Though it solidified the right to abortion at the federal level, the Roe v Wade decision of 1973 was unable to avert the wave of backlash that would arise from the state level in the years to come. In fact, since Roe v Wade was passed in 1973, there have been a total of 1,193 enacted state abortion restrictions. In 2017 alone, 67 restrictive abortion policies have hit states’ floors, and won asserts the Guttmacher Institute.
In the past seven years we have seen the most hostile attitudes towards abortion since Roe v Wade was passed. Now, more than ever, women’s right to choose is in danger.
Rhode Island, despite its liberal facade, is yet another state on the list of states that are apprehensive, to say the least, towards reproductive rights. We are currently witnessing the grueling process of passing a bill that would finally legalize abortion if Roe v Wade gets overturned. The Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) would ensure that women with unwanted pregnancies can access legal and safe abortion. In the pre-Roe era an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 women died annually of unsafe, illegal abortions (Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe v Wade by Carole Joffe).
When abortion is illegal, women still get abortions. In the past they have gone to extreme measures by lacerating their cervixes with foreign objects and chemicals. Or seeking the assistance of unqualified abortionists whose insanitary methods put them at risk for sepsis and other lethal infections and injuries. Without the guarantee of Roe v Wade, women’s lives are on the line.
The RHCA has not been met with open arms. Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee has argued publicly that the RHCA is no pressing matter. In a recent interview with RIPR he said, “I don’t know if it [the RHCA] adds any more protection or not quite frankly.” Considering the current national administration’s obvious efforts to reverse Roe v Wade, and the evidence of changes in policies at the state level, I would have to completely disagree.
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I was in attendance at the RHCA public hearing in the State House on April 11th. Along with the harassment from anti-choice and pro-gun constituents, here is what is ingrained forever in my mind: As I was handing out pins, one woman expressed how grateful she was to have a new pin because her “Right to Choose” pin broke that same morning as she was trying to attach it to her blouse. Her pin was 30 years old.
This fight should be over by now. Why does it continue to prevail?
Because feminists, activists, and organizations are making a fundamental mistake: We are putting too much emphasis on changing versus restructuring. What does this mean? In this particular case, it means we are trying too hard to change policy by begging our politicians to listen to us. Instead, we need to restructure by replacing those holding our representative seats with a completely different crowd.
Researchers have found that in states where there are more than ⅓ Democratic women holding seats, it is seven times more likely that there will be liberal abortion policy.
It is no secret that Democratic women are leading the revolution that we see today. They are at the forefront of movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up. They are organizing marches, starting grassroots organizations in their communities, and they are running for office.
The time, effort, and money that we spend trying to change policy will be best used when directed at Democratic women’s campaigns. Democratic women are the ones who are going to be the front runners of change. If we wish to see change, permanent change, in abortion policy, then we must work to replace our current representatives with Democratic women.