The Sunday after Roe was struck down, I met up with my friend Sulyn for dinner in Brooklyn. She arrived sweaty and amped up from the Pride parade here in NYC — all tank top, rainbow bandana, and brightly colored shades. I hadn’t seen Sulyn since she moved to Colorado four years ago and she practically bounced into my arms. We hugged for a long time and then we shook our heads in disbelief and sadness.
“20 years ago I was part of a human chain that blocked off the Holland Tunnel to protest the gag rule. We got arrested, but it did we feel like we made a difference…. It wasn’t for shit.”
“No no, it was, it was,” I told her. “ You made a difference.” I tried to console her, to console us. But even I wasn’t sure.
I’ve been struck by this feeling of great defeat; we’d spent nearly our entire lifetime under the protections of Roe and the fear that it would be removed. And now it’s gone. I recalled a string of events: My mother rushing me to get birth control at 17 when I started dating, “um Mom I’m not even having sex yet?”; in a college political science class, doing a mock debate with a classmate where we had to argue the side of demonic anti-feminist/ anti-abortionist Phyllis Schlafly; hosting an all-female rock band concert I co-organized in Philly in 1992 during the Planned Parenthood v Casey trial called Strong Women in Music, in part to celebrate women in rock but also to point out how tenuous our abortion rights were. I actually found the speech I gave in a box the other day (have I mentioned I save everything?). Uncovering it felt bittersweet and oddly prescient. I was a bundle of 25-year-old rage:
”We must demand the whole choice without some slimeball shoving a cross in our faces, calling us sinners and blocking our legal path to the clinics. We must demand the whole choice without parental consent, gag rules and 24-hour waiting periods. We must demand the whole choice without some asshole on the street telling us he wants to fuck our brains out. We must demand the whole choice without someone telling us we can’t play lead guitar. We deserve the whole choice.”
And I ended it with, of course, “Rock on.”
Thirty years later, I look at that young woman with awe and a bit of sadness. I feel like I let her down. Yet, I still have a glimmer of hope for what’s next in our fight for reproductive rights. A tiny, shard of a glimmer.
I was curious what other TueNighters were thinking about this span of time — the then and now of a life under Roe. So I asked. Here are their reflections, which all feel so familiar. I’m so fascinated by how many of our mothers made sure we were protected, no matter what.
I’ll start with my friend Sulyn:
Back in college in the 80s, I would drive to the outskirts of Detroit to be an abortion clinic defender. The pro-lifers would be there too — always with their very graphic posters. They would shout in our faces that we were murderers. At my very core, I knew every woman should have the right to choose regardless of sexuality, economic class, or race. I became very active in Act UP, Queer Nation, Lesbian Avengers and other groups fighting for equal rights and justice.
In 1991, the Lesbian Avengers planned a radical action. We blocked an entry to the Holland Tunnel by chaining ourselves together in protest of the gag rule implemented by the Reagan administration. We were all arrested and charged with a felony for blocking state property. I look back at the activist movements of the 1990s with pride. As citizens, we took action. We stood up for what we believed. In contrast, now it seems the general population has gotten so comfortable in the last 20 years, with the passage of gay marriage and the affordable healthcare act, that people have lost the will to fight. We can only hope those tides of apathy will turn.
Finding the Light
In 1987, I was seventeen. I got a diaphragm on my own from Planned Parenthood which allowed me to have sex and not get pregnant. That year, state legislatures were proposing restrictions on young women seeking abortions, requiring them to notify their parents. I was enraged by this manipulation of legal protections guaranteed by Roe. I was raised by feminists who instilled in me a deep appreciation of women’s rights. As a teenager, I learned about the history of women being subjugated, limited in their access to education or financial independence, and about the need for back-alley abortions. But to me, those times were long-ago history.
In 1992, I marched in DC with friends from college, protesting what was the start of a 30-year effort to overturn Roe. In 2006, I chose to have a baby on my own, the most important choice of my life, and one I cannot imagine not having the ability to make. My daughter is 14 now, and I’m terrified that her reproductive rights are more limited than mine. My solace lies in the rage I see in young people, in their awareness of patriarchy and misogyny. We’ve grown a generation under Roe who respect women, and somewhere in that, I find light.
Having the Choice
I was “radicalized” at age 17. I’d left my parents’ evangelical church, had premarital sex, and won my high school debate arguing the merits of abortion. There was no turning back. My freshman year of college, three of my friends had an abortion. It would be another 17 years before I faced the actual possibility of having my own abortion. When I became pregnant on my 35th birthday, I was automatically thrust into the AMA category of advanced maternal age, where doctors scare you at every turn as to what could happen to your baby. So at 17 weeks along, I was convinced into having an amniocentesis to find out if my fetus was healthy. I was going through this pregnancy alone, and knew that as a single mother, there would be no way I would be equipped to raise a child with special needs. I knew what I would have to do, should the test come back positive for genetic abnormalities. Those two weeks were painstaking, but I was always reassured because this was my CHOICE.
Fortunately, I gave birth to a healthy child. Fast forward 17 more years, my child is now of childbearing age, and I have a bonus daughter who is away at college. To think that they no longer have the same rights that I have had my entire life makes my stomach ache to the point of nausea. I’ve known since the ‘90s that Roe was always on the chopping block. So to see it actually gutted guts me to my core.
— Letisha Marrero
Planning For It
1989. You bet I had an abortion fund. I’m a planner. I was a 17-year-old Catholic school girl and the first girl in the family to head to college. I’d been working after school as a cashier at a grocery store and saved $5/week for a year. I found the clinics in the yellow pages, mapped out the drive, had a friend for the ride (and I would do the same for her) and even had my excuse/lie set as cover. My Latin mother started hissing in my ear: “Don’t get pregnant!” as early as possible. She needn’t have worried. The example she’d set of birthing six kids, while unhappy and almost dying with the last one was enough for me. People throw out all kinds of traumatic (and important) scenarios re: abortion but some are as simple as: Not now.
I never needed to use that fund but decades later, it’s been a mission to make sure others have the ability and means to do so. Your body is yours and yours alone. We are not free and equal unless we have AGENCY and CHOICE.
Becoming My Own Mother
For me, the right to end a pregnancy was fundamental to self-determination. My mom died before I turned twelve. My dad impressed upon me that to mess with boys and get pregnant would ruin my life. I believed him — my only parent — though I knew that even if that happened (“but I hate boys!”), a pregnancy could be stopped. It was 1977; I had rights.
By 16, adrift without my mom, I felt strangely free. Nobody pressed me to be traditional, to babysit, to dream of my wedding, to long for an adorable baby. The universe said, “Do as you like; please yourself.” Sex, marriage, and children, I realized, were choices. Not requirements.
I first had sex with a man at age 23, and his condom broke. I was lucky and didn’t conceive. I got a diaphragm, then the Pill, but I kept money in reserve in case I ever needed an abortion. I knew I’d never devote my one uncertain lifetime to child-raising. I needed a peaceful life. I would decompress, understand my life, and heal from early loss. No one should have to gamble her self-determination in a sexual relationship.
Future Generations Need Us
Federal dollars paid for my abortion at 17 in 1981.ow a 17- year-old might face parental consent laws, waiting periods, graphic untruths, and no access to health care to end a pregnancy. This is so astonishing, even though I have been a dedicated activist since my college years. With my reproductive years behind me, I find myself hoping that older (Boomers/Gen-X) people make tons of room to lift up younger organizers, whose bodies will bear the brunt of these restrictive, terrifying years ahead.
Accessing Our Power
In 1992, when Casey was being argued at the Supreme Court, I was 20, just getting started in life, and I remember feeling like the case was about control over my body. This time is different. This time, it’s about control over my power — the power of all women. Think of all the dreams that will be derailed when young women without resources give birth to unplanned babies. Think of all the women who will be sidelined from job opportunities or overlooked for promotions because they don’t have control over when they become mothers. Think of all the ways this gives permission to people to see women as inconvenient, insignificant, and incapable of making any decision of weight if they can’t be trusted to make one about their own health.
Let’s stop talking about this decision about whether women have access to a medical procedure, and let’s start talking about it as whether we have access to our personal power — and power in the world.
Our Mothers Knew
Growing up as the daughter of a proud feminist mom and dad, there was always a copy of Ms. magazine on our living room coffee table. So when Roe was passed into law in 1973 (I was nine years old at the time) it didn’t faze me. However, in 1982, before I headed off to college, my mom wouldn’t let me go until I was properly fitted for a diaphragm by my OB/GYN. I wasn’t sexually active, but to paraphrase my mom’s words, “I don’t want you getting pregnant” and having to deal with all the challenges associated with it. She grew up in “before times” and was clearly operating in a world (in her mind) that no longer existed — at least for the foreseeable future.
To fund choice, go to Abortionfunds.org.