Waiting and Watching

by | Dec 5, 2021

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Pat Riviere-Seel Poet, Writer

Expectant waiting. Watching. Hope. Fear. A season of strong and sometimes contradictory emotions. Never have I felt them all as strongly as I do this year, this season.

For me, this season is Advent. But the December 1 arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court over Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law give me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s a familiar feeling, one that was a constant those years, 1988-1992, that I worked as the lobbyist for the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women. I worked with a coalition of pro-choice advocates to make sure that all women had access to safe and legal abortions. We worked to ensure that women were not harassed or abused when they sought medical care from clinics that also provided abortions. From January, when the Maryland legislature convened, until adjournment in April, we watched, waited, and worked for the constitutional rights of all women.

The threats to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision were real and dangerous during those years. But they did not pose as great a threat as the current cases before the Supreme Court. The new Texas abortion law is draconian and punitive. It puts a bounty on the heads of women and turns ordinary citizens into vigilantes. Is a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her health care really such a threat to the public good?

The Mississippi law bans most abortions after fifteen weeks – several weeks before viability, or the point where a fetus is able to survive outside the womb, even with the latest medical technology.

The Court is expected to rule on both the Texas and the Mississippi law next summer. During arguments last week, the conservative justices signaled that they are ready to overturn Roe v. Wade. Indeed, the former president declared that he would overturn Roe, and then appointed three justices that are ready to do just that. A majority of the justices have made no secret of their wish to overturn Roe.

Roe and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey rulings enshrined reproductive rights and access to abortion as constitutional rights.

Why has the right to abortion become a political issue? The anti-choice fervor contains more emotion than science; more moral outrage than respect for civil and constitutional rights. I doubt that we as a society will ever be able to definitively answer the questions of where life begins and where life ends. For those whose religious beliefs dictate that life begins at conception, I respect your belief. Our constitution guarantees your right to make your objection to abortion known by all legal means. But I do not believe you have any right to try to force your religious belief into our secular laws, our constitution.

If Roe is overturned, individual states will be free to impose their own restrictions/bans on abortion and doctors who perform abortions, a situation that will result in a patchwork of laws with no constitutional right for women to decide their own health care needs. This was the situation before Roe and before Casey confirmed that constitutional right.

Outlawing or restricting abortion will not stop women from having abortions. Women with money and/or connections will always find a way to exercise choices in their health care, including abortion. Of course, there is still the risk that they will die from complications of an illegal abortion.

There seems little to be done about the direction the Supreme Court is heading – a court packed with six conservative – more accurately reactionary – judges who have signaled their intention to mold our country to their own ideology.

Among the three liberal justices, Justice Sotomayor asked the most chilling question during last week’s arguments: “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?”

A generation of women has grown up believing that their right to choose is guaranteed by the Constitution, just as I grew up believing that my right to vote was guaranteed. It will be up to the younger women to take their fight for their constitutional rights to state legislatures. It is their turn to lead. I will follow. I will lace up my running shoes and join the marches, I will make phone calls and give financial assistance.

Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate, is one of the new leaders in this fight. Check out her video: 8 Reasons to Stand Up Against Abortion Bans Today

“The alt-right’s biggest blunder is that most Americans aren’t under their impression that a woman’s body is up to them to decide. So when you’re outraged, these lawmakers are terrified. They want our tide to lose hope, to back up, pack up, and go home, so don’t. We won’t. We are never alone when we fight fire with feminism. 

“So go, be unafraid. We will not be delayed, we will not be masquerade to the tale of a handmaid. We will not let Roe v. Wade slowly fade because when we show up today, we’re already standing up with the tomorrow we made.” – Amanda Gorman

2 Comments

  1. Mary Sorrells

    Pat,

    This is powerful and important. I had not seen the video of Amanda Gorman. But thanks to you, now I have. Both your paragraphs and her poetry have touched me deeply. I will speak up and out.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Mary. Your voice is important.

      Reply

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