There Is No Finish Line

We often think of policy fights as having a clear beginning and end, that conclude with a bill signing or a court decision. But that's just not the case. We're seeing this now with the Affordable Care Act debate. We've seen it before with issues such as reproductive health and immigration reform. And we'll likely see it again with LGBT rights and marriage equality. 

When I was doing research for an upcoming article, I saw news that Norma McCorvey, who was the then-anonymous Roe in Roe v. Wade, passed away on February 18th. That's 44 years and almost one month to the day that the landmark case was decided by the Supreme Court. However, the battles over reproductive health still carry on with several state legislatures continuing attempts to erode and block women's access to care. 

The same week that McCorvey died, the chairman of the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee broke a glass table with his gavel while trying to silence reproductive rights advocates during debate over contentious legislation that courts have already deemed unconstitutional. 

Texas was also where Roe v. Wade originated. And - in a remarkable connection of historic events - one of the three judges on the federal panel that first heard the case was the same judge who swore in Lyndon Johnson on Air Force One after John F. Kennedy was shot. 

Her name was Sarah Hughes. In 1930, she was one of the first women elected to the Texas state legislature, and five years later she was appointed as a state judge. At the time, women were not allowed to serve on juries in Texas. Hughes was instrumental in the effort to win that right, though it didn't happen for nearly twenty years. 

In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Hughes to be a federal district judge, though her appointment was almost derailed over concerns about her age. She was 65 at the time, still two years away from playing a central role in a seminal American moment, and a nearly decade away from another. 

All of these policy fights - health care, immigration, education, climate change, reproductive rights, equality, and others - remind me of a poster I had in my room when I was a kid. It was a panoramic view of a high desert valley, with a snow-capped mountain range in a the distance, a guy running on an interminable dirt road, and a caption that read, "there is no finish line." 

Some find that premise discouraging. But to me, it spurs comfort to think there isn't necessarily a conclusion, there is just the journey and the progress it instigates.

Note: This post is excerpted from the Words & Other Things newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.