Today, January 22, marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortions nationwide. Despite the fact that issues such gay rights held a spotlight in President Obama’s inaugural address, a woman’s right to choose is is still a highly divisive debate.
TIME magazine’s first issue of 2013 boldly stated that women have been losing ground ever since the Roe ruling, but is that really true? Let’s take a look at where women’s abortion rights stand today:
- So what did the landmark decision mean for women? It legalized abortion making the decision to end a pregnancy in the first three months as a private matter between women and their doctors.
- According to a January 2013 NBC/WSJ poll on the public’s historical perception of abortion rights, 24 years ago 58 percent of people wanted to overturn this landmark decision. The current poll held that 70 percent do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, with 57 percent of those feeling very strongly about the position. Only 9 percent said that abortion should be illegal without exception (such as rape or incest). [Washington Post]
- The crazy thing is that young people don’t have a concept of what it was like to live without the availability of legal abortions — or for that matter, even know the significance of Roe vs. Wade. A Pew Forum poll in January of 2012 found that only 40 percent of people under 30 knew what Roe v. Wade was about, 33 percent incorrectly identified the decision and 24 percent said they did not know. [Pew Forum]
- Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued the pro-legalization side before the Supreme Court, said in an interview with TIME, “What we know from the past is that if abortion is illegal, there will be illegal abortion. And if we come to a period that abortion is theoretically legal, but the laws in various states make it almost impossible for women who are younger or poorer to have access, you’re going to have more illegal or self-abortion.” [TIME]
- Physicians for Reproductive Choice have a 24-minute documentary “Voices of Choice” that provides a chilling perspective of life before legal abortions told by the doctors who risked their license to make sure women were able to safely end a pregnancy. For these physicians the goal is to teach young women what it was like to end a pregnancy before abortion was legal and thus protect the Roe vs. Wade decision. [Physicians For Reproductive Choice]
- Health issues are argued by both sides of the argument. Pregnancy can be life threatening for some mothers and it can be psychologically damaging for those who became pregnant through rape or incest. Some anti-choicers, however, warn that terminating a pregnancy is also emotionally taxing for a woman. [USA Today]
- There’s no lack of dumb, insensitive comments being made about abortion rights. According to EMILY’s List as recently as January 16, Rush Limbaugh told listeners on his radio show, “You know how to stop abortion? Require that each one occur with a gun.” Rush Limbaugh]
- Individual states are using their powers to make dents at the national law. Many states are attempting to redefine “fetal personhood,” limit insurance coverage for abortion, or require waiting periods before getting an abortion, parental consent, or transvaginal ultrasounds. Recently former presidential candidate and current governor of Texas, Rick Perry, decided to defund Planned Parenthood in his state making access to cancer screenings, contraception and other services beyond just abortion more difficult. Here is a list put together by Jezebel of the 29 states who have or are attempting to pass abortion limiting laws. (Since this was posted several of these laws failed to pass, including Colorado’s personhood measure.
- Anti-abortion advocates, though dwindling in number according to the aforementioned polls, remain as vocal as ever. They maintain heavy representation in the United States Congress where seven laws attempting to restrict abortions passed in the 112th Congress before failing in the Senate. [RNC Life]
- Organizations such as the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment argue that the fetus is a living being with its own set of constitutional rights. Many oppose abortion for religious reasons, and view abortion as the destroying of human life. Every year thousands gather in Washington, D.C for the March for Life, which will take place this year on January 25th. [National Committee For A Human Life Amendment, March For Life]
So where does the decision as a law stand today? Weddington feels that with the reelection of President Obama, who will likely fill future Supreme Court vacancies, will mean the appointment of a Justice who favors keeping the Roe vs. Wade decision status quo. She does worry about the future, though, telling TIME of state passed regulations:
“If you look at who’s passing those regulations, they are not people who say, ‘We’re in favor of abortion being available and we just want to be sure they’re safe.’ They are people who are totally opposed to abortion. What they really want is to try and do everything they can to be sure there are no abortions available.”"
Weddington still feels as strongly about her successful argument 40 years ago: ending a pregnancy should be the decision of the individual woman to decide, not the government. Tell us what you think about this watershed decision.
Contact me at Sarah.Gray@TheFrisky.com.