Roe v. Wade and I were born two weeks apart in January 1973. We both came into the world in the middle of storms: mine was a blizzard and hers was political. Her arrival two weeks prior to mine received much more attention, marking as it did a shift in women’s rights, a sign that as the bicentennial approached, true equality was on the horizon. It was a good time to be born a girl in the United States of America.
In our childhood and youth, Roe received much more scrutiny than I did. Chronicles of my early years were normal ones: height and weight charts, photographs, and report cards were tracked and taken and rewarded. I was basically an ordinary kid – perhaps a bit smarter and more precocious than some – who enjoyed a happy childhood. Roe? Not so much. With every election year, every Supreme Court appointment, every milestone birthday, the nation was reminded of her birth. There were news stories, people who happily lauded her presence alongside people campaigning for her demise, but as the years went by, no one really thought Roe was in imminent danger.
I don’t recall exactly when I learned about Roe. I was probably in middle school or junior high when I heard about her role in history, and what she stood for, and why she was so important. I remember reading about her briefly in Judy Blume’s Forever. That was when it was impressed upon me that there was a recourse for girls like Sybil, a minor character in the novel who gets pregnant and ultimately chooses to give her baby up for adoption. I was never taught about Roe in school – I am certain of this. But I knew who she was, I knew we were close in age, and I knew that if ever I should need her, she would be there for me.
I never personally met Roe, although I know many women who have. Their experiences with her, no matter what the reason for their coming about, are an odd combination of fleeting and intimate, remembered with both sadness and gratitude. But not regret. None of the women – or men, for that matter – who I know who have encountered Roe regret the choice they made to bring her into their lives.
Choice is a funny thing. You take it for granted until it is threatened, but you never really think it will be ripped from your grasp. Until it is.
I first worried about Roe’s existence in 2016. But there were so many things to worry about that year that Roe was easy to cast aside. Surely the more pressing issues resulting from the presidential election would be resolved well before any threat to Roe materialized. The Supreme Court was still comfortably liberal at that time, in spite of the Merrick Garland debacle at the end of the Obama presidency.
I’d laugh at the naivete I had back then, but it wouldn’t be a funny laugh. It would be the hysterical, maniacal laughter of one who suddenly realizes that everything she has dreaded has become reality.
I’ve known for some time now that this day would come, that the likelihood of Roe and I celebrating our fiftieth birthdays together had grown slim. People are threatened not by Roe, per se, but by what she represents. Autonomy. Equality. Dignity.
And life. Yes, life. Not the life of a fetus, but the lives of the millions of women who have been saved by the choice that Roe made available to them.
Two days ago, I sat in a writing seminar on the role of the author as activist. The focus of the seminar was philosopher William Benjamin’s essay, written in 1934, positing that artists have an obligation to support the issues of the day that were correct. At that time, that meant supporting the working class, but with fascism running rampant throughout Europe, it quickly came to mean speaking out against the movement with one’s art. Benjamin, a German Jew, did not live to see the end of World War II, but his essay lives on. I recall thinking, with a twinge of sadness, how timely it was as I sat in the seminar.
Just one day later – June 24, 2022 – it became more than timely. Benjamin’s call to action became imperative for me 88 years after it was issued.
Roe will not make it to fifty with me. How many others will not see fifty as a result of her being overturned? How many children will be born into abject poverty, with no help available to them from the same systems that forced them into the world? How many women will be forced to endure physical and psychological danger? How many men will be forced to watch the women they love endure that danger? Or – perhaps worse – how many men will simply move on in ignorance?
I have seen many social media posts in the past 24 hours stating that Roe v. Wade was never about babies. I believe this to be true. Roe v. Wade was about equality, and that equality has been threatened. Thanks to some states – including Massachusetts, my home – it is not dead. Yet. But it is in peril.
And what other equalities will be threatened in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned? Only time will tell.
There’s a storm coming.
Katie DeBonville is a writer and professional arts fundraiser who lives in Boston. Her works have been published in The LifeWrite Project's The Corona Silver Linings Anthology and The Stonecoast Review. Katie is currently enrolled in Lesley University's low-residency MFA program in creative writing. In addition to writing, her interests include going to concerts, reading, and spending time with friends.