On January 22, the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, protesters marched on the mall in Washington D.C. and House Speaker Paul Ryan addressed the crowd. “Can we just thank God,” he said, “for giving us a pro-life president back in the White House?”
The president whom, until he ran for president, was not pro-life. But the crowd cheered anyway, and waited for the president to speak to them, to cheer his voting base on.
I was seven years old in 1973, the day the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law and made abortion legal in the United States. Roe v. Wade stated that a woman had the right, the choice, to privately end a pregnancy. By then my mother, age 27, had already given birth to three children. And for her first two pregnancies, she was unmarried and had to get married, twice, to men who would go about destroying her life.
I have often heard people say my mother had a choice, that if she did not want to chance getting pregnant, she should not have had sex.
It’s funny, I have never once heard anyone say those words about the men who got her pregnant.
It is easy to forget, after 45 years, what life was like for women before Roe v. Wade. Women threw themselves down stairs and off horses. Girls were sent away under false pretenses, like “visiting a sick aunt,” only to return with a shameful, lifelong secret, never knowing what happened to their babies. Wealthy families sent their pregnant daughters overseas for secret, expensive abortions, with no one the wiser. You could only get birth control if you were married.
Women had no rights. Women had no choices. And women died.
More than 90% of abortions, we know statistically, “take place within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute. When they happen after that, it’s likely due to problems in a much-wanted pregnancy [because fetal anomalies] aren’t noticed until the second trimester due to screening and testing schedules.”
And yet, on Jan. 29, Maj. Ldr. Mitch McConnell shunned statistics, facts, and common sense, and brought his fight against women’s rights to the Senate floor, demanding a vote — a vote he knew he would lose, and did lose 51-46 — to ban abortion after 20 weeks.
There was no reason for this vote. Informed people, including McConnell, know that “women who have abortions after 20 weeks are often those who have pregnancy or health complications, partially because most don’t get their first ultrasound until around then, according to [Dr. Elizabeth Case, an OB-GYN who works and lives in Kentucky]. ‘We routinely don’t do our ultrasounds until 20 weeks, and that’s going to leave women no option for how to proceed if they have a baby that’s not going to survive,’ Case said.”
There was no reason for the vote, excepting McConnell’s shameless political need, on the eve of the president’s first State of the Union, to distract from sordid stories about the man “God put in the White House.” The man who joked on the radio, when his wife was five months pregnant, that he’d seen “beautiful women that for the rest of their lives have become [a] horror” after giving birth. You know, they gain like 250 pounds. It’s like a disaster,” and that he’d give his wife a week to lose the baby weight. The man who reportedly paid a porn star $130,000 to deny the romp they had in the weeks after his wife gave birth.
Sadly, pro-life proponents would not need the likes of McConnell or the president if they supported organizations like Planned Parenthood who offer free birth control, prenatal, and well-baby care. When Colorado clinics offered free birth control, they saw a 42% drop in teen abortion rates and, in turn, “the infant caseload for Colorado WIC, a nutrition program for low-income women and their babies, fell by 23 percent.”
With efforts to close clinics like Planned Parenthood, pro-lifers defeat their own cause. Which begs the question: is being pro-life about babies being safely born, or is it, primarily, about the right to claim moral superiority? The right to righteousness.
Roe v. Wade did not create abortion. Women have always had, and will continue to have, abortions. Roe v. Wade ensured women’s safety, gave women the right to make difficult, private medical decisions, and gave poor women the same rights as wealthy women who had the cash for a good doctor and a week in Rome to recover.
When President Trump addressed his supporters at the pro-life rally on the mall last week, he said, ”Americans are more and more pro-life, you see that all the time.” But in the latest Gallup poll, only 18% of voters believe abortion should be illegal.
The fight to overturn Roe v. Wade is not about abortion, just as McConnell’s fight for a 20-week ban is not about protecting the unborn. These fights are about power, who has it and who does not.
Just two months before the Roe v. Wade decision, my mother gave birth to her third child, and what I remember most about those days is the tension in our tiny house: the screaming matches over lack of money (for food, childcare, rent); the late-night brawls between my young, trapped, furniture-throwing parents; the mornings filled with fear and regret, a crying infant, and the sweeping up of broken glass.
What happened to my mother is what happens to the poor, to the powerless, to women who do not have rights. Remember that when you watch powerful men like McConnell, righteously, take the Senate floor.