Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Roe v. Wade: 35 Years Later

"If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament" - FLORYNCE KENNEDY

Today, this marks the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that gave women the right to access to a legal, safe abortion. The 1973 Supreme Court ruling still engenders deep emotional debate over what constitutes human life and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her reproductive regimen.

Gloria Feldt notes that in the Gonzales v. Carhart ruling of last year, "One has only to contrast Justice Anthony Kennedy's 2007 majority opinion dismissing women's brains, consciences, and even their health, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent in which she said protecting reproductive rights isn't about "some vague or generalized notion of privacy" but of "a woman's autonomy to decide for herself her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature," to see that the abortion issue is at its core about women and women's place in the world. "

Let's face it, folks. Roe v. Wade wouldn't been possible -- or even conceivable -- had it not been for the groundbreaking precedent set by the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut ruling, which legalized birth control based on one's right to privacy -- "the right to be left alone" -- on matters as personal and private as sex and family formation. Roe v. Wade also drove home another issue that is not being honestly addressed: the disportonate burden of contraception that is placed on the woman, who has to get prescriptions for birth control pills so that unwanted pregnancies could be prevented. It was an issue that country singer Loretta Lynn touched upon in her 1975 country hit, "The Pill." Lynn was neither a bra-burning feminist nor a card-carrying NOW member, but many of her country songs touched on women's issues that made DJ's nervous.

In the "good old days," women of means --not to mention Hollywood movie stars faced with an inconvenient pregnancy -- slipped across the border to Mexico to have their suckers slipped, while poor women wound up putting themselves at the mercy of back-alley abortionists. It was during a discussion on the USC campus that actress Polly Bergen publicly admitted to having an illegal abortion that left her unable to bear children. And as Erica Jong reminisces not to sentimentally in the Huffington Post, "In my own Manhattan high school years, girls disappeared from New York to darkest New Jersey or Pennsylvania to seek the services of illegal abortionists and many of them were accidentally sterilized while others may have died. Rich women in New York went to Flower Fifth Avenue hospital for a "D & C." My mother did this as late as 1960, but our housekeepers and baby nurses from Jamaica or the Deep South didn't have that option. A safe medical abortion (my mother referred to it in whispers as an "a-b") was expensive and hard to find. Many poor women got infected and died. In my mother's case, as I later learned, my father was adamant about not having another baby. There were already three girls growing up and needing private schools, hand-smocked party dresses, music lessons, art lessons, ballet, figure skating, charge accounts at Saks, Best and Company and Bergdorf's, Doubleday book stores (with their listening booths for LPS--which we quaintly called "records."

Jong goes on to add, "Of course, babies are precious and should be cherished. Nobody doubts that. But should a woman be forced by the law to give birth if she has health issues, a dead baby, twins or triplets, or can't get to a hospital or must be accompanied but a male relative--who may be at war or dead or unwilling? Fundamentalist Muslims, like fundamentalist Christians would deny her that."

I firmly believe a woman should make her own decisions about bringing a child into this world without any coercion from any third party. When I make this statement, I think of CNN's Nancy Grace, who put her own personal health in jeopardy just so she could bring her twins into this world. That was an exceptional act of intestinal fortitude on her part, and I admire her for that. As far as abortion goes, I personally find abortion to be a necessary evil. True, there are those who terminate preganacies because the fetus was the wrong gender or abuse it as a form of birth control. But then, I believe a woman should never be compelled by statuatory law to give birth to a child she is not equipped to raise in this world.

What I also find to be particularly offensive is the rhetoric spewed out by the right-to-life community with regards to the issue. What I also found to be both disingeneous and distasteful was the disregard and absence of forefought on the part of pro-lifers on how to support the children once they were brought into this world. This I say unto them: If you want these babies so much, why don't you folks cough up the damned child support payments? You want them? You foot the bill.

What I would also later discover is the groundswell of anger that Roe v. Wade has engendered, which manifested itself in clinic bombings and even murders of abortionists themselves by those operating on the fringes. It was because of this phenomenon that I made the bold decision to take part in a clinic defense in Hollywood in 1985. It was there that I held a sign for the media to see that stated the late Floryence Kennedy's famous quote, "If Men Could Get Pregnant, Abortion Would Be a Sacrament." I held that sign in front of news media cameras for the world to see, and that act in itself coming from a man speaking his mind, spoke volumes in itself.

The one person who really had balls -- and took a lot of heat from it in the end --was Justice Harry Blacknum, who authored the Roe v. Wade decision. He would receive hate mail for the rest of his life from irate pro-lifers as a consequence.

As I reflect back on thirty-five years of socio-political turbulence, I keep having this bizarre vision of a Joan Crawford look-alike shrieking "No More Wire Hangers" and shaking them mercilessly at pro-life demonstrators. I have only this to say to the pro-lifers: Legal abortion is the law of the land. Join a Geshalt group and get over yourselves.

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