The 43rd Anniversary Of Roe v. Wade & How Far We Are From Realizing Its Promise

As we revisit Roe’s legacy today, we recognize it was the start, but not the end, of women’s reproductive freedom. 

January 22nd, 1973- 42 years ago today, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on Roe vs Wade, a decision that protects a woman’s freedom to make her own choices about her body and her health.

While it is important to reflect on an important historical moment for women's rights, it is also necessary that we reflect on the many barriers today that are denying women reproductive rights. 2016 looks to compound these challenges. With a presidential election and and two very important Supreme Court cases (one already ruled on Tuesday), the year to come is going to a busy one, with the potential to be devastating for a woman’s right to choose.

About half of all pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unplanned, and almost one-third of women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Yet elected officials are trying to perpetuate shame and take away critical and life-saving abortion services.

The Republican Party across the board is hostile to abortion rights, and states under Republican control in the last few years have seen a rise in restrictions that stifle access to abortions. Over the past four years, states have imposed more than 200 restrictions on abortion, including mandatory waiting periods that force women to make multiple trips to a clinic, unnecessary regulations on clinics that drive them out of business, and bans on insurance coverage for abortion that increase the out-of-pocket cost of the procedure — all of which are simply impossible for many women.

History shows us that women have been denied the full benefits of Roe for decades. Just seven years after the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to abortion, the justices upheld the Hyde Amendment,  a provision that prevents women covered by Medicaid from using their insurance to pay for abortion services. Then, in 1992, the Supreme Court held in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey that a state could restrict an abortion procedure as long as it did not pose an "undue burden" on women seeking the service. The law included certain information requirements such as a parental consent requirement, a husband notification requirement, notification exceptions, a medical emergency definition, and reporting requirements for abortion providers.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole is functionally about overturning Roe v. Wade and reinstituting state bans on abortion, making it the most important abortion rights case in almost 25 years.  This case challenges HB2, the 2013 Texas law that requires abortion care facilities to meet expensive and unnecessary requirements that are not only medically unnecessary, but near impossibly for most facilities to comply with. The law was passed to seem as if it were protecting the health of women, but in reality the law has nothing to do with health and safety, but instead is a disguised attempt to shut down abortion care facilities and put an end to abortion altogether.  In fact, many prominent medical associations, including American Medical Association, (AMA) American Public Health Association (APHA), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have publicly declared their opposition to HB2, stating that it “jeopardizes the health of women in Texas”.

Texas had 42 abortion clinics before HB2, but after its passing this number fell to just 19.  A Supreme Court ruling in favor of upholding HB2 laws puts the remaining clinics in danger and could leave just 10 clinics open for 27 million people living in the state. The larger threat of a favor ruling is that anti-abortion laws could expand other states' rights to restrict abortion access. Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole will have an impact on clinics and access to safe abortion care nationwide.

In February 2013, Arkansas passed the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, a bill outlawing abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy if a heartbeat is detected. Two Arkansas doctors challenged the bill as unconstitutional and two lower courts prevented the ban from going into effect. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied the revival of law. The decision could send a signal and help curb early abortion bans in other states. Hopefully it is also a telling sign the high court will do the right thing on Whole Woman's Health v. Cole.
Women all over the country- and the world- still lack access to birth control pills, “Plan B” pills, and abortion.  Clinics across the country are being shut down, shot at, and regulated to closure. Roe got us started for sure, but we still have a long way to go.

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