to All of Us

Originally published February 28, 2016

Trust women

Edited version of a January speech on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by GLN’s Andy Thayer 
This spring the Supreme Court will rule on what is widely seen in legal circles as the most important abortion decision since 1973’s Roe v. Wade. How the court rules on a Texas anti-abortion law, which would force the closure of 2/3’s of the clinics in that state, will likely set the political terrain for the debate for many years to come.
We have an opportunity and obligation right now to win this battle to defend Roe v. Wade and expand the right to legal, accessible abortion.
The stakes are high. One-third of women in the U.S. have an abortion at some point in their lives. And so if abortion is made much less accessible, let alone illegal, millions of women and girls will be harmed. But there are many more beyond those millions of women and girls who need abortions who will be harmed if the right to abortion is curtailed.
ALL women and girls will be diminished by a society that tells them that it has so little respect for them, that they are not allowed to have sovereignty even over their own bodies. This, by the way, was the core of what was at stake in the recent battle for marriage rights for LGBTs, and why the other side fought us so hard. They didn’t want full personhood for LGBTs any more than they want full personhood for women and girls.
There’s an old saying in the equal marriage rights movement directed at the “straight” people who opposed us: “If you don’t like gay marriage, then just don’t have one.” It borrowed from an even older phrase from the abortion rights movement, directed to the men who opposed the right: “If you don’t like abortion, then just don’t have one.”
Both phrases highlighted that these battles over abortion and marriage were never really about how men and straights would be “oppressed” by greater rights for women and LGBTs, but about fostering a society where men and straights would be “free” to discriminate. Where open bigotry, as opposed to more clandestine kinds, is the rule of the day, against all sorts of groups.
If we win this current battle to defend Roe v Wade, millions more beyond women and girls will gain. That’s because civil rights is not a zero-sum game, where the gains of one group of oppressed come at the expense of others.
We heard the opposite when we won the right to same-sex marriage. Those who would divide us said gays were winning things at the expense of other oppressed groups. No doubt, if we win this latest court round, there will be some narrow-minded people who will the same thing about women.
But when women and girls win, we all win. When LGBT people win, we all win. When Black people successfully push back against police violence, we all win. When immigrants successfully push back against the latest wave of ICE sweeps, we all win. We all end up living in a more humane society.
When we put the forces of the 1% on the run, we all win. We’ve seen it in this town with Rahm on the run, victories for a S. Side trauma center and an at least temporary halt to police sweeps against the homeless in Uptown.
Now we have an election year. And I have enough gray hairs and experience with previous presidential contests to tell you that we all will be told that the best way to shore up the right to abortion will be to support the Democrats.
Just remember –
* We were also told that was the way to stop the wars, and yet President Obama bombed nearly twice as many countries as Bush before him, and despite being told many times the wars are over, they continue.
* We were also told that voting Democratic was the way to stop George Bush’s anti-immigrant raids, yet Obama has deported more than any other president in U.S. history.
* We were told that electing a former constitutional scholar would be the best way to defend civil liberties, yet Obama prosecuted more whistleblowers under Espionage Act than all other previous presidents combined.
* On racism, from the murder in Ferguson to the present, no one can seriously tell black youth that we’ve made a serious dent in racism under President Obama. And in Chicago, we’ve all seen in recent months what his former chief of staff has been able to cook up.
* And on the main subject of today’s march, abortion, we’ve had Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, five presidential terms, sometimes with overwhelming majorities in Congress, and yet they couldn’t or wouldn’t get rid of the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding for poor women who need abortions.
For more than three decades we’ve been told that the politicians and NGOs would defend abortion rights if voted for them and clicked the donation boxes. It is a strategy that has failed. Despite polls showing that a majority of Americans support safe and legal abortion, various Presidents and Congresses have allowed a steady erosion of that right over the past several decades.
We need protests in the streets – the true place all important civil rights struggles have been won. We need this not only to defend and expand women’s right to not only choose abortion, but to win well-funded support systems of child care and good schools that make the decision to have or not have kids truly a free choice.
On Wednesday, March 2nd, the day the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Texas abortion case, we have an important opportunity to begin reversing the erosion of abortion rights.  Please join us at 5:30 PM on that day at Federal Plaza, Adams & Dearborn Streets, in downtown Chicago.
More information about the March 2nd demonstration can be found here.

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