By Kate Michelman, President Emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.
When Roe v Wade became law of the land, we who had fought for so long believed it would be the threshold of broader protection of women’s health — of women’s rights. In our exuberance, we thought that we could establish abortion in its proper context, along the continuum of women’s reproductive health decision-making. We thought we could move on to other pressing health and equality issues, including bringing sexuality education to adolescents throughout the country — to help our young people understand the complexities of sexuality, of contraception and of the serious responsibility of childbearing.
That was almost forty years ago.
In the meantime we’ve learned the numbing lesson that what Justice Harry Blackmun wrote was not close to the final declaration of women’s reproductive liberty. It was not the beginning of the public’s embrace of educating our young to enable them to make responsible and informed decisions regarding sex and reproductive health. And it was certainly not an opening to the broad cast of reproductive options.
Instead of opening a dialogue that might ultimately lead to wide consensus about healthy reproductive choices, healthy sexuality, and healthy families, we have instead witnessed religious and culturally conservative voices demanding reversal. We are confronted with the word “abortion” writ red on walls wherever we turn. The opponents of abortion don’t want to discuss the social conditions that led to that decision. They talk of family values but those values seem not to include compassion, logic, or the willingness (ironically) to reach some obvious common ground with those of us who have long struggled to lessen the need for abortion by reducing unintended pregnancies.