Is a New Movement for Reproductive Rights Taking Shape?

Abortion rights protesters in Brooklyn, New York City. (Caitlin Och/Reuters)

In response to the recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion signaling the likely overturn of Roe v. Wade, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in hundreds of cities and towns across the country, in what may hopefully become a new movement for reproductive rights.

If Roe is overturned, it would mean that individual states would be able to determine whether abortion will be legal or not. Already, it would accelerate harsh abortion restrictions and outright bans in at least 25 states in the country. Most of these states are aiming to make abortion illegal under any circumstances (including rape, incest, risking the life of the mother). Other states are trying to classify abortion as murder, punishable with imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Roe Was Never Enough

In reality, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, on its own, has never been enough to guarantee safe and easy access to abortion for women and all those who can get pregnant. The constitutional right to have an abortion means very little if there is no guaranteed access to reproductive health care.

Today, even with the constitutional right to abortion still in place, an estimated 90% of counties in the country do not have an abortion clinic. In the last decade, states have imposed hundreds of abortion restrictions, including consent requirements for minors, limitations on public funding, mandatory counseling, invasive procedures and forced waiting periods before an abortion, all designed to pressure individuals not to have an abortion, as well as many regulations on abortion facilities.

As access to abortion services continues to decline, the impact from all of this affects poor and working-class women and women of color the most. Wealthier women are more likely to have access to reproductive health care and abortion drugs. They are more able to travel to cities or states that provide abortion services. And they will be better able to benefit from any underground organizations that provide abortion services.

But for working-class women and all those who can get pregnant, especially those living in states with the most extreme bans, their lives will become increasingly at risk. Some will be forced to give birth against their will. Others will have illegal and unsafe abortions. Some will see access to other forms of birth control cut back. Some will end up in prison for having an abortion. And many will probably die — in the U.S., a person is 14 times more likely to die by carrying a pregnancy to term than by having an abortion.

Empty Promises of Democrats

Biden and the Democrats have tried to capitalize on this moment by posing as champions of reproductive rights, occasionally showing up to pro-choice rallies chanting, “Vote them out.” But where have the Democrats been over the last decades as reproductive rights have been eviscerated? Did they pass new laws protecting access to abortion? Did they increase any federal funding to improve access to reproductive health care? Did they ever fund to keep abortion clinics open as they were being shut down across the country?

No! The Democrats may not be running the various states banning and criminalizing abortion. But they have sat back and watched, paying lip service while people’s lives have been put at risk. They are cowards who are more concerned about poll numbers than policies.

What Will it Take?

If Roe is overturned, any movement that builds up in the streets can pick up where Roe fell short. This time, this can be a movement that fights to guarantee to all women and pregnant people easy access to abortion services at any stage of pregnancy, without apology. It can be a movement that is actually pro-life — including the lives of all mothers and children, from birth to death.

This can be a movement that fights for quality health care for all, including reproductive health care, child care, and maternity leave. It could demand free access to education and guaranteed housing. It could fight against environmental destruction so we can maintain a planet able to sustain human life.

We can’t let the courts and the politicians decide our future. If we wait for them to improve things, we’ll be waiting forever. We have to begin to organize our own fight to have control not just over our bodies, but also over the kind of world we want to live in.