Jan. 22 marks the 44th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which declared that the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th amendment extended to a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. For women and those that care about women and their reproductive freedom and right to self-determination, this momentous day is celebrated as “Roe v. Wade Day.” On this day 44 years ago, many women became less terrified. On this day, women earned the right to decide for themselves what to do, or not do, with their bodies. On this day, a measure of equality and independence was gained. On this day, lives were saved.
Before Roe v. Wade, an unwanted pregnancy could lead to poverty, heartbreak, illness and even death. In 1965, illegal abortions caused onesixth of all pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths. This proportion was signifi – cantly higher for low-income women. These were dark times for women.
After Roe v. Wade, more women exercised their right of reproductive freedom, and the abortion rate went up. But then an interesting thing happened. The rate leveled out in the 1980s, and then fell, and continued falling through the ensuing decades. The rate hit an all-time low in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since the landmark case, this fundamental right has been challenged again and again. It has been eroded state by state, statute by statute. Waiting periods, parental notification, constraints on insurance coverage for abortions, and restrictions on timing of abortion have become part of the legal landscape in many states (although not in Oregon). A major blow was the 2007 Supreme Court Case that upheld the federal ban on late-term abortions (misleadingly labeled “partial birth abortions”), a medical procedure that is only used in extreme cases of threat to health of the mother or the fetus.
We are entering an even more uncertain time for women’s rights, including abortion rights, in this country. While we do not know for sure what our new president will do with respect to the laws that govern women’s reproductive freedom, there are ominous signs that we are under threat once again. Fourteen states passed laws in 2016 that restrict abortion access in some way. More are on the horizon for this year. We must raise our voices once again, assert our right to control our own bodies and our lives, and remain vigilant.
There are a number of organizations fighting the good fight for women’s reproductive freedom, including the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League). Join them. Donate to them. Support them. Ensure that we will be celebrating Roe v. Wade Day for decades to come, not just as a historical artifact, but as a milestone on the route to women’s freedom.
Sheila Swinford is the president of the Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Newport News Times, January 20, 2017, A6