To Change the World, This Year’s Feminist Wins and Losses Must Fuel Us Forward

Protesters during a rally for women’s rights in New York City on Oct. 8, 2022, in New York City. (Jeenah Moon / Getty Images)

It’s been another hell of a year.

We’ll all remember where we were on June 24, 2022, when the unthinkable happened: The Supreme Court took away a fundamental constitutional right that women had fought for and won and counted on for almost 50 years.

The tragic consequences for women and girls quickly emerged as the most extreme bans took effect. With virtual unanimity, the medical community has warned of ever more dire consequences as more women are denied abortion care and as the full range of reproductive health services is impacted with the closure of clinics, including access to birth control and prenatal care.  

But this is not how this story will end.

The reactionary majority on the Court and the extremist Republican state legislators and governors enacting bans and severe restrictions on abortion have no public mandate. And unlike 49 years ago, women possess tremendous political power.

It was women’s votes—especially young women’s votes—that determined the outcome of the midterm elections, stopping the predicted “red wave” and turning it into a pathetic puddle.

And in the six states where abortion measures were on the ballot in 2022, abortion rights activists secured decisive victories, including in red states, showing that the majority of Americans support abortion rights and reproductive freedom, regardless of political party.

The Court’s decision to strip away abortion rights sent shock waves across the world. Feminists in other countries declared their solidarity with the U.S. women’s movement, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, the imprisoned Iranian human and women’s rights lawyer, who wrote to Ms.:

As someone who lived through (and campaigned against the) loss of freedom and democracy, I can offer a warning: It will not end with this Supreme Court decision on abortion. … The movement for women’s rights in Iran has experienced many set-backs, but it perseveres because my country is full of people who care about fairness and justice. … I stand by you, my sisters.

Sotoudeh wrote as her own country’s streets exploded with demonstrations led by young women, protesting the harsh oppression of women’s fundamental rights and at risk of their own lives as the Iranian regime responded with violence. Similar protests in Afghanistan receive less coverage, but too are part of the worldwide movement for women’s human rights that will not be denied.

If 2022 proved anything, it’s that we must continue to organize and channel the collective rage that was triggered by the Court’s reversal of Roe, to not only restore abortion rights across the nation but to push forward toward our goal of full equality. There is no way the movement can be stopped.

And let’s not forget: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson! The first Black woman to be nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court. Together with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, we have powerful advocates for equality and justice sitting on the Court. They may be outnumbered for now, but their words and their opinions will one day be the basis of majority opinions—including the decision that will reverse Dobbs as a cruel and misguided interpretation of the Constitution. That day cannot come too soon.

Finally, despite eleventh hour heroic efforts by feminist leaders and congressional members, the Senate failed to take a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment. But this too is not how this will end. The ERA is needed now more than ever to guarantee fundamental constitutional rights for women—and women know this. 

It’s important to celebrate our wins and take stock of our losses at a time like this—because they are what will fuel us as we move forward into the new year and meet the new challenges it will bring. We have work to do—but for now we can take solace knowing that we have the power to change the world.

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U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Katherine Spillar is the executive director of Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms., where she oversees editorial content and the Ms. in the Classroom program.