Roe v. Wade and Beyond

Graphic by Imp Kerr

In the most recent issue of Dissent, Carole Joffe looks at the legacy of Roe v. Wade:

In ways not anticipated by the coalition of physicians and feminist health activists who fought to legalize abortion in the years leading up to Roe, the abortion conflict remains the most divisive issue in American domestic politics. More than any other issue, the abortion war symbolizes the still contested concerns originally brought forward by second-wave feminists in the late 1960s—the changing relationship between the genders, the place of women in the public sphere, the legitimacy of sexual activity separated from procreation.

We’ve asked for comments on Joffe’s article, along with Akiba Solomon’s essay on race and reproductive rights. Click on the authors’ names to read their full comments.

Linda Gordon:

The choice slogan was not a great comeback. For most women who have abortions, and their partners, it’s not a choice but a necessity. “Choice” is plentiful among prosperous people (who are now becoming fewer and fewer), although even for them choice applies mainly to consumer products. Choice is not so common among those whose resources must be spent entirely on necessities.

Zakiya Luna:

As a child, every day I witnessed the struggles around issues that determine family formation for so many people, such as finding a job that provides enough to afford the expenses that come with having children. Reproduction and the rest of life were not separate in my household, and we know for many women they never were, even though some pro-choice activists organized that way.

Ruth Rosen:

Some may argue that abortion has consumed much of the energy that might have gone into the struggle for child care or equal pay. But that’s ahistorical and unrealistic thinking. The reality is that the women’s movement has had to defend at the one right we won during out earliest years. And given the limited access to abortion providers, we haven’t really won reproductive rights for all women, especially for those in the middle of the country and for low-income and minority women.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.