A ‘sucker punch’: Some women fear setback to hard-won rights
At 88, Gloria Steinem has long been the nation’s most visible feminist and advocate for women’s rights. But at 22, she was a frightened American in London getting an illegal abortion of a pregnancy so unwanted, she actually tried to throw herself down the stairs to end it.
Her response to the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Roe v. Wade is succinct: “Obviously,” she wrote in an email message, “without the right of women and men to make decisions about our own bodies, there is no democracy.”
Steinem’s blunt remark cuts to the heart of the despair some opponents are feeling about Friday's historic rollback of the 1973 case legalizing abortion. If a right so central to the overall fight for women’s equality can be revoked, they ask, what does it mean for the progress women have made in public life in the intervening 50 years?
“One of the things that I keep hearing from women is, ‘My daughter’s going to have fewer rights than I did. And how can that be?’” says Debbie Walsh, of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “If this goes, what else can go? It makes everything feel precarious.”
Reproductive freedom was not the only demand of second-wave feminism, as the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s is known, but it was surely one of the most galvanizing issues, along with workplace equality.
The women who fought for those rights recall an astonishing decade of progress from about 1963 to 1973 including the right to equal pay, the right to use birth control, and Title IX in 1972 which bans discrimination in education. Capping it off was Roe v. Wade a year later, granting a constitutional right to abortion.
Many of the women who identified as feminists at the time had an illegal abortion or knew someone who did. Steinem, in fact, credits a...