“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”
This quote from Elmer Davis, the Director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II, quickly circulated around America, becoming a quote used by many to celebrate and honor those who have served in the United States military.
It is used on days such as Memorial Day and July 4th, days we thank those who have given their time and sometimes, life to ensure the freedoms promised to us in the United States Constitution, freedoms promised to us by the highest powers in our country.
The fight for individual freedoms is one that continues today, and it’s a fight that also exists outside of the United States military. Where the U.S. military fights everyday to keep this nation free, we must also not discredit the thousands of other Americans who have fought and continue to fight to ensure we have essential freedoms back home.
So what is “freedom”? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, freedom is defined as, “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” In America, we are obviously not free to do whatever we want. We have laws and rules to ensure there is not total chaos and that we, as Americans, are safe and protected.
The United States Constitution protects five of our freedoms: Speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government. But, there are other freedoms people throughout history have worked to gain for Americans. One of these being reproductive rights.
Women such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Margaret Sanger, Loretta J. Ross, Mary Calderone, and Grace Kodindo have spent their lives fighting for women’s reproductive rights. These women, as well as countless others, have been brave enough to stand up and fight for equality, and a woman’s right to autonomy and to her body.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg taking the court oath from Chief Justice William Rehnquist on Aug. 10, 1993. (AP Photo)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for gender equality and women’s rights, becoming the director of the Women’s Rights Project, and winning five landmark cases on gender equality in the Supreme Court. She was a crucial player in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
Margaret Sanger was a leader in the reproductive rights movement throughout the early 1900’s, most notably in the fight for birth control. She helped form the American Birth Control League, a predecessor of Planned Parenthood.
Mary Calderone, was the medical director at the Planned Parenthood Federation in 1953 and founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council. Her work in the American Medical Association overturned a policy that dissuaded physicians from giving information about birth control to their patients.
It is important to celebrate these individuals, just as important as it is to celebrate the ones fighting overseas. Especially, during times in this country that women will again have to fight for these freedoms.
On June 24, 2022, the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade was overturned. According to the Washington Post, with this ruling twenty-two states have already banned or will ban abortions. It’s not hard to imagine an America without access to safe abortions because women have already lived in that America.
Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortions were prohibited in 33 states and were only allowed in special circumstances in 13 others.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed a year in the United States, PBS reported. Hundreds of women died every year from botched procedures. In New York City alone, abortion accounted for half of all childbirth-related death among non-white and Puerto Rican women.
Byllye Avery, a health care activist in Florida, counseled many women in the 1970’s who had unwanted pregnancies. During this time, abortion was legal in New York or abroad so she would often give those options to women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies.
She herself had to travel to Puerto Rico to get an abortion. One of Avery’s patients did not have the means to travel to New York or abroad. A month or two later, the woman died of a self induced abortion.
“You would either put yourself at risk by self-inflicting an abortion, using knitting needles, crochet needles, anything that could stop — take big black pills,” Avery told PBS.
When abortion became legal on January 22, 1973, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the annual number of legal abortions doubled between 1973 and 1979.
In 2020, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that 930,160 abortions took place in the United States. In 2022, women are being forced to fight the same battles that generations before them have already fought.
Not even a month after Roe v. Wade was overturned, a 10-year-old girl from Ohio had to cross state lines to get a safe abortion after she was raped.
What if that girl did not have the financial support to cross state lines for a safe abortion? Would she have to carry a pregnancy that was in result of a rape? Would she get a backstreet abortion? Or maybe a self induced one? Would she still be alive?
Abortions are not going to stop just because they are illegal. Illegal, unsafe abortions are going to rise, and with that, so will the death of women.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates are similar between countries where it is legal and illegal to receive an abortion. . However, in parts of the world where abortion is illegal, botched procedures cause 8% to 11% of all maternal deaths, about 30,000 deaths each year.
This brings us back to Elmer Davis’ quote, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”
We have seen how brave women can be; we have seen them fighting for their reproductive rights and freedoms since the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is time for us to be “the brave”.
We must stand up for access to safe abortions, before more women die of unsafe abortions. We must stand up for the individual rights of women to choose their path in life, to choose what they feel is best for themselves. We must stand up to allow women to have a say in their healthcare, we must challenge the idea that women do not have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies.
We must be as brave as the 10-year-old girl from Ohio who traveled to Indiana to get an abortion in 2022.
We must be as brave Byllye Avery who traveled from Florida to Puerto Rico to get an abortion in the 1960’s.
We must be as brave as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Margaret Sanger, Loretta J. Ross, Mary Calderone, and Grace Kodindo who spent their lives fighting for reproductive rights and freedoms.
Fifty years later, we should not be fighting the same fights generations before us did. Fifty years later, women should not be told what they can and can’t do with their bodies. Fifty years later, women’s bodies should not be part of a political debate.
It is a very scary time for women across the country. It is a time in our history that we once again must be brave enough to stand up for what we believe in and fight for our freedoms, the same way our grandmothers and great grandmothers did. We must embody their bravery and courage to combat what is to come and hopefully make America a safe place for the reproductive rights of our daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters.