Today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that held a woman could control all of her reproductive health choices. Since Roe, legalized abortion in 1973, abortion opponents have strategically dismantled a women’s access to safe reproductive health care.
Ending Roe by mounting a successful Supreme Court challenge is their end game, but in the meantime they are effectively working tirelessly to end abortion by making them impossible to access. What good is the right to choose if you have no access to a safe and affordable abortion procedure?
For abortion opponents, it’s all about chipping away at Roe little by little. Their strategy utilizes all levels of government and the attacks a woman’s right to choose comes from multiple fronts, including introducing abortion restrictions at all legislative levels and mounting court challenges.
The Republican "War on Women" and the ongoing legislative assault on Roe has escalated since Republicans took over statehouses across the country in 2010. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in the past 3 years, there have been more pieces of anti-choice legislation imposing burdensome restrictions on reproductive rights than in the previous decade. Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards says that it was the rise of the tea party that brought on the accelerated stripping away of women’s rights.
Richards said in response to the Guttmacher report, “The historic rise of these attacks on women’s health can be traced back to 2010, when out-of-touch Tea Party politicians picked up key seats in legislatures across the country, promising to create jobs and boost our economy — but immediately focused on ending access to safe and legal abortion and limiting women’s health care options.”
The attack on repro rights hits women of color the hardest. 37% of abortions are obtained by Black women and 22% are obtained by Latina women. Because lack of funds and, often, access, many women of color struggle to pay for the legal procedure and if they are in a state where abortion clinics are shuttering their doors daily, they may also be unable to find a place to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
Conservative anti-choice groups have worked to get twenty three states to pass ultrasound bills which require women to look at an ultrasound of their fetus, even if they don’t want to see it. In four states, the government requires women to listen to a lecture describing the fetus, regardless of if they wish to do so.
One of the most dangerous trends in the assault on Roe are TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) which get rid of abortion access in the practical sense. TRAP laws close abortion clinics. TRAP laws impose unnecessarily burdensome regulations on doctors who perform abortions compared to clinics that perform other medical procedures. Some of the restrictions imposed on clinics are trivial, like the size of the hallway in a clinic, but there are also more burdensome requirements like requiring doctors performing the procedure have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
The question for supporters of women’s bodily autonomy is what is the best way to fight against the enemies of Roe. They are few and far in between but there are some high points in recent years, with the most recent defeat of a 20 week abortion ban in Albuquerque. The shaming of women who are making difficult decisions about their own lives and health didn’t begin or end with the historic decision in Roe and if the GOP rhetoric around rape, birth control pills, and the morning after pill is any indication, it won’t end anytime soon.