Happy Birthday, Roe v Wade

Today marks the fortieth birthday, so to speak, of Roe versus Wade, which is rather exciting. For forty years, this landmark court decision has been used to defend the right to privacy for patients seeking abortion services; this personal medical decision lies between patient and doctor, and shouldn’t involve anyone else. In recent years, we’ve seen escalating attacks on reproductive health services in general, and on abortion in particular, with scores of individual states and politicians moving to block, limit, or restrict access to services that should be readily available to anyone who has cause to need them, for whatever reason.

Today also marks the publication date of Get Out of My Crotch!, an anthology looking at the social and cultural context of these attacks, and how to fight back. It includes essays on the subject from a broad number of people, including yours truly. Mine, it probably comes as no surprise to learn, is about the issues within the reproductive rights movement, and ways in which we might work cooperatively to resolve these issues and create a stronger, more cohesive movement that’s truly inclusive of everyone. It is, as is often the case with my work, not easy reading, because the goal is not to make the reader feel settled and comfortable, but to impress upon the reader the urgency of cleaning house.

The cover for GET OUT OF MY CROTCH, featuring the Statue of Liberty in an exam gown.

Because we need to work in solidarity right now. We cannot afford to be at odds, and this doesn’t mean that the needs of some people should be ignored and overridden by the needs of others, nor does it mean that some people should be quiet right now in the interest of ‘the greater good.’ It means that all of these needs must be addressed holistically, because liberation for some is justice for none. A battle in which rights are only won for a few, and they are restricted and confusing in nature, is just turning around in the gilded birdcage, not actually opening the door and getting out.

This is a society where people who have vaginas are viewed as second class citizens. They are hated, feared, and subjected to myriad attempts at pressure and control, from attempts to limit their access to health services to lower pay in the workplace. Because most of these people are women, this hatred and fear is inextricably bound up with misyogyny and the genuine belief that women carry some sort of evil with them that must be controlled and reined in lest they spin off into the stratosphere.

And some of those cis women are hated and feared more than others. Cis women are not all equal because they are cis women, they are not all on the same footing because they are cis women, they are not united on a common cause because they all have vaginas and they are all read as women. To pretend otherwise is ridiculous, and ultimately hurts a movement that should bring about justice for everyone: not just cis women but all women, and all people with vaginas, and all people in general, because reproductive rights is something that affects people of all genders and society as a whole.

This is not just about the right to have or not have children, although these issues are key, it is also about gender and sexuality and social control. And that means the stakes here are much too high to play around when it comes to which voices are heard and which direction the movement takes. Culturally, huge shifts are occurring right now, and we have an opportunity to shape the direction they move in, whether society becomes more or less equal, and what form these changes take in the long term. It’s up to us to decide whether gender equality should be achieved, or whether we should silence and marginalise the people who need to be a critical part of the fight to achieve that equality.

In the defense of reproductive rights, we cannot forget that these rights take a lot of forms and they are all important. We cannot forget that different people experience our biased and discriminatory society in different ways, and that they have different stakes in this movement. What’s important to a middle class white cis woman living in New York is not to an immigrant cis woman of colour seeking asylum in Denmark, but both of these women are equally important in the much larger discussion about reproductive rights, gender, freedom, and equality.

This is about the right to have children. This is about the right to not have children. This is about the right to keep your children when you have them. This is about the right to not be judged for the timing, spacing, and number of your children, if you have children at all. This is about safe access to accurate health information and a full range of appropriate treatment options for your needs. This is about the Global Gag Rule, it is about the Hyde Amendment, it is about funding for public health and medical training and anti-domestic terrorism and so many other things, and we all matter in this fight. You, and you, and, yes, you as well.

They are many. We are few.

But together we can take down empires, if we’re willing to join hands and do it. Whether we do that is up to you.