Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Because this right is being threatened across the United States, a coalition of over 50 organizations, The Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign, is working to keep this family-planning ability.
Almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and at least one-third of all U.S. women have an abortion sometime during their lives. Without legalized abortion, women live in shame and pain—and sometimes don’t live at all because illegal abortions kill.
According to Ellen Shaffer, abortion continues to be stigmatized by the well-funded minority movement, many of whom promote violent acts to stop women from seeking their legal rights. Every clinic in the U.S. that provides abortions has experienced systematic harassment, and doctors who perform abortions have been targeted and murdered. In 2009, a church was the site of a violent killing when an anti-reproductive rights zealot shot Dr. George Tiller point blank while he was serving as an usher. The media perpetuates the myth that these killers are each a “lone wolf.”
Women who self-identify as born-again or Evangelical Christians have 20 percent of the abortions. Yet fundamentalist Christians have gone so far as to re-write the Bible to prove that their God disapproves of abortion.
Instead of addressing the issues of economy and unemployment, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) co-sponsored a fetal personhood bill in the 113th Congress less than a week into the new House session. The bill follows the failed Mississippi initiative in granting full Constitutional rights to one-celled human embryos before they are even implanted in the uterus. Part of H.R. 23 allows a rapist to sue his victim to keep her from getting an abortion. Last year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a state personhood initiative as “clearly unconstitutional” because it blocks a woman’s legal right to have an abortion.
On the second day of the House session, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) re-introduced legislation to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
The majority of people in the United States support Roe v. Wade and believe people should have the right to make decisions about personal reproductive health. Eighty percent of likely voters say a woman should be able to make her own personal decisions about her pregnancy, including 56 percent of voters who call themselves “pro-life.” To keep these rights, people need to stand up and be counted instead of staying invisible. That is the goal of Silver Ribbon.
January 22 is the first day of Trust Women Week. You can make your voice heard. My voice came through the following letter that our local chapter of NOW submitted to the media across our county:
During the past 40 years, no Supreme Court decision has caused greater dissention than Roe v. Wade, the ruling that deemed abortion during the first three months a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. On Tuesday, January 22nd, people who believe in women’s reproductive rights celebrate this momentous Supreme Court decision. No one claims that abortions are good, yet an overwhelming 64 percent agree with the Roe v Wade decision while only 31% disagree.
Without legalized abortion, women will get illegal ones at great personal danger. Before Roe v. Wade, when only 20 states had some legalized abortion, about 1.2 million women died each year from illegal ones. Legalizing abortion dropped the mortality rate of the procedure over 85 percent from 4.1 to 0.6 per 100,000 abortions.
Although some state governments have overwhelmingly passed anti-abortion laws within the past two years, a total of 135 bills, criminalization of the procedure does not prevent abortions. The rate of abortions is highest in Latin America where it is considered a crime in most of those countries.
Anti-choice people argue that millions of viable fetuses are aborted. In truth, 88 percent of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and almost 99 percent are completed within the first 20 weeks.
The predominant reasons for abortions are poverty and ignorance. If you care about eliminating abortions, you should:
- Require sex education for all teenagers. Mississippi had no mandatory sex education until last year and is still teaching abstinence-only in over half the school districts. That state also has the highest teenage pregnancy rate – 55 of every 1,000 teen girls get pregnant, a rate almost 80 percent higher than the federal level of 31 per 1,000 teen girls. Fifty percent of all pregnancies are not planned; 87 percent of teen pregnancies are unintended.
- Provide free contraception for every fertile woman. A two-year study of 9,000 women in St. Louis showed that free birth control led to much lower rates of abortions and births to teenagers. The abortion rate of these women was 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women compared to 13.4 to 17 abortions in other St. Louis areas and almost 10 abortions per 1,000 women nationally.
- Support Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics. Without availability to the education and contraception that these provide, women will end up pregnant, and many of them will resort to abortions whether these are legal or not. Almost half the women getting abortions were not using contraception.
- Mandate that all health care practitioners talk to patients about family planning. In Oregon the “One Key Question” initiative enlists doctors, nurses, and other health-care practitioners to ask women if they want to become pregnant in the next year. If yes, they talk about prenatal care and having a healthy baby. If no, they talk about contraception.
- Provide free child care. Many women have abortions because they cannot care for children while keeping their jobs. Many children of women denied abortion will end up in foster care, costing taxpayers more money than funding child care, at least $30,000 to $100,000 before adoption — if foster parents could be found. Orphanages, an alternative, result in serious health issues for the children as shown by children in Romania.
- Provide affordable education. Without education, women cannot support their children. They also cannot rely on men to provide for them.
- Demand that women have equal pay with men as well as a living wage. Teenage girls denied abortion services, for example, are three times more likely to go on welfare. Seventy percent of women getting abortions are economically disadvantaged; statistically there are fewer abortions during a good economy.
- Make men get involved with pregnancy. Guarantee that men care for children through both emotional and financial support.
- Stop the “slut” culture. Teens may get abortions because of the shame and guilt heaped on them by both peers and adults. Educate young people that they can get help without emotional suffering.
- Keep religion out of politics. The “slut” culture and the lack of education and contraception come from the religious beliefs that pregnancy out of wedlock, sex education, and contraception are wrong. The Constitution provides for separation of church and state. Religion should not create reproductive rights laws.
To paraphrase the common statement from gun supporters, “abortions don’t cause death; people cause death.” People who don’t provide ways to stop unwanted abortions contribute to them.
A final note: Although there is not easy access to legal abortions on the Oregon Coast, there is help for women who need them: The CAIR Project (http://www.cairproject.org/abortion/oregon/), NRO Network for Reproductive Options (http://www.nroptions.org/), and Oregon Public Health (http://public.health.oregon.gov/).