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What My Mother's Activism Before Roe Shows Us about the Upcoming Fights after Dobbs

Justice Harry Blackmun published his opinion for the Supreme Court majority in Roe v. Wade 50 years ago on Jan. 22, 1973. Since Justice Blackmun’s ruling was overturned on June 24, 2022, it has been mourned and vilified, far more preciously held (by some) and defiled (by others) than the case whose holding has replaced it, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. As the results of last November’s midterm elections make clearRoe—no longer good law but hardly forgotten—continues to remake our politics.

Although Roe continues to be a hyper-visible landmark in our political landscape, there is much we do not know about it. This is a history people committed to reproductive autonomy need to get right as we face the thorny post-Roe future. We must marshal every resource to recover what’s been lost since Dobbs while taking an unlooked-for opportunity to rebuild on more solid foundations for the future of reproductive rights.

For the longest time, all roads led to Roe. This includes the road that winds through my own family history. My late mother, a labor lawyer and volunteer with the National Organization for Women (NOW) named Beatrice Kornbluh Braun, wrote the first version of the law that decriminalized abortion in New York State—almost five years before Roe. Once the state legislature finished amending and passing it, in April 1970, N.Y.’s law was less sweeping than my mother’s draft but still the most liberal state statute on abortion in the United States. (It was liberalized further by the state’s Reproductive Health Act of 2019.)

It allowed people to end their pregnancies through their 24th week, or roughly the end of the second trimester, with no gatekeepers to decide if they deserved access to this medical service. Most remarkably, N.Y.’s law included no residency requirement. As soon as it was implemented, people arrived in N.Y. from every corner of the country seeking safe, legal, and relatively affordable abortion care. This law, a version of my mother’s spade-work, was a model and a launching point for what Justice Blackmun did in Roe.

The first thing we’ve missed about Roe is that it was merely the final scene in a drama whose origins lay far from the U.S. Supreme Court. Its true authors were members of a movement that resembled the movement for abortion rights today, centered on policy change in individual states and localities. Legal historian Stan Katz, who in the years just before Roe, volunteered with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told me he “never expected the Supreme Court to bail us out.” He believed that the way to secure abortion rights was to change votes in state legislatures and not to pull new constitutional interpretations from the courts—although the movement’s efforts wound up doing both.

Sarah Weddington, one of the two lead lawyers in Roe, was so unconvinced that an abortion-friendly reading of the Constitution was in the offing that she ran for a legislative seat in Texas while waiting for the decision. She introduced a bill much like my mother’s just three days before the Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Now that a raft of far-conservative judicial appointments and the Dobbs ruling have made the federal courts so unfriendly to reproductive rights, advocates should make obsessive study of our predecessors’ state legislature-focused strategies.

Read entire article at TIME