By Barbara Goldberg Goldman
In January 1973, Carly Simon, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Roberta Flack and the O’Jays earned their first Billboard number-one songs. We listened to their music while driving in our cars, doing homework or just hanging out. We followed the news by watching TV and reading newspapers.
I had just started working for first-term U.S. Rep. Barbara C. Jordan (D-Texas). In between constituent services, speechwriting and reading and drafting social legislative proposals, I also was reading Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Frederick Forsyth and Gore Vidal, authors topping The New York Times Best Sellers list. I read and gave as gifts hard copies of Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” My all-time favorite reference book was “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the 1970 female health bible. Unknowingly, the groundbreaking chapter linking abortion to the freedom to control our lives would soon become seminal. My original copy still sits proudly on my shelf.
Richard Nixon had just won his second term by a landslide, and societal tensions continued to mount as bigotry and racism were in full bloom despite advances made during the Civil Rights era. Many establishments across America, primarily, but not exclusively, in the South, still were segregated, and even in Connecticut some beaches remained “for whites only.”
Yet, we had conviction. We were determined to right the wrongs. We were ready to fix the world, poised to tackle our challenges, whatever the odds. And with much anticipation, we waited for the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, one that could affect the lives of millions of women, especially those who were disproportionately poor or of color.
On Monday, Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued its decision in favor of Jane Roe (Norma McCorvey). The 7-2 decision ruled that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides a right to privacy protecting a pregnant woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion, absolute in the first trimester, albeit subject to some reasonable state restrictions thereafter.
The reasoning was sound. The decision was compassionate, humane and recognized advances in science and societal norms. A new day had finally arrived. No more accounts from friends about midnight abortions, agonizing searches for health care providers willing to perform them, procedures done in back-alley basements or in cars. Yes, cars.
No more thousands of dollars “cash up front or no-can-do.” No more hanger images — images that were not imaginary. Back then, “The Handmaid’s Tale” might not have been read as science fiction. Women were literally risking — and sometimes losing — their lives to get abortions. Reports about botched ones, depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation were commonplace.
My college roommate, a Dean’s List honor student, was having an affair with a much older, divorced man. Crying hysterically, lying in a fetal position, she told me she was going to Florida early the next morning for an abortion where it was easier to find someone to do the “procedure” and where nobody would know either of them. He refused to marry her. This young, brilliant woman whom I thought so worldly was now distraught, helpless and threatening suicide. Yet, she was one of the fortunate, privileged ones. She had access to a bona fide physician, and someone else was paying for it. This was an “entitlement” typically afforded only to white, middle-class women, not those of low income and color.
The leaked Alito draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade suggests that the court might soon propel us back to the era before Jan. 22, 1973. The contempt for women and basic principles of constitutional law evidenced by that opinion are astonishing and outrageous. Women will still have abortions, illegal or otherwise, depending upon different state laws. Yet in many instances, safety and accessibility will be questionable in perhaps half of these United States. Horrific scenarios and outcomes, once ancient history, again will become the burdensome reality for millions of American women in states like Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, just to name a few.
Why? A myriad of reasons, not the least of which are three new justices nominated by a Republican president who failed to receive the majority of the popular vote and were confirmed by his lemmings in the U.S. Senate. Three justices who apparently either lied or craftily dodged the question during their confirmation hearings.
What ifs abound. Had there been a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate majority during those years, American women now would be safe. We cannot go back. We now must not permit the fundamental norms of our society and legal system to be ripped apart. To do so would be horribly, painfully, inexcusably wrong. Codifying Roe would prevent that from occurring. But the unwillingness of Senate Republicans and a couple of Senate Democrats to abolish the filibuster prevents the passage of such legislation.
Elections matter. This is about choice. We can halt this assault on women and the bedrock of American law. On Nov. 8, vote to increase Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House. Not doing so is placing at peril our bodies and ourselves.
Barbara Goldberg Goldman is vice chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, former deputy treasurer of the Maryland Democratic Party and co-founder of Maryland Women for Biden Harris.