By Beverly Dawn Whatley, M.Ed.
The Supreme Court decided to overturn Roe v. Wade Friday June 24, 2022, which had removed states’ authority to prohibit abortion effective January 1973. Trigger laws [those on the books for decades and rendered dormant in 1973 or newly positioned in anticipation…] will now be revisited. Where not illegal, there may be bans and conditions that vary between states. There are emotional, ethical, and medical interpretations of the word. For all, abortion means the termination of a pregnancy. The political lens incorporates a focus on a woman’s right to choose.
What will be the fate of reproduction and rights as the country moves forward?
Women have always sought medicinal and mechanical means to prevent or terminate a pregnancy. Many methods were dangerous and resulted in injury, sterility, or death. The idea that Cleopatra was reputed to have used a lemon rind packed with crocodile dung as a diaphragm may seem gross, but it shows the determination of women to choose when and if they would reproduce. Herb-soaked cotton was the predecessor to the contraceptive sponge along with attempts to produce spermicides and potions or to use animal guts as barriers. Even the first birth control pill [Enovid,1960] approved by the FDA was not a definitive solution.
Prior to Roe v. Wade modern women used barbaric termination methods, not to be described here. The results were often botched attempts that forced a hospital to complete the procedure. Death due to hemorrhage or sepsis was common. It was a gamble and desperate women put their lives on the table at the hands of the well-meaning or the money hungry to find relief.
If you were wealthy, abortion was safe, legal, and an international vacation away. If you lived in a major city or had money, one could be directed to a compassionate doctor skilled in what was a “menstrual extraction”. This was designed to vacuum the uterus when an athlete or a bride needed to skip an inconvenient period. Appointments were made with no test for pregnancy and the tacit understanding that nothing illegal was happening. It is not surprising that the poor, the very young, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) women did not have these options. An “accidental fall” down a flight of stairs, consuming some concoction, or a self-induced attempt to miscarry were the alternatives.
The Circumstances of Roe v. Wade
Jane Roe was a court document pseudonym given to Norma McCorvey in 1969. She had two previous pregnancies that resulted in adoptions and wanted to terminate this third. Facing opposition, she found attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were ready to challenge anti-abortion laws. When a lawsuit was filed in 1970 “Roe” became the name and face of all women denied access to abortion. In the interim Roe placed this third child up for adoption. Henry Wade was the district attorney of the Dallas, Texas county where she resided. By June of that year Texas district court ruled the ban as illegal. January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court [7-2 decision] struck down the Texas law making the procedure legal nationwide. Some states imposed restrictions, so a weakening and the overturning is not a surprise.
This writer was registered and ready to vote for the first time in November of 1972. At nineteen, reading Michigan Proposal B and proudly showing up to sound my voice was an honorable responsibility. I did not consider girls and women who might have a cavalier attitude about pregnancy and might view abortion as another form of birth control.
- I thought of the 13-year-old walking to school alone who gets assaulted by a stranger or the teen who is victimized at a party by a group of school-aged classmates who had yet to learn the difference between attraction, flirtation, and sexual assault. They would later joke about “running a train” and reduce their victim to party favor status.
- I thought of the 30-year-old single professional who manages every aspect of her life, including her reproductive responsibility. Between the pill, a time released injectable, a modern IUD and condoms, often employing “belt and suspenders”, yet with less than 100% effectiveness she finds herself pregnant.
- I thought of the woman, in or out of a facility, who has a cognitive impairment that prevents her from giving consent or voicing opposition to sexual activity.
My vote was cast; the ballot measure failed; Roe v. Wade prevailed.
The Right to Choose
We live in a country where one must take a class and earn a license to operate a motor vehicle. In this same country, one can operate a reproductive system as soon as it is activated, without even an owner’s manual. Girls need sexual navigation education and women need the “ovaries” to make choices before pregnancy becomes an issue. Has this man earned the right to my body? Am I woman enough to purchase condoms and insist upon their use each and every time? How can I make more sexually responsible decisions? A real woman must stand up before she lies down. Can we mediate our collective thinking towards making pregnancy a planned choice versus an unplanned consequence?
Will the amending of states’ positions mean a woman going before a panel to learn if her reason for termination meets their approval? Will we find more women deceased from blood loss or infection from home remedies? Did you hear that sound? That was the back door closing and being locked—from the outside. What’s next?
Where do we get updates as our states are impacted by this decision? How might we become activists or allies?
It’s still early, but half the U.S. is poised to ban or restrict.
Local: get the websites for your governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, senator and/or state representative. Bookmark for their postings.
Start with finding initial statements.
Beverly Dawn Whatley is a writer, actor, educator, and activist. An alumna of Eastern Michigan University, Beverly completed her graduate studies at Chapman University in Southern California. As an educator and activist, she selects causes and materials that support the empowerment of girls and women and deepens the appreciation of all cultures. In addition to being a writer, she is a literacy specialist and an instructional coach for the state of Michigan. Ms. Whatley has been previously featured in Heart and Soul Magazine.