I I am a woman in America who can give birth to children, and that means powerful people are coming after me, with detailed and strategic plans to control my body. That sounds dramatic, right? It’s dramatic, more because it’s a direct fact. In 2021, state lawmakers passed more abortion restrictions than in any previous year, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy body dedicated to promoting reproductive rights. Last month’s decision by the Supreme Court to refuse to block a Texas law that anything but prohibits abortion signals that the court could well be on track to overturn Roe v Wade, and that soon.
Nationally legalized abortion is only part of this. Proponents of reproductive justice as far back as 1994 understood that when women do not have access to abortion, it generally means that we do not have access to a wide range of other rights: affordable contraception, comprehensive sex education, prenatal care, even screening and treatment for a range of diseases, including cancer and HIV. This is a general form of oppression and I know what is happening. I also fear that I know what is coming.
I live in New York City, I’m financially stable, and I’m white. These factors, as well as legal protection in New York, mean that I can live a life free from coercion, with access to contraception, to reproductive health care, to a medical abortion if I need one. I do not take it for granted, because this reality is worlds away from where I grew up – in Ireland, a country that first legalized abortion in 2018.
Here in the United States, back in 1973, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of a woman’s right to have an abortion under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. When I live in this far from perfect nation, I still have the right to make choices about my own health and future, which means a life with more dignity and autonomy than I had in my upbringing, and that is an extraordinary thing.
But even though I do not yet feel it, the threat of losing this hard-fought freedom is all around me. In the words of Alexis McGill Johnson, President and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “The moment is dark … No matter where you live, no matter where you are, this fight is on the doorstep right now.”
McGill Johnson spoke on Oct. 2 when women across the country organized through the Women’s March protested against the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block Texas legislation. Talk about being up against it: Donald Trump appointed three conservative judges, which means the court now has an anti-abortion majority, and reproductive justice hangs in the balance. Therefore, Emma Whittman, a 22-year-old Arizona public health student, was on the road on October 4 blocking traffic outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC. She was arrested for civil disobedience.
“I’m not from Texas, but I feel like I’m fighting for the people of Texas,” she told me, as well as people “in all these other states who are likely to have abortions and will be affected when Roe v Wade is overthrown “I feel like I’m fighting for all the women around the country.” It was Whittman’s first arrest, and the experience of being searched and detained by police was frightening. Concerns about how an arrest and a potential criminal record could affect her future career worried her, too. But Whittman was not alone. Her mother, a OB / GYN from Tucson, was there too and reassured her daughter when she was tied up with a zipper, and told her that she loved her and was proud of her.
Women take care of each other. We have always done that. In Ireland, in the darkest and most oppressive times, when our reproductive rights and our health were out of our hands, we did what we could to make each other safe. In 1980, Irish women could not get condoms, divorce was illegal and abortion was shameful, illegal and dangerous. In 2018, after a compassionate but fierce campaign, nearly two out of every three Irish people voted to legalize abortion.
Today in the United States, the moment is really dark and there are darker times ahead. Women are fighting against it, as always. Professor Terry McGovern, chair of the Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Medical Center, was also arrested outside the Supreme Court that day. She points out that Texas already has a severe maternal mortality crisis with a disproportionate effect on black women.
“They don’t take care of women and children,” she told me. “They have the worst health outcomes. And then they focus on limiting the physical autonomy of women and girls and people?” That’s why she showed up on the steps of the Supreme Court, and that’s why she will continue to fight. ” to do everything we can to protect people’s health. “