Politics, The World

43 years later, we’re still fighting for the right to choose

Abortion is legal in America, but our fight for reproductive justice is far from over.

January 22 of this year marks the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to have an abortion.  But for too many Americans, this right remains well out of reach.

Since the midterm elections in 2010 when Republicans made significant electoral gains, 288 different laws restricting abortion have been passed on the state level.  More abortion restrictions have passed in the past five years than the previous 15.  These restrictions include putting unnecessary regulations on abortion providers so that they have to close, lengthening waiting periods before having an abortion, and requiring someone seeking an abortion to hear inaccurate information about abortion from a physician.  In aggressively pushing these measures, anti-choice lawmakers are trying to ban abortion without technically banning it.

Barriers to safe abortion have also grown outside of the political realm.  So-called crisis pregnancy centers have popped up throughout the country, claiming to offer help to those with unwanted pregnancies but giving them false information that keeps them from getting an abortion.  Whether they’re seeking an abortion or not, anyone seen going into a health clinic that performs abortion may be faced with harassment from anti-choice protesters outside.  And outright violence against clinics, most notably the recent Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado, is also a  constant fear among abortion providers.

All of these obstacles have made it increasingly difficult to access reproductive healthcare services, especially for economically vulnerable populations like working-class parents, transgender people, women of color, and undocumented immigrants.  If you have to travel hundreds of miles just to get to the nearest clinic, you might have to pay for transportation, lodging, and childcare for the children you already have.  Missing work to get an abortion can also be costly, especially when you are living paycheck to paycheck.

Then there is the cost of the abortion itself.  The federal Hyde Amendment prohibits public funds from being used for abortions.  Even if they have health insurance at all, low-income people are more likely to rely on publicly funded healthcare programs like Medicaid, so if they need an abortion they must pay out of pocket.

Upper-class women still have the means to get a safe abortion, but others are more likely to end up dangerously trying to self-induce an abortion or carry their unwanted pregnancy to term.  When someone has the legal right to an abortion but no way of accessing it, they have been effectively denied that right.

The hashtag #ReclaimRoe is being used by reproductive rights supporters not only to affirm the right to make your own reproductive choices, but to highlight how different marginalized communities are affected by this issue.

Later this year, the Supreme Court will hear Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, challenging a Texas law that puts burdensome regulations on abortion clinics in the state.  This law is often remembered as the bill challenged by State Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster in 2013.  The outcome of this case will have ramifications for the entire country.

If the law is upheld, it will embolden other states to impose even more restrictions on abortion.  If it is struck down, the court will have affirmed that the constitutional right to an abortion should not be obstructed.  In the meantime, abortion funds, political advocacy groups, and grassroots pro-choice activists around the country will continue to work for a future where Roe v. Wade can benefit everyone.

  • Mariam Ahmed

    Originally from Texas, she lives in the Washington, DC area.