35 years after Roe v. Wade solidified American womens' right to abortion, reproductive rights remain in limbo. And while abortion rights are crucial to women's health and autonomy, they are hardly the end-all be-all to reproductive justice -- even if the constant attacks on those rights (and on the people who provide women with them) have forced the pro-choice movement to remain on the defensive about abortion in particular.
Roe at 35 is in bad shape. But there are plenty of forward-looking, positive steps to be taken. It's worth raising a glass to Roe today -- but even more importantly, it's time to get out and fight. Here are a few reasons why:
10. Abortion is already inaccessible and out of reach for many women.
Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion provider. Parental consent laws, 24-hour waiting periods, and other anti-choice roadblocks make abortion difficult or impossible for many women -- young women and low-income women in particular. The Hyde Amendment blocks federal Medicaid money from paying for abortion, meaning that low-income women have their medical care determined by anti-choice bureaucrats instead of doctors. When women have to spend weeks trying to legally bypass parental consent laws, or when they have to take time off work, save up money for the procedure, find someone to take care of their children, figure out transportation, and drive miles and miles to the closest clinic only to be told to "go home and think about it and come back tomorrow," the procedure gets pushed back -- and later-term abortions are more difficult and more expensive. An abortion at 24 weeks (a procedure already impossible to get in most states) can cost as much as $10,000. Groups like the National Abortion Network of Abortion Funds and the Haven Coalition attempt to offset the costs of abortion and the related expenses, but their budgets and abilities are limited, particularly in contrast to the financial and political strength of the anti-choice movement. In the meantime, Roe remains an unfulfilled promise for many American women.
9. If abortion is illegal, then women and doctors will be criminals.
Anti-choicers dislike answering the sticky question of how much time in jail women who have abortions should serve. But as it stands, a lot of anti-abortion legislation is not premised on outlawing abortion, but rather attempts to establish that life begins when an egg is fertilized. Much of that legislation expresses the idea that a zygote and a fetus are people deserving a full range of legal rights. In such a "pro-life" world, women who have abortions are murderers, and doctors contract killers. Women are already going to jail for "murder" because they used drugs while pregnant; it's hardly a stretch to argue that women could face jail time for terminating pregnancies, especially if anti-choicers really believe -- as they claim -- that fetuses are people invested with full rights. As it stands, about one in three American women will have an abortion at some time in her life. Those are a whole lot women to turn into criminals.
8. Anti-choicers care about controlling your sex life, not saving babies.
For all their talk about valuing babies and life, anti-choicers have demonstrated time and again that they could actually care less. They're more interested in punishing women for sex and in maintaining a male-dominated family model. And they're only "pro-life" up until the moment of birth -- then you're on your own. Anti-choice politicians opposed extending health care to low-income kids; they routinely vote against Head Start and early childhood education programs; they abhor welfare programs that give aid to single parents and low-income families; and they are at the forefront of opposition to state childcare aid. It's no surprise that 100% of the worst legislators for children are "pro-life," and many of the most "pro-life" states are the worst for children and for women. While children are hardly their first priority, anti-choicers are extremely concerned about what you do with your private parts. They are the architects of "abstinence-only" sex education that flat-out lies and misleads students in order to promote conservative values of female submission, homophobia and general ignorance. Many of them opposed a vaccine that could save thousands of women from cancer -- because the vaccine prevented cervical cancer and had to be given before the onset of sexual activity, meaning that anti-sex nuts had one less tool in their slut-punishing arsenal.
7. They're going after your birth control, too.
Pro-lifers care about lowering the abortion rate, right? Wrong. They oppose contraception, too -- and though they're quiet about it now, you can bet that it's next on the list of things that have to go in a "pro-life" nation. In fact, none of the major pro-life organizations support contraception access, despite the fact that accessible and affordable contraception is the most effective way to decrease the abortion rate.
6. Illegal abortion kills women.
There are no two ways about this one -- when abortion is illegal, women are killed and maimed. Some 80,000 women die as a result of illegal abortion every year; hundreds of thousands more are injured. Women around the world suffer when pro-life laws rule the land. And "pro-lifers" could care less. Illegal abortion is the cause of 25% of all maternal deaths in Latin America, 12% in Asia, and 13% in sub-Saharan Africa. Women's lives, apparently, aren't covered by that whole "pro-life" thing.
5. Legal abortion is good for women, men and families.
Post-Roe, American women have made phenomenal gains in nearly all areas of life, and American families have benefited. Women go to college at the same rates as men. We can define ourselves as something other than mothers, or as mothers and something else. Poverty has been cut in half since Roe gave women the right to control their own reproduction. Men can be nurturing too, and are expected to take part in raising their children. Families can be planned. Men have greater choices in their occupations since they aren't required to be the sole bread-winner. More people have access to education. Women have more power to escape abusive relationships or bad jobs. Parents of both sexes spend more time with their kids than ever before. Overall, reproductive rights have been tremendously beneficial to all Americans -- except for those who want women to be second-class citizens.
4. Poor women and women of color are disproportionately impacted by anti-choice policies.
When anti-choicers chip away at abortion rights, they take down the easy targets first -- and since poor women and women of color have relatively little political power, they suffer the brunt of anti-choice ideology. Abortion is made much more expensive by the myriad restrictions placed on it, and low-income women bear the burden of navigating through the costs and impediments of accessing basic health care. Women of color not only face restricted abortion access, but are then blamed for "genocide." And women in the global south face the deadly consequences of the global gag rule, which not only impacts their reproductive health care but silences them as social and political actors.
3. Choice isn't just about not giving birth -- it's about your right to have children.
The anti-choice movement isn't just against abortion and birth control; many anti-choicers also oppose in-vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments. They also draw convenient lines about who is fit for motherhood, bemoaning the lack of white babies up for adoption while supporting organizations and practices that strip women of color of their right to reproduce. Reproductive freedom is about the ability to determine for yourself when and if you have children; the anti-choice movement is about the exact opposite. Anti-choice governments don't just limit abortion rights -- as China's one-child policy aptly demonstrates, they also limit the right to choose to have children.
2. Anti-choicers are also going after the rights of women around the world.
Not content to stick it to American women, anti-choicers have taken their crusade abroad with policies like the global gag rule. The United States' policy of denying reproductive health funding to any organization that so much as mentions abortion -- by petitioning their own government for reproductive rights, performing abortions with their own non-U.S. money, referring women to abortion providers, or even telling women that abortion is an option -- contributes to "shockingly high death and disability rates in developing countries." Reproductive health care clinics usually provide a variety of services, and when the U.S. cuts off funding because of abortion advocacy, they also cut off funding to pre-natal care, HIV/AIDS services, well-baby care, STD prevention, and sexual health education. The majority of births world-wide already take place outside of hospitals, and a third of women receive no pre-natal care. In places like Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, experts estimate that up to up to 50 percent of maternal mortalities result from unsafe, illegal abortions. In sub-Saharan Africa, 920 women die for every 100,000 live births. The number for Europe, on the other hand, is 24. Contraception access, safe abortion, sexual health education and generalized health care could save many of these women. It is estimated that giving contraception alone to all the women who want it could prevent 22 million abortions, 23 million unplanned births, and 1.4 million infant deaths. Instead of increasing access to health care, anti-choice groups are at the forefront of denying it. And they have lots of blood on their hands in the name of "life."
1. Reproductive justice is about you.
It's about your rights and your family and your body. All of us make reproductive choices -- to have kids or not, to use birth control or not, to have sex or not, to continue a pregnancy or not. Reproductive health care impacts all of our lives. In a pro-choice country, children are wanted and cared for, pregnancy is voluntary and families are healthy. Women and men have a full range of rights, and the liberty to act as individuals instead of squeezing themselves into narrow gender roles. Sex is both a pleasure and a responsibility, not a guilt-ridden exercise intended only for reproduction in the context of a male-headed heterosexual marriage. One's character and morality are squarely centered in their heart and their head, not between their legs. Health care is available for everyone who needs it, without judgment or impediment. And lives are actually valued -- even mine and even yours.
That's what a pro-choice nation looks like. And despite the odds and the opposition, I'm maintaining hope that most Americans do value healthy families, gender equality and human rights -- and that if we keep working towards those goals, it won't take another 35 years to get there.
Jill Filipovic is a New York-based freelance writer, political blogger and law student.
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