Alyssa Milano: Biden Must Do More to Protect Abortion Rights

·5 min read
Illustration composite by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Illustration composite by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Just about a half-century ago, things were looking up for women in America. In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which upon ratification by 38 states would enshrine constitutional equality for all of us. And then, in 1973, the Supreme Court ensured women would have the freedom to control our own bodies when it affirmed the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade. But now, fifty years later, women are just weeks away from losing our most basic protections and our very bodily autonomy because of the cowardice of our government and a decades-long campaign by the extreme right to control and commodify us. We can’t let it stand—and the good news is that we don’t have to, if the president will simply grow a pair of ovaries and act.

For generations of women like me, who were born around or after the time of the Roe decision, the right to abortion has been a given—even if access to abortion care has not. Most people don’t know this—Justice Alito certainly doesn’t seem to—but abortion was legal in our nation until the late 1800s, when elected extremists criminalized our ability to control our bodies. In the decades between this dangerous government overreach and the Roe decision (and in the decades since), women fiercely fought for basic rights of American existence: the right to vote, to work, to earn equal wages, and to decide if, how and when we want to have children—rights which men have always enjoyed and profited from. Recently, I made a short video with NowThis which covers the history of abortion in America and explores the long and passionate efforts of women who worked ceaselessly for these protections. I hope you will watch and share it with everyone you know.

The Supreme Court and radicalized anti-woman officials in state governments are on the verge of setting women back more than 150 years, to those first anti-abortion laws in the 1800s. As soon as Roe falls, and it sure looks like it’s going to, dozens of states will criminalize abortion. Many states will even prohibit ending a pregnancy in cases of rape or incest. In the first four months of 2022 alone, at least 546 abortion restrictions were introduced. Thirty-seven have been enacted in 10 states so far this year. Eighty-six abortion bans were introduced in 31 states, with six—Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Wyoming—enacting them. Oklahoma’s new law is the strictest, prohibiting almost all abortions starting at fertilization and weaponizing vigilante citizens to sue health care providers or anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion. And it gets worse: some politicians are trying to prevent abortions even when the mother’s life is in danger. And somehow, these people still have the temerity to call themselves pro-life.

The Equal Rights Amendment states that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify this Amendment, and yet it still isn’t in the Constitution. Why? Because Congress put an arbitrary and cynical poison pill into the preamble of the Amendment limiting the time frame for its ratification, and anti-woman forces have used this language to block its adoption. However, leading constitutional scholars contend that the preamble is not part of the Amendment and not binding language, and that the ERA is properly ratified.

Is there anything more obviously discriminatory on account of sex than denying access to health care to only one sex? Right now, President Biden could pressure the National Archivist to publish the ERA, making it the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. We need to be ensuring women have EQUAL rights enshrined in the Constitution, not reducing or rolling back rights they already have. It is mind-boggling that instead he is following in the footsteps of Donald Trump. Women helped elect President Biden. Now, we’re calling in our investment. He must do everything in his power to enshrine our rights as Americans and to our own bodies in the Constitution. And he has to do it today, before SCOTUS reverses Roe.

If you think the radical right will stop at abortion, you need to think again. As late as 1974, women in parts of the country couldn’t get a credit card without their husband’s permission. The right to acquire and use birth control is at risk. Title IX protections may be dismantled as the anti-woman right continues its attacks against trans women and trans children. And despite their incessant lies that the dismantling of Roe will simply allow states to determine what rights women have inside their own borders, those extremists are clearly working toward a national abortion ban.

Women have always been lesser in this nation. This fact is the antithesis of everything we are taught the United States stands for, and yet it has persisted for centuries. And unless President Biden or Congress fix it, right now, it’s about to get so much worse for us. I hope you’ll watch my video on abortion, gather every bit of patriotism and courage you have, and join me in loudly demanding President Biden protect the women who put him where he is by pushing to enshrine equal rights in our Constitution right this second. Tomorrow might be too late.

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