Today marks the anniversary of the historic supreme court decision that allowed women access to safe and legal abortion. It is a day to celebrate the success of women such as Dottie Doyle, a former state representative from Maine and a Unitarian Universalist who worked with so many others to help decriminalize abortion in the United States. Read her story here on the UUA website. After learning about Dorothy and her compatriots, I was struck but not surprised to learn that activism surrounding a woman’s right to choose was spurred on and supported by a resolution adopted at the 1968 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly to repeal laws restricting or criminalizing abortion. UUs all over the U.S. and Canada acted on this resolution. In Michigan, for example, many women worked tirelessly circulating petitions and collecting signatures in the face of threats, verbal abuse and ostracism. Without a doubt, Unitarian Universalist efforts contributed to the right to choose when to bear children being upheld as a constitutional right of women in the United States of America.
If a resolution adopted at General Assembly can make such a contribution, I have no doubt in my mind that, with the inauguration of a new administration and a new day dawning in Washinton, our voices as people of faith can and will be heard. As the new Legislative Assistant for Women’s Issues at the Washington Office for Advocacy I am grateful to those who have worked for justice before me. Together we can have faith that we can help to change the laws of our country so that they reflect our values to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. I can have faith that I will see such changes not in some far-off dreamed future, but in the next year or two. I draw joy and strength and courage from that faith.
While celebrating and anticipating successes, however, I remain cautious, and I feel compelled to point out that Roe v Wade still needs our support and protection on all fronts. In most states, access to abortion is still restricted by mandates for parental notification and/or consent. In many states, women can barely seek information about abortion due to legal bans on counseling, biased counseling, and mandatory delays for abortion care. In all but the three states of Alabama, New Hampshire, and Vermont, health care providers can refuse care entirely to a woman seeking an abortion (see naral.org). These barriers to access continue to disproportionately affect poor women and women of color who have long struggled not only to gain access to quality and affordable health care but to be allowed to make informed choices about their own fertility. A woman living in a rural, northern county of my home state of Wisconsin would probably have to pay for her own abortion as well as travel for 6 to 8 hours, if she had access to a car and could drive, in order to reach a clinic that would perform the procedure.
In short, we still have a lot of work to do. True reproductive justice means that our societies protect girls and women from rape and sexual assault by teaching all children and adults that each person the right to make decisions about the sacred boundaries of their bodies. Reproductive justice means that no woman anywhere in the world is forced or coerced into bearing children when she does not choose to do so. Reproductive justice means that all women have access to safe and legal means of birth control and accurate information about possible side-effects and how to use them. Reproductive justice means that women and men undergo medical procedures that may affect their ability to have children only after giving their full and informed consent. Reproductive justice means that poor women and women of color are not denied or restricted from accessing any form of reproductive health care, nor from making an informed decision about any medication or procedure.
Access to safe, legal, confidential and affordable abortion is a right and a milestone along to path to achieving Reproductive Justice for all. I am proud to be part of an organization that has been working to this end for over 40 years, and I hope to do my best to continue in the footsteps of those who have walked this path before me.