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Op-Ed: Roe and Sarah Weddington's betrayal of women

On the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, many will focus on the undeniable humanity of the unborn child now seen clearly by millions through sophisticated sonograms.

It is also a good time to evaluate the impact of the choice made by attorney Sarah Weddington in 1973 on women. As her arguments for abortion before the Supreme Court made clear, Weddington saw the discrimination and other injustices faced by pregnant women. But she did not demand that these injustices be remedied. Instead, she demanded for women the "right" to submit to these injustices by destroying their pregnancies.

Weddington rightly pointed out the unmet needs of students and workers: "[T]here are many schools where a woman is forced to quit if she becomes pregnant. ... In the matter of employment, she often is forced to quit at an early point in her pregnancy. She has no provision for maternity leave. ... She cannot get unemployment compensation under our laws, because the laws hold that she is not eligible for employment, being pregnant, and therefore is eligible for no unemployment compensation." But Weddington didn't argue against pregnancy discrimination or for alternate solutions for pregnant students.

For women with serious medical needs, she further noted: "There is no duty for employers to rehire women if they must drop out to carry a pregnancy to term. And, of course, this is especially hard on the many women in Texas who are heads of their own households and must provide for their already existing children."

Weddington repeatedly said that women need "relief" from pregnancy, instead of arguing that women need relief from these injustices. What if Weddington had used her legal acumen to challenge the system to address women's needs?

"It's her body, it's her choice" -- and as it turns out, it's her problem, too. Here's the disturbing report card. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the former research arm of Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion in America:

» 75 percent of women who obtain abortions say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents.

» 75 percent say they can't afford a child.

» 61 percent already have at least one child.

» 44 percent are college-age women.

In short, abortion has masked rather than solved the problems women face.

Since 1994, Feminists for Life has worked to address the unmet needs of pregnant and parenting students and staff on college campuses. For the past decade, FFL Pregnancy Resource Forums on campuses across the country have revealed the still-unmet needs of pregnant and parenting students -- especially a lack of housing, child care, telecommuting options, maternity coverage and medical riders for additional children. FFL found there is rarely a central place on campus for pregnancy and parenting resources. Even when resources are available, they are often not publicized. For pregnant and parenting students kept in the dark about the help they need and deserve, perception is their reality.

Similarly, we must improve efforts to systemically address the unmet needs of struggling parents, birthparents, and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

This anniversary, thousands of pregnancy care centers, Feminists for Life and other organizations across the country will continue our efforts to help women so that they don't feel driven to choose between sacrificing their children and sacrificing their education and career plans.

There was one thing Weddington got right. "Whether she's unmarried; whether she's pursuing an education; whether she's pursuing a career; whether she has family problems; all of the problems of personal and family life, for a woman, are bound up in the problem of abortion."

Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women.

Forty years after Weddington capitulated to inherently unfair practices against pregnant and parenting women, those on both sides of the abortion debate should unite and say "no" to the status quo. Clearly, women deserve better.

Serrin M. Foster is president of Feminists for Life of America, which is based in Alexandria.