40 years after Roe, reproductive choices are constricted.

I’ve been an advocate for abortion-rights since I was in third grade. My parents were staunchly pro-choice, yes, but I’ve never quite figured out why the issue has been so darned vital to me for so long. Sometimes I think that maybe it arises from the fact that I have a twin brother, and instinctively recognized early on that without the ability to determine when and how I bore my children, my opportunities would be limited in a way his weren’t.

Today marks an extremely important anniversary: 40 years since the landmark Roe v. Wade Case. After advocating for reproductive rights with my pen, my purse, my feet and my voice for years, I thought I’d break down the most recent data and information to present five key facts about abortion in America today, facts that merely scrape the surface of a complex and changing issue, one that affects 1 in 3 women.


1-Four decades after Roe v. Wade, Abortion rights remain heavily favored by Americans—with a catch. The vast majority of Americans absolutely want to see Roe remain the “law of the land,” but are comfortable with legal restrictions on Roe. These include hurdles like mandatory pre-abortion counseling, parental consent laws, late-term bans, waiting periods and the now-notorious mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds. My theory about why this status quo persists? When Americans say “yes” to restrictions, they simply don’t consider or understand how such restrictions can be unduly burdensome to women seeking healthcare—and perhaps they don’t trust women enough to comprehend that women have already agonized, weighed their options, traveled and often paid more than they can afford before they even run the gauntlet of protesters at the clinic doors. Thus the motto of the slain abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller: “Trust Women.”

2- Public tolerance for abortion restrictions has real-life consequences. Under a wave of GOP state-level legislation (remember the “War on Women?”), those anti-abortion restrictions have proliferated in the past two years—the highest and second-highest number of restrictions in history, respectively.

In fact, these measures multiplied to the extent that for many Americans, the rights laid out under Roe are now as far out of reach as they have been in four decades.

87% of American counties have zero abortion providers. Nine out of ten providers experience harassment from anti-abortion protesters. The combination of restrictions means for many low-income women and women in rural areas, Roe is law in name only. Abortion is virtually impossible to obtain.

3-Women who want abortions aren’t the only ones who suffer because of these restrictions. Just last week, National Advocates for Pregnant Women released a report about state treatment of pregnant women in the wake of many proposed abortion restrictions that attempt to award full legal “personhood” to fetuses:

“Women have been arrested while still pregnant, taken straight from the hospital in handcuffs, and sometimes shackled around the waist and at the ankles. Pregnant women have been held under house arrest and incarcerated in jails and prisons.”

Essentially it boils down to this: even if these “fetal personhood” measures fail, the climate that creates them also creates a shift in attitudes by law enforcement. Pregnant women making their own decisions are now suspect in the eyes of the law, liable to be treated as second-class citizens.

4-Anti-choice, often evangelical-backed “crisis pregnancy centers” are moving in next door to abortion clinics, and presenting another hurdle for women seeking fair and impartial care.

The New York Times reported earlier this month:

Pregnancy centers, while not new, now number about 2,500, compared with about 1,800 abortion providers… Abortion rights advocates have long called some of their approaches deceptive or manipulative. Medical and other experts say some dispense scientifically flawed information, exaggerating abortion’s risks.

NARAL-NY sent undercover volunteers into CPCs and indeed discovered a lot of faulty information being given to women seeking care (PDF link). My favorite quote from the report? One volunteer noted that a CPC staffer “tried to persuade me to keep it by saying that I’m 27 years old and I’m getting really old and … I may not be able to have children again.”

5-Think it’s all about pro-choice vs. pro-life? Think again. Terminology is shifting rapidly. Even Planned Parenthood is edging away from “pro-choice,” acknowledging that for many Americans, this dichotomy doesn’t live up to their complex feelings. Meanwhile women of color and many young feminists prefer “reproductive justice,” which is a broader idea that goes beyond legal rights and abortion only to encompass justice for single and poor mothers, men, transgender people—everyone who might suffer from state intrusion into personal reproductive health decisions. As RJ pioneer organization SisterSong says:

It represents a shift for women advocating for control of their bodies, from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice (the focus of mainstream organizations) to a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.

Reproductive Justice holds that the most marginalized members of society have to be included, even made central to the struggle.

As blogger Shark-Fu writes today, describing the case of an impoverished mother who died in jail because an emergency room thought she was trespassing:

“There can be no peace…no rest…no big win or huge victory. …Until the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments guides our public policy and is our communities' focus.
Until then and because of all that and so much more, I blog…I work…I act for reproductive justice.

That’s why Reproductive Justice is a framework for a new generation of activists. They think this fight is about social and structural power, not about a phony one-size-fits-all morality.

And providers agree with them. Dr. Warren Hern, one of the last four late-term abortion providers in America, all subjects of the recently-lauded Sundance documentary “After Tiller,” stood between armed guards and told the film premiere’s audience: “This is about power — who has it and who doesn’t… It’s about who decides: the woman, or the state.”