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45 years later, Roe’s promise is unrealized

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
To me, the promise of Roe v. Wade goes far beyond simply making abortion legal. It’s about making possible a future where women, our families, and our communities can thrive.

Here in Minneapolis, I’m preparing to speak at the anniversary of the Women’s Marches. I’m still in awe when I think about how, one year ago, on Jan. 21, millions of people worldwide rose up for gender equality. This year, I’m rising up for another anniversary too – the 45th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision on Jan. 22. For more than four decades, Roe v. Wade has kept abortion legal in this country, which is absolutely something to celebrate. Unfortunately, the legal precedent has not prevented zealous politicians from pushing abortion out of reach for poor women, young folks, and people of color.

Karen Law

To me, the promise of Roe v. Wade goes far beyond simply making abortion legal. It’s about making possible a future where women, our families, and our communities can thrive. Where we can make our own decisions about pregnancy and parenting, with dignity and without coercion or interference.

Unfortunately, that promise has never been realized for people who are already marginalized and struggling to make ends meet. Just three years after Roe came passage of Rep. Henry Hyde's eponymous Hyde Amendment, denying insurance coverage for abortion to low-income women enrolled in Medicaid. And since 2011, states have enacted 401 new abortion restrictions that force women to delay care, shut clinics down, and block some people from getting an abortion at all.

Restrictions exacerbate inequalities

These restrictions exacerbate inequalities and place new burdens on those who can little afford to bear them, since restrictions on abortion access and coverage fall hardest on low-income people, women of color, immigrants, and young people. Restrictions can also affect a woman’s economic security. A woman who wants to get an abortion but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than one who can get an abortion.

We’ve been comparatively fortunate in Minnesota, avoiding some of the worst legislation passed in neighboring states. But we still have restrictive laws. For example, a woman who has decided to end her pregnancy must receive state-directed “counseling” that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided at a second appointment. These medically unnecessary requirements interfere with a woman’s relationship with her provider and force women to make multiple appointments when only one may be necessary.

Every day I witness how women in our state struggle to pay for abortion care, and the added costs of time off from work, child care, and transportation. I think about Monse, who came to us for help paying for her abortion after she’d already put together her entire paycheck and a loan from a friend and it still wasn’t enough. She would later tell us, “No one should have to parent because they don’t have the money for an abortion.”

Still much to do

We still have so much work to do, to ensure that reproductive freedom is a tangible reality for Minnesotans and people across the country. 

Still, our histories of resistance give me hope that we can fully realize the promise of Roe v. Wade. I am reminded how in 1967 — when abortion was illegal in the Midwest, single parenthood was taboo, and women who chose to give birth and place a child for adoption were sent “away” — a small group of doctors and clergy came together to provide support to the people who were calling upon them for help. These pre-Roe resistors founded Our Justice (formerly Pro-Choice Resources), which for more than 50 years has provided a place where individuals, families, and communities are treated with respect.

So this year, I am rising up to realize the promise of Roe. I am rising up for women like Monse, and all those who are struggling to make ends meet and to pay for necessary reproductive health care. I am rising up for fair wages, decent working conditions, and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, to help ensure that women and families can be healthy and live with dignity.

I am rising up because we can never take the future for granted. We have to make it, by working together, dreaming big, and never giving up.

Karen Law is the executive director of Our Justice (formerly Pro-Choice Resources).

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Comments (1)

Please, carry on

I'm grateful continuing generations of women support the important work of maintaining choice for women regarding their bearing and raising children.