Candle-bearing marchers gathered on the UCSB Women’s Center lawn Wednesday night to commemorate Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion 31 years ago today.
Members of UCSB Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), a club affiliated with the national abortion rights organization Planned Parenthood, met at Java Jones coffee shop in Isla Vista at 7:30 p.m. Twenty club members and other participants lit candles and walked along Pardall Road on their way to the Women’s Center, where they held a moment of silence to remember women who lost their lives to illegal abortions.
Lisa Castagnola, a fourth-year women’s studies major and VOX co-founder, said the annual Roe v. Wade commemoration is traditionally the group’s largest event. This April, Castagnola said several group members are planning to attend the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., a national abortion rights rally.
“We’re going to have a banner outside the Women’s Center [today] that people can sign,” Castagnola said. “By signing it, people can go to Washington with us.”
Wednesday night’s vigil was meant to usher in today’s anniversary of the Roe v. Wade case, said Martine Holston, a fourth-year sociology and global studies major and VOX member. Holsten read a speech while march participants held their candles in a circle around several paper tombstones inscribed with statistics about how abortion policy has affected maternal death rates throughout the 20th century.
One sign read that illegal abortions caused 50 percent of maternal deaths between 1900 and 1950. Another said that after 1980 that percentage was nearly zero as a result of the safer access to legal abortions that Roe v. Wade afforded women.
Holston said conservative politicians today are dangerously restricting a woman’s right to choose. She cited examples such as the recently instituted ban on partial-birth abortions and President Bush’s State of the Union proposal to double federal funding for abstinence-only sex education.
“We’re also facing the possibility of having an anti-choice majority on the Supreme Court,” Holston said. “We’re closer to that reality than we have been in the past 30 years.”
Heather Vaughan, a fourth-year ethnomusicology major, sang several songs with themes of remembrance, sorrow and hope for the future.
“I felt they really related to what was happening here,” Vaughan said.
Laury Oaks, VOX faculty adviser and women’s studies associate professor, said the vigil was “powerful.”
“Young women these days take a lot of criticism for not remembering the importance of Roe v. Wade,” said Oaks, who is currently teaching a course on reproductive politics. “This shows that young women are aware.”