Next Tuesday marks the 35th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States. In this election year, it is critical to restore women's access to the full range of reproductive healthcare.
On this date in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled -- in Roe v. Wade -- that the majority of laws prohibiting abortions violated a woman's constitutional right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
The court correctly recognized that a woman's decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a personal one that should be made in consultation with her doctor. It did, however, permit that the government could regulate access to abortion after the first trimester, but ruled in Roe v. Wade's lesser-known companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, that such laws must allow for exemptions in cases where a woman's health is at risk.
Attacks on reproductive health
Today, after seven years of the Bush administration's attacks on reproductive health, the future of a woman's fundamental right to make medical decisions regarding her body is uncertain.
Since taking office in 2000, in addition to naming Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, President Bush has appointed almost 300 judges to federal courts. These appointees will have an effect on the legal climate of this country for several decades.
They have already curtailed access to abortion services. In 2003, Bush signed into law a federal ban on late-term abortions, called the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (partial-birth abortion is not a medical term used by either the American Medical Association or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). This law does not include any exceptions for medically necessary abortions using professionally accepted procedures such as intact dilation and extraction. The Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, upheld the law in 2007.
That ruling undermined legal protections allowing for late-term abortions in cases where a women's health is endangered by carrying a pregnancy to term. Late-term abortions were more likely to be performed due to a woman's health problems, fetal abnormalities and in cases of rape or incest, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Today, 31 states have passed bills that outlaw late-term abortions, 29 of these without any provisions allowing for health exceptions when a woman's life is threatened. In addition, six states have laws on the books that, if Roe v. Wade were repealed, would ban access to abortion outright.
These attacks on women's health and reproductive freedom are out of line with public opinion in this country. A majority of Americans supports legal access to medically necessary abortions. A FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, conducted in October 2007, found that 73 percent of registered voters in the United States believe that abortion should be available in cases when the woman's life is at risk. In addition, 70 percent support abortion in cases of rape or incest.
This election will prove pivotal to reproductive freedom in this country. The two most liberal justices remaining on the Supreme Court are also the oldest -- John Paul Stevens is 87, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 74. The president who is elected this fall will likely appoint their successors.
Now is the time to advance access to comprehensive reproductive health services in the United States. Anything less will be a blow to women's equality.
Jill Hopke is a writer for Progressive Media Project.
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