I Am Roe, and I Have Questions for the Candidates


I am Roe.

Not the Roe in Roe v Wade, but the nameless, faceless Roe that all women became after the U. S. Supreme Court's latest and largest rollback of Roe v Wade, Gonzales v Carhart. One has only to contrast Justice Anthony Kennedy's 2007 majority opinion dismissing women's brains, consciences, and even their health, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent in which she said protecting reproductive rights isn't about "some vague or generalized notion of privacy" but of "a woman's autonomy to decide for herself her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature," to see that the abortion issue is at its core about women and women's place in the world.

So on the 35th anniversary of a decision that should have guaranteed women's human rights to make their own childbearing decisions without a bazillion legislators and a bunch of fundamentalist preachers weighing in, I and all women are rapidly becoming nameless and faceless Roes, the pseudonymous name used to represent a whole class of people in intrusive and volatile cases. In this case, clearly second class.

I can't talk about Roe without mentioning the precedent from which it flowed: Griswold v Connecticut.

Griswold legalized birth control in 1965 based on the right to privacy--"the right to be left alone"--on matters as personal and private as sex and family formation.

It's clear as a bell that privacy alone, though valuable, isn't strong enough to guarantee reproductive justice in the future. It's absurd to continue fighting an incrementally losing battle for Roe in its current state.

According to Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine, Justice Ginsburg is "a fervent believer in the [Constitution's 14th amendment] equal protection" as the basis for gender equality, including reproductive rights. "Since pregnancy happens only to women, she believes it's simply discrimination against women to ban a medical procedure a woman wants." This would be a much more durable legal framework and a dramatically different approach for the next president, Congress, and the future Supreme Court.

I am Roe.

I'm aware that Roe's plaintiff Norma McCorvey, who never had the abortion and ended up giving the child up for adoption, was "born again" 23 years later (after working for many years at women's clinics where abortions were performed and living, then rejecting, her life as a lesbian) and now opposes abortion. But for every Norma, I've known dozens of women who were against abortion until faced with an unintended or dangerous pregnancy. I have even seen women picket against abortion one day and come into the same clinic the next day seeking abortion for themselves or their daughters because "my situation is different".

Yes, it is different for each woman, a difference that defines her life and her future profoundly, and the future of the children she already has or wants to have too. That's exactly why women must have both the freedom and the responsibility to make their own childbearing decisions.

Toobin warns, "One factor and one factor alone will determine the future of the Supreme Court: the outcome of the presidential elections."

The elections will determine the future for all of us Roes. That's why a mortally wounded Roe v Wade's 35th anniversary requires the candidates to answer my questions in full. Facile answers to "Are you pro-choice or anti-choice?" and "Do you support the Roe v Wade decision?" or "Do you believe the Constitution includes a right to privacy?" don't suffice any more.

I am Roe and I have these questions for presidential candidates:

1. Do you agree that reproductive rights are human rights? (If your answer is "no", do not pass go, do not collect my paltry campaign contribution, and no two-stepping explanation will bail you out.)

2. If your answer is "yes", tell me what you'll do to lead America to secure a more durable policy and legal basis for reproductive self-determination. Specifically:

a) Will you urge Congress to pass, so you can sign, the Freedom of Choice Act: guaranteeing women the right to decide for themselves whether to have a child or not?

b) Will you urge Congress to pass, so you can sign, the Prevention First Act to provide greater access to family planning services that prevent unintended pregnancies and abortion, and the Responsible Education About Life Act to end unhealthy abstinence-only sex education and support medically accurate, comprehensive sex education?

c) Will you urge Congress to overturn the Global Gag Rule, that strips funding for family planning overseas from any organization that provides or even speaks about abortion, by passing the Global Democracy Protection Act?

d) Will you work to make abortion not just safe, legal, and rare, but also accessible? Will your health plan, including Medicaid if it's still around, cover abortion as part of women's health care?

e) Will you articulate the public health, legal, and moral imperative for these measures in your campaign speeches and State-of-the-Union addresses?

f) Will you bring the Federal judiciary into balance by appointing judges who will uphold reproductive rights as human and civil rights under which women are entitled to equal protection?

While I'm at it, I'll ask similar questions of candidates for Congress and state offices.

If you'll ask the questions too, insist upon full answers, and vote accordingly, I promise you that whether Roe has 35 more anniversaries or not, our daughters and granddaughters will have a chance to grow up with the blessings of liberty, equality, and justice.

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