Op-ed: By Regina Brennan, Class of 2021
The Supreme Court made its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade under the Fourteenth Amendment. In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled that because of the right to privacy, women have total autonomy over their bodies, especially within the first trimester of a pregnancy. Women already experience gender stratification against men; gender inequality would increase if women lost autonomy over their bodies. The Second Wave feminist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s focused on the sexual limits placed upon women, calling particular attention to gender roles, women’s labor, and access to abortion. Lack of access to safe, legal abortion brings serious threats to women’s health. In the pre-Roe period, women needing an abortion were advised to drink bleach or even use household items as surgical tools. Throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, most municipal hospitals maintained “septic wards” for women infected by disease during illegal abortions. Devastating consequences followed: in the eleven years before the Roe v. Wade decision alone, almost five thousand women died due to complications following illegal, unsafe abortion procedures.
In 1947, the number of women who died from abortion complications was 700.
In 2009, that number was eight.
It is undeniable: even if legislation or court rulings decide that abortion is illegal, people will go to great lengths to have an abortion. Overturning the 1973 decision would be not just ideologically but medically regressive, as access to legal abortion has helped women’s healthcare progress.
The CDC reported that, in 2017, abortion rates hit the lowest they have ever been since the 1973 decision. When human beings are provided with birth control and education about their bodies, abortion does not seem like the only option. One organization that has played a crucial role in educating people about birth control and sexual health is Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood works toward ending the stigmas surrounding women’s bodies, birth control, and sexual education. The attacks on Planned Parenthood arise from the inaccurate belief that its primary function is to provide abortions; however, that is not the case. Ninety-seven percent of Planned Parenthood’s health services are STI/STD testing and treatment (for both men and women), providing affordable and safe contraceptives (including vasectomies, ovulation calendars, and birth-control medication), cancer screenings, sexual education for teens and adults, and adoption referrals. The remaining 3% is abortion services. To look at these statistics is to look at a health care provider that is pioneering the way for sexual health and awareness—a noble, worthy, and needed cause.
Being pro-choice no longer means simply defending the decision made by the Supreme Court over forty years ago. Today, being pro-choice means accepting that abortion within the first trimester is not the termination of human life. Society can never truly get rid of abortion, only safe abortions. To restrict women’s reproductive rights is to strip women of the agency they have over their own bodies. Limits placed on abortion will only take our society backwards.