Roe is necessary, but not sufficient

Gillian Stoddard Leatherberry, Guest Blogger (’15, Boston University School of Law - Law Students for Reproductive Justice)

This post is part of Blog for Choice, launched by Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (BSSRJ).

Also found at bostonreprojustice.blogspot.com

You’ve probably heard about Savita. She recently died of septic shock in Ireland after physicians refused to perform life-saving surgery that may have saved Savita, but would have aborted her fetus. Many women world-wide, like Savita, aren’t lucky enough to have access to legal abortion. Roe means that Savita might have been saved if she had been in the United States when she was in need of life-saving surgery. 

To me, Roe means to me that some women have access to meaningful abortion rights, but this choice is not accessible to everyone , and it doesn’t come without judgment. Contemporary feminists and young women are known for not appreciating our freedom to use contraception and choose abortion. I appreciate it, but I am not satisfied with it alone. One in three women have an abortion in her lifetime. Why does shame and judgment still surround this medical procedure?

Before coming to law school, I volunteered as a clinic escort. The following examples are real scenarios that evidence the success and also the limits of Roe:

  •  Walking into the family planning clinic, one clinic patron was approached by anti-choice protesters who asked her why she is giving up her baby and did she know she was killing an innocent life? The patron later told me that that she was outraged by the protesters because her teenage daughter was in the car – her teenage daughter whom the clinic patron had told she had cysts, not that she was at the clinic for an abortion procedure.  Roe means that this woman can have an abortion, but doesn’t mean that her daughter won’t face the same shame if she ever needs an abortion
  • Many women drive long distances or from out of state to come into abortion clinics. This is probably because most counties in the United States have no access to a family planning clinic. Roe means that women are able to access an abortion symbolically, but not before women must take off work, find a car, and find money to drive to the clinic and have an abortion procedure.
  • A young woman who was protesting outside the clinic one day yelled at me, “Don’t you know that having a baby is free?” Roe means that clinic patients can have abortions, but Roe cannot explain to this young woman why having a child and that child’s monetary, emotional and other costs are by no definition “free.”

While Roe legalizes abortion, full access to the procedure and its acceptance aren’t things that the Supreme Court decision created. On this 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, abortion rights supporters should be reminded that Roe is necessary to abortion rights, but not sufficient in creating choice for all women.