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January 23, 2008

On the 35th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Salon.com asked me to write 150-250 words on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Joining other activists including Pamela Merritt (aka Shark-Fu), Shelby Knox, Cristina Page, Jennifer Baumgardner, and Gloria Feldt, among others. Some people feel that after 35 years, reproductive justice activists should not have to spend their time defending the right to choose abortion. But Roe was just a beginning. The fact that America still does not have any national policy of paid maternity leave is just one of many indications of how far we still have to go. My few words in Salon.com give an indication of just how far that is.

Lynn Paltrow: "If Roe is overturned, these laws mean women who have abortions would be charged with murder"

While Roe is vulnerable, few recognize there are already laws in place that, in effect, declare that women,
upon becoming pregnant, lose their civil and human rights. More than 30 states and the federal
government have "unborn victims of violence" acts, fetal homicide, and other laws that treat fetuses as
separate persons in some circumstances. This year, Colorado and several other states may have ballot
measures designed to grant the status of legal personhood to the unborn under their state constitutions.
Fetal-rights laws generally claim to protect pregnant women from third-party attacks, yet are primarily
used to justify actions that deprive women of the right to informed consent, bodily integrity and life itself.
In the name of fetal rights and protection, pregnant women have been forced to have unnecessary
C-sections (in one case both the woman and fetus died), been civilly committed to mental hospitals and
drug treatment programs, been arrested as child abusers for using marijuana to cope with morning
sickness, and been charged and, in some cases, convicted of murder for suffering an unintentional
stillbirth. These fetal-rights laws do not make abortion itself illegal. But make no mistake: If Roe is
overturned, these laws mean women who have abortions will be charged with murder, not illegal
abortion. Moreover, if the unborn are legal persons, then states already have the means, through their
civil commitment and child protection laws, to police and imprison women to ensure that they do not
have abortions. It should be clear, then, that those who defend the right to choose an abortion and those
who defend a woman's right to mother-friendly childbirth must unite to defend women's human rights --
not just Roe or reproductive rights.
Lynn