Reproductive rights ‘up to the women’

York Dispatch editorial board

In 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt published a book called “It’s Up to the Women,” in which she argued that women have always been key to the nation overcoming its crises.

If the women of today are to overcome the crisis of conservative orthodoxy threatening to subsume their reproductive rights, they’ll need to take more than a few pages from this book.

The nation’s longest-serving first lady had not yet begun her immensely popular syndicated column when she wrote “It’s Up to the Women,” but she had a decade’s worth of published magazine articles to her credit. Written between her husband’s election and the (then-) March inauguration, the work advised women how to get through what were some of the toughest times the nation has faced.

Anti and Pro Roe v. Wade protesters outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 24, 2022.

It many ways, it is of its era, focusing at times on navigating the early years of marriage and managing the family budget. In other ways, it is ahead of its time, with chapters including “Women and the Vote,” “Women in Public Life” and “Women and Peace.”

Like its author, the advice was practical and direct.

“A man or woman in public life must learn to listen to everyone’s opinions,” she wrote. “They must never be prejudiced or dogmatic, they must keep an open mind.”

If only there were a way to make this required reading for our current politicians!

Writing during the height of the Great Depression, Roosevelt placed the burden for recovery on her gender’s shoulders:

“There have been other great crises in our country and I think that if we read our history carefully, we will find that the success of our nation in meeting them was very largely due to the women in those trying times.”

While it’s doubtful they have read these words, women across the nation, including in Pennsylvania, seem to be channeling them.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe v. Wade, women are registering to vote by the tens of thousands nationwide, overwhelmingly as Democrats.

According to the Democratic voter-data firm TargetSmart, women have made up nearly 70 percent of new voter registrations since the court’s June 24 ruling. The firm says more than 60 percent of those new women voters have registered as Democrats, compared to 15 percent as Republicans.

Pennsylvania, which doesn’t require voters to provide their gender, has seen more than 25,000 new registrations in recent months. TargetSmart says its data shows women outpacing men by about 12 percent.

These new voters will be important if women in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are to hold back further restrictions on their right to make personal decisions about their lives, families and healthcare.

Conservative lawmakers had made an industry of chipping away at abortion rights over the 50 years of Roe’s existence. But with the dam now broken by the high court’s 6-3 conservative majority, lawmakers in many states are obliterating those rights.

The candidates in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race this fall have made clear where they stand on the issue: Democrat Josh Shapiro will protect abortion rights; Republican Doug Mastriano will not. Reproductive rights could not be more starkly on the ballot.

Same with U.S. Senate candidates Democrat John Fetterman, who supports abortion rights, and Republican Mehmet Oz, who opposes them. With some Republican senators now proposing a national abortion ban, reproductive rights are on the national ballot, as well.

“Women have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world,” Eleanor Roosevelt wrote.

If today’s women are to secure their rights to full autonomy and citizenship, they’ll need to harness that power at the ballot box, not only this fall but in many elections to come.

Because if America is to avoid a future where childbirth is legally mandated, even in cases of rape and incest, it will very clearly be up to the women.