Is Roe Taken for Granted?

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

Time’s recent cover story on the challenges faced by the pro-choice movement in the four decades after Roe, “What Choice,” couldn’t come at a better time. As the anniversary of Roe approaches at the end of this month, it seems appropriate not just to examine the current state of abortion rights and restrictions, but the other obstacles that the pro-choice movement is facing—in particular, the idea of a generational divide among activists. (Full disclosure: Kate Pickert, the author of “What Choice,” interviewed me for this article, but my quotes were not in the finished piece.)

By highlighting the work of the Red River Women’s Clinic—the only clinic in North Dakota that provides abortion services—readers were given an engaging picture of just how difficult it can be for women to access a legal medical service. The graphics accompanying the piece also made this point quite clearly.

This is all worth noting because of the other aspects of the piece—notably, the examination of the movement’s divergent viewpoints and the mounting victories that the anti-choice movement has racked up, particularly in the last few years. Reading “What Choice,” I was reminded of the large swath of the country that I think of as “choice-neutral.” These people—and a large number of my friends and relatives are among them—are not opposed to abortion per se. They believe in the concept of choice and are not happy that politicians want to tell women what medical choices they should make. But by and large, it seems that “choice-neutral” people also take the right to choice for granted, believing that since Roe is the law of the land, then women are able to have abortions if they want to.

This is what I used to think, too, before I started working in the pro-choice movement. I grew up in a liberal city, in the liberal pocket of an increasingly anti-choice state. My friends and I all had access to credit cards and/or understanding parents; if any of us were faced with an unplanned pregnancy, we could avail ourselves of the full range of options: abortion, adoption, or parenting. So perhaps not surprisingly, I assumed that the same was true for women all over this country, and was shocked to learn just how difficult it can be to actually get an abortion.

And that is the point that I hope really resonates with anyone that reads the Time article. Because while the other issues raised are important and deserve their own discussion, they’re all rather academic if Roe itself continues to become increasingly legal in name only.

Concerned about the current state of affairs? There are plenty of ways to take action, from donating to a local fund to voting for politicians that respect choice. Check out this list for more ideas!

About Sarah:
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out


  1. I do like the term “choice neutral.” Once upon a time I thought it was perfectly logical to expect a law to stay a law once the Supreme Court said it was. That’s what rule-followers do. I know better now, but oh how I wish abortion opponents had a little more respect for authority–starting with women’s authority over their own bodies …

Speak Your Mind