By Nancy Rosenstock
CHICAGO — “I absolutely think we should not stop defending Roe v. Wade. We need to insure that the right to a safe legal abortion is codified in federal law. We need massive legal demonstrations,” said Barbara Roberts at an online panel discussion held January 24. The event posed the need for a national mobilization to defend women’s right to choose abortion.
Chicago for Abortion Rights (CFAR) hosted the panel on the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the 1973 Supreme Court decision that decriminalized abortion. Haymarket Books streamed the forum and made it available through the Haymarket Books YouTube channel. About 132 people attended. Thirteen organizations co-sponsored the event. They included Chicago National Organization for Women (NOW), Chicago Abortion Fund, The Clinic Vest Project, Reproductive Transparency Now, and others.
Gina Rozman-Wendle, president of Chicago NOW and an activist in CFAR, moderated the discussion. Panelists included Dr. Barbara Roberts, a leader in the abortion rights movement during the 1960s and ’70s; Derenda Hancock, co-coordinator of the Pinkhouse Defenders, a group of volunteers who create a safe environment for patients at Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi—that state’s sole abortion clinic; Qudsiyyah Shariyf, program manager with the Chicago Abortion Fund; and Kim Varela-Broxson, an abortion fund volunteer with the Bridge Collective in Austin, Texas, and a reproductive nonprofit worker at the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Panelists responded to questions Rozman-Wendle posed, addressing the main challenges facing those who support women’s right to choose abortion.
Roe on the chopping block
Roe is now on the chopping block after decades of court rulings and state and federal laws that have limited access to abortion over the last half century.
The U.S. Supreme Court is now reviewing a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In addition to upholding the ban, the state has asked the court to use the case to overturn Roe.
The Supreme Court has also allowed a six-week abortion ban to remain in place in Texas, where abortions are now virtually illegal. Even though this legislation is a flagrant violation of Roe, a majority of the justices have refused twice to block it.
All of these measures are designed to roll back or overturn Roe altogether.
“Only at our collective peril can we ignore the attacks on the right to have an abortion happening right now,” Rozman-Wendle stated in kicking off the panel.
Why defend Roe, the moderator asked.
“It’s just the beginning,” Varela-Broxson responded. “What’s next if they win? The domino effect is going to begin as soon as Roe is overturned.”
Hancock added, “There are twelve states with trigger laws [that will automatically ban abortion if Roe is overturned] so within twenty-four hours abortion would be illegal. People will be left behind.”
Emphasizing this point, Rozman-Wendle said, “I have never seen in my lifetime what would happen if Roe is overturned and in those twelve states, it would be a catastrophe. We have a right to abortion because we have a right to decide how our bodies are governed. We have a right to determine what we do with our bodies.”
Many have touted medication abortion as a panacea and have advanced it politically as a way of organizing for a “post-Roe America.”
“Is pushing for the abortion pill enough or do we still need the protection of abortion rights?” Rozman-Wendle asked the panelists.
“Abortion pills will be criminalized,” Hancock responded.
“Medication abortion is all well and good but as women we have to have control over our bodies,” added Roberts. “There can be complications with medication abortion and it does not apply to late-term abortions.”
Roberts outlined what life was like for women in the days before Roe. As a medical student and later a doctor, she witnessed firsthand the horrors of illegal abortion before 1973. “After Roe, we saw an immediate drop in maternal mortality,” she noted. “If Roe is overturned, more women will die. And, I worry about unmarried women having access to contraception.”
The panelists also addressed the mounting restrictions on access to abortion. Commenting first-hand from Texas, a state where abortions are now banned after six weeks of pregnancy—at a time when many women are not even aware they are pregnant—Varela-Broxson said, “The vast majority no longer have access. They need to rearrange their lives and leave this giant state to get an abortion. These are working-class women, women of color. The clinics out of state are overwhelmed.”
Lack of funds to help those seeking an abortion travel to other states for the procedure is another complication. “The majority of people the Chicago Abortion Fund assists are not from Illinois,” Shariyf pointed out.
National demonstration needed
With only five months remaining before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, panelists agreed that organizing now is critical.
“I hope the organizations that already exist would call for a meeting and propose a date to have massive demonstrations before the Supreme Court rules,” Roberts said. “I was a speaker at our local demonstration on October 2, but these demonstrations don’t do what a national demonstration could do, which is to put pressure—200,000 people marching in DC will get the attention of the Supreme Court.”
“A national mobilization effort is needed now more than ever,” Rozman-Wendle added. “We are having a demonstration [in Chicago] on March 5 in honor of International Women’s Day, and I hope that it will be one of many actions to keep people mobilized and in the streets. Get ready for the long haul. We need to make sure we are the vocal majority.”
Varela-Broxson urged audience members to “donate to your local abortion fund, join organizations, get involved.”
Participants in the panel discussion donated hundreds of dollars to the Chicago Abortion Fund.
Join Chicago area activists on March 5, at noon, at 3656 N. Halsted, to honor International Women’s Day in a March for Abortion Rights.
Onward to a national march in Washington, D.C.
WE WON’T GO BACK!
Nancy Rosenstock was an activist in Boston Female Liberation and served on the national staff of the Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition in 1971. Today she is a member of Chicago for Abortion Rights. She is the author of the forthcoming book Inside The Second Wave of Feminism: An Account by Participants of Boston Female Liberation, 1968–1972, which is scheduled for publication in 2022 by Haymarket Books.
Categories: Women's Rights