Protecting Abortion Rights As the Basis for All Reproductive Rights

Today marks the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark US decision that gave women the right to abortion. The ability to decide for herself if and when she will become a parent is the basis for a woman’s freedom and is rightly nobody’s decision but her own. I’ve written about abortion many times before (here and here, for starters), and it boils down to this:

      • Abortion is essential healthcare for women;
      • Pregnancies don’t always go as planned;
      • The ability to determine if and when she will have children and how large her family will be is a woman’s most fundamental right and;
      • All the rest of a woman’s freedoms rest upon that first freedom.


Despite the critical importance of the right to abortion to women’s rights in general, state legislatures continue apace to enact even more abortion restrictions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more state abortion restrictions were passed between 2011 and 2013 than were passed in the previous decade.

Over the course of the year, 39 states enacted 141 provisions related to reproductive health and rights. Half of these new provisions, 70 in 22 states, sought to restrict access to abortion services.

Last summer, a law banning abortion after 20 weeks – blatantly unconstitutional – was passed by the US House of Representatives, a body that clearly does not take representing the rights and concerns of women, half their constituency, seriously. Certainly Congressmembers should be aware of what is and is not constitutional. This country elected a Tea Party majority to the US House whose top priority has been oppressing women (as well as obstructing the Affordable Care Act and threatening the US economy. Otherwise, a whole lot of nothing). The lesson to draw, ladies, is we can’t afford to miss elections! That’s not to say there aren’t wonderful pro-women, justice-loving lawmakers out there, there are, but they are few and far between.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court declined to review a 20-week ban passed in Arizona instead upholding the finding from the 9th circuit the year previous ruling such bans unconstitutional. Laws that ban abortion after 20 weeks treat women as incubators for humans, and not humans themselves. Inherent in these laws is the view that women are and should be treated as second class citizens. As Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, wrote this fall:

One Florida federal district court has already (and wrongly) ruled that if states may outlaw abortion at some point during pregnancy and force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, then surely the state can also force a woman to undergo major medical procedures to deliver the child she “affirmatively desires to have.”

The basic logic is, if the law removes the choice and responsibility of childbirth from the woman, then women should have to do whatever the law decides is right for her not only concerning abortion, but concerning all aspects of maternity. There are terrifying consequences, as Paltrow outlines:

…post-20-week abortion bans have far-reaching implications for women who experience stillbirths. Increasingly, prosecutors are arguing that if states may force a woman to carry her pregnancy to term, then states should also be able to punish her when she fails to do so. In Mississippi, a teenager who experienced a stillbirth after 20 weeks of pregnancy was charged with a crime called “depraved heart homicide.”

Women have been fighting for their rights as citizens and humans for hundreds of years, if not more. We will, of course, continue that fight. But no matter where you personally stand on the issue of abortion, you must recognize that abridging a woman’s right to choose abortion should she want to end her pregnancy has far-reaching consequences to the rights of woman.

Today Philadelphia was too snow-bound for an outdoor visibility event, but I will close with this quote from last year’s event:

There’s only one conclusion I can draw from all this oppression and outrage: they hate our freedom. Too bad for them, because we will never go back. That is the chant heard today across the country at countless pro-Roe events: We won’t go back! We won’t go back to women having ten or fifteen children whether they want them or not. We won’t go back to back-room abortions. We won’t go back to sitting down and shutting up.

Luckily for women, we feminists know that we don’t have to sit around and wait to be given our rights. As citizens in a participatory democracy, we can demand them. And we will demand them, and keep demanding them until we get them. Women are here, we’ve been here since forever, and we’re staying. Get used to it.


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