Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a woman’s right to abortion. On this day we remember the countless women who died from unsafe abortions prior to Roe. Those brave women were the senseless victims of a society that historically has treated women like second-class citizens, tossed their rights around like a political football and patrolled their bodies as if they belonged to the state.
We are at a critical turning point in this country. A recent poll shows that public support for Roe v. Wade is even stronger right now than it was just two years ago. The right wing’s escalated attacks on women’s access to reproductive health care have backfired, causing people to pay attention, speak out and mobilize to vote. These attacks — and the often outrageous rhetoric that has accompanied them — have clarified for many people precisely why the government should not be making reproductive decisions for women.
But the restrictions that conservative legislators have enacted at the state level — 92 anti-abortion provisions in 2011 and 43 in 2012 — result in very real consequences for women. Unnecessary procedures, like vaginal ultrasounds, literally punish women for seeking to control their reproductive lives. At the same time, defunding and excessive regulations serve to put reproductive health clinics out of business.
We must be clear: The right-wing lawmakers pushing these laws are out of step with public sentiment. GOP leaders like Bobby Jindal know this — that’s why he has suggested that his party soften its message, but not its mission. They still intend to do everything in their power to restrict women’s access to abortion care and birth control, and they don’t care if other reproductive health services — like mammograms, STD/HIV screening, prenatal and postpartum care — are lost in the process.
On this solemn occasion we should remember the good that Roe v. Wade has brought us. Sandra Day O’Connor once noted that women’s ability to “organize intimate relationships and make choices that define their views of themselves and their place in society” was directly attributable to Roe. She confirmed what every women’s rights activist knows: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
We must continue the momentum we displayed at the polls in November, the passion we have shown on social media and the fervor we have demonstrated in communities across this country. The struggle for reproductive justice for all women — for poor women, young women, immigrant women, Native American women, women with disabilities — will take all of our energy, commitment and smarts. But I am confident that we will prevail because we have true moral authority and the people behind us.