Thank You, Justice Blackmun

Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. 35 years ago and allowed women like me to grow up with the sense of autonomy about our bodies. While films like Juno and Knocked Up remind us that the a-word may not be feel-good cinematic material, Hollywood is not real life. The fact is half of the annual 6 million pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and 1.3 million of these end in abortion.

Like other women born after 1973, I rely on history to understand what life was like before Roe v. Wade. There is a low-budget documentary called Leona's Sister Gerri that helps me connect to that time. It unravels the story of a photograph of an anonymous woman lying face down in a pool of blood on a motel floor, dead after a botched abortion. She became an icon for the pro-choice movement when Ms. magazine published her image. The film makes Gerri Santoro into the story of a person, not a coat hanger. We learn through her that women went to unimaginable lengths to not be pregnant.

Women in many parts of the world continue to do so. I have spent time in Ireland where abortion is illegal. There is a collective understanding in Ireland that women have abortions, just not on morally pure Irish soil. They jump through government hoops to receive information and appointments in England, at least those who can afford the time and money necessary do so. This, however, is not so different from women in the U.S. who are poor, under 18 or who live hundreds of miles from clinics. For these women, abortion may as well be illegal.

Nevertheless, abortion is legal in this country because the majority of people think it should be, and enough people, thankfully, recall a time when it wasn't. On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I want to give thanks to the men and women who make this choice possible -- to doctors, to clinic workers, to advocates and activists, to lawmakers and politicians who are brave enough to stand up to "pro-life" rhetoric, to all of those who fought for abortion rights before 1973, and finally to Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe v. Wade. He received hate mail for the rest of his life as a result of that decision, but for thousands of women he is a hero. He is certainly one of mine.


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