Gender & Sexuality

What's Left of Roe

Barack Obama's re-election might make the landmark decision safe for now, but its meaning has eroded over the years.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file)

Since the ruling was handed down 40 years ago today, Roe v. Wade—which held that the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy included a woman's right to choose to have an abortion—has been subject to an ongoing legal and political assault. This assault has not succeeded in getting the decision overturned. But it has caused the scope of the opinion to become narrower in ways that have disproportionately affected the rights of women of color, poor women, and women in isolated, rural areas. The re-election of Barack Obama might make Roe safe for the time being, but it is worth taking stock of how its meaning is being eroded and what the future battles would be.

Who Has Abortions and Why it Matters

Guttmacher Institute

The Guttmacher Institute has a useful set of charts detailing the state of abortion in 2013, apropos of Roe’s 40th anniversary. The short story is that abortion is far more widespread than Americans tend to think; by age 45, almost half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly one in three will have an abortion. Sixty percent of women who have abortions already have one child, 44 percent are married or have a partner, and 69 percent are economically disadvantaged. Conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, the vast majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and 73 percent of women who have abortions are “religiously affiliated.”

Roe v. Wade Was About ... the Environment?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file

Of course most young people don’t know what Roe v. Wade is. Why should they? I know nothing about the battle of Dunkirk or the fields of Verdun. Most people have a vague idea about the battles of the past; they care most about the battles they’re fighting today. And for young people, the abortion battle is over; why do they need to know its name?  

Millenials Don't Know Much About Roe v. Wade

Pew Forum

The rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the growing acceptance of marijuana legalization, has a lot to do with the changing demographics of the country. As a class, young people are just more tolerant and less prohibitionist than their older counterparts.

To a degree, this extends to abortion. According to the most recent survey from the Pew Forum, 68 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, as opposed to 27 percent who want to see it overturned. The only other group as supportive of Roe are 50 to 64 year olds, who were teenagers or young adults at the time that Roe was decided.

The Matriarch

Remembering Gerda Lerner, one of the founders of women’s history

AP/Wisconsin State Journal, Sarah B. Tews

A letter written by the incorrigible muckraker Jessica Mitford in November 1975 contains an amusing portrait of Gerda Lerner, a founder of the field of women’s history. The unlikely pair had been thrown together by overlapping residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center on Lake Como. The journalist recounts their collision to her daughter in an epistle that takes the form of a five-act comic play—with “grim” Gerda the object of one of the Mitford sister’s notorious teases. “Sample tease,” Mitford writes. ‘Gerda: ‘I’m here trying to structure my book...’ Me: ‘Really? How very quaint, I’m trying to write mine.’ I’ve got her so she doesn’t know which end is up,” writes Mitford, delighting in what was surely an unfamiliar posture for the formidable Lerner.

Did Jodie Foster Just Come Out?

Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP

On Sunday night, as Jodie Foster accepted her Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes, made an awkward and extremely peculiar speech. No one seems to be entirely sure what she was saying. Was she retiring from acting? Was she coming out even though she didn’t actually say she’s a lesbian—and even though she’s made out-ish comments and gestures in the past?

Faster and Faster: The Same-Sex Marriage Momentum

Flickr/Lost Albatross

For those involved in state-level battles for gay rights, timelines are getting shorter. Take Delaware: The state's first bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation was introduced back in 1998. The state’s gay-rights community had to fight for 11 years to finally see it pass in 2009. Just two years later, however, the legislature passed a civil-unions law by a relatively large margin less than two months after it was introduced.

Now, as activists turn their attention to marriage, they’re hoping lawmakers will continue to step up the pace and pass a bill this session. “We are confident that we will have the votes in both houses to pass marriage,” says Lisa Goodman, president of the state’s leading advocacy group, Equality Delaware.

To Stop Rape Culture, Ring the Bell

Very few men are rapists. Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing. 

What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists.

To Stop Rape, Fix the Police Force First

AP Photo/Manish Swarup

In the past few weeks, the brutal murder of a young woman in New Delhi has consumed international media and fomented a social rebellion in India. The victim, a 23-year-old medical student, was gang raped in a public bus, then mutilated with iron rods and thrown out onto the street; she died on December 29.

As a woman born and raised in India, I can attest to the ubiquity of sexual violence. I myself avoided being gang-raped by a group of drunk men through sheer providence. I was 20, a junior in college here in the United States, and doing a field project on rural cooperatives in India. My guide—a local girl my age—and I had decided to stay overnight at a one-room guesthouse in a village hosting a traditional, all-night festival. Sometime in the middle of the night, we awakened to what sounded like a mob trying to break down our door. Through the window, we saw half a dozen drunk men talking excitedly about how they had seen two girls come up to this guesthouse. They surrounded the shack, broke the windows, and tried to kick down the front door. We were saved only because the men were too drunk to sustain their efforts all night, too drunk to notice the broken back door; we found some of the men slumped by the entrance the next morning.

Building a Respect Culture

AP Photo/A.M. Ahad

So much is disturbing about the Steubenville video, released by Anonymous, in which Michael Nodianos makes horrifying jokes about the raped woman, that I can hardly begin. Here’s one: the guy saying “that’s not cool.” Oh, I’m glad he’s saying that rape, and joking about rape, aren’t funny. But “that’s not cool” isn’t enough. If two football players took the body of a drunk and unconscious young woman and used it as a plaything all night, why didn’t someone intervene?

Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

AP Photo/ Dar Yasin

Her intestines were removed because the six men used a rusty metal rod during the “rape.”

That fact—the rusty metal rod—is what’s haunted me about the violent incident that has outraged India and the world. Six men held a 23-year-old woman and her male friend in a private bus for hours while they assaulted her so brutally that, after several surgeries to repair her insides, she died. What happened to this young woman was a gang assault. It can be called a sexual assault, because among other things, they brutalized her vagina. Or it can be called a sexual assault because it was driven by rage at the female sex.

What's Ahead for Same-Sex Marriage in 2013

AP Photo/Mel Evans

For gay-marriage advocates, 2012 marked a major turning point—not only did they see wins in the Washington and Maryland state legislatures, but voters in both states as well as in Maine voted to give same-sex couples the right to get hitched. But 2013 may prove to be even more momentous, as lawmakers in several other states plan to push the issue.

2012's War on Women

Flickr/Vince Connare

For the ladies, the year’s sound track could have been a strangled gasp, followed by snorting and laughing out loud. The attacks on women’s health, on contraception, on abortion, on the definition of rape—it was all so over the top that very early on it seemed that the Republicans were determined to get out the ladies’ vote for the Democrats in 2012. In one outrageous incident after another, old white dudes and anti-choice women made it clear that they think single women should spend their time smiling modestly, gazing at the floor hoping for a marriage proposal—and that married women should stay barefoot and pregnant, relying on menfolk for pin money and taking care of their babies.

States of Play

Flickr/Paul Weaver

If you’d forgotten just how much state legislatures impact citizens’ day-to-day lives, 2012 was a year full of reminders. From unions to health care to basic civil rights, states have a tremendous amount of power in shaping public policy. That’s no secret to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which offers model bills lawmakers can introduce and has pushed issues like voter ID and the “Stand Your Ground” bills that many believed helped pave the way for the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis shootings in Florida.

Prostitution for the Price of a Happy Meal

Why food-stamp bans are perpetuating risky behaviors among America’s most vulnerable

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, file

Carla walked into my office with despair in her eyes. I was surprised. Carla has been doing well in her four months out of prison; she got off drugs, regained custody of her kids, and even enrolled in a local community college. 

Without much prodding she admitted to me that she had retuned to prostitution: “I am putting myself at risk for HIV to get my kids a f---ing happy meal.”

Despite looking high and low for a job, Carla explained, she was still unemployed. Most entry-level jobs felt out of reach with her drug record, but what’s worse, even the state wasn’t willing to throw her a temporary life preserver.

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