Weddington's Betrayal of Women
On the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, many will focus on the undeniable humanity of the unborn child now seen clearly by millions through sophisticated sonograms on Oprah as well as in Life and Newsweek cover stories.
Meanwhile, I will be reflecting on the impact of the choice made by attorney Sarah Weddington in 1973.
As her arguments for abortion before the Supreme Court made clear, Weddington saw the discrimination and other injustices faced by pregnant women. But she did not demand that these injustices be remedied. Instead, she demanded for women the "right" to submit to these injustices by destroying their pregnancies.
Weddington rightly pointed out the unmet needs of students: "...there are many schools where a woman is forced to quit if she becomes pregnant." But Weddington didnít argue against pregnancy discrimination or even for alternate solutions for a pregnant student.
Weddington did no better for women in the workplace. "In the matter of employment, she often is forced to quit at an early point in her pregnancy. She has no provision for maternity leave... She cannot get unemployment compensation under our laws, because the laws hold that she is not eligible for employment, being pregnant, and therefore is eligible for no unemployment compensation."
For women with serious medical needs, she further noted: "There is no duty for employers to rehire women if they must drop out to carry a pregnancy to term. And, of course, this is especially hard on the many women in Texas who are heads of their own households and must provide for their already existing children."
Weddington clearly saw the bind low-income women face when experiencing unplanned pregnancy: "At the same time, she can get no welfare to help her at a time when she has no unemployment compensation and she's not eligible for any help in getting a job to provide for herself."
Weddington repeatedly said that women need "relief" from pregnancy, instead of arguing that women need relief from these injustices.
What if Weddington had used her legal acumen to challenge the system and address womenís needs?
By accepting pregnancy discrimination in school and workplace and the lack of support in society for pregnant women and parents, especially the poor, Weddington and the Supreme Court betrayed women and undermined the support women need and deserve.
Since then, millions of women have paid the price, struggling in school and the workplace without societal support. After all, when "itís her body, itís her choice," itís her problem.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, until recently the research arm of Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion in America, half of all abortions are performed on college-age women.
Since 1994, Feminists for Life has worked to address the unmet needs of pregnant and parenting students and staff on college campuses. For the past decade FFLís Pregnancy Resource Forums on campuses across the country have revealed the still-unmet needs of pregnant and parenting students ó especially a lack of housing, child care, telecommuting options, maternity coverage and medical riders for additional children. FFL found there is rarely a central place on campus for pregnancy and parenting resources. Even when resources are available, they are often not publicized. For pregnant and parenting students kept in the dark about the help they need and deserve, perception is their reality.
This March, which is Womenís History Month, Feminists for Life is helping college students make history for women by hosting Rallies for Resources on campuses across the country - so that women donít feel driven to choose between sacrificing their children or their education and career plans.
The proposed Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act, a bipartisan effort led by Senators Elizabeth Dole and Ben Nelson and Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Sue Myrick, would make grants available for up to 200 colleges and universities to host pregnancy resource forums, create resource centers on campus, and communicate available support on and off campus.
There was one thing Weddington got right. "Whether she's unmarried; whether she's pursuing an education; whether she's pursuing a career; whether she has family problems; all of the problems of personal and family life, for a woman, are bound up in the problem of abortion."
Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women.
Thirty-five years after Weddington capitulated to inherently unfair practices against pregnant and parenting women, those on both sides of the abortion debate should unite and say "no" to the status quo. Clearly women deserve better.
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