Why we need "Roe v. Wade" 

It"s about more than abortion

It"s about more than abortion
The 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right of women to make their own childbearing choices had little effect on the woman who first filed the case in 1969 under the pseudonym Jane Roe. Norma McCorvey, then a single mother pregnant with her third child, was denied her initial request for an abortion, and carried her pregnancy to term. Though it came too late to help McCorvey, Roe v. Wade has profoundly affected the lives of millions of women who have accessed safe, legal abortion services over the past 30 years. Though the pro-choice movement certainly didn"t begin with Roe v. Wade, its affirmation of reproductive freedom has had ramifications far beyond abortion rights: expanding women"s educational and career opportunities, improving women"s health by increasing access to birth control and family planning services and enhancing children"s lives by empowering parents to plan their families, helping to ensure that adequate emotional and financial resources exist to care for each child. Even though abortion rates have reached a 30-year low, thanks in large part to advances in education and contraception, the Bush Administration is engaged in an all-out dirty war to overturn Roe v. Wade and undermine women"s reproductive rights. Although Roe v. Wade applies only to women in the U.S., further erosion of the decision will adversely affect women around the world. During his campaign for the White House, Bush did not explicitly promise to get rid of Roe v. Wade; indeed, he has followed a far more wide-ranging and destructive anti-woman agenda since his first day in office, when he reinstated the "global gag rule," preventing overseas health workers receiving U.S. funding from giving women information on abortion. Biding his time until he is able to appoint another anti-abortion judge to the Supreme Court, Bush"s strategy so far has been to weaken abortion rights incrementally and unilaterally, dealing the death of a thousand cuts to programs and policies that affect women and children. The president"s plan pivots on appointing staunch opponents of abortion to key government positions: Attorney General John Ashcroft and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, two-time federal judiciary nominees Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen and, most recently, Senate majority leader Dr. Bill Frist, and Dr. W. David Hager, who was chosen to sit on the FDA committee that reviews reproductive health drugs despite his refusal to prescribe contraceptives to any of his own patients. Bush and his appointees have spent the past two years busily attacking every aspect of reproductive freedom, including: ï passing several pieces of legislation - including the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and a modification of the Children"s Health Insurance Program - designed to establish the legal personhood of embryos; ï boosting funding for abstinence-only sexuality education programs to $135 million in 2003, even though there is no evidence of the effectiveness of such programs, and despite the fact that 76 percent of parents want a more comprehensive approach; ï withdrawing $50 million promised to the United Nations Population Fund, overriding Secretary of State Colin Powell"s unequivocal support for the program; ï refusing last month to re-ratify a 1994 agreement on reproductive health and rights at an international conference in Bangkok, and embarrassing the U.S. by advocating abstinence as the key to HIV/AIDS prevention and demanding removal of language on the right of access to safe abortion services (the U.S. was defeated on both issues by a vote of 30 to 1); ï and removing scientifically accurate information on the effectiveness of condoms and the unproven link between breast cancer and abortion from federal government Web sites. Ironically, these and other policies harm the family planning and sexuality education programs that are most effective in decreasing demand for abortion services. A recent study from the Alan Guttmacher Institute showed that the use of emergency contraception was responsible for more than 40 percent of the decline in abortions in the U.S. between 1994 and 2000. Though this specialized dose of birth control pills prevents conception when taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, nine out of 10 women are still unaware of its availability, and many anti-choice legislators block efforts to expand access to emergency contraception because they incorrectly believe it causes abortions. Despite the continual decline in abortion rates over the past decade, more than 2 million unplanned pregnancies still occur each year, half of which end in abortion. Abortion has been a fact of women"s lives since the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Greece, and was generally accepted as such until the Catholic Church outlawed abortion in 1869, and the U.S. and Great Britain soon followed suit. Today, it remains difficult for many women to choose abortion, especially if they are young, rural or low-income. In Indiana, 93 percent of counties lack an abortion provider, and if an appeal of the 7th Circuit Court"s decision on the unconstitutionality of an in-person counseling requirement is successful, Hoosier women will face yet another barrier to accessing abortion. A 2001 report on women"s health by the National Women"s Law Center gave Indiana a failing grade on reproductive health issues. Policies restricting reproductive freedom cause harm globally, as well as locally. According to the United Nations, access to reproductive health care and family planning is key to reducing poverty and environmental degradation, and improving women"s rights and lives. U.N. research has shown that developing nations that promote family planning achieve faster economic growth, higher productivity and better maternal and child health outcomes than those that do not. Population stability is inescapably linked to geopolitical security, and the U.S. would be wise to consider the long-term foreign policy implications of shortsighted decisions made to appease conservative constituents at home. Even in the face of local and national efforts to erode women"s hard-won reproductive freedom, it may be difficult for many younger people, myself included, to imagine life pre-Roe v. Wade. But unless the diverse pro-choice constituencies in this country unite and advocate to preserve and fortify reproductive rights, we may yet find out what it"s like to live in a post-Roe v. Wade world.

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