Last Monday, President Obama renewed his promise to guide our country not only as a leader, but also as a citizen himself. A humble reminder to all of us, from those sitting on Capital Hill to the rolling hills of California, that “we collectively have the power to set this country’s course.” Summoning the Declaration of Independence itself, he firmly stated that, “we, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity… [and that] …she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal.”
Let me repeat, she deserves the same basic measure of security and dignity as her male counterparts. The security of the proper legislative, legal and judicial mechanisms put in place to deter any type of harm against its citizens with the assurance that the perpetrators are adequately punished. This includes instances of rape, physical violence, or stalking that over one-third of US women have experienced in their lifetime. The dignity to have ownership over our bodies on decisions that are our own, including those that should be classified as private, or in the words of Vice President Biden, a decision between a woman and her doctor. And the commitment from our leaders within these systems to uphold the right to bodily integrity by recognizing when it is appropriate to intervene in support of this security and dignity.
Unfortunately, recent actions within Congress seem to suggest a confused view. Within the United States, we have seen these consequences continually emerge surrounding the issues of reproductive rights. The historical gains that women have achieved regarding these health decisions were largely motivated by collective action groups such as the Boston Women’s Health Course Collective, who published the ground-breaking book Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1971. These advocacy efforts served to rally women in order to demand the ability to have control over their own bodies and ultimately influenced significant legal rulings such as Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, forty years later, instead of shifting the political agenda and power away from questions over women’s bodies, it has actually brought them to the forefront and is often used as a bargaining chip by Democrats and Republicans alike. It is regrettable that with a delicate ruling holding these decisions in the balance, the state ultimately continues to hold ownership over women’s bodies.
While imperfect, the insistence of the state to continue to threaten the rights offered by this ruling is demeaning to women. Abortion is one small and serious subset of a larger issue including a host of healthcare and reproductive decisions and options, which should not be taken lightly. In fact, the circumstances and the decision-making surrounding abortion are not black and white and it is not always an easy process. While no one can understand the complexities involved for each individual, we do know that the factors most cited for obtaining an abortion include parental readiness, financial constraints, and a lack of familial support. But we also have evidence to suggest that upon making such decisions, the majority of women are sure about them. According to studies from the Guttmacher Institute, 87 percent of women had high confidence in their decision making before receiving counseling and 58 percent wanted to have their abortion earlier but the majority had to wait to make arrangements and raise money.
Furthermore, in cases where no viable options appear available, an inferior alternative will often be sought. A recent account in the New York Times chronicles the largely dangerous methods employed to induce abortion over the years and the likelihood of their continued existence, especially in the face of legal restrictions. A testimonial response from a trained doctor supports this view in stating, “If one worked in city hospitals in New York or Boston in the 1960s, as I did, not a week went by without the emergency admission of a young woman bleeding to death from an attempted abortion.”
Abortion is a last resort, but when performed by a certified medical professional, a safe one. Thus, having the decency to trust a woman’s private medical decisions surrounding her own body is essential and should not be in question. And I am not alone. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the number of respondents who believe Roe v. Wade should not be overturned is at a record high of 70 percent. Furthermore, when respondents in a March 2012 Bloomberg poll were asked about the provision of birth control through the health insurance plans of religiously affiliated facilities, 62 percent said it is a matter of a woman’s health versus the 33 percent who believe it is a matter of religious liberty. Given these realities, lawmakers would better serve America by placing political energy back on prevention, care and counseling. By focusing on family planning, birth control and other reproductive health measures, we would not only reduce the likelihood of unintended pregnancies, but would improve the livelihood of more women, men, and children along with the state of the economy as a whole.
So, perhaps the recent 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade offers us a chance to recall that collective movement of women organized to claim ownership over their bodies, the gains that were made to provide access to all safe, available medical treatments, and now ultimately being afforded access to these treatments with complete control surrounding the decision of whether or not to use them.