This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the landmark January 22, 1973 Supreme Court 7-2 ruling that legalised abortion in the United States. Much is being written about how divided we are as a country on this issue, how complicated it is, and how we’ll never find common ground.
What most articles and commentators fail to state is that despite ongoing rollbacks and access restrictions, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe we should make our own decisions about our bodies and health, not the government.
According to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, seven in 10 Americans believe Roe v Wade should remain law. This is the highest level of support for reproductive justice since polls began tracking the public’s views on abortion in 1989.
Even though the poll finds that the overwhelming majority of Americans support the ruling, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline on its blog stating that “40 years post Roe v Wade, views on abortion remain divided, complex”.
A divided nation?
Last August, Republicans for Choice (yes, they exist, but are rarely, if ever, interviewed in the media) released a poll showing that 71 percent of Republicans believe women should make their own reproductive choices, not the government, and that 70 percent of those who label themselves as “pro-life” are in fact pro-choice.
The question they asked was this: Regardless of how you personally feel about the issue of abortion, who do you believe should have the right to make that decision regarding whether to have an abortion? Should the woman, her family and her doctor make the decision or should the government make the decision?
Seventy-one percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Independents, and 89 percent of Democrats said they “strongly” feel a woman should make her own decisions and yet, a small group of politicians write and pass restrictive laws across the country that most people oppose. Rather than challenge politicians who are more interested in women’s bodies than the ongoing economic crisis, the media constantly repeat stale claims about divisions and run front-page photos of activists yelling at each other on the steps of the Supreme Court.
The rollbacks are frightening, outrageous, and serious, but they do not reflect the will of the people. What are we facing 40 years after women demanded free abortion on demand? All you have to do is read the headlines on RH Reality Check, an excellent website that provides reproductive and sexual health and justice news and analysis, for an overview: Kansas law banning private insurance coverage for abortion will stand; New study shows anti-choice policies leading to widespread arrests of and forced interventions of pregnant women; Paul Ryan wants Personhood for “One-Celled Human Embryos”; Virginia legislators want to force poor women to carry severely disabled fetuses to term against their will; and With Muskegon clinic closure, access to abortion in Michigan just got harder.
In favour of reproductive justice
Most people don’t know that 87 percent of all US counties and 98 percent of rural counties have no abortion provider, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a public policy organisation that works to advance sexual and reproductive health. In 2008, nearly nine in 10 abortion clinics experienced at least one form of harassment.
Last year, 42 states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 laws affecting reproductive health and rights. One-third of the new provisions, 43 in 19 states, sought to restrict abortion services. Eight states now require an ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion; 20 states now restrict abortion coverage available through state health insurance exchanges; and 18 states require that women seeking an abortion be given misleading information.
The abortion war
We are clearly losing ground, but what happens when these issues are taken to the voters? They overwhelmingly vote for reproductive justice. In 2006 and 2008, South Dakota, a state with just one abortion provider, politicians supported legislation that would have nearly banned all abortions. When the bills went to the voters as ballot initiatives, they lost. Even though the people sent a strong message to anti-choice politicians, South Dakota’s Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard signed legislation in March 2011 that requires a woman seeking an abortion to visit anti-abortion counseling centres and mandates a 72-hour waiting period, the longest in the country.
In November 2011, Mississippi voters rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have outlawed abortion by defining a fertilised egg as a person. If you can’t outlaw abortion in Mississippi, the state with the most restrictive abortion laws on the books, you can’t outlaw it anywhere.
Similar so-called “personhood” measures, which were backed by most of the men running for President on the Republican ticket last year, failed in Colorado in 2008 and 2010. Over the past two years, anti-choice groups in Montana, Ohio, Nevada, and Florida have failed to gather enough signatures to put similar measures on the ballot. Last July, a measure that would have amended the Oregon Constitution to prohibit access to abortion coverage for low-income women failed to qualify for the 2012 ballot.
In November 2012, Florida voters rejected an amendment that would have prohibited state funding for abortion, which the state doesn’t provide in the first place! It also would have weakened the court’s ability to block abortion restrictions and removed women’s rights to reproductive “privacy” from the state’s constitution.
‘Enough is enough’
Since 2005, anti-choice extremists have seen their ballot measures attacking reproductive rights fail 10 out of 11 times, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, and yet, the media and most commentators constantly claim that the United States is vehemently divided and most outlets refer to politicians who support restricting our rights, make the most outlandish statements about women, and vote against the interests of children and families as “pro-life”. The next time you read or hear that term, call or email the media outlet and ask for an explanation. In March 2010, National Public Radio replaced “pro-choice” and “pro-life” with “abortion rights supporter” and “abortion rights opponent”. Language matters.
Despite the public’s support for legal and safe abortion, there is little to no pushback against these dangerous laws from most politicians in the Democratic Party. To say that they’ve done little to advance our rights would be an understatement. By constantly focusing on compromises with antiabortion politicians, the entire debate has shifted further and further to the right. Forty years after Roe v Wade, who would have thought that we’d be debating birth control?
The overwhelming majority of Americans are not interested in forced childbirth. Politicians are passing laws the people don’t want and yet they are rarely challenged in the media. The more extreme they are, the more coverage they get. Enough is enough. We will not go back. It’s time to move forward and do the necessary work to ensure that every woman in this country, especially those living in low-income communities, have access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including sex education, birth control, and abortion. Use your voice. Demand the truth from the media, not manufactured controversy. You’re in the majority.
I’ll be moderating an event to celebrate Roe v. Wade this Saturday in San Francisco. There are several ‘Trust Women’ events happening across the country this week. Find one in your area, invites friends and family, and show your support. It’s time to move forward.
Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW in San Francisco.
Follow her on Twitter: @roseaguilar