Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 40 years ago that pregnant women have the right to choose abortion, that right has been under attack. Although 2012 saw many pro-choice electoral victories, much ground has been lost. The last two years saw a sharp increase in restrictions on abortion, following two decades of steady erosion in reproductive rights. Rhetoric about "legitimate rape" or "God's will" may spark outrage. Yet surely the debate has tilted toward these extremes when "moderation" means granting exceptions in cases of rape and incest, or to save the life of the mother. No federal funding for abortion is allowed outside of this narrow scope. Eight states prohibit even private insurance from covering abortion except in such extreme cases, and nearly half the states place similar restrictions on public employees' insurance.
These dire circumstances, however, account for just one percent of all abortions. What of the pregnancy that results from a broken condom, or the teenager whose judgment is clouded perhaps by alcohol but definitely by youth? Or someone of any age who is unable or unwilling to carry a pregnancy to term? Nobody relishes abortion. But viewing only victimization or imminent death as valid reasons for having one condemns women for being sexually active.
We don't literally imprison those seeking abortions. Yet too many pregnant women are held captive by barriers to access: mandatory ultrasounds and waiting periods; defunding of family planning clinics; whole regions without providers; "conscience" clauses that make it more difficult to obtain an abortion, or even contraception.
Denying access imposes shame, punishment, extra costs and medical risk.
On this 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let's recommit ourselves to real reproductive rights by ensuring access and a woman's ability to make her own choice rather than subjecting her to someone else's.