A ‘sucker punch’: Some women fear setback to hard-won rights

At 88, Gloria Steinem has lengthy been the nation’s most seen feminist and advocate for women’s rights. But at 22, she was a frightened American in London getting an unlawful abortion of a being pregnant so undesirable, she really tried to throw herself down the steps to finish it.

Her response to the Supreme Court’s determination overruling Roe v. Wade is succinct: “Obviously,” she wrote in an electronic mail message, “without the right of women and men to make decisions about our own bodies, there is no democracy.”

Steinem’s blunt comment cuts to the center of the despair some opponents are feeling about Friday’s historic rollback of the 1973 case legalizing abortion. If a proper so central to the general combat for women’s equality could be revoked, they ask, what does it imply for the progress women have made in public life within the intervening 50 years?

“One of the things that I keep hearing from women is, ‘My daughter’s going to have fewer rights than I did. And how can that be?’” says Debbie Walsh, of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “If this goes, what else can go? It makes everything feel precarious.”

Reproductive freedom was not the one demand of second-wave feminism, because the women’s motion of the ’60s and ’70s is thought, but it surely was certainly one of the galvanizing points, together with workplace equality.

The women who fought for these rights recall an astonishing decade of progress from about 1963 to 1973 together with the appropriate to equal pay, the appropriate to use contraception, and Title IX in 1972 which bans discrimination in training. Capping it off was Roe v. Wade a year later, granting a constitutional proper to abortion.

Many of the women who recognized as feminists on the time had an unlawful abortion or knew somebody who did. Steinem, in truth, credit a “speak-out” meeting she attended on abortion in her 30s because the second she pivoted from journalism to activism — and at last felt enabled to talk about her personal secret abortion.

“Abortion is so tied to the women’s movement in this country,” says Carole Joffe, a sociologist on the University of California, San Francisco medical college who research and teaches the historical past of abortion. “Along with improved birth control, what legal abortion meant was that women who were heterosexually active could still take part in public life. It enabled the huge change we’ve seen in women’s status over the last 50 years.” Joffe says many women, like her, now really feel that the appropriate to contraception could possibly be in danger — one thing she calls “unthinkable.”

One of them is Heather Booth. When she was 20 and a scholar in Chicago, a male pal requested if she might assist his sister receive an abortion. It was 1965, and thru contacts within the civil rights motion, she discovered a manner to join the younger girl, almost suicidal on the prospect of being pregnant, to a health care provider keen to assist. She thought it will be a one-off, however Booth ended up co-founding the Jane Collective, an underground group of women who offered secure abortions to these in want. In all, the group carried out some 11,000 abortions over about seven years — a narrative recounted within the new documentary “The Janes.”

Booth, now 76, sees the Roe v. Wade upheaval as a chilling problem to the triumphs of the women’s motion.

“I think we are on a knife’s edge,” she says. “On the one hand, there’s been 50 years of a change in women’s condition in this society,” she provides, recalling that when she was rising up, women might solely reply to employment adverts within the “women’s section,” to checklist only one instance.

“So there’s been an advance toward greater equality, but … if you ask about where we stand, I think we are on a knife’s edge in a contest really between democracy and freedom, and tyranny, a dismantling of freedoms that have been long fought for.”

Of course, not each girl feels that abortion is a proper price preserving.

Linda Sloan, who has volunteered the final 5 years, alongside together with her husband, for the anti-abortion group A Moment of Hope in Columbia, South Carolina, says she values women’s rights.

“I strongly believe and support women being treated as equals to men … (in) job opportunities, salary, respect, and many other areas,” she says. She says she has tried to instill these values in her two daughters and two sons, and upholds them together with her work at two women’s shelters, making an attempt to empower women to make the appropriate decisions.

But when it comes to Roe v. Wade, she says, “I believe that the rights of the child in the mother’s womb are equally important. To quote Psalm 139, I believe that God ‘formed my inner parts’ and ‘knitted me together in my mother’s womb.’”

Elizabeth Kilmartin, like Sloan, volunteers at A Moment of Hope and is deeply happy by the courtroom’s determination.

In her youthful years she thought of herself a feminist and studied women’s historical past in school. Then, over time she got here to deeply oppose abortion, and not considers herself a feminist as a result of she believes the phrase has been co-opted by these on the left. “No women’s rights have been harmed in the decision to stop killing babies in the womb,” Kilmartin says. “We have all kinds of women in power. Women aren’t being oppressed in the workplace anymore. We have a woman vice president … It’s just ridiculous to think that we’re so oppressed.”

Cheryl Lambert falls squarely in the opposing camp. The former Wall Street executive, now 65, immediately thought back to the gains she made earlier in her banking career, becoming the first woman to be named an officer at the institution she worked for. She calls the court decision “a sucker punch.”

“My thought was, what era are we living in?” Lambert says. “We are moving backwards. I’m just furious on behalf of our children and our grandchildren.”

Lambert herself needed an abortion as a young mother when the fetus was found to carry a genetic disease. “I thought it would get easier, not harder, to have an abortion in this country,” she says.

Now, she and many other women fear a return to dangerous, illegal abortions of the past — and a disproportionate impact on women without the means to travel to abortion-friendly states. Still, many are trying to see a positive side: that as bleak as the moment may seem, change could come via new energy at the ballot box.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” says Carol Tracy, of the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia.

Steinem, too, issued a note of resolve.

“Women have always taken power over our own bodies, and we will keep right on,” she wrote in her email message. “An unjust court can’t stop abortion, but it guarantees civil disobedience and disrespect for the court.”


AP Reporter Maryclaire Dale contributed to this report.


For AP’s full protection of the Supreme Court ruling on abortion, go to

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