Roe v. Wade At 40: Pondering Reproductive Rights For Our Daughters

I’d left the New York Times out on the table, with a story about the death of an abortion doctor right there on the front page. The kid had questions. “What,” she asked, “is an abortion, Mommy?” She was eight. I was obligated to answer. My definition was simple—to the point: “An abortion is an operation a woman gets when she’s pregnant but doesn’t want to be a mommy,” I said, trying to explain it in a way she could understand without getting too graphic. “A doctor helps her end the pregnancy.”

It was not an easy conversation, you know. My daughter, after all, was a baby. And though we’d already had a rather detailed conversation about how babies are made—again, she asked, and I answered honestly, sans the “stork” stories—telling her the details of how to terminate a pregnancy was more than I was ready for. And no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t help her to understand why someone who claimed abortion is murder would murder a doctor. Still, I was grateful that her questions opened the door for me to explain our family’s thoughts, passions and values on sex and abortion. I am, I explained, anti-abortion for me. But I accept that there are other women who do not think like I do and I support their right to decide when they want to become mothers. I left our talk shook, but grateful, too, that it opened the door for me to talk to my daughter about choice.

Certainly, that conversation also made me proud that here in America women actually have reproductive choices—safe ones that give us the power to decide exactly when we want to become parents.

I’m thinking about that conversation today as our nation marks the 40th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which ruled that under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, women have a right to abortion until a fetus can potentially live outside the mother’s womb, and that a woman’s choice to have an abortion is nobody’s business but her own.

I find it both outlandish and ironic that four decades after the Supreme Court settled it, we enter 2013 having emerged bloody and battle-scarred over last year’s continued assaults against women’s bodies, the critical healthcare we need for our lady parts, our access to birth control and, of course, our right to abortion. It would be easy to believe that our re-election of President Obama, a huge proponent of reproductive rights whose healthcare legislation increased women’s access to quality reproductive healthcare and affordable birth control, sent the signal that Americans want anti-abortion conservatives to sit all the way down and hush. But we all know better. There is a contingency of anti-abortion activists so passionate about their cause that they would just as soon eliminate quality reproductive healthcare for all women and sound healthcare for all of our unborn rather than allow women and doctors their legal, constitutional right to abortion. The fight continues.

When we have politicians actively trying to stop insurance companies from covering amniocentesis, claiming that a perfectly legit test that gives moms-to-be much-needed info about potentially at-risk pregnancies does nothing more than encourage abortions of fetuses with disabilities, we cannot rest.

When politicians pass legislation requiring women seeking first-trimester abortions to undergo $1,000 vaginal ultrasounds—for no medical reason other than to force her to look at the image of the fetus—we cannot rest.

When states across the country continue to push so-called “personhood” bills that would give unborn fetuses—including embryos—the same rights as “other persons” in their states, a move opponents say could restrict women’s access to abortions and some forms of contraception, there is no time to sleep.

When an entire state (Mississippi) has but one abortion clinic and state lawmakers pass legislation that could essentially shut down the one, leaving the choice of abortion only to wealthy women who can afford the cash and time it takes to leave the state to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, we must not stop.

When people who have penises continue to dominate the conversation and conjure up all these cockamamie proposals to legislate the bodies of those of us with uteruses, we need to stand up, lift our voices and demand they respect that these are our bodies and our choices.

When all of these things conspire to force women—particularly those who are black and Latino and poor—to have babies they are not ready to care for, in a society that is increasingly intent on hurting rather than helping mothers who can not afford to feed, house, educate and raise their babies in this, the land of wealth and opportunity… you know where I’m going with this.

In other words, the freedom and choice that Roe v. Wade afforded our generation is under attack, and may well not be there for my daughters—your daughters—if we do not defend choice. This is not just about defending choice. It is about defending the rights of millions of women who want to have control over their own lives and bodies—who want to plan their own parenthood without having to endure the moral indignation of a bunch of largely white men who refuse to acknowledge that rejecting birth control coverage, forcing women to become mothers when they can neither afford children or want to be parents, and the piecemeal whittling away of coverage for basic women’s healthcare is unfair, immoral, extremely expensive to both women and society, and, above all else, downright outrageous.

Marinate on that as we take a moment today to remember the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.


1. Susan G. Komen Apologizes For Pulling Planned Parenthood Funding—Reinstates Grants
2. Black Women Speak Up! Tell Congress To Stay Out Of Our Wombs
3. Free Contraception And PreNatal Care: A Victory For Women’s Reproductive Health
4. Teen Girls Can Suck It: No Morning-After Pill Without Doc’s Consent

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Anca Prisacariu

    Nice post, amazing thoughts!

  2. Willie Words HavMire

    This is always a tough issue; Abortion/women’s rights

    I get both sides of the argument. As much as I believe in a woman’s right to choose, I just wish that a father had more say so in this decision. If a woman doesn’t want to be a mother, she can have an abortion. If a man doesn’t want to be a father. “He shoulda wrapped it up”

    Is that fair?

    • What say should the “father” have? Pregnancy takes a toll on a woman’s body. It is a huge undertaking.
      So, while I can understand why a man that got a woman pregnant would want a say in what happens to the fetus, I can’t in good conscience recommend that a man make a decision regarding what is to my or any other woman’s body. The man isn’t the one that has to deal with the sickness, body changes, health risks and etc.

  3. The Noble Qur’an Al-Israa 17:31

    And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin.

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