40 Years After Roe, Many Women Still Lack Choices
On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided by a 7-2 margin that a woman has a right to an abortion.
Forty years later, though 70 percent of Americans support the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, 87 percent of counties in the United States do not have one clinic that offers legal abortions, and several states have just one clinic. Those who operate the clinics often do so enduring constant protests and the threat of imminent violence.
Despite this, an estimated 1 in 3 women have had an abortion. And that number might be even higher if abortion were made illegal, as countries that ban the procedure report higher instances of abortion.
The so-called pro-life movement that came to being by drawing evangelicals into the Republican Party has failed in its central goal of overturning Roe. But it has succeeded in politicizing access to basic reproductive health care.
Since the Republican wave election of 2010, pro-lifers have gone into overdrive, passing 135 new laws restricting a woman’s right to choose and targeting Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health care for women.
While Planned Parenthood — which has been supported in the past by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Republicans like Barry Goldwater, and funded by the federal government since the Nixon administration — does perform abortions, it receives funding only to provide basic health care. Despite this, defunding the group has become an obsession of the right.
Governor Rick Perry of Texas is costing his state $250 million and depriving thousands of women of their basic health care provider just to keep federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood in Texas, though they perform no abortions at all.
Being stridently anti-abortion rights is a safe position in most red states. However, when Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock articulated in inarticulate ways the Republican Party’s position — that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape — they ended up losing their races in states where Mitt Romney won easily.
Only 9 percent of Americans support making abortion illegal without exception, the position of Akin, Mourdock and Romney’s former running mate and one of the frontrunners for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination — Paul Ryan.
In addition to opposing abortion, most Republicans also oppose the Affordable Care Act mandate that all women should be provided free birth control as part of their health insurance coverage. The fact that abortion activists also oppose what will be the most comprehensive effort to prevent unwanted pregnancies in American history suggests that the pro-life movement includes many who simply seek to restrict a woman’s choice to operate with the sexual freedom of a man.
Could the GOP’s increasingly strident stand against a woman’s right to reproductive health care be actually pushing the public to become more tolerant of abortion?
The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that found that 7 out of 10 Americans support the Roe decision also found that for the first time ever, a majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal. The same poll said that only 24 percent want Roe overturned.
Overturning Roe was the position of every major Republican candidate for president in 2012.
The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza looked at those results and decided that Republicans should stop talking about Roe, just as they’ve been instructed to stop talking about rape.
The National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru doesn’t buy Cillizza’s interepration and doesn’t see any evidence that the so-called “GOP war on women” has shifted public opinion. “What it really shows is that polling on abortion needs to be read carefully rather than excitably,” he wrote. He notes that though both the NBC/WSJ poll and a recent Pew poll show a vast majority of Americans supporting Roe, that’s not necessarily evidence of a new trend, as support for the law has been pretty consistent since its last peak in 1989.
Even if national opinion is growing more pro-abortion rights, Republicans have been effective in using their legislative power to prevent women from accessing safe abortion services — 7 out of 10 women who have had an abortion were forced to delay it in order to raise the funds to pay for it.
Making clinics difficult to find, by imposing nearly impossible regulations on their operations, and limiting legal abortions to earlier and earlier in the pregnancy are the primary tactics of the anti-abortion rights movement, which is aware that the current makeup of the Supreme Court would likely reaffirm Roe by a one-vote margin and settle the issue for decades.
Thus, 40 years after the right to make reproductive decisions was given to all American women, the right is generally reserved for women who live in blue states or have the resources to make sure their ability to choose for themselves is not legislated away.
Roe gave all women the right to make their own decisions, but the pro-life movement has effectively limited that right to those who can afford it.
Photo credit: ctrouper via Flickr.com