Susan Yanow, Guest Blogger (Consultant to UCSF/ANSIRH, Ibis, Reproductive Health Access Project and Women on Waves/Women on Web, Board of NARAL ProChoice Massachusetts, Board of ACLU of Massachusetts, BSSRJ Advisor)
This post is part of Blog for Choice 2013, launched by Boston Students for Sexual and Reproductive Justice (BSSRJ).
The Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 gave women cause to celebrate. An end to unsafe clandestine abortion was a core component of a women‘s movement which included a vision of women-centered health care, embedded in a social justice framework that empowered us to take more control over our bodies, our sexual and reproductive health, and our lives.
Parts of our vision have come to pass. Women have broken through many glass ceilings, and there are more female physicians, health activists, and health advocates. New technologies such as medication abortion and manual vacuum aspiration make abortion available earlier in pregnancy. Advocates and health professionals have worked to move early abortion into primary care, and more family medicine doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and midwives are committed to providing the full range of primary health care services, including abortion, to their patients. Maternal death from abortion in the U.S. is a statistic from the past. Over 1 million U.S. women each year obtain safe, legal abortions from highly skilled clinicians.
However, 40 years after Roe, the promise of legal abortion, and therefore of control over one‘s body and health, remains unrealized for too many women. The elimination of abortion coverage from the Affordable Care Act, Federal Medicaid, many private insurers, from Indian Health Services and for those employed by the Federal government or in the military leaves many women facing an insurmountable financial barrier to accessing abortion. State restrictions, including waiting periods, parental consent requirements for minors, bans on later abortions, and expensive and unnecessary requirements for facilities that provide abortions create additional obstacles, especially for rural, young and low-income women. Women, particularly those who need second trimester abortions, must often travel great distances to find abortion care.
Anti-abortion activists have successfully framed abortion as a moral, not a health care, decision, stigmatizing both women who seek abortions and those who provide the abortion care that women need. A shortage of clinicians willing to provide abortions has been exacerbated by the failure of medical professional groups to support abortion providers, a campaign of violence and harassment by anti-abortion activists, and a lack of training opportunities and support systems for those who are committed to women‘s health care. The Supreme Court has eliminated many of the original protections of Roe, and the anti-abortion movement has become very sophisticated. They have co-opted our messages and proclaim that they are the movement that cares about women and healthy families.
In the face of these challenges, we must refuse to go back to the days when women had little control over their reproductive lives and their bodies. There are some lights in the dark tunnel of attacks on our rights.The Reproductive Justice framework holds potential for uniting us around a vision of moving abortion back into the context of women‘s rights and the need for all women, regardless of income, geography, or race, to raise the children they want and not to have children they don‘t want. We are recognizing how eliminating the rights of women with a wanted or an unwanted pregnancy impact all of us, and the need to defend women charged with endangering a pregnancy as vehemently as we defend the right to end a pregnancy. Increasing numbers of young clinicians are stepping up and seeking abortion training, and young women are visibly mobilizing to protect rights they once were able to take for granted. For all of us, the 40th anniversary of Roe is a time to reflect on what we‘ve gained and to become energized by the ongoing work to expand abortion rights and abortion access by new leaders and new visions. Most of all, this anniversary is an opportunity to re-commit ourselves to fighting for justice, including access to abortion as a core part of the comprehensive reproductive health care needed by women across our country and around the world.