Last Friday, I left Haverford’s cozy and quiet campus with a friend and took the train into Philadelphia. Our goal: to participate in an abortion rights visibility event. The event was put on by the Pennsylvanian nonprofit We’ve Had Enough and was planned two days before the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling which stated that a woman’s decision to have an abortion was covered under the privacy clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
We’ve Had Enough was created in opposition to several recent Pennsylvanian bills that, if passed, would restrict women’s access to safe and affordable reproductive health benefits. One of the bills, SB 732, was signed into law in December. The bill mandates that free-standing abortion providers comply with regulations required of Ambulatory Surgical Facilities. These regulations will demand that expensive changes–most involving unnecessary physical makeovers of the facilities–be made to the 20 free-standing abortion clinics in Pennsylvania. To read more about that bill, visit the Women’s Law Project’s writeup.
Other pending legislation include SB 3 and HB 1977, both of which would render the health insurance companies participating in state health care reform unable to pay for even medically necessary abortions, except for in narrowly defined circumstances of rape, incest, or explicit danger to a woman’s life. The private insurance companies participating in the state health insurance exchange will serve employees in small businesses and other people who do not receive employee health benefits. None of these bills outlaw abortion in wording; all of these bills would, in effect, force many women to seek abortions illegally and unsafely.
These pieces of legislation provide a sobering backdrop for a celebration of Roe v. Wade’s anniversary. The awareness event was still full of good cheer, though. My friend and I arrived halfway through the event and, after creating our signs (mine said “Honk to Protect Abortion Rights!”; my friend’s said “Respect my Life, Honor my Choice”), crossed over to the crowded meridian on Broad Street, where around twenty five people were holding up signs for the passing cars and people to read.
We were positioned between Walnut and Chestnut streets, right in the middle of mid-day inner city traffic. We stood on this thin strip of protected land, tssking when cars, uninterested or unacknowledging, would speed on by, and cheering when cars, often in a kind of sing-songy attention to the horn, would honk at us. (One taxi driver grinned when he saw us, gave us two thumbs up while beeping, and continued honking well past Chestnut Street.)
Standing for half an hour in the heart of sunny Philadelphia is small work compared to the people crafting alternative legislation or organizing community protests, but I felt connected to this Pennsylvanian battle in a way that I, as a Connecticut Yankee, have never felt when reading of these fights in the paper or on blogs. I finally realized that I could, and should, be a part of a battle that isn’t necessarily being fought in my backyard. In a country as wealthy as the United States, access to safe reproductive health care should be a right. This access is obviously not just a Pennsylvanian right, and not even solely a women’s right. It is a human right, and I, as a human, enjoyed both celebrating our recognition of this right and warning legislators of a human commitment to our lives and our bodies.