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Reflections on the 45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Reflections on the 45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade


Monday, January 22nd, marks the 45th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade. 

In the last few months, my thoughts on the status of women have largely fallen into two categories: the current push to allow individuals and organizations to opt out of offering medical services like abortion and birth control if they have religious or moral objections, and the intense cultural and media conversation on sexual harassment and assault, often referred to as the #MeToo movement. At first look, these issues seem fairly disparate, linked only in that they both center on women. But upon further reflection, prompted by the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I think that they are in fact deeply connected. They both hinge on the same question: who ultimately controls women’s bodies?

As the RAC’s legislative assistant for reproductive rights, I have worked to combat this administration’s continuous attack on women’s right to use the full range of reproductive healthcare options. Many rules and decisions over the last year have prioritized religious liberty and moral convictions over women’s reproductive rights. 

One particularly illuminating example was the Trump administration's decision to roll back the ACA's contraceptive mandate. The ACA mandated employers to cover birth control as part of health insurance plans, but also included exemptions for religious organizations that allowed women to receive full coverage through the insurer rather than employer. This compromise delicately balanced religious liberty and conscience claims with the compelling interest of ensuring all women have access to reproductive health care. In October, the Department of Health and Human Services rolled back this mandate, effectively putting reproductive decisions in the hands of employers, rather than the women whose bodies they concern.

In my personal life, conversations with friends and family over the last few weeks have repeatedly turned to discussions of the latest sexual harassment allegation, as well as fierce debates over the movement in general. They usually begin with the details of the latest case—the number of instances of sexual misconduct, the nature of the actions (harassment versus assault), and the appropriate punishment. Focusing on the specific details of the latest allegation, while important for holding individuals responsible for their actions, can sometimes distract from the common thread through every #MeToo case: a societal lack of concern for women’s bodily autonomy. In each instance, the aggressor deprived the woman of her human right to make decisions about her body. That these #MeToo cases are being exposed in such large numbers and rapid succession is evidence that women’s bodies have long been outside of their control, and they are eager and primed to reclaim their bodily autonomy.

One of the most pernicious effects of misogyny is its dehumanizing of women. If women are not seen as full human beings, then they need not be accorded full human dignity, which includes a right to control one’s own body. Conversely, bodily autonomy is essential to full and equal participation in society. Lack of bodily autonomy is both a result and cause of society’s undermining of women’s humanity. Sexism deprives women of bodily autonomy, and lack of bodily autonomy allows sexism to continue.

On this Roe anniversary, I am thankful that our Constitution and Court have given us a strong legal basis for fighting for women’s equality and ensuring women’s bodily autonomy. I take this day as one of reflection and recharging, ready to devote myself to achieving a truly feminist society which respects all people, mind, body, and soul.

Susannah R. Cohen is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. She recently graduated from Columbia University, and grew up in New Rochelle, New York as a member of Westchester Jewish Center in Mamaroneck, NY. She is thrilled to be combining her deep Jewish values with her passion for policy by working on her portfolio topics, which include economic justice and women's issues, as well as working with Women of Reform Judaism.

Susannah R. Cohen

Published: 1/21/2018