I have always been passionate about social justice issues. As such, I’ve probably attended more rallies and protests than the average 20-year-old. Never, however, had I attended one like the protest on Thursday, January 22, 2015—the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Standing outside the Supreme Court made for a dramatic change in scenery from my small college campus. But there was something else different, too. The protest had an air of apprehension. Everyone seemed to be a little more on guard than protesters I’d seen in the past. It wasn’t until the so-called “March for Life” reached us that I understood why.
The marchers were mean. They were verbally and emotionally abusive. I carried a sign that read “keep government out of my vagina,” and was told that I was “disgusting” and should “be a lady.” Not only were their comments hurtful, they revealed just how ill-informed the marchers were on the very subjects they were protesting. Their opinions were based not on facts, but on social constructs of femininity and female sexuality. This sort of backwards, anti-feminist thinking explains why they think politicians should be allowed to legislate women’s uteri, at the expense of women’s full bodily autonomy.
I was also surprised by the sheer volume of people marching. Although 7 in 10 Americans support the right to choose, we were outnumbered by hundreds of thousands of people. It was overwhelming and incredibly intimidating. But it only made me realize how important it is that we keep fighting to protect the right to choice. Growing up after Roe v. Wade, I understood that abortion rights were relatively controversial, but had assumed that the right to an abortion was never truly at risk. I thought my constitutional rights were secure. But after seeing the huge crowd on “the other side” last Thursday, I’ve come to realize we can’t make those assumptions. And after what happened in the House of Representatives that morning, I am now certain we cannot make those assumptions. Furthermore, we can’t just sit back and assume that others will make our voices heard. We each have the responsibility to speak up for our rights.
It’s amazing to me that after decades of protests like this past week’s, we still don’t have guaranteed access to safe, legal, affordable abortion care. And even little ground gained by Roe v. Wade is constantly threatened by legislation like the Hyde Amendment, the Helms Amendment, and TRAP laws at the state and federal level. Most recently, on the very eve of the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Congress was set to vote on a bill to ban all abortions after 20 weeks, well before viability. When they couldn’t get the votes for that, Republicans in Congress switched to attacking low-income families, promoting a bill which disproportionately impacts their access to abortion care.
Clearly, we have our work cut out for us. Let’s make 2015 a banner year for women’s health. I can’t wait to see all the amazing things NOW’s grassroots activists will do to advance reproductive justice! I’ve started by signing NOW’s 2015 Reproductive Rights Pledge. Will you add your name and help us fight for women’s lives?