January 22, 2010 marks the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed American women the right to a safe and legal elective abortion. Our fore-feminists dedicated their lives to obtaining this integral human right and it is not free from threats, even today. To commemorate the fight for the right to abortion and to stand up against current attacks on that right, take action on January 22nd!
Abortion has been performed in every culture and society for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1800’s that abortion was criminalized in the U.S. Of course, making abortion illegal didn’t stop it from happening, or even reduce the number of women who sought abortion.
It is estimated that as many as 1.2 million abortions happened each year in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These “back-alley” abortions by untrained practitioners, in addition to self-induced abortions often cost women their lives – in fact, many thousands of women died or suffered serious medical problems during the time that abortion was illegal (accurate records could not be kept).
Thankfully, in 1973, Jane Roe, a Texas woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy, brought a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Texas law prohibiting her from doing so and the Supreme Court sided with her, 7-2. Delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Blackmum stated:
“The right to privacy…is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice is altogether apparent.”
Abortion rights proponents rejoiced.
Right v. Access
Unfortunately, the Roe v. Wade decision was not perfect, by any means. The wording of the decision left doors open for states to regulate abortion through restrictions on third-trimester abortions, parental consent and notification laws, “informed consent” laws, waiting periods, refusal or so-called “conscience” clauses, and even spousal consent laws (which were later made illegal with the Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling in 1992).
Additionally, Roe v. Wade sent anti-abortion forces into a tizzy (just as its anniversary does every year), and in 1977 we saw the passing of the Hyde Amendment, which, to this day, prohibits Medicaid funding of abortions.
What’s the significance of all these various types of restrictions? Well, abortion may be legal, but it is not necessarily accessible or affordable. This distinction persists today, varying state by state. If you are under age 18, don’t have a provider near you, don’t have transportation, are a victim of incest or rape and don’t want to come forward, don’t have health insurance or don’t have the means to pay for an abortion, we’re sorry – the right to abortion doesn’t apply to you.
Furthermore, for several decades, anti-abortion forces have mounted escalating attacks on reproductive health clinics and health care providers throughout the nation, making access to the very clinics that provide reproductive health services even more difficult.
While abortion remains legal, there are constantly rising threats jeopardizing access.
Currently, abortion has become a major divisive issue in Congress’ Health Care Reform efforts. By using women’s health and lives as a pawn to stop health care reform from happening, opponents of both reform and reproductive rights have managed to introduce some very restrictive abortion language – the Nelson amendment. By requiring separate payment systems for abortion coverage in the new health insurance exchange, the Nelson amendment will effectively eliminate abortion coverage for all women participating in the exchange – forcing millions of women who currently enjoy abortion coverage to pay out of pocket in the future.
Year after year, voters in referendum states are faced with anti-abortion ballot initiatives and state legislatures consider and often pass bills that limit abortion access. We see these bills and ballot initiatives in the form of: abortion bans (that are placed on the books in order to challenge Roe v. Wade), biased counseling requirements, mandatory delays, gag rules, refusal clauses, restrictions on low-income women’s access, restrictions on young women’s access, personhood initiatives and targeted regulation of abortion providers. In the fall 2010 mid-term election, don’t be surprised to see plenty of the above-mentioned threats present on your ballot!
And lastly, anti-abortion organizations such as Operation Rescue, Army of God, and many others are creating a rising tide of extremism and violence against women’s health care clinics and providers. You may be familiar with the “Justice for All” or “Genocide Awareness Project” displays that often set up shop on college campuses. You also may have seen anti-abortion protesters outside of your local clinic. In addition to spreading lies and misinformation and making access to clinics difficult and intimidating, anti-abortion efforts often go far beyond protests and demonstrations and begin to threaten the safety and lives of women’s health care providers and clinic staff. Sometimes these threats escalate into real violence, as with the murder of Dr. George Tiller in his church in May, 2009.
What You Can Do on Jan. 22
On January 22nd, TAKE ACTION! Educate your campus, show support for abortion rights and the feminists who fought for that right, and fight the current threats we face. Let ’em know that we will never go back! Here are some ideas:
- Oppose the Nelson Amendment and show your support for woman-friendly health care reform. Find out how your Senators voted and let them know how you feel. Table with information on this issue and encourage other students to contact their Senators as well.
- Start gearing up for the onslaught of anti-choice ballot initiatives we are likely to see in this fall’s mid-term elections. Parental notification and personhood initiatives will likely be prevalent. Find out what’s likely to happen in your state, and begin educating your campus about why they should vote NO!
- Find out if there will be any anti-choice protests, demonstrations or events happening on campus and organize a counter-protest. Pass out medically accurate information about abortion, as well as information about the local reproductive health clinic.
- Adopt-a-Clinic. Call your local reproductive health clinic and find out how you can help them. They may be faced with protesters and need your help escorting patients into the clinic safely, showing your support through a rally or counter-protest, or just need your volunteer time in the clinic.
This article was featured in our January 2010 monthly Choices eZine.