[ Roe v. Wade - 25 Years After ]

the Body Politic
Vol. 8, No. 1 - Jan/Feb 1998
Copyright © 1998 by the Body Politic Inc.

Twenty-Five Activists responded to three questions to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Robin Rothrock

1 Roe is the only thing which has allowed women access to abortion care in Louisiana. Even with this Supreme Court decision in place, the state legislature has tried repeatedly over the years to criminalize abortion, hoping to challenge and ultimately overturn the Roe decision. In Louisiana (and other poor, rural states) women with money have been able to travel out of the state to less restrictive states (like New York)
She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said "So what is this child supposed to do? Have her father's baby?"
to receive abortion care. But for women who have financial and transportation difficulties, limiting abortion access as a result of state legislation, simply means that poor women have babies because they have no other choice. Roe has blocked the most aggressive attempts of regressive state legislatures -- without Roe there would be NO provision of abortion care in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and many other states. Historically, the Supreme Court has been the only relief from such mysoginistic legislation drafted and championed by predominantly white, male legislative bodies.

2 What really was surprising was the way the Reagan/Bush administration utilized the abortion issue (and the Roe decision) to rally the conservative right into a viable political force for over a decade. Much of the debate focused not around real life consequences (pregnant women, who if denied abortion care, would have children which they could not support and no tax dollars are willing to support) but around grandstanding on "Family Values". The fetus was relegated to a new romantic status with new technology allowing "in utero" photo ops, giving the unintended pregnancy a face -- while the pregnant woman and her "ex utero" children remained faceless and more often then not, voiceless in the political and policy making bodies. Much "moral ground" was gained with speeches supporting the "sanctity of life" but it became apparent that for many poor women, life was considered sacred only while still inside a woman's body -- where issues of food, shelter, income and other means of "life support" needn't be addressed. Aid for women and children continued to be denied and reduced -- in spite of the "life" rhetoric. And today, that trend, under the banner of welfare reform, continues.

3 The issue of women being allowed full reproductive choice will continue to be an issue until women are represented in legislative bodies and in the courts which proportionately reflect our population. You care about what you know and women care about having babies -- or not. We suffer the consequences, while men in the legislature or sitting on the courts "can relate". The voice of reality -- of true life experience -- is the only thing that can stop all the grandstanding rhetoric which continues to fuel the flame and raise the money which supports so many of our public policy makers -- in office and on TV.

Finally -- we are now in a war of "small losses". Louisiana has had a law in effect for over two years which requires that a woman sit down with a physician at least 24 hours prior to the performance of an abortion and receive state produced material (with color photos of the developing fetus throughout pregnancy) and hear (in person, individually) a state mandated lecture. Rural women with limited access to a physician, limited transportation, limited childcare and limited days off from work are hurt by this required "state mandated harassment" session. But when this law passed the legislature, there was no public outcry. No one cared -- women might be "inconvenienced", but they could still get an abortion. The law was not challenged in court because a similar law had already been challenged and upheld in Mississippi. The courts did not care either.

So in the war of "small losses" women still have the "right to abortion" but they may not have the "means" to execute that right. Today a woman came into the clinic seeking abortion services for her 16 year old daughter who was mentally impaired and functionally, was six years of age. She had been impregnated by her step father. He is in prison for this crime. An ultrasound exam revealed that the young woman was further along in the pregnancy than her mother thought -- she was 17 weeks pregnant and beyond the limit of our termination services. We provided a referral to a clinic who would terminate the pregnancy but the fee was $700 and this family had no resources. The woman looked at me and said "Do you know of any one who will help?" I had to say "I am sorry, I do not. No one cares. It is not right -- but no one cares." She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said "So what is this child supposed to do? Have her father's baby?"

It is very sad. In the war of "small loses" women in Massachusetts and California get their abortions paid for by public assistance, and in less "enlightened" places we continue to watch the erosion of Roe and try to create quality medical care for all women out of thin air with virtually no resources -- because the truth is "No One Cares".

For voiceless, faceless women everywhere, Roe allows a very small opportunity to receive safe and humane abortion care -- and the opportunity to be granted the respect and dignity that the abortion decision deserves. But the opportunity to exercise that Constitutional right grows smaller everyday -- and the truth is that increasingly "No one cares".

Robin Rothrock is the administrator of Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, La. She assisted in opening Shreveport's first and only abortion clinic in Shreveport over 18 years ago. She is past president of the League of Women Voter's of Louisiana.

[ Roe v. Wade - 25 Years After ]