As we approach the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Jan. 22, 1973, Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, we reflect on how it dramatically bolstered women’s health and dignity.
After three blissful years of uninterrupted access to the right to obtain an abortion, 1976 marked the beginning of a 40-year avalanche of targeted restrictions and regulations preventing people and their family’s access to a safe and legal abortion procedure. So, what is legal abortion without access? Who is granted this right? Who are the people and the communities that face an undue burden of obstacles just to obtain a legal procedure that has been granted to them by the Supreme Court?
As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and countless other reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates have said again and again: Women with means will always find a way to travel and afford their care. Women without means, women without access to money and transportation, will always be the ones facing obstacles.
Making abortion costly, hard to obtain
Anti-choice politicians often target groups of people and communities that are already systemically and institutionally marginalized in an effort to make abortion harder and harder to access. Politicians use bans on abortion coverage, waiting periods, medically inaccurate scripts, and medically unnecessary laws (such as dictating the width of the halls of a clinic) to make abortion harder to get, and more expensive.
The reality is that these regulations do nothing to make abortion safer or help a woman with her decision — but they do make getting an abortion more costly and difficult. In these cases, low-income people, young people, and communities of color are the most affected. In 1976, then-U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde said, “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.” Medicaid is a federal health-care program designed to aid our most economically vulnerable populations.
Burden falls on rural women, the poor and women of color
When we parse out the scale of impact we can see that this burden falls on communities of color, low-income communities and rural communities. We begin to wonder how Roe can be a reality when so many people are prevented from accessing it. When we support and respect that personal health decisions are ours to make, we are all stronger. Instead of restricting reproductive health care — including abortion care — we need solutions to improve all aspects of our health.
To make Roe a reality for all people again, we must continue to shed light to restrictions and regulations that are disguised as safety measures for women and families and see them for what they are: an unjust elimination of abortion care.
Ho Nguyen is the grassroots advocacy coordinator for Pro-Choice Resources.
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