NARAL Pro-Choice America, the national office of the Maryland affiliate that I just wrapped up an internship with, provided a prompt for today: What will I do to help elect pro-choice officials in 2012? I don’t promise to follow that prompt.
Today, by the way, isn’t really about blogging; it’s the 39th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, which outlawed state bans on abortion. Here’s the newscast reporting on the decision from ABC’s archives. The reporter didn’t know how right he was when he said, “The fight will go on.”
After this newscast, the Court went back to Roe and changed the regulations from being tied to the woman’s trimester to being tied to the fetus’ viability, around 24 weeks, which is how the law sits today. Basically, the ruling established a woman’s right to seek an abortion without the state interfering based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s implicit right to privacy.
Did everyone already know all those basics? That’s as deep as we’re going to go into the decision. There’s a wealth of information on the case all over the internet, but the National Abortion Foundation‘s write-up is nice and succinct.
Why is Roe still important? It’s almost 40 years old, definitely a full-grown law at this point, able to make adult decisions and never get carded (unlike spunky Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, only 20 years old this year). Despite being upheld a number of times in its 39 years, Roe continues to be challenged. Not (usually) big, showy, obvious challenges like the Mississippi personhood attempt, but more subtle challenges that chip away at our right to choice.
Regulations like waiting periods and counseling laws exist in 32 states to make it difficult for women to seek out this safe, legal medical procedure. If you need an abortion in one of those states, you have to take two days off work, find accommodations for two nights, and find child care for two days. Before you receive your safe, legal medical procedure, you might have to talk to someone who will try to convince you not to have the abortion; you might be forced to see an ultrasound or hear the heartbeat of the fetus you don’t want to be carrying. You will be told that you aren’t really capable of understanding the consequences of an abortion; you very likely will be lied to.
Then there are the regulations on abortion clinics themselves that were passed just last year in Virginia that make it more difficult for doctors to provide this safe, legal medical procedure. These new rules mandate that clinics must be so large, hallways must be so wide, window coverings be made of such specific fabric (I’m serious). Virginia’s are the worst, but 45 states and the District all impose regulations on abortion clinics that aren’t imposed on other medical practices. Rules like these have shuttered countless clinics around the country, making it significantly more difficult for women to access abortion services early in the pregnancy, when it is safer and easier.
There are whole states with only a single abortion clinic (I’m looking at you again, Mississippi, but also North Dakota and South Dakota), and it is my understanding that Mississippi has to fly their provider in from another state, and that they aren’t the only one that has to do so. If you click on that link, Rachel Maddow will spell out how it has come to be that 87% of counties in the United States don’t have access to abortion. That segment is over two years old now, and things have only gotten worse since.
If a woman can’t get to a clinic, it doesn’t matter if abortion is legal or not. It doesn’t matter if the pregnancy is the result of a rape, a busted condom, or a teenager who learned on the internet that you can’t get pregnant the first time. What matters is that woman is now in a situation she doesn’t want to be in, with a pregnancy she doesn’t want to carry, and she doesn’t have much of a choice. The anti-choice movement knows they don’t have to overturn Roe vs. Wade: impossible may as well be illegal.
So what do we do in 2012? We talk. A lot. We talk to our friends. We talk to our partners. We talk to our kids, our parents, our grandparents. We talk to our legislators (here, here, and here). There are a lot of important things going on in the world, but that doesn’t mean we let the issue of choice slip into the background. We can’t stop talking about choice, because when we do, choice gets chipped away.