At four in the morning on Tuesday September 27th, a woman yawns her way out of bed. She’s going to attend a rally in a far-off city she hardly ever goes to. The commuting time is around three hours and it all starts early in the morning. She spoke that day and though I don’t remember her name, I remember the personal sacrifice she made and why she made it.
She knows about Pennsylvania Senate Bill 732 and the recent Republican campaign to prevent women from having access to abortion care, which already requires a long trip to one of Pennsylvania’s bigger cities.
She knows about how Republicans are trying to enact a law that would that would regulate the abortion clinics in ridiculous ways. Under the proposed bill, clinics would have to install new cargo elevators capable of lifting a small car. They would have to install an automatic fire extinguishing system, something that was not required of any abortion clinic in Pennsylvania previously. The operating room size would be required to be bigger than it currently is. The hallways in abortion clinics are specified to be a certain width. None of these requirements have anything to do with patient safety or the broader moral question of whether abortion should be allowed or not.
She knows about how the cost of renovation would then be passed on to patients in abortion clinics. Many people already struggle to find $350 dollars to pay for the procedure. Under the new bill, prices would significantly increase, putting abortion care out of reach for many lower and middle-income citizens of Pennsylvania. Only those privileged few who have lots of money already would be able to afford it.
She knows that the Republican Senators and Representatives had claimed that they would get to work solving the problems of the economic downturn, but have instead used their time in office to enforce the morality of one single religion upon constituents who hold varying religious beliefs.
She knows that she has simply had enough. And she is not alone.
Hundreds of people from across the state gathered inside Harrisburg’s capitol building to protest SB 732. Members of the clergy came there. Women who had already had abortions came there. Women who had never had abortions came there. Men who were not affected by the issue in any way personally came there. With one voice they all chanted, “We’ve Had Enough.”
I was there too. I am used to waking up closer to noon, but on that day I set my alarm for eight- a whole four hours earlier- so I could make the trip there. Shippensburg University’s Women’s Center had sent a group of people along so that I didn’t have to use my own car but could instead ride comfortably in the back seat of a van and watch as we passed the slow tractor trailers on I-81 North on our way to Harrisburg, PA.
Let’s get a few things clear from the start: it is medically impossible for me to get pregnant. As such, I will never have an abortion. Nor do I personally know anyone who has had an abortion or plans to have one in the future. Yet, the egregious bill proposed by Pennsylvania legislators made me want to do something about it. I wanted my voice to be heard, even if that meant I had to take time out of my Monday schedule so I could take an exam that would be scheduled on that Tuesday. For me, it wasn’t a matter of how the law might affect me personally, but how it might affect people I haven’t even met.
I could imagine a woman victimized by rape sitting at home knowing that she doesn’t want to carry the child to term but not being able to raise the exorbitant fee one of two or three abortion clinics in the state would charge. I could imagine her suffering, her depression. I could imagine her wanting to commit suicide, feeling helpless and powerless to change anything. I could see very clearly that she had no say in the matter whatsoever even if she did her civic duty and voted at the polls in non-presidential years.
I felt sorry for this woman I never met and others like her, in some ways victimized by legal writ just as surely as they were victimized by physical violence. For them, the lack of self-determination in their lives is caused by a societal system that teaches us to not value women as we value men so that we do not empathize with a woman’s problems. After all, if she as a person has less intrinsic value than a man, what would be the point of making laws to protect her? The priority would be- and is currently- the man and what his problems are.
The attendance of the rally told me very clearly that feminism has not been pushed into a dusty closet by institutional and personal apathy. Feminism is alive and well, and there are people who are passionate about it. At the rally, I learned that feminism was not a forgotten remnant of a past when we were more oppressed than we are today; it is a living idea, a breathing concept with people willing to spend the majority of their lives working to ensure that women have the freedom that our laws say they ought to have, but conservative politicians try to deny us.
Consequently, this was not a rally to determine whether women have the right to an abortion- the Supreme Court has already ruled that we do. Instead, it was a rally to stop conservative lawmakers from making abortion inaccessible to those who might need it as a medically necessary procedure, or those who would exercise their personal choice to have one. It was a rally to protect a woman’s right to not have her body become a political battleground. It was a rally to tell the conservative majority now in office that we are voters and we really have had enough.