On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal across the U.S., I expect a flurry of media commentary: pro-choice activists celebrating, and in the case of the anti-choicers, vilifying. As an activist who got into politics because of women’s rights, I am thankful thatRoe V. Wade is the law of the land. But as a young woman of color active in politics, I am ever wary about the rollbacks to women’s reproductive health care access happening across the country, making the fight for reproductive justice even more of an imperative.
According to the most recent research from the Guttmacher Institute, during the 2014 state legislative session, lawmakers introduced 341 provisions aimed at restricting access to abortion. By the end of 2014, 15 states had enacted 26 new abortion restrictions. Since 2010, states have adopted 231 new abortion restrictions nationwide. Among these restrictions are targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP laws), an anti-choice strategy that places stringent and unnecessary standards on clinics with the end goal of shutting them down, limitations on insurance coverage of abortion, bans on abortions after 20 weeks, mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds, and limitations on medication abortion.
Why this shift? In 2010, many state legislatures across the country were taken over by conservative anti-choice elected officials who spoke about the importance of jobs and the economy but instead focused on ending safe and legal access to abortion and stripping away further access to women’s health care options. Today, about 56% of women live in one of the 27 states deemed hostile to women’s reproductive rights. Add this to the already existing restrictions on using federally funded health care (Medicare, Medicaid or even the Military’s health care TRICARE) for abortion, and women’s right to choose is becoming increasingly obsolete.
The incoming 2015 Congress certainly isn’t looking any better on women’s rights. With the election of more anti-choice members to the U.S. House and Senate, we can expect only more attempts at rollbacks at the federal level. This becomes clear if we take just a minute to look at what anti-choice members attempted to pass when they didn’t have the majority. We’re likely in for some far-reaching legislation including: personhood-style bills that would attempt to overturn Roe. V. Wade, bills such as the “Heartbeat Informed Consent Act,” requiring mandatory ultrasounds or the “Parental Notification & Intervention Act,” which would put a four day long waiting period on a teen seeking an abortion in order to provide the notified parent with a period in which he or she can have the minor’s abortion legally blocked in the court. After the 2014 elections, the pro-choice balance has shifted. The U.S Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has long promised that should he become Majority Leader, he would make passing a 20-week abortion ban his number-one priority. Sure enough, on the first day of the 2015 legislative session Republicans in the House introduced just such a ban.
Roe v. Wade is celebrated as the day that women legally attained the right to decide whether to end a pregnancy. Given all the restrictions that federal and state legislatures have enacted that make it harder to access reproductive rights, what does Roe v. Wade mean? For many women the challenges are not new, especially for low-income women who have often found Roe v. Wade, to be a unreachable promise.
Forty-two percent of women who obtain abortions have an income below 100 percent of the federal poverty line ($10,830 annually, for a single woman with no children). These women are also disproportionately women of color. The cost of a first-trimester abortion, on average, in 2009 was $470, according to the Guttmacher Institute. This is more than some families enrolled in public assistance make in a month. The estimated cost of a second-trimester abortion is $1,629. And these amounts are for a basic procedure with no outstanding medical issues; the costs can go even higher if there are complications due to the woman’s health.
When 1 in 4 women have an abortion before they are 30 years old, and 3 in 10 by the time they are 45, it is clear that we should prioritize ensuring reproductive health access for every woman regardless of socioeconomic status. This includes being able to make a decision, and to actually be able to access that care.
Some call this idea of ensuring access ‘reproductive justice.’ Reproductive justice is defined as the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments. It is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing those decisions. These values have historically been important to women of color, but should be important to all women. Why? Because our government should not be in the business of putting up barriers that make a woman’s decision about her reproductive health care, or parenting, harder for her and her family.
The events of the past year—the shooting deaths of Mike Brown, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the chokehold death of Eric Garner, the death of Tanesha Anderson after being slammed to the ground—have been a stinging reminder that as a Black woman, if I choose to parent, I must worry about my children’s lives and their interactions with law enforcement and citizens who view them as dangerous simply by virtue of the color of their skin. We have much work to do.
How can you join in the fight? Donate to your local abortion fund, which provides funds to women who cannot afford the cost of an abortion. Donate to Planned Parenthood whose health care centers provide affordable reproductive health care to women. Planned Parenthood continues to provide low cost care to those in need because of donations. Also find out how you can join the All* Above All campaign which is working to reverse the prohibition on federally funded health insurance covering abortion. Also, don’t’ forget to vote! Never underestimate the impact elections can have on your rights as women. Together, we really can make sure that the right to control our reproductive future is something that ALL of us can access.
Atima Omara is President of the Young Democrats of America, the nation's largest youth partisan organization. She is the first African American to serve in that role in its 82 year history. She is a political strategist who has staffed several political campaigns and other causes with a focus on women's rights and communities of color. She is Vice Chair of the Planned Parenthood of Metro Washington Action Fund Board and is also a member of the D.C. Abortion Fund Board of Directors.