Remember when the the Supreme Court made good decisions?
Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:
Thirty-seven years ago, the US Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision, Roe v. Wade, recognizing the constitutional right to privacy and a woman’s right to choose. Our supporters, the millions of people we serve, and those who serve them – we are Planned Parenthood, we stand in support of Roe, and we will continue to stand strong in the years ahead. - Planned Parenthood
While in graduate school in Texas, I had the privilege of meeting Sarah Weddington. She argued Roe v. Wade in front of the Supreme Court at the age of 26, because as she told me "no one else would take the case."
As I've said before, living in Texas was part and parcel of my education. Growing up the in San Francisco Bay Area, raised by a feminist mother, and born six years after Roe v. Wade, the right to complete reproductive health was simply part of the fabric of my life. But, that does not mean I took it for granted.
In my experience, it was very clear just what Planned Parenthood and other women's clinics, offered to women and girls. Going to a Catholic college, Planned Parenthood was a place to get treated for a UTI without a lecture on the pre-marital sex you weren't having. It was the place I drove young women who came to the college's Women's Resource Center, because if I wrote down the address or phone number I would be expelled.
Once kicked off your parent's healthcare plan, in the middle of the post dot-com recession, Planned Parenthood was a place to receive basic medical care, your birth control, and your annual pap smear for free (or for the cost of a thankful donation as you left).
Which is why before leaving for Texas I volunteered as a community outreach member for my local affiliate. It was then that I learned just how fragile the necessary services Planned Parenthood provides were, even in California. I also learned how few women knew that they even existed (even outside my Catholic school bubble).
But when I moved to Texas, I truly learned just how hard people are working to strip women of their ability to access basic services.
The first day I volunteered at Planned Parenthood in Austin, the staff asked to see my teal Medical card (the program that allowed me to access services for free in California). You would have thought it was made out of gold. I soon learned why.
When I arrived in Texas, Title X funding had been reduced so only women 18 and under could access services on a sliding scale. Six months later only women under the age of 16 could.
I volunteered in the downtown clinic - the only one that could then accept what few patients could access the sliding scale, but could not provide abortion services. The North clinic could, but only medical abortion. Surgical abortions could only be performed in the South clinic - a feat of community organizing and architecture created after a fierce battle to provide services despite the efforts to make building it nearly impossible.
But, I knew a lot of this going in. I knew that there are counties in Texas without a clinic of any kind for miles, and that the efforts to limit access were immense. What shocked me most was how few young women in Texas knew that services like these even existed anywhere. The UT campus has an amazing women's clinic that provides basic women's healthcare. But once I stepped foot off the campus, whether at work or at Walgreens, I continually found myself, not an abortion counselor, but a biology teacher.
Young women quietly asked me about STI symptoms they were experiencing, not knowing they were an STI. Or they quietly asked me about normal changes in their body that they were sure were a sign that something was wrong - because they had no knowledge of their own anatomy. At 20 or 23 or 28 they had never had a pap smear. These women were not just experiencing a culture that made abortion a bad word. The extremely conservative lawmakers that had not only made women fight to access basic services had also succeeded in keeping them ignorant of their own bodies, thanks to abstinence only education and the pervasive culture that a woman's body was dirty and abnormal.
All of this is to say that the efforts to shut down clinics, make it impossible for them to provide services, difficult for women to actually obtain services, or perpetuate acts of violence against providers for providing a basic medical procedure, are not the only actions taken to strip women of their ability to choose.
The theme of this year's Blog for Choice day is "trust women." But, in order to ensure safe and legal access to abortion, it is not simply enough to trust that women can make the decision to have an abortion or not, to access Plan B or not, to take birth control or not. Denied access to abortion is a symptom of a greater mistrust in women. A mistrust that limits our ability to understand the biology of our own bodies, to know how to keep ourselves healthy and to be able to seek preventive services.
Read more posts as part of Blog for Choice day, here.
Image via PEP.