In the 1860s, Americans fought a civil war to guarantee that the right to liberty should not depend on what state you live in. In the 1960s, students at Berkeley fought for free speech in connection with their support for civil rights and protests against the war in Vietnam. Today, in 2022, none of us can stand by as the Supreme Court moves to reverse Roe v. Wade and allow state legislatures to ban access to abortion.
Opponents of abortion rights have been pushing the court to move in this direction for years. In 1992, the Court modified the Roe framework to allow abortion regulations as long as they did not impose an “undue burden” on the freedom to choose an abortion. In the years since then, the courts have upheld many burdensome regulations, while invalidating efforts to protect the rights of abortion seekers. The Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law mandating a 35-foot buffer zone to protect the safety of patients and staff at abortion clinics in 2014, and a California law requiring “crisis pregnancy clinics” to provide their patients with information about access to abortion in 2018. Meanwhile, state requirements that patients listen to scripts that falsely imply that abortion raises their risk of breast cancer, psychological trauma and suicide have been allowed to stand. Now, the Supreme Court is erecting its own “buffer zone” of nonscalable fences and concrete barriers as it moves to reverse 50 years of precedent establishing abortion rights. If and when they do so, 26 states are either likely or certain to ban access to most if not all abortions.
In the early 1970s before Roe v. Wade, the three of us worked on a film about abortion because women’s voices and stories were missing in the state legislative chambers and courtrooms where men were debating whether to legalize abortion. We wanted to speak out for women who could not access safe, legal abortions and for women forced into seeking an abortion, because they could not afford to support a child. As we say in the film, “When you start talking about abortion, you have to end up meaning everything.” We saw access to abortion as part of a larger fight for women’s liberation, including decent jobs, child care and health care and an end to poverty and racial discrimination.
In the years that followed, we saw the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade as an important victory. But we also saw millions of lives destroyed by 50 years of growing economic inequality — people throughout the country losing jobs with benefits, homes, health care, pensions and any chance of a decent education for their kids. All these losses contributed to Donald Trump’s getting elected by playing to fears and resentments, while promising to appoint a Supreme Court that would reverse Roe v. Wade.
Trump’s success means that we must once again take the fight for abortion access to every state in the union, while also working for federal legislation to protect people’s right to make one of the most intimate and important decisions of their lives. The “Get Involved” page of our website offers direct links for ways to donate and volunteer with organizations that:
- Assist with access to self-managed medical abortions
- Support state and local reproductive health rights, abortion clinics and advocacy
- Engage in national organizing, lobbying and legal defense work
- Support international work for reproductive justice
In California, Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks, Mia Bonta and Rebecca Bauer-Kahan will introduce legislation to increase access to abortion that will include women from other states, helping to increase medical privacy and protect them from prosecution. Assemblymember Akilah Weber is sponsoring a bill that sets aside money for clinics that provide uncompensated care to low income patients. State Senator Nancy Skinner has put forward a bill to create a state-administered fund to assist patients who face financial barriers to obtain abortions, both for Californians and those who seek services here. We urge advocating for these bills’ passage, together with support for local abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood, NARAL and companies that provide their employees with access to abortions.
Alongside this critical work, the great Berkeley tradition of support for free speech underlines the need to oppose gag laws in those states that prevent medical providers from discussing abortion with their patients, or force them to read false scripts. With abortion rights, speech and access likely to be criminalized in 26 states, we support a new generation of abortion rights activists willing to challenge rules that prevent health care providers from offering honest, compassionate abortion services.
As members of the generation that won abortion rights 50 years ago, we also see these rights as part of a much bigger fight to realize the Declaration of Independence’s promise of a government that protects life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all its citizens. Building coalitions to support these commitments, even with those who disagree with us about abortion, represents the surest way to protect the rights of all Americans.
Jane Pincus, the co-founder and co-author of “Our Bodies, Our Selves,” Mary Summers, a lecturer in political science at the University of Pennsylvania and Karen Weinstein, a Berkeley activist and former chair of the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, made the film “Abortion and Women’s Rights 1970,” now available at https://www.abortionandwomensrights1970.com/. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.