I wrote this post as part of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 2012 “Blog for Choice Day” – click the link for more entries.
On Friday I attended the St. Louis Freedom of Choice Council‘s celebration of the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The theme was “4000 Years of Choice,” and it made a salient point: though abortion has been legal in the U.S. since only 1973, abortion is not something new. Women have been ending pregnancies for as long as we have been getting pregnant. Regardless of its legal status, women will have abortions.
Part of why Roe was (and is) such an important decision is because legal abortion means safe abortion. Before Roe, countless women suffered injuries and death from undergoing illegal abortions. Unsanitary conditions and untrained practitioners meant that a very safe procedure was quite risky. During the 1950s and 1960s, an estimated 160-260 women died from illegal abortions each year in the US. Thousands more came to emergency rooms with dangerous complications from injuries. This Mother Jones article, “The Way It Was” gives a moving account of life pre-Roe.
While we’ve come a long way since 1973, we cannot be complacent. Anti-choice activists work hard to erode women’s right to choose, and they have been successful. Clinic harassment, 24-hour waiting periods, the Hyde Amendment, the ban on so-called “partial-birth” abortions and pharmacy refusal laws are just some of the ways opponents of choice have infringed on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. In fact, 2011 saw both Congress and state legislatures wage a “War on Women” with a glut of anti-choice measures being proposed and passed.
As we commemorate the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must renew our resolve to remove these social and legal obstacles so every woman in America can access safe and legal abortion care.