Ms. Editors’ Letter: Feminists Have Long Fought for Abortion Access—and We’re Not Stopping Now

The struggles, setbacks and gains of the past 49 years have only strengthened and better positioned the feminist movement to take on this fight.

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The  unthinkable has happened: The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, taking away a fundamental constitutional right from women and sending shock waves across the country and the world. Let’s be clear: The Court and the Republican legislators and governors enacting bans and severe restrictions on abortion have no public mandate.

Across the country, at rallies and demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and in every state, red or blue, the Court’s decision was met with outrage and with a deep determination to fight back. Women are not going back. Millions of women—some one in four of all U.S. women—have had abortions and know how important having access to safe abortion has been for their lives. The fight for abortion is a fight for self-determination, dignity and autonomy. And make no mistake, we will not cede this fight.

This is not the first time the feminist movement has engaged in this battle, having organized and won hard-fought changes to abortion laws in a number of states in the 1960s and early 1970s, even before the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

In the very first issue of Ms. in 1972, 53 well- known U.S. women signed a petition calling for the repeal of abortion laws and declaring that they had undergone abortions—despite legislation in most states rendering the procedure illegal.

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The original “We Have Had Abortions” article that appeared in Ms.

The feminist movement is larger and more powerful today than it was in 1973, and the struggles, setbacks and gains of the past 49 years have only strengthened and better positioned the movement to take on this fight. And what’s more, the availability of medication abortion—abortion pills that can be delivered to your mailbox—has fundamentally changed the landscape of abortion access, even in states that have implemented bans.

This latest attempt to control women’s lives and turn back the clock on women’s progress will not stand. Unlike 49 years ago, women possess tremendous political power. The gender gap—the measurable difference between women and men in public opinion polling and in voting—has grown significantly, and in this November’s midterms will likely shape the outcome of local, state and national contests, favoring candidates who sup- port women’s equality and the right to abortion.

In a CBS News/YouGov poll conducted in the week following the Court’s decision, 67 percent of women compared to 51 percent of men disapproved of overturning Roe, and women were much more likely to be angry about the Court’s decision (52 percent) compared to men (39 percent). And women are saying the decision has made it more likely that they will vote.

Driving the gender gap is the support for feminism: More women than ever describe themselves as “feminist”—61 percent, according to the latest Pew Research poll, including solid majorities across all generations, races and levels of education. Among younger women (ages 18-29) an even higher 68 percent identify as feminist, proof that feminism is still a growing movement and a potential force for change.

And there is the power of women’s collective rage, as captured in artist Barbara Kruger’s 1992 cover for Ms. shortly after Anita Hill testified in nationally televised hearings about the sexual harassment that she endured at the hands of now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (see “Last Word” on Page 48). We must work to organize and channel the rage trig- gered by the Court’s Roe reversal to ensure women’s voices are heard at the ballot box this November. That means overcoming voter suppression laws that especially target Black and Latinx communities and young people.

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Ms., January/February 1992.

With larger majorities of pro-equality members of Congress, not only can we restore abortion rights but we can also finally enshrine the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, securing a nationwide, permanent safety net for women’s rights.

Leveraging women’s rage into real gains will require sustained efforts. We are already seeing massive organizing efforts by feminists to pass state laws and constitutional amendments to ensure abortion rights; file court cases challenging abortion restrictions as violations of state constitutions; provide support and funding to women and pregnant people who must travel from states where abortion is banned in order to access healthcare; and offer information and access to medication abortion no matter where a person lives. There is no way the movement can be stopped.

As we begin this latest battle in the long struggle for full equality—and for our very democracy—we at Ms. promise to be a trusted source for accurate, timely and actionable information in print, online and through the acclaimed podcasts and programs of Ms. Studios. We will meet this historic challenge, and together we will construct a way forward.

For equality,

Katherine Spillar, Eleanor Smeal and the editors of Ms.

This letter originally appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Ms.Become a member today to read more reporting like this in print and through our app.

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