It’s the coldest day of the year thus far and my housemates and I stand just beyond the steps of the Supreme Court, our fingers frozen around signs provided by the National Organization for Women. We can see our breath rise in the air as we pace around the circle, asking lawmakers and judges to defend what many consider a fundamental right. We hold candles in vigil and raise cheers of perseverance, both literally to drown out the anti-abortion protestor next to us, and figuratively to join together in challenging a fight that is long from over. It is Tuesday January 22nd—the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision: Roe v. Wade (1973).
I spend my days at DC SAFE, a domestic violence crisis intervention program that helps women find safety and peace of mind during the immediate aftermath of a domestic assault. The link between a woman’s right to control her own body and my work seems very apparent. I look into the eyes of my clients and see women who are being controlled, who don’t have a say in what happens to their bodies, who are at the mercy of the criminal justice system as well as their abusers. They are the reason I attended my very first political demonstration. They are who I picture when I defend women’s rights, because it is for their rights that I fight every single day.
While at the rally, however, I realized the specific right protected by Roe v. Wade is not typically an option for my clients. Most rely heavily on Medicaid, TANF, and other public benefits—and those are the lucky ones. Others don’t have access to their own finances, or have their benefits stolen by their abuser. The decision whether or not to have a child does not belong to them, from the moment of conception (remember, these are the children of their abuser) to the moment of birth. There are infinitely more benefits available to a woman who chooses to carry a child as compared to a woman who chooses not to. Then is this decision not already made for my client, just as in every other aspect of her life?
While celebrating the endurance of Roe v. Wade, I found it hard to step out from under the cloud of the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of government funds for abortions. What good is a right if someone cannot access it? Can we really say that Roe is the underscoring legal decision when it comes to abortion? As we protested should we have turned from East to West, away from the Supreme Court, to instead face the US Capitol?
The right to choose does exist and for that, I am grateful. But can the price tag of an abortion be construed as an undue burden on the mother? Our current ruling doctrine would say no. However, standing in my office among my clients, how could the answer be anything but yes? And so on that brutally cold Thursday, I stood on the corner of Constitution Avenue caught halfway between lawmakers and judges—but never has my job title of “Advocate” felt more powerful.
Gillian Schaps, from Norcross, GA, attended the University of Georgia, and is a Response Line Lethality Assessment Project Advocate at SAFE, Inc. (Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment).