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January 25, 2023

Confessions of a Roe v. Wade Bystander.

Dear Roe v. Wade,

If only you had survived, this year would have been your 50th birthday.

When I was a kid, you entered this world to great fanfare. I was not yet of reproductive age and paid you little heed.

As I grew, you were always around, Roe v. Wade, and so I never really appreciated you. I took you for granted. You could come or go, in or out of my consciousness, and I wouldn’t give you a second thought.

I am male—what difference did you make to me?

Of course, now I completely understand why you made a difference. But I confess that I felt only apathy toward you back in the day.

Throughout your too-brief life, the political debate was so exhausting that I didn’t want to deal with it. I was a Roe v. Wade bystander. I didn’t really care about you, but I knew you were always there.

The two sides talked right past each other. There was no intersection between language framed as “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” and there still isn’t. There can be no meeting of the minds when there’s no place where the minds can meet.

Pro-life. Pro-choice. It’s too much. How the hell should I know who was right? I’m not a philosopher.

My friends call me a liberal, and I am mostly comfortable with that label. Somehow, Roe v. Wade, the public framed you as a liberal darling. You should have been just my type.

But I was never smitten with you. Regarding abortion, I’ve never walked the liberal walk or talked the liberal talk. “Safe but rare” resonated with me just fine. Maybe because I was raised Catholic (there’s a story for later), or more likely because I am opposed to the death penalty and want to be consistent, I’ve never been a keen abortion rights advocate. On other issues, I’ve been aligned with the liberal side, but when the topic of abortion would come up, I’d shut up.

So, I confess, Roe v. Wade, that I never loved you while you were here. I was comfortable being quiet about abortion because the law was settled and it was time to move on. I could safely be a bystander and not have to deal with it.

And I ignored you when you needed me. States passed all kinds of repressive anti-abortion rules and I never did anything or said anything because you were there. I never tried to arouse any empathy for struggling women because you were there.

Well, it’s not settled anymore, is it?

I don’t have a uterus. It is unknowable to me how an unwanted pregnancy feels. My mantra as a Roe v. Wade bystander was simple—no uterus, no voice. That seemed like a safe way to avoid having to think too hard.

You were a woman’s thing, Roe v. Wade. And I was a bystander.

But these days that’s a cop out, isn’t it? Would I say that I have no voice on racial or gender equality because I am white, cis-gendered, and straight? Ridiculous. I’m not a bystander to the fight for equality. I have marched for gay rights and at Black Lives Matter protests.

But alas, Roe v. Wade, I have been a bystander to your struggles.

Even though I will never have an abortion, I have a choice. I can continue to sit idly by and watch the rights of half the American population be stripped away by a tribunal that is looking more and more every day like it wants to build a Christian version of Sharia law. Or, I can belatedly recognize how much I miss you, Roe v. Wade, now that you are gone. And then I can try to do something about it.

If I were to go back in time, I would savor my moments with you. I remember wistfully when American women had fundamental rights to make their own health care choices.

There was Freedom Summer in 1964 for Civil Rights. Perhaps it is time for another Freedom Summer in 2023. If Dr. King’s speech in the summer of 1963 begat the 1964 Freedom Summer, then why can’t the Supreme Court’s killing of Roe v. Wade in the summer of 2022 ignite Freedom Summer 2023?

I never appreciated you while you were here, Roe v. Wade. But now that you’re gone, I miss you. I want you to come back. I won’t be a bystander this time, I promise.

Happy birthday, Roe v. Wade. Wherever you are.


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