Roe v. Wade at 40

Abortion is still legal but access is limited

Forty years ago Tuesday, Jan. 22, the U.S. Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision upholding a woman’s right to abortion. Since then supporters of abortion rights have fought a constant rear-guard battle against opponents who want to make it as hard as possible for women to exercise that right.

A recent Time magazine cover headline said it all: “40 years ago, abortion-rights activists won an epic victory with Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing ever since.”

Anti-abortion activists, who see themselves as engaged in a holy war, have had their greatest success by convincing Republican-dominated state legislatures to pass obstructionist laws that make abortion less accessible. In 2011 alone, state legislatures passed 92 abortion-restricting measures.

Mississippi passed a law that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The bill targeted the state’s lone abortion clinic, whose doctors all came from out of state.

In Virginia, abortion clinics must conform to the zoning requirements applied to hospitals, including 5-foot-wide hallways. In Texas, the legislature is considering a bill to require that all abortions be done in ambulatory surgical centers. In 2004, when it passed such a bill applicable to pregnancies over 16 weeks, every abortion clinic in the state that provided such services was forced to close.

The irony is that most Americans support Roe v. Wade. When asked whether politicians or women should decide on abortion, 83 percent said the latter, according to a Planned Parenthood poll.

Abortion will always be a painful and difficult personal matter. And it will always be controversial. The good news is that the American people are not going to stand by while politicians try to return us to the dark days of back-alley abortions.