A majority of Americans polled by CSPAN last year couldn’t name a Supreme Court case. Of those who could, Roe v. Wade was by far the most familiar, with 40 percent able to name it. (Only five percent could name Brown v. Board of Education.) And since it was decided in 1973, a majority — roughly 70 percent — have consistently said they want Roe upheld, albeit with some restrictions on legal abortion.
But what do we really know about Roe? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often said she wishes it had been another case that the Supreme Court heard as the first reproductive freedom case instead. It was Susan Struck v. Secretary of Defense, and it came to the high court during the same term as Roe.
The year was 1970, and the Air Force (like the other branches of the military) had a regulation banning female service members from having a family. If a servicewoman got pregnant, she would get discharged. Captain Susan Struck was a nurse serving in Vietnam, and she challenged the decision in court with Ginsburg as her lawyer. However, the court never heard the case because the Air Force changed their policy first. For this week’s show, we partnered with The Guardian (read their story here) to learn more about Susan Struck’s fight and its bigger lessons for reproductive freedom and for women in the workplace.
Our producer Alana Casanova-Burgess and The Guardian’s health reporter Jessica Glenza spoke to Struck about the difficult decision she made to give her baby up for adoption in order to fight the regulation. Plus, we hear why legal scholars think this case “deserves to be honored by collective memory,” and how Ginsburg’s arguments to the Supreme Court differed from what the justices decided in Roe.
- Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explains the threats to reproductive rights in the court right now;
- Neil Siegel of Duke Law School puts the Struck case in context and discusses what better questions we could be asking about women’s equality;
- activist and scholar Loretta Ross explains the tenets of reproductive justice and how they expand the frame beyond Roe and abortion;
- and Reva Siegel of Yale Law School tells the story of how abortion was discussed before 1973, including during the Women’s Strike of 1970. And she describes the framework of ProChoiceLife, which expands the idea of what pro-life policy is. She is also the co-editor of Reproductive Rights and Justice Stories.
Read The Guardian’s print version here, and share your story with Jessica Glenza if you were a woman serving in the military before 1976.