Today marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. According to a recently released Pew poll, only about 44% of Americans under 30 could identify the Roe decision as having to do with abortion. We know that what matters isn’t that young Americans know all the details of a Supreme Court case that happened before they were born, but instead, that they support abortion rights. And they do, overwhelmingly–almost 70% of young Americans believe abortion should be legal.
Nevertheless, here at the Abortion Gang, we decided to reminise about when we first learned about Roe or abortion rights in honor of today’s momentous anniversary.
Steph: Planned Parenthood’s latest video saying that most people think about abortion as personal, not political, rings true for my first experience with abortion. I always remember being vaguely pro-choice, but I never had to think about what that actually meant until a friend of mine became pregnant while we were in high school. She had an abortion, and for the first time I had to think about access: how would she get to the clinic without a driver’s license? without her parents knowing? how would she pay for it without an income? would she have to skip school for the appointment? what would she say? Thankfully, my friend had a supportive partner who helped her navigate the system with ease, and she had a safe abortion. But I remember in that moment being profoundly glad that she didn’t have to bend the law to access the care she needed. This experience led me to work at an abortion fund all through college, where I learned the painful in and outs of the Hyde Amendment, and how the legality of abortion doesn’t mean that everyone is able to access it as easily as my friend did.
Nicole: As a linguistically frustrated high schooler, I replaced French with constitutional law. Though my guidance counselor thought it the kiss of college admissions death, that class introduced me to Roe, and the wider world of social justice. I have yet to look back.
Megan S.: I don’t know how I learned about Roe, but I do know how I learned about abortion access. I started college identifying as a feminist but not involved in abortion activism or familiar with reproductive justice issues. I considered myself to be pro-choice, but I didn’t think anything more of it than that. My sophomore year I started a work-study job at an abortion fund, which opened my eyes to the struggles of people trying to obtain abortion care. That experience made me question the differences between legality and reality. Although Roe was passed in 1973, it certainly did not and does not mean that all people have equal say in their bodily autonomy or equitable access to reproductive health services. My experiences at an abortion fund challenged me, changed me, and made me want to devote my life and work to ensure that people did not have to struggle to obtain reproductive health care.
I don’t know how I learned about Roe, but I do know how I want to teach my children about it. I want them to think of it as a momentous victory and to celebrate it as such. I also do not want them to think of it as the final piece of our fight for reproductive rights, but instead as a critical first step toward reproductive justice for all people.
Rachel: I’m pretty sure I first learned about Roe v. Wade from watching the national nightly news. When I was growing up it was my family’s habit to watch the news during dinner. My most distinctive memory of Roe came from the coverage of the 1991 Wichita, Kansas protests lead by Randall Terry (the so-called “Summer of Mercy” campaign). I remember the protests sparked days of national news coverage. To be on the national nightly news for several days in a row was a big deal, even more so before there were multiple cable news networks. I would have been 15 in 1991, and I’m sure I had heard of “abortion” before, but the sheer chaos and anger of the Wichita, Kansas protests is where my specific memory begins. At some point watching the news I asked my father why he was pro-choice, and I remember him saying to me he didn’t want any politician telling his daughters what they could do with their bodies.
Shelby: I think I may have heard the word Roe uttered a few times in my younger, Southern Baptist years in the same tone one uses to talk about Hitler, but I don’t recall ever connecting how it had anything to do with the tiny plastic fetuses they handed out at church presentations.
The first time I remember really thinking about Roe was when I met the 2 NY women who came to Lubbock to make the film that would eventually be The Education of Shelby Knox. They’d done a film called Live Free or Die about Dr. Wayne Goldner in NH, who was fighting a Catholic hospital merger in New Hampshire and had been friends with Dr. Slepian, who was killed for providing abortions. They told me it had showed at the Roe v. Wade 30th anniversary celebration and I remember finding it curious that people celebrated a Supreme Court decision. Only when I started working in the sex ed world and with older, more seasoned feminists did I understand the context of the case and the celebrations. By the time I was a 17 year-old senior in high school, I wrote a paper in Government class defending the case — and realized that the school computers had a block on accessing anything about it other than anti-choice websites. By the time I was 21, I was a full fledged reproductive justice activist who understood that Roe was a crucial first step but that there was still a long way to go before a theoretical right is a reality for all people, all the time.
Today, I’m 26, the same age Sarah Weddington was when she argued the case in front of the Supreme Court. When I met her and realized how young she had been when she changed history, it was a confirmation that a young feminist from Texas like me could really change the world for women…because one already had.
When did you first learn about Roe? What did you learn? From whom? Tell us in the comments.