In celebrating Roe v. Wade’s 40th anniversary, pro-choice Cruzans look to the continuing fight for reproductive rights ahead
As the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision nears its 40th anniversary on Tuesday, Jan. 22, there will be many women honoring its legacy who were not alive before abortions were legal across the United States.
For those who remember the pre-Roe era, such as former Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency Director Rama Khalsa, the anniversary brings back memories of an emotional struggle to win the right.
Although some states had legalized abortion by the early ’70s, Massachusetts, where Khalsa was attending college, was not one of them. When Khalsa’s roommate became pregnant by accident, the pair traveled to New York, to a midtown place she remembers as “dingy and kind of scary,” where they had to stay overnight.
“The event was traumatic as it was, but to have this extra stress made it even more difficult,” Khalsa recalls. “And, being so far away there was no easy way to really do follow-up services like counseling and physicals.”
Even with abortion legal in some states, Khalsa says “it was not a thing to be assumed that you could get easy or timely access to an abortion if you had an accidental pregnancy.”
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision improved safety and access in states like California, where abortion was legalized in 1967, says Cynthia Mathews, Santa Cruz City Councilmember and former executive director and founder of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Santa Cruz.
“What we saw in California after the Roe decision was an increased interest in implementing the law,” Mathews says. “It was legalized in ’67 and there were many hospitals that went ahead and began to offer services, but the sense of security was increased after Roe.”
Like many feminists and pro-choice advocates at the time, neither woman expected, in 1973, that the fight would still be raging 40 years later.
“Other constitutional decisions have been honored without constant efforts to erode them,” Khalsa says, adding, “We can’t stand down. Women need to keep being vigilant about their right to a legal and safe abortion and choice in general.”
The call for vigilance will be echoed at the Saturday, Jan. 19 Pro-Choice Brunch, an annual event hosted by the Reproductive Rights Network of Santa Cruz County. The brunch was first held in 1988, a few years after the coalition of local organizations formed.
Keynote speaker Lupe Rodriguez, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, says that, 40 years after Roe v. Wade, the biggest threat to women’s reproductive health and rights is access to services.
“Even though it is the law of the land that people should be able to have access to safe and legal abortion care, restrictions are being put in place in different states that make it so they can’t actually exercise that right,” says Rodriguez. “Any kind of burden placed upon a person to get the healthcare they need, we believe, needs to be pushed back against. That’s why we do this work and continue to do this work.”
According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, 2011 and 2012 saw record-breaking numbers of provisions enacted nationally “that sought to restrict access to abortion services.” Of 122 provisions concerning reproductive health in 2012, 43 (in 19 states) restricted access to services in some way, and none improved access or services, the institute reports.
The batch included Virginia’s much-talked about push for requiring ultrasounds before receiving an abortion—something that is now required in eight states.
On the other end of the spectrum, California and Santa Cruz have been “leaders in extending access to both reproductive choice and services,” in Mathews’ words. Still, Rodriguez says many rural and low-income women in the Golden State lack access to reproductive health services. In addition to discussing restrictions springing up elsewhere in the country in her Pro-Choice Brunch speech, Rodriguez will address current pushes for legislation in California that would improve access to birth control and early abortion services.
Rodriguez will also be speaking at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s Roe v. Wade Luncheon in Monterey on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
While pro-choice advocates celebrate the decision’s anniversary, abortion opponents will take the opportunity to demonstrate against it.
The annual March for Life rally, in which pro-life activists march to the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., will take place on Jan. 25, and the Walk For Life West Coast event will occur in San Francisco on Jan. 26. The Santa Cruz chapter of 40 Days for Life, a pro-life group that says on its website that it will participate in the Jan. 26 walk, did not respond to GT’s request for comment.
Roe v. Wade anniversary events on both sides of the debate could have had a different tone if the 2012 Presidential Election had turned out differently.
It was understood that the victorious president would most likely get the chance to elect new judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has four members over the age of 70. Had Republican candidate Mitt Romney won, pro-choice Americans feared for an overturn of Roe v. Wade. (Mathews points out that the slew of controversial rape-related comments made by members of Romney’s party during the election didn’t help his sway with women voters. The most memorable of these included two from Republican candidates for the senate: Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment and Richard Mourdock’s assertion that pregnancy from rape is “something that God intended.”)
President Barack Obama’s reelection also meant the Affordable Care Act was still on track. The law “provides early and broad access to health services” for women, says Mathews. However, Khalsa says congressional gridlock over the country’s finances, as evidenced by the Fiscal Cliff throw down and the resulting interim deal, could jeopardize a number of women’s healthcare and family planning services. For example, preventive services such as cancer screenings may not get to remain co-pay-free, as they currently are in the ACA’s essential benefits package.
“That is one of the things that could be at risk in this fiscal committee that is working on the financial cuts as a part of the deal related to the [Fiscal] Cliff,” she says. “People have to be watching that. It’s frankly pennywise and pound foolish to create a barrier to prevention, like a co-pay, and pay 10 times the price on the back end when people are sick.”
Looking ahead, Planned Parenthood’s funding is sure to continue to be targeted by pro-life electeds, despite the fact that only 3 percent of the clinic’s services are abortions (97 percent are preventive and primary care services) and federal funding is already barred from going to abortion services.
“To be going after Planned Parenthood [in recent years] was really going after women and especially lower income women who might not have the resources to get everything they need from private doctors,” says Khalsa.
In terms of Roe v. Wade, she says, “This is one of many women’s rights that were hard fought, and we need to make sure that it’s protected through and into the future for ourselves, our daughters, our sisters.”
The Reproductive Rights Network of Santa Cruz County’s 2013 Pro-Choice Brunch begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19 at the United Methodist Church, 250 California St., Santa Cruz. Sliding scale donation $10-$25, free for students. For more information, call 423-2356. The Planned Parenthood Mar Monte & Leadership Planned Parenthood Roe v. Wade Luncheon takes place Tuesday, Jan. 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. To RSVP or for more information, call 783-6320 or email [email protected].