Over the past 40 years, state legislatures across the country have managed to place a slew of impediments, inconveniences and indignities between women and their right to choose.
In 1992, the court ruled that states can pass laws regulating abortion as long as the laws do not constitute an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion services. But the interpretation of “undue burden” has turned out to be pretty narrow.
Are parental notification laws an undue burden? Or requiring doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals? Or requiring a clinic to have five-foot-wide hallways? The official stance is no, no and no.
But, taken together, the anti-choice movement’s piecemeal efforts to compromise women’s access to reproductive services have, in many places, effectively nullified a woman’s legal right to control her own body. Today, 87 percent of U.S. counties lack an abortion provider, and many states have only a clinic or two, staffed by a doctor who flies in from another state. The right to abortion is meaningful only for middle-class women lucky enough to live in states where the courts and legislatures have not whittled it away.
Yet, despite the ongoing struggle, there may be something worth celebrating after all.
Sure, we’ve been subjected to an endless parade of white man after white man discussing reproductive rights with not mere insensitivity but downright ignorance. (You know things are bad when a right-wing group called — with a stunning lack of self-awareness or irony — the Susan B. Anthony List is training GOP legislators to just shut up about rape.)
The good news, however, is that women’s reproductive rights are back in the conversation.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards
noted unity among young women and men “who understand that none of these rights or access can be taken for granted.”
This new generation — one that has never known a pre-Roe world of back-alley abortions and other desperations — is one that NARAL Pro-Choice America’s new president, Ilyse Hogue, is determined to bring into the movement. And she has her work cut out for her: According to the Pew Research Center, only 44 percent of Americans under 30 years old can correctly identify that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion.
At the same time, 63 percent of Americans oppose overturning the law. And that’s because, as Hogue points out, people understand — today more than ever — that women’s freedom to realize their dreams “is grounded in our foundational right to decide where, how, and with whom we have a family.” To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, without power over the fate of their bodies, women can have no power at all.