It’s about power. You know that, right?
I felt sick to my stomach when I first heard the SCOTUS decision that overturns Roe v. Wade. I cried. I raged. I cussed up a storm. And then, in the aftermath of that outburst, I felt the weight of the realization that my right to be fully autonomous over my body, over my life, is gone. This verdict means that, because I am a woman, decisions about my health can be made by a politician. That the opinion of a political party will weigh more than that of my doctor or me.
The weight feels like the shadow of someone’s shoe over my head. As a privileged, White woman, who has had all the advantages of education and opportunity, this is a new feeling for me. It is a new feeling precisely because of my cis-gender White privilege. I recognize that losing the right to make decisions about my own health and body gives me a glimpse of the injustices that others have always felt. The shadow of that weighty shoe hangs over so many.
But it’s not any easier knowing that others feel this. Anyone who is not a straight White man has had their basic human rights further undermined by this decision.
Some might challenge me on this, as someone too old to have a baby, who lives in a state that allows abortions at any time for any reason – what do I have to worry about?
I feel fortunate that I’ve never had to make a decision to have an abortion. But here’s the bigger issue: as a 50+ Gen-Xer, Roe v. Wade impacted nearly every aspect of my life and identity. I had the privilege, for the entirety of my reproductive life, of knowing that I had autonomy over my own body. I knew that I had the authority to make the right choices for my own body and for life – my life and life of the planet.
This type of thinking has a profound impact on how you see yourself in the world. It allows you to see yourself as an equal player in society. It allows you to feel that you can have an influence on the world. It give you power. Power over your body empowers you in your voice and actions. When your autonomy as an individual is protected by law, you know that your voice and actions are also valued as that of an individual.
(I will qualify this: I fully understand that many of our laws are broken and do not protect everyone, and I realize that legal system can work against the best interests of many. We have always known the the United States is an imperfect experiment. The hope was that we would be continually evolving toward justice and equity, toward a state where everyone would truly be valued as an individual).
That autonomy, that voice, that power, has been stripped away by the SCOTUS decision. It doesn’t matter that I live in a state where access to abortion is guaranteed by state law. The fact that half of the women in this country no longer have this power weakens us all. And what impact does this have on young women, coming into maturity, learning to find their own voices? In the past several days I have found myself feeling lucky not to have a daughter. I don’t know how I would face her and tell her that the US government no longer considers her wise enough to make decisions about her body, that her future might be determined by whoever is sitting in a seat of power where she lives.
Colorado clinics will be under strain to support women coming from other states. And based on what I’ve seen on the sidewalks in front of Northern Colorado Planned Parenthood over the past 18 years that I’ve lived in this state, I can also say that those seeking services in Colorado will, unfortunately, not be completely immune to harassment. I have never seen the sidewalks empty of “pro-life” protesters when I drive by the clinic.
I put “pro-life” in quotes because, while I do think that some people truly believe this decision will protect life and strengthen our communal moral code, it’s naive to think that this is a “pro-life” decision. If it were about life, those fetuses who are now “given a chance at life” would not have to spend their school years in terror of getting shot while trying to attend to their classes. And if they’re lucky enough to survive to adulthood, they wouldn’t find themselves in the midst of the environmental devastation wrought by climate change, and the socio-political-economic chaos of living in a world that does not have the capacity to support the number of humans crawling on its back.
I am at an age when I know I must choose my battles wisely. I have social and financial capital to have influence. But I cannot squander it and I cannot spread myself thin. This was not a battle I expected to have to fight in my life time. But I cannot step back. The stakes are high, and the potential snowball effect of this decision is overwhelming.
It’s scary and the future seems dark. It is not unlike the future we face dealing with climate change. But here is where my time spent thinking about climate change over the last three decades has prepared me for this type of battle. I’ve learned that if I let the gloomy predictions fully enter my subconscious, it’s easy to become nihilistic and continue catastrophizing the situation. This weakens my ability to respond, ultimately, to the point where any action at all feels like it will be fruitless. This also has a very negative and unproductive impact on my life quality.
I need to hold hope. Not a blind hope, but stubborn hope. Stubborn optimism, to use the phrase coined by Christiana Figueres. I need to be aware of the devastating consequences of this SCOTUS decision, and the terrible precedent it sets for our future, but not become so wrapped up in that vision of a dark future that it impedes my ability to stay energized and act.
Our ability as a civilization to respond successfully to challenges posed by the climate crisis is inexorably linked to equity and justice. We cannot address climate change in the way we need to, nor protect life on this planet, without having every voice at the table. To do that, we need to ensure that everyone has the power to share their voice. This is one of the reasons that Project Drawdown, which shares well-researched solutions to climate change, has promoted education and family planning for women around the world as one of the most powerful, effective things we can do to begin to address the climate crisis.
The decision made by SCOTUS this week is a major step backward. The so-called “pro-life” nature of this decision, ironically, threatens life – human and otherwise – in ways that so many people can’t yet see.
Like I said, it’s not about life. It’s about power.