Do you think the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established abortion rights? If you’re like the 53% of Americans polled by Gallup recently, chances are you don’t. In that case, you will be dismayed to learn in Crow After Roe: How “Separate but Equal” Has become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We can Change That about the many creative ways that anti-abortion activists have undercut the right to abortion in the past forty years.
At the same time, if you identify more closely with the 29% of Americans who want to overturn Roe v. Wade, you may applaud the clever anti-abortion strategies detailed here.
Using court cases, newspaper reports, and interviews with activists Robin Marty, RH Reality Check’s senior political reporter, and Jessica Mason Pieklo, an RH Reality Check senior political analyst, show how efforts to weaken Roe have resulted in a separate standard of health care for women—separate and anything but equal.
In this sex-segregated health care system pregnancy can compromise a woman’s rights to medical information and render her more vulnerable to criminal prosecution. In some states doctors can conceal fetal abnormalities from pregnant women in order to discourage them from seeking abortions. In others, women who miscarry late in a pregnancy may face criminal charges. And in at least one state a failed suicide attempt followed by a stillbirth has led to a murder conviction.
Pregnant women who seek abortions face an even more discriminatory health care system that is focused less on their health needs than on encouraging them to carry the pregnancy to term. In some states women are limited to surgical abortions even when medication-induced abortions are safer and less expensive. In others, women must divulge their private health history to a counselor at a “pregnancy help center”—a faith-based, “pro-life” organization—before obtaining an abortion. Many states have passed such broad “conscience” laws that practically anyone—from a bus driver to a pharmacist—can refuse, on grounds of conscience, to provide services to a woman who might be seeking an abortion or dealing with the aftermath of one. Several states require abortion clinics to meet expensive and unreasonable standards, impose unnecessary and uncomfortable procedures on women, and use “informed consent” and waiting periods to discourage women from obtaining safe abortions.
Perhaps the most sobering finding in this book is this: whereas traditional anti-abortion statutes targeted abortion providers, more recent laws and regulations aim at pregnant women themselves. So rather than identifying “two victims in every abortion—the mother and the child,” they increasingly treat women as villains—villains who should be suspected of trying to end their pregnancies and be punished if they actually succeed in doing so.
It is hard to dispute Marty and Pieklo’s central claim that when it comes to reproductive health, women’s care takes place in a segregated and discriminatory system—one that often treats women’s health as subordinate to the health of the fetus and the beliefs of others.
What is a pro-choice citizen to do amid this assault on abortion rights? Marty and Pieklo suggest a recipe for “Taking Back Control.” We need to roll back initiatives against abortion rights, prevent new anti-abortion laws, and elect pro-choice legislators by revitalizing the pro-choice movement. But we also need to pursue campaign finance reform and focus on judicial rather than legislative change.
Marty and Pieklo show that anti-abortion activists have exercised impressive ingenuity in their efforts to erode the promise of Roe. In response, they call for a revitalized pro-choice movement to “reaffirm the principle that a [pregnant] woman’s right to control her body supersedes the right of the state.”
Maybe, though—and this is my personal contribution—pro-choice activists would do better to realize that preserving Roe is not the solution. In fact, by dividing pregnancy into trimesters in order to construct a careful balance between the rights of a pregnant woman, her physician, and the state, Roe has provided anti-abortion activists with inspiration for many of the strategies they have developed. Until the High Court and/or the U.S. Constitution recognizes that women have an absolute right to equal treatment under the law—including the right to make independent decisions about their own health and bodies—anti-abortion activists will continue to exploit a law that recognizes as legitimate the interests of physicians and “the state” in controlling women’s bodies.
Obviously, anti-abortion activists are going to come at this issue with very different ideas. So we should have a rousing discussion!
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]