Roe v. Wade anniversary

It’s been 38 years this week since Roe v. Wade overturned the laws that made abortion illegal in some of the United States. But the right of a woman to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy remains up in the air, at least to some.

Restrictions on access to abortion began almost immediately after the ruling, starting with the Hyde Amendment. Named for Illinois Sen. Henry Hyde, who first introduced the amendment to a federal health-care funding bill in 1976 (a mere three years after the decision in Roe v. Wade), this legislative amendment prohibited the use of federal health-care funds to pay for abortions. Similar amendments are now routinely attached to any federal legislation dealing with health care, which means that federal employees, including military-service members, and any other recipient of federally funded health care, must pay for abortions “out of pocket” rather than using their government-provided health-care benefits.

Such legislative limits on access to abortion disproportionately affect poor women, effectively recreating the situation that existed prior to Roe v. Wade: Access to a safe, legal abortion is limited to those women wealthy enough to travel to a provider and to pay for the procedure.

But that’s not the only threat to legal abortion. There’s also the constant pressure kept up on providers, from pickets to threats, and an occasional assassination. The murder of Dr. George Tiller is the most recent example of such violence; it has included the assassination of abortion providers, clinic escorts and receptionists, as well as arson and bombing directed at clinics that provide abortion services.

Such constant pressure, legal and otherwise, has made it very difficult for women to gain access to a simple medical procedure, one to which they have a legal right. Furthermore, to claim that providers are operating under some sort of “profit motive” is an insult to the public intelligence. There are much easier ways for abortion providers to make money than to daily brave death threats, protesters of all stripes, and the very real potential of being murdered. Once the cost of security is added to the cost of providing the procedure, there’s no “profit” involved.

It is also nothing short of insulting to suggest that women who choose to terminate a pregnancy are not capable of understanding the decision they make. As a recent MTV television special made clear, even teenage women are aware that an abortion ends the development of cells that have the potential to become a human baby. Women are not stupid, and ethical disagreements about abortion do not alter that fact.

The decision to get an abortion is never simple, easy or thoughtless, as some opponents of legal abortion would have us believe. It is a decision made under unique circumstances by individuals who have a right to make it—after all, these individuals will live with the consequences of that decision, not the providers or the protesters.

We urge our readers to actively engage in this public discussion, and to work to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible.