US women celebrate 33 years of abortion rights

// 20 January 2006

33 years after Roe v Wade legalised abortion in the United States, activists are rallying to defend a woman’s right to choose.

Although it seems almost unthinkable, women in the US are genuinely facing the possibility that the right to abortion which the Roe v Wade case established could be reversed.

Does Bush have the guts to allow such a significant regression to happen? Well, because abortion rights have been established by the courts, it is possible that the courts could take them away. Most specifically, the Supreme Court. This group of senior judges is highly politicised, and the most recent nomination Samuel Alito is known to be a hard-line right-winger.

During the extensive questioning session that is part and parcel of being accepted onto the court’s bench, and in the media furore that accompanied it, it was revealed that he does not consider Roe v Wade to be “settled law” and has made a number of judicial decisions that went against abortion rights and women’s rights more generally.

Check out the coverage HERE for more information.

To commemorate the anniversary of this landmark decision, and to remind us all why it was so important, AlterNet tells the story of three women who have first hand experience of life before Row v Wade.

Mildred Hanson, M.D.

A featured speaker at several congressional briefings on abortion, Hanson spent 30 years as the medical director of what was then Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota. Today, she oversees her own Minnesota clinic, where, at the age of 82, she provides abortions to women from Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

“In 1935, when I was 11 years old, my mother left our Wisconsin house on a bitter February night and dashed to the farm next door to help an ailing woman who’d had an illegal abortion. Our neighbor was writhing in pain so severe that she was having convulsions and was chewing her lip raw. It took her two days to die of blood poisoning. She left six children behind – and left me with firsthand knowledge of the injustice of illegal abortion.

“Fresh out of medical school in 1959, I developed a reputation for being the only doctor in this region who would treat women with bleeding, lacerations, and other complications stemming from back-alley procedures. Illegal abortionists would refer their clients to me in the event of complications. In addition to helping these patients, I offered legal abortions to women within the hospital system, which sanctioned the procedure if it was deemed medically necessary. I coached these women on how to get approval. ‘Tell hospital officials you are destitute,’ I said. ‘Tell them you are devastated and will commit suicide if you can’t terminate this pregnancy.’ If Roe v. Wade were overturned today and if medical exceptions were still allowed, I would tell my patients the same things all over again. For the first time in my life, I would also perform illegal abortions. I didn’t do so before Roe v. Wade because I was a divorced mother with four children to support. But today I have nothing to lose and believe reproductive rights are so important that I’m willing to risk whatever legal action or prison time I might face.”

And if you need any more reminders, check out this citizen newsreel on the need for equal access to abortion in Mexico. “The Sum of These Autonomous Women Will Form Autonomous Territories”.

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