The abortion rights movement can learn from the Aids activism of the 80s and 90s

Moira Donegan
Mon 5 Sep 2022

It was already chaos, and now, it was going to get worse. The US supreme court’s decision wasn’t exactly a surprise – everyone knew it was coming – but the rage in the room felt palpable. The language of the opinion had been taunting and cruel; the punishment from the court felt vindictive, personal. People were already dying for lack of access to healthcare; the ruling would push people in need even further to the margins. Now, the most vulnerable faced criminalization, harassment and even death, and for what? For the conservative Christian values that none of them had voted for? For a regressive, punitive, and cruel vision of gender and sexuality that most of the world had long since left behind?

The ruling was Bowers v Hardwick, and the year was 1987. The
supreme court, in a virulently homophobic opinion, had upheld a Georgia law
criminalizing gay sex between consenting adults. At the time, the Aids crisis
was gripping gay America. Out of bigotry and indifference, both the federal
government and the pharmaceutical sector were dragging their feet. Meanwhile,
thousands of people, mostly gay men and IV drug users, were dying slow,
painful, premature deaths, at the margins of a society that hated them and
feared their disease.