Roe Was The Start Of The Fight, Not The End


This post is part of our week-long series on the personal impact of the current state of reproductive health, rights, and justice.


by Soraya Chemaly


I was surprised to learn last week that the majority of people surveyed under 30 don’t know what Roe v. Wade is. Fully 41% think the case might have to do with the death penalty or the environment or they just could not say and 16% think it has to do with school desegregation.

First and foremost, this just goes to show how poorly children in this country are educated, particularly regarding women and their revolutionary fight for freedoms and equality. But, second, and possibly more important, is that it illustrates to me the degree to which we take for granted the fact that our rights are so deeply tied to our bodies.

“Rights” like those extended and protected by Roe sound so abstract when they are, especially for women, not abstract at all. The core of feminism, and women’s equality, seems rooted in our bodies. Who controls them. How they’re used. What happens to them. How they’re perceived. How they’re represented in culture. Bodies are inseparable from identity. And identity is how we’ve informed, defined access to rights and distribute justice.

So, while Roe is often framed in terms of abortion “choices”, we know what it is the way our country gives women the right to possess themselves.

White men have always had this privilege. The country’s history is the slow extension of this fundamental human right to others. That’s what Roe is about.

If you asked, I’d warrant that most people under 30 would say, of course women are in possession of their bodies. Our norms insist this is the case, when it is clearly not. It’s a relatively new and fragile idea, one that is under constant assault.

I think one of the biggest challenges we face is raising awareness of facts like these and reformulating how we communicate these ideas so that, broadly speaking, all people appreciate that the course of women’s rights in this country has always been substantively different from the course of men’s. We still live in a society where women have to buy access to their fundamental rights…often by being pale enough and rich enough.

Roe was actually the start, not the end of the fight for women’s rights to not be perceived and used as public resources. These are, in Margaret Sanger’s words, Things That Every Girl Should Know. They’re things every boy should know, too.

[Editor's Note: more people than just cis women need and want access to affordable reproductive health care, including abortion.]


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