The U.S. Supreme Court this month is set to unravel 50 years of hard-won rights for women.
On March 13, 1970, Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortions essentially at the request of the patient. Not only was Hawaii’s abortion law effective in Hawaii, other states followed suit in decriminalizing abortion.
After learning of the horrors women suffer during illegal abortions, the AAUW of Hawaii board voted to support repealing the restrictive abortion law during a 1969 board meeting.
“Women told us that they had just been waiting for some women’s group to make the start,” said Joan Hayes, then the legislative chair of AAUW of Hawaii, in a letter to AAUW National.
Hayes, who was born in 1916, believed that “women are coming to realize that the right to control their bodies is as important as the right to vote.”
At an AAUW-sponsored Citizens’ Seminar on Abortion event, state Senator Vincent Yano — a devout Catholic with 10 children who personally opposed abortion — announced that he supported repeal of the state’s restrictive abortion law. Despite his own personal beliefs, he said that he did not have the right to impose his views on others.
Hayes and Yano were publicly identified as leaders of the repeal campaign of Hawaii’s restrictive abortion law.
Then followed the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized a woman’s right to choose nationally.
The three of us offer generational perspectives on Hawaii’s landmark law as the U.S. Supreme Court appears ready to overturn Roe.
Ann was born in 1945, the leading edge of the baby boom era. She grew up in a blue collar family with a mother who had a college degree, but couldn’t get a job as anything other than secretary.
Her life as a secretary looked very much like the TV series “Mad Men.” She became a warrior in the Black civil rights movement and instilled in her daughter a passion for justice. When the second wave feminism movement broke in the late 1960s, Ann fell into it with a passion. She lived in New York State where she marched for women’s rights including the most fundamental of rights — the ability to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. She and others like her were full of hope and idealism.
Anna was born in 1997 and grew up learning about Roe v. Wade as a civil rights battle won long ago — a settled win for democracy and reproductive rights.
The three of us cannot express the horror and sickness that we feel at the Supreme Court justices who are cravenly pushing their narrow religious dogma on women, effectively turning back the clock to undo 50 years of our hard-earned rights. We have some news for them: We will Never go back.
But the leaked reversal decision shatters this picture. We all see now that both federal protections and strong, active community networks are required to maintain awareness and access to quality reproductive health care for all.
Even after Roe v. Wade was enacted, access to abortions in the United States has not been comprehensive or equal. Abortions cost anywhere from $350 to $7,000 in Hawaii.
The federal Hyde Amendment in 1980 severely restricted federal funding for abortions, which affects Medicaid users’ access as well as nonprofit grants and aid. Losing the federal abortion protection of Roe v. Wade will further restrict choices for individuals without the money, time or support needed to access abortion in states where it’s still legal.
Fortunately, AbortionFinder.org can be used to find the closest safe abortion provider near you. (Google Maps sometimes lists anti-abortion clinics at the top of the page when you search for abortion services.) For help paying for your abortion, look to local and national abortion funds.
We are building strong, active community networks. Our generations united in the #MeToo movement to expose how survivors of sexual assault are distrusted and blamed by the same system that is in place to help them.
Abortion patients are also similarly distrusted and blamed for seeking safe abortions. When we use our voices to connect with our community, we counter the fundamental mistrust of women that is woven into our culture and restricts our choices.
As we reflect through three generations’ perspectives on the history of Hawaii’s and national abortion laws, the impact these laws have had on women and families of Hawaii and on other states, as well as the leadership role AAUW of Hawaii and Joan Hayes, we cannot help but feel compelled to act to strengthen and expand access to safe reproductive health care in Hawaii.
We cannot help but feel compelled to act to protect Roe v. Wade and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act nationally. We must act individually as citizens and as a community.
Our work starts with electing legislators locally and nationally who will support a woman’s right to safe health care and control of their bodies, as Senator Yano did. Ask candidates running for office this year, “Would you, and how would you, stand up for reproductive health care and rights?”