Forty-one Candles on Roe’s Birthday Cake

Roe 41st BirthdayHappy Birthday Roe! Where do we begin when reflecting on the last 41 years of your politically charged life?

If you care at all about reproductive rights, you probably know the basics of the Roe v. Wade case. And if you don’t know the basics, you probably know (at least) that we’re talking about abortion rights. It is hard to avoid hearing about abortion in the news today, especially current efforts to restrict abortion rights in Texas and Massachusetts and Arizona. But the headline is that Roe and reproductive rights are in the cross hairs and it’s really bad for women. Whether you’re a Roe genius or a newbie, here is some quick info.

Forty-one years ago, the Supreme Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Privacy is the operative word, meaning that the courts found it appropriate to put in the hands of individual women the choice about what happens in her uterus. This landmark decision spurred a sea change in the recognized reproductive rights of women.

Even though these same rights are now being threatened in political fora at state and federal levels, the good news is that the majority of Americans are not in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. But that really doesn’t seem to matter.

The GOP and religious conservatives are looking for – and finding – new ways to undercut Roe’s efficacy each and every day. We continue to have to remind legislators that, no matter how you feel about abortion as an issue, it remains a legal medical procedure. Like other medical procedures, a woman should be able to access abortion services safely, affordably, and in consultation with her health care providers.

In 2013 alone, 39 states enacted 141 provisions related to reproductive health and rights. Half of these new provisions, 70 in 22 states, sought to restrict access to abortion services. Abortion restrictions these days come in the form of parental notification/consent laws, mandatory waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, among many others. And while none of these mean that women are restricted outright from accessing abortion services, they represent untenable barriers not seen in other aspects of health care and, in concert with other restrictions, do prevent many women from accessing these services.

Will 2014 be a year of reproductive rights victories? We think so. We’re already off to a good start:

  • North Carolina struck down a law that would force doctors in North Carolina to show women ultrasound images and describe them in detail before performing an abortion.
  • A federal appeals court has reinstated key components of a law regulating so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers in New York City.
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America is going on the offense. Yesssssss.
  • The Supreme Court blocked Arizona from enforcing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
  • At the tail end of 2013, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a historically prochoice bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would preempt state’s efforts to restrict abortion by requiring new laws to be medically necessary. You can read the full text of the bill here.

While it’s important to keep the seemingly endless challenges and setbacks to reproductive justice top-of-mind, it’s likewise vital that we reflect on our victories. It is the power we gain from these that will propel us forward in our uphill battles.

Categories: Health

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