Reproductive Rights: Past, Present & No Future?
On April 6th at 7pm, Skidmore students gathered in Gannet Auditorium to hear about what activists Bill Baird and Lois Shapiro Carter, J.D., had to say about reproductive rights in the United States, and around the world. Both speakers touched on the uncomfortable, controversial, and highly important issue through different methods that detailed the importance of reproductive rights.
Known as the “Father of Abortion Rights,” Baird began his advocacy for reproductive rights after witnessing a mother who died of a self-inflicted coat hanger abortion. Ever since then, Baird has been fighting for reproductive rights in the US and won numerous cases, including 1972’s Baird v. Eisenstadt, which established birth control rights for single Americans.
Prior to his speech, Baird set up a table that displayed anti-abortion literature. It included recent material, like Donald Trump’s recent pro-life statements, as well as documents from the 1960s and 70s, with some pamphlets comparing abortion to the Holocaust. By displaying these materials, Baird illustrated that the issue of reproductive rights is as important today as it was back then.
In his speech, Baird touched on personal experiences to highlight the attitudes towards abortion. In narrating situations where his potential supporters have turned their backs on Baird’s cause, Baird highlighted the apathy that is present amongst the public. Baird argued that apathy towards women, and putting up barriers between race and gender, has made the issue a big concern that prevents unified action.
In the middle of his speech, Baird showed the audience a board that he created, displaying information about options women used to self-abort before it became legal. The way that Baird describes these options filled the room with silence as he mentioned that those methods were used in the past in the United States. With the creation of birth control legislature, these methods seemed obsolete, but the presence of this board helped the audience understand that these life-threatening methods were the only options available.
A practicing attorney in Saratoga Springs, Lois Shapiro Carter, J.D., is also an advocate of reproductive rights and the current president of the Saratoga Foundation for Women Worldwide Inc., an international women’s rights organization.
Carter started her speech by mentioning a recent incident where a woman in Texas was forced to deliver a stillborn baby due to the state’s fetal pain law; this law dictates that a woman cannot have an abortion after 20 weeks. Despite the woman and her husband’s repeated pleas to deliver the baby, the doctors couldn’t legally interfere and as a result, the baby died. Incidents like these help highlight the impact that laws like that have on women, as they can significantly impact both a mother and her baby’s health.
Carter also used legal facts to support the importance of abortion laws as judicial decisions and state laws weaken many of the present laws that legalize abortion. People may think of Roe v. Wade as the key law for abortions in the US, but the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case of 1992, according to Carter, challenged the constitutionality of abortions. As a result, these laws make it harder for women to have access to abortion clinics.
Both Baird and Carter used different approaches to emphasize why abortion laws and reproductive rights are legal rights that everyone should have access to. On the other hand, the half-filled auditorium showed how controversial discussing these issues can be. Regardless of the opinions towards reproductive rights, there needs to be more dialogue about the issue in order to create beneficial changes for the future.