Roe v. Wade Redux
As this is my last column of 2021, I wanted to write something lighthearted, perhaps even playful. So many topics raced through my mind, delighting me with thoughts of “remember when Rehoboth Beach was so quiet in winter, you could roll a bowling ball down Rehoboth Avenue and not hit a single car”? Or when “if it wasn’t for our fleet of sanitation trucks, the Christmas Parade might have taken exactly five minutes from start to finish”?
Memories. Great memories. Of a world that seemed not “innocent,” but rather brimming with promise—the promise of equality, which today, as I type, seems to be slip-sliding away.
Equality. The right to be equal. In those days, some 50 years ago now, it filled the air.
The so-called “wholesome fifties” had given way to the “turn on, tune in, drop out” sixties, and by the dawn of the seventies we were here (partying at the Boathouse or gathering over at the newly dubbed Poodle Beach) and realizing that dropping out hadn’t fixed the fifties and it would take more than simply dropping back in to fix the seventies. It would take work.
In the sixties, women were finally granted the right to open a bank account without their husband’s or father’s permission. But they were still considered too “risky” for a credit card. It would be 1974, when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) passed, that it became illegal for credit card companies or any other financial institution or lender to discriminate against applicants based on gender, religion, race, or national origin.
The ECOA also made it possible for women to obtain a mortgage on their own without facing legally-permitted discrimination.
And that’s not an abstract history lesson in our part of the world. Two of Rehoboth’s legends, writer Anyda Marchant and her longtime partner, Muriel Crawford, were turned down more than once in their quest, as “two single women,” to obtain a mortgage for their house on Laurel Street.
In the seventies, the rape laws in every state in our union included an exception if the rapist and the victim were husband and wife. Which dovetails handily with women being fired for the crime of being pregnant—acceptable until 1978 and the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
And those “dropping back in” activist women weren’t done yet! There was lobbying, letter writing, and lots of marching to be done, Before the seventies were over, we would also have the right to sue for sexual harassment in the workplace, see the end of work ads specifying for “this sex only,” and we would win a huge, still actively giving gift, the landmark Title IX ruling, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives federal money.
And finally, the seventies brought us Roe v Wade. And like all the other rulings, what was on the table was our right to make our own choices; to make our health care decisions. And I say “our,” because each act furthers equality, while each act denied, strips it away. Every inch of the progress made above benefits every minority community in America.
Women do not need their fathers to give their permission to open a bank account, or a husband to allow them to mortgage a home, just as they do not need the government to manage their body.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity.…When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”
Once upon a time in Rehoboth, two “scandalous women” managed to secure a mortgage for a Laurel Street house, and then…omg…they invited neighborhood women into that very house for the first meeting of the National Organization of Women—aka NOW—in the state of Delaware.
It is reported that men climbed up in the trees and ducked behind the bushes to see which women would have the audacity to show up.
I suggest that as we usher in 2022, we become audacious—again.
Merry, Happy, Healthy, Safe, and Peaceful—until next year. ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery series Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventures, with On a LARP, Zero Sum Game, and Say