By Jacquelyn D. Heath
Special to The Milwaukee Times
Since January 22, 1973, women in the United States have felt assured that their legal right to the option of a safe abortion was protected, after the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. A second case decided later that same year, Doe v. Bolton, seemed to further safeguard women’s reproductive rights, especially to preserve the mental as well as physical health of women.
These “settled law” cases were not the same as having a bona fide constitutional amendment specifically guaranteeing reproductive health as a protected human right; but these precedents were the best we had, or so we thought.
Then on May 3, 2022, nearly 50 years after the Roe v. Wade decision, that false sense of protection was abruptly threatened, when a Supreme Court opinion was leaked to the press. The opinion, drafted by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, strongly suggested that the court could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade later this summer.
Reproductive health law regarding women in the United States is currently comprised of a fragile patchwork of state laws which impose various restrictions mainly on a woman’s access to abortion on demand – that is, the right to terminate pregnancy at will. One of the historical objections to legalized abortion has been that it would open the floodgates to abortion to be used as a ready form of birth control.
The past 50 years have borne out that nothing could be further from reality. According to government data, abortion rates among U.S. women ages 15-44 dropped from 30 per 1,000 women in 1980 to 11.3 per 1,000 in 2018; and the rate continues to drop. The decline has been attributed to a combination of factors that have given women more autonomy over their own reproductive health decisions – including access to better overall health information; more choices in inexpensive, effective birth control methods; and access to safe, legal abortion, if needed.
As divisive as the abortion debate has become at times, anyone who has ever been faced with making that decision can attest that it is personal and anything but casual. It is a decision so charged with individual anguish, and tinged with medical, religious, moral, economic and practical aspects that it cannot be made by some impersonal committee for political expediency or to satisfy a capricious whim. It has been, should be, and always will be an individual woman’s decision alone to make.
Therefore, unfettered access to safe and legal abortion must remain a viable option in a country that purports to safeguard humane conditions, rights and choices for all. No one in this country has ever been forced by law to have an abortion. Additionally, no one should be forced into bearing a child that they can neither care for nor afford, for whatever reason, just to humor someone else’s mindset. Without legal and safe abortion remaining among the available options in every state of our country, the result is denial of the basic right to privacy and equal protection under the law for all.
Obstructing access to abortion is neither pro-life nor pro-choice. Rather, it’s no choice. As a nation, that can’t be who or what we aspire to be, now or in the future.