Ruth Rosen: Roe v. Wade and Beyond

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: feminism, Roe v. Wade, abortion, women's rights, Ruth Rosen, Dissent

Ruth Rosen, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, is Professor Emerita of History at UC-Davis and a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Right-Wing Movements at UC-Berkeley. Her most recent book is The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America.

On the day that Roe v. Wade was handed down, I felt a mixture of elation and panic. A new future loomed in which unwanted pregnancies would no longer send women to quacks, rushing them to hospitals with raging infections and perhaps to their deaths. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that many lives would be saved.

At the same time, I knew that this historic decision had started the culture wars, even though I didn’t have the language to explain my thoughts. As a young historian, I realized that the Supreme Court had given us abortion rights and what the Court gave, the Court could take away. Even more, I understood that we had not received this right through congressional legislation, which would have reflected a greater consensus among Americans. But I also knew that there had not been enough national conversation for legislation that would have legalized abortion, so a Court decision was the only way, at that time, that we could have gained reproductive rights.

And so I spent that day trying to peer into the future. My panic came from my realization that the country was polarized about everything Carole Joffe mentioned in “Roe v. Wade and Beyond,” including the role of women in modern society: their rights to sexual pleasure; economic independence and child care; and protection from battery, rape, and sexual harassment. Roe didn’t start the culture wars, but it was the engine that fueled what we have witnessed over the last forty years. It is the decision that has helped raise billions of dollars for a right-wing think tank industry and an anti-abortion industry. And most important, as Joffe wrote, it fundamentally transformed American political culture....

Read entire article at Dissent