“There is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy and visible and visible differences that have been primary ways of organizing human beings into superior/inferior groups and into cheap labor on which this system depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We’re really talking about humanism.” Gloria Steinem
Many see the Supreme Court’s decision to reduce the distance between those who protest abortion, and those who using the benefit of abortion on the grounds of service providers as an attempt to reduce women’s right to choose. The few feet taken away that provide a buffer between those on either side of the question of abortion are important. Many see this result from the Supreme Court as yet one more attempt by those who do not agree with the law of the land: Roe VS Wade 1973, and attempt to reduce women’s rights.
The work of the years of social change and legal process came through many who lived in the atmosphere of revolution and what the 60’s were about. Women, since the days of the earliest feminist gathering in Seneca Falls in 1848, have always been about reform-in the prisons, in the factories, on the streets and the Temperance movement. But the turbulence of the Viet Nam War and Civil Rights movement in the South included participation by women. They worked shoulder to shoulder with the men for reform in a war that cost 55,000 soldiers’ lives in Viet Nam. They witnessed in the cities of Montgomery, Birmingham and Memphis, the work of Martin Luther King and responded. Women behind the scenes organizing and supporting the civil rights action through protests and demonstrations. On college campuses, they left their classrooms and protested from the top campuses of the country. Who and what was important was in the process of change and flux and that chaos stirred throughout the country created a dynamic change for the whole country. Nationwide, democracy was challenged in the streets of the cities and college campuses by a counter culture that questioned the status quo of authority. Many universities across the country, in the college classrooms, and from churches, there came a movement made up of people working to promote the end of the draft, and against the war came together. Historians note that women in anti war and civil rights movement began to bring the focus to the principles and demands of the women’s movement in mid 60’s, whether these women identified as feminists or not.
1964 also brought the birth control pill into the doctor’s offices and into the reach of married women, allowing choice in pregnancy and childbirth. Women gaining the right to birth control provided an undeniable liberty that freed them to determine their life’s course. Around the topic of women’s rights, a counter culture developed in how women perceived their roles as women and as members of society. In 1964 under President Lyndon Johnson we have recently been reminded as a society the Civil Rights Act for the end of discrimination based on sex, country of origin or sex, the potential for change became based in fact and in the law of the land. With it, the Affirmative Action law required employers and colleges to account for entry of those who had been excluded due to race or sex, that is women and minorities were given access that had to be fulfilled by those who admitted students or hired people for their company. The effects of birth control, women’s’ rights and access given to minorities in jobs and eduction provided a whole new platform that brought about the world gave a boost to the entry of some, with the idea of leveling the playing filed but ended in 1978 with California vs Bakke. There has been action in the Sacramento about the benefit of Affirmative Action and how that might apply to working for people now with the division of those with job skills and those without in a tough market prevails.
Civil rights, women’s rights are a work in process for sure. But more to the point, as the Supreme Court decision today indicates, the boundaries around women’s rights are inquestion policy and practice in various states of the nation. The process and goals of humanity we gain that allow choice in our sexuality, gay marriage having progressed well in so many states, and the demands for equality are in a tedious balance. The buffer taken away by the Supreme Court that takes away a zone of legal sanction protecting women from personal attack about their choices has been reduced, and a move that lessens the sanctity of their personal decisions.
Valuing how it came to be that women gained the right to choose may an unknown to the generation born after 1977 because they have always lived with those rights and privileges to choose as women. Most young girls went to Planned Parenthood with their girlfriends at age 13-18 to be educated and take responsibility for their sex lives. But back then, before 1977 how was it then for women, and the society that brought this change of freedom to choose to women. In the late 60’s, Television news was full of racial struggle, war in Viet Nam, and the protests and demonstrations around the country around civil rights and the war. Families were driven apart by the different positions different members of the family held relative to these questions. There were those who supported the change in the attitudes toward race and inequality and those who saw the threat of change as dysfunctional and destructive. With women free to choose their biological destiny and choose to make decisions regarding fertility and termination of an unwanted pregnancy, it was seen as women “being just like men.” For those who protested the war, those who felt there was no choice but to serve in the war just as their fathers and their fathers fathers served in previous wars. Yet the turmoil and violence around the country relative to the war in Southeast Asia, and the demands to end the draft and bring home the soldiers around college campuses made for a very difficult time in our democracy. Women came to have a voice through their participation in the antiwar and civil rights movement, and brought feminism into its second wave of changing the culture inside out and changing the constraints and exclusion that limited women’s participation in the world.
The loud and brash women speaking from the black and white televisions, the Bella Abzug’s, Gloria Steinem’s, Jane Fonda’s were considered by some to be dangerous. By others, they were caricatures to be made light of. First Lady Jackie Kennedy in 1965 shared in a television interview that her husband found these women espousing liberation to be “unfeminine, and thought they might be lesbians.” The country was in an uproar as roles and choices by men and women were being recalibrated, reconceived and for many reborn. Many women did not identify with the movement, and alienation to the strident demands of feminism did not resonate with all women. Yet as the opportunity to higher education and job advantages provided by the Affirmative Action took hold, women gravitated if not to the women’s movement to experiencing the value of being the director of their own fate.
But this day, June 29th, 2014, today we have in every day’s event, news of abortion centers that are under fire, state legislation bills attempting to reduce choice for women’s ability to choose, and ultimately to continue on the path of this portal to equality and empowerment of those systematically excluded. It is clear that many women having had the freedom to choose their destiny are not about to turn back now. But it may be time for those unaware of these political moves and their consequences to know this struggle is underway. The argument that women need to have decisions made for them was common in the 1920’s. Just like removing the opportunity for education for girls in Somalia makes sense if you want to reduce women’s access to full participation and choice- as if that choice alone is somehow evil. Many women have not chosen and will not choose abortion, and they don’t need the protection of a law that takes that choice away from them. Their integrity will guide them, just as it has over the past years since 1973.
A recent film Obvious Child renders a good look at the process and integrity involved in those choices. Women don’t need to be directed to make the choices right for them, and the Supreme Court’s decision today have ruled by reducing that barrier, the number of feet between vulnerable women, and those who show them terrible projections to discourage their decision. To harass, attack and humiliate these women for their decision advancing just a few feet closer by this Supreme Court Decision may be just a few more feet closer to denying women the validity of their choice since 1973 and Roe VS Wade allowed for that as personal and private and worthy of the sanctity those few feet measured..
Boston Courts Attorney General Martha Coakley and officials for Planned Parenthood argue that the first amendment rights of women seeking the services are in fact diminished by this 35 foot reduction, and give basis to dissension with respect on this ruling by the Supreme Court.