Why Roe v. Wade Still Matters, 41 Years Later

By Miriam Stiefel, ACLU of Virginia Reproductive Freedom Project Intern

reprofreedom_justice scalesToday we mark the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that guaranteed a woman’s right to have an abortion.  In the 41 years since Roe, some lawmakers have attempted to undermine this right – inserting themselves between a woman and her doctor. These attacks clarify why Roe matters as much today as it did 41 years ago.

When a right is protected by the U.S. Constitution, all states must respect that right and cannot restrict individuals’ constitutional rights. Yet, in many parts of the country it has become extremely difficult for women to safely and legally end a pregnancy.  Virginia is no exception.

Since 2010, 30 states have passed 205 anti-abortion restrictions, and Virginia is one of those states.  From mandatory ultrasound to Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP laws), Virginia politicians have sought to undermine Roe.  And, while many people might think this doesn’t impact them or their friends and family, the fact that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime places the importance of Roe in a whole new light.  While no woman plans to have an abortion, every woman deserves the opportunity to make the best decision for her circumstances (check this blog to read a few stories).

Let’s take a closer look at who in Virginia and across the U.S. is impacted most by laws that infringe upon reproductive freedom.  A tireless supporter of women’s health, Dr. Willie Parker notes:

“The women who are disproportionately affected by these cumbersome laws are poor women of color who have limited access to education, especially sex education.  There is virtually no financial support because of the Hyde Amendment; women who are on Medicaid or public assistance cannot use that money for their care.  Women come from all over the state, sometimes traveling two to three hours — and that’s just for the first visit in order to comply with the mandatory counseling.  If they can’t stay overnight, they have to drive back home and return the next day.  They do all of this in the face of great economic hardship, and a constant throng of protesters who try to shame and intimidate them.”

While Dr. Willie Parker is referring to his patients in Mississippi, similar hardships are faced here in Virginia.  For example, Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law requires a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion, placing a serious burden on women who must travel great distances to their providers (with the additional burden of taking medically unnecessary time off work and/or paying for child care).

Parker also notes the Hyde Amendment, which contributes to the burden on low-income women by prohibiting funding for abortion for Medicaid recipients, except in very limited circumstances.  Virginia law mirrors Hyde’s restrictions on abortion coverage, except that Medicaid eligible women in Virginia can receive funding for an abortion when a doctor certifies the fetus has an incapacitating mental or physical anomaly.  While the additional exception for women facing such a diagnosis is less restrictive than federal limits, Virginia law hinders all women, and women who have the chance to be insured or fully insured for the first time under health care reform, by prohibiting insurance companies from covering abortion in the new health care exchanges (read more about this in our previous blog).

On this 41st anniversary of Roe, the right it guarantees does not apply equally to all U.S. women.  Instead, because of the relentless, state-by-state attacks on this fundamental right, a woman’s reproductive health care options are dictated by the state in which she lives.  Roe cannot protect itself – it takes hard working advocates and allies – including doctors, policymakers, community leaders, teachers (you’ll find advocates for women’s health of every stripe) – to keep women’s health centers open and women’s decisions about their health free from political interference.  And, as the past 41 years has shown – if we come together, we can make sure a woman’s ability to access reproductive health care does not depend on her zip code.

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