40 at 40: My Lifetime with Roe

On January 22 of this year, women’s health advocates and our allies will be celebrating the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade case that made abortions legal in the United States in 1973. A few weeks later, I will celebrate my 40th birthday. I learned of this coincidence 10 years ago when Roe turned 30 and I was contacted by someone who was writing a piece about feminists who were celebrating the same age as this groundbreaking decision. At that time, I was still enjoying the adrenaline rush of being the mother of an almost 2-year old daughter and at the same time was fully involved in the birth of the Reproductive Justice movement.

I was raised in a family with feminist ideals, had attended my first pro-choice rally by the age of 16, and knew about women in my own family who had decided to have abortions (pre- and post-Roe), so I was clear about the impact of Roe in my life. As a budding RJ leader, I was also certain that Roe was incredibly significant in the context of the lived experiences of women of the nation.

Many people today and throughout this month will share their reflections about the impact of Roe as we collectively call for increased access to abortion services and for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment which restricts Federal abortion funding for indigenous women served by Indian Health Service, federal employees, disabled women on Medicare, women in federal prisons and Peace Corps volunteers. Today I ask myself – what does Roe mean for us?

Let me explain. When I turned 30, I expected that I would feel self-realized, more self-assured, and I would know what my life was about and where it was going. I didn’t feel any of these things. Today, as I am on the verge of celebrating my 40th birthday – it feels as if I have turned a corner – I know myself in an intimate way and I see the work that lies ahead. Roe v. Wade is 40. Maybe we have spent all these years interpreting the decision as the culmination of years of feminist struggle, just to “turn the corner” in the last ten years and realize that within the reproductive justice framework, the struggle for abortion rights is inextricably linked to other issues and that there is much more work ahead of us?

In my reproductive justice work, as well as in my personal life, I honor the hard work that was done to achieve this victory. AND, I also recognize, that for many of us, it is part of what we are working towards in achieving reproductive justice. Roe was not intended to apply only to those women who can afford a private doctor – LEGALITY ≠ ACCESS. Reproductive justice activists continue to work to ensure that ALL women are able to access safe, quality, and affordable abortion services.

As we turn this corner together on the 40th anniversary of Roe, we must recognize that it not only legalized abortions, but that it also established the legal principle that women are the ones who should make decisions about our own bodies. At California Latinas for Reproductive Justice it is important to our communities que echamos pa’lante in our work to secure our rights to have children, to not have children, and to parent the children that we have. It is equally important to us that we have access to contraception and that our families’ integrity is respected under immigration law as it is to ensure abortion rights.

Happy Birthday Roe – may you celebrate many, many more years of protecting women’s health AND may you continue to get better with age. Our daughters need you.

Laura Jimenez is the Executive Director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.

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