Equality for women starts here

Alison Gaulden, who calls herself a reproductive rights freedom fighter, tells me she’s tired of losing.

“And we’ve lost a lot,” she says, wandering into my office. “Roe v. Wade is not the same as it was in 1973.”

Eight Supreme Court rulings have modified Roe, which Gaulden calls “a perfect compromise.”


“It’s been diluted,” she says. She sighs. “Few people understand that.”

Women who led the fight in the 1970s are exhausted, Gaulden says. And the younger women who’ve grown up in the wake of Roe lack awareness.

“I have four interns working for me, bright young women,” Gaulden says. “They have no clue what they’ve lost until they come to work for me. And I can’t teach them all, one at a time. We haven’t got time for that.”

Gaulden is a slender woman with short dark hair. She dresses fashionably, has a penchant for stylish shoes and sometimes makes her own jewelry. She’s generally upbeat. But not today.

Gaulden is also vice president for public affairs at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which serves California and Nevada. She’s here to tell me about Planned Parenthood’s event marking the 34th anniversary of Roe.

I missed the event. As far as I can tell, the rest of the local media took the night off, too. (The so-called liberal media—KOLO-TV, Channel 8—chose to cover an anti-abortion Roe v. Wade march “despite bitterly cold weather.")

We missed the remarks of Nevada Sen. Dina Titus, keynote speaker, who warned of increasing roadblocks to reproductive rights.

I called Titus’s office for a recap.

“For 33 years, states have pioneered dozens of creative tactics to constrict access to abortion by chipping around the edges of Roe v. Wade,” Titus had said. “Last year, the South Dakota legislature put a whole new twist on the battle with an outright ban, spurring similar action by other states.”

In 1990, Nevadans solidly supported Roe v. Wade with the passage of Question 7. Voters, by a 2 to 1 margin, agreed that Roe should be the law in Nevada regardless of what happens on the issue before the Supreme Court. (Full disclosure: In 1990, I worked with anti-abortion groups in Ely, Nev., to defeat Question 7. Change happens—so take heart, my progressive friends.)

Titus said that there still are serious challenges, like pharmacists’ refusal to fill prescriptions, the need for mandated insurance coverage of birth control and requiring inoculation for Human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infections. And if Roe were overturned, you can bet the question would end up back on the table.

The battle isn’t about abortion, Gaulden tells me. It’s about birth control and responsible sexual behavior.

“It’s about social mores that accept you can be a sexual being and not have to be married to someone of the opposite sex,” she says. “That boils down to religious freedom. Different faiths have different positions.”

The issue doesn’t divide neatly along party lines. Republicans can be pro-choice. Some Democrats oppose reproductive rights.

Equality for women is at stake.

“Men don’t have other men telling them what to do with their bodies,” she says. “I passionately believe that women are moral decision makers.”

As we talk, Gaulden starts to get fired up. The tired feminist disappears. The freedom fighter returns.

“I want people to take a stand,” she says. “Know who the politicians are and what they stand for. Forget this bullshit of ‘I hate politicians, and so I’m going to keep my head in the sand like an ostrich'! That leaves your butt in the air!”

I can almost hear her heart pounding.

“Think about it,” she says.