By Kathy Greenier, Director, ACLU of Virginia Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project
Saturday, January 22, marks the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. The high court’s ruling legalized abortion, recognizing that the decision is a private one between a woman and her doctor. The ruling not only guaranteed women the autonomy to decide whether and when to be a parent, but more broadly advanced equality for women by allowing women freedom in major life decisions regarding education and employment.
For all of my life, I have enjoyed the autonomy that comes with reproductive freedom and access to choices about when and whether to become a parent. The availability of a variety of birth control methods, and if it were ever necessary, an abortion, are options I have always had before me, unlike many other women.
Having been born 12 years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, I thus look at the anniversary of that case with a different perspective from the generation that preceded me. I admittedly find it easy to be lulled into a false sense of security about the continued availability of reproductive freedom, and expect that should I have daughters one day, their rights will remain protected too. However, the right to an abortion must never be taken for granted. We must celebrate Roe’s anniversary knowing that it is our activism that keeps abortion safe, legal, and available.
In the 2011 General Assembly session, we face a number of bills that remind us of the need to be vigilant about protecting choice. The first, HB 1428, is referred to as targeted regulation of abortion providers, or TRAP for short. By requiring abortion clinics to be licensed by the Board of Health and to meet the requirements of ambulatory surgery centers, legislators would force clinics to fund expensive remodeling costs and purchase new equipment that provide no added benefit to women. Some clinics may be forced to shut their doors. Those clinics that can afford to remodel will pass along the expenses to their clients, thereby making abortions too costly for many women.
HB 2147 and SB 1202 are proposed bans on insurance coverage of abortion under the state health care exchanges set up under the new federal health care reform law. If enacted, these bills would rob women of benefits they are currently able to purchase through their private health insurance plans since the overwhelming majority of insurance policies already cover abortions.
These bills remind us that there are constant threats to the central tenets of the Court’s decision in Roe that medical decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, not politicians. Abortion is part of basic health care for women and insurance coverage for abortion allows every woman to get the health care she needs since many things can happen during a pregnancy.
One last bill to highlight is SB 967, which requires that all curricula and instructional materials used in family life education be medically accurate. This bill is a chance for pro-active mobilizing around teen health, including sexuality and pregnancy. It is the simplest, most effective way to ensure that all schools provide the information that Virginia’s youth needs to make healthy decisions.
The bills described above are just a few of those occupying the reproductive rights landscape in the Virginia General Assembly this session (view full list). Other pieces of legislation, such as a bill defining an unborn fetus as a person or a proposal to require an ultrasound before every abortion, are just as stark of a reminder about the need to be vigilant in our efforts to keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible. It is with this in mind that we both celebrate Roe’s 38th anniversary and renew our commitment to protect reproductive rights against those who seek to erode them.
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