As she spoke into the microphone, alternating between tears of sadness and shouts of rage, Araceli Herrera recalled the brutal gang rape she experienced as a teenager in Mexico City.
Now in her 70s, it was only the second time she spoke about it publicly, summoning up the courage to use her experience to ensure others know what can happen when abortion is illegal.
“I gave birth in a hospital for poor people, and my son and I had to live on the streets where I had to beg for food. I carried him around in a shoebox, and people called him the ‘son of many dicks’,” Araceli recalled, still angry over the way she was treated as an innocent victim of that brutal attack. “I was a child. I was in college. I had dreams. I wanted to be a biologist, but they destroyed my life,”
In was on Sunday, February 27th, when she flew from San Antonio, Texas, where she now resides, to New York City to speak at the RiseUp4AbortionRights rally held in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
Unfortunately, her story is not an isolated one. It is becoming increasingly common in the US as well, as conservative-leaning states are chipping away at women’s reproductive rights. In fact, 2021 was the worst year for abortion rights in almost half a century. There were 108 abortion restrictions enacted last year, far surpassing the previous post-Roe v. Wade record of 89 set in 2011. One of the most damaging abortion restrictions to go into effect was Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which drastically reduced access to care beginning September 1, 2021. And just last week, Florida legislators followed suit by voting to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, providing no exceptions for victims of rape, incest or human trafficking. This will all build to a crescendo this spring when a ruling in the Supreme Court case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health could gut abortion rights nationally.
Yet it has been shown that abortion restrictions won’t actually reduce the number of abortions that take place. According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates in countries where abortion is illegal are similar to those in countries where it is legal. In fact, where it is illegal, many women are forced into botched abortions, which cause about 8 – 11 percent of all maternal deaths (approximately 30,000 each year.)
So if making abortion illegal doesn’t actually reduce the number of abortions, what do anti-choice legislators really hope to accomplish? The answers are chilling, and affect every American, regardless of sex, age, religion, race or sexual orientation.
Roe v. Wade did far more than establish the right to abortion; it solidified and expanded the constitutional “right to privacy,” which includes the rights to contraception and procreation, marriage, family relations, child rearing, and intimacy.
As a result, the following fundamental rights can be put into jeopardy if Roe v. Wade is overturned:
*The Right to Contraception and the Right to Procreate: Roe v. Wade reaffirmed prior decisions protecting individuals’ rights to contraception and to decide whether to bear a child. The use of contraceptives and even some fertility treatments would therefore be in jeopardy since they are rooted in the right to privacy.
*The Right to Make Decisions About How to Rear One’s Children: Roe v. Wade strengthened the underlying principle that parenting should remain free from unwarranted government intrusion.
*The Right to Maintain Family Relationships: The Supreme Court relied on Roe v. Wade to ensure that states cannot interfere in the realm of family life by preventing close relatives from living together.
*The Right to Intimacy: The right to form intimate relationships and the related right for adults to engage in consensual sexual relations in private was profoundly influenced by Roe v. Wade. If this fundamental right were to be overturned, it would also jeopardize both gay and interracial marriage.
*The Right to Personal Control of Medical Treatment:
In 1990. the Supreme Court was influenced by Roe v. Wade to extend one’s privacy right to include the ability to appoint a healthcare proxy and refuse unwanted medical treatment.
And the increasing challenges to Roe v. Wade not only have the potential to threaten our rights to privacy…it’s already starting to occur. In Florida, for example, other legislation on the verge of passage includes banning instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in some elementary school grades (nicknamed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill), and allowing parents to sue public school districts if students believe they were made to feel uncomfortable about a historical event because of their race, sex or national origin (nicknamed the ‘Stop Woke Act.’). Both are expected to pass before the final day of the legislative session on March 11.
Further, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has already said that he is skeptical there is a right to privacy due to a lack of an explicit reference to this right in the Constitution.
What Can You Do?
A ruling in the Supreme Court case Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health, which could gut abortion rights nationally, is expected by late spring. Supporters of women’s reproductive rights and Americans’ right to privacy therefore need to stand up and step out, as did the people of Colombia just last week, causing that country to become the latest Latin American country to partially decriminalize abortion through grass roots organizing, and demonstrating in the streets. In Argentina, women were also able to push legislation to legalize abortion by getting hundreds of thousands of women marching in the streets, unified by the easily detected symbol of a green handkerchief. It worked. Abortion was legalized in Argentina in 2019.
Tomorrow, on International Women’s Day (March 8th), the symbolic green handkerchief will be worn on streets in America to push back against the increasing attacks on women’s legal right to abortion. RiseUp4AbortionRights, a grass roots organization that supports women’s right to reproductive choice, as well as the fundamental right to privacy for all Americans, is calling on all of us to rally with them in major cities across the country.
As a co-initiator of this movement, I hope you’ll join us. It may be our very last chance to save women’s reproductive choice…as well as every American’s right to privacy. You can register here.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Lori Sokol, PhD,
Executive Director & Editor-in-Chief