On Her Fortieth Birthday, What Does Roe Mean for Me and Mine?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shivana Jorawar
by Shivana Jorawar, J.D. 

At 40 years old, Roe is in a midlife crisis. She has given so much of herself to so many people, and she’s proud of that. But aging has put her out of touch.

This year, we mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States. Reflecting on that important decision and what it means for me and mine, I feel conflicting emotions. As a woman with privilege who has depended on the law, I am grateful for it. As a queer, Indo-Caribbean from an immigrant family in the Bronx, I remember that laws often require less than justice does. If we are truly going to have justice for women, we are going to need more than Roe.

I come from an insular and under-resourced subpopulation of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) community that is so small we are rarely mentioned even in API literature. Our size and our unique, troubled history of indentureship in the Caribbean make us all very close. Elders are “aunties” and “uncles,” and peers are often called “cousins.” Because of this bond, I cannot think of my work outside the context of my people.

Is Roe enough for the teenager who calls me didi (older sister) and never learned about safe sex or communicating consent? No. She probably doesn’t have the money and will be beaten and kicked out if she asks her parents for it. Is Roe enough for my undocumented aunt who already has children and is struggling to make ends meet? No. She has no health insurance and will have to make a decision between rent and health this month. Is Roe enough for the trans men most of us never see because they hide from the community in fear? No here as well. Routine employment discrimination means they may not be able to afford the procedure and medical staff are likely to be insensitive.

My people need more, and we are demanding it. We are courageously breaking taboos so that young women and queer folk will one day not have to suffer in silence. In lieu of real comprehensive sex education in schools, brave women are teaching teens how to care for their bodies and have healthy relationships—with others and themselves. We are having conversations with mothers and daughters about the value of family dialogue around sex and sexuality, and how to have it. In safe spaces and open forums, we are coming out and showing our community we are people, just like them. API community advocates are pushing for immigrant inclusion in health care and public insurance coverage of abortion, so that everyone can afford abortion care. We are also pressuring the government to provide contraceptive access for young people, so pregnancies are prevented and there is less need for abortion.

Talking about anything related to reproduction, when it does not relate to heterosexual male desire, is not safe or popular in my community. But we do it anyway, because we know we are marching closer and closer to a future where we are liberated, not only by law, but by justice.

I am proud of the activists and advocates in my community, for refusing to cynically bow out of what could be seen as uphill battles and instead operating with hope in their hearts. On her 40th birthday, Roe needs to look at the new world around her and broaden her horizon. Today, Roe and the people who support her need to call not only for rights, but resources and respect—with genuine resolve, audacity, and perseverance.

Shivana Jorawar is an Indo-Caribbean feminist and reproductive justice advocate. She is passionate about uplifting the status of women in communities she identifies with, and has a background in legal advocacy and community education around issues of gender-based inequity and violence. She is the Reproductive Justice Program Director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and a co-founder of the Indo-Caribbean women’s organization Jahajee Sisters, where she is now a member of the Steering Committee. Shivana holds a B.A. in Political Science from Fordham University and a J.D. from Emory University School of Law. 

This post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a blog series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.


  1. What a world we live in where the 'abortion' of human life is considered progressive! smh