Participants in the Women's March On Washington on Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Jenny Anderson—FilmMagic/Getty Images
By Amy Hagstrom Miller
January 23, 2017
IDEAS

Miller, Founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, was the lead plaintiff in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.


Since the election, many activists, reporters, and citizens have been flooding my inbox with the same question: “Donald Trump says he is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, are you nervous? What are you going to do?” This weekend, thousand traveled from all corners of the country to March on Washington and in many states and countries beyond. The date doesn’t simply coincide with the day after the inauguration: January 22 also marked the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Instead of thinking of the march as a trip to the “end times,” I looked at it historically, and strategically, as a call to arms and a fight we can win.

My answer to everyone’s question has been this: No one man has that much power. In the 44 years since Roe, white men in power have been pontificating about how they are going to overturn the Roe decision, yet they haven’t even come close, and there is good historical precedent as to why that’s the case.

As the plaintiff in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, I was thrilled but not surprised when we won the most important reproductive rights case in a generation with a 5-3 majority this past June. Even if Justice Scalia had been there, we still would have won. President-elect Trump would have to replace that seat, another seat and get a case before the court in record time to even start the conversation about reversing Roe. He’d also have to get the court to go against 44 years of Supreme Court precedent and public sentiment. More than 70% of Americans support Roe v. Wade, and a very vocal many marched throughout the country. The activation of this community is the most powerful advocate for rights and justice.

As an adversary, the Donald Trump archetype is nothing new. Having worked in many diverse communities securing women’s access to dignified care for over 28 years now, I’ve heard his rhetoric before. Trump’s words conjure Rick Perry, Greg Abbott, David Dewhurst, Tom DeLay, Ken Paxton and many other men who acted like they had a mandate by asserting their will and assuming no one would oppose them. But hope, and resistance, are more powerful than party affiliation.

The political party of any president doesn’t always coincide with the fight for reproductive rights. With a Democrat in the oval office for 8 of the past 15 years, in Texas, we have still seen more restrictions placed on abortion care and family planning than nearly any other state in the union. As a result, our maternal mortality rate is the worst in the country—worse than many developing nations. These powerful few have decimated the fabric of care that once served thousands of families across our state. We now have more uninsured people than anywhere else in the country, and Texas has been labeled dangerous for women to give birth.

But there’s a proven way to put a stop to this: pressure and accountability.

Pressure often comes in the form of lawsuits. I’ve been the plaintiff in at least four so far, including one we just announced last month. The Whole Woman’s Health win has already given relief to people in seven states beyond Texas. Being a plaintiff has cost me countless hours—and could cost the state of Texas at least 4.5 million dollars. But we won, and therefore kept many clinics open as a result.

As for accountability: After midnight on June 26, 2013, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis had been standing for 13 hours in a filibuster against SB5 successfully delayed the vote until 12:02 a.m., after the session was adjourned. After that, they kicked us all out of the gallery. At 1:15 a.m., we heard that we had lost, and they claimed the vote had actually been taken at 11:59 p.m. After we left the gallery, David Dewhurst adjusted the clock backward to try and show that it was before midnight and took a vote. He assumed no one was watching, and that he would never be caught. He assumed incorrectly: On that night, the Associated Press had already taken a photo of the clock after midnight with Wendy’s arm raised with the two finger no vote clearly shining forth. Dewhurst conceded at 3 a.m.

Even though in Texas, reproductive rights advocates were the minority, we used procedures and process to get justice.

Throughout the years, I served as plaintiff fighting HB2, the restrictive legislation that passed in the wake of this battle. It was excruciating to maintain our vision and not get caught in the weeds of the day-to-day struggles, to maintain hope and resilience amid countless challenges and powerful hatred. But I always knew if they put out our spark then they really win. After all, hope, accountability and resistance belong to us. As author Rebecca Solnit has said, “To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on your futures, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.”

So as I celebrate this 44th anniversary of Roe and remember marching on Washington with my staff, my husband and my sons, I carried with me the most powerful armor I could ever have: My tremendous hope for what is yet to come, my swagger from what we have recently achieved and my resilience that wells up again and again from the interconnectedness we all have. Our hope is our power, and it cannot be underestimated.

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