The decision when to have children is one of the most personal decisions anyone can make, especially because it concerns one’s own body. Without reproductive freedoms, it is hard to imagine how there could be gender equality. Many people assume that the fight for reproductive rights started with the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, however, the fight for women’s reproductive freedoms began much earlier.
how there could be gender equality. Many people assume that the fight for reproductive rights started with the Supreme Court’s ruling there could be gender equality. Many people assume that the fight for reproductive rights started with the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, however, the fight for women’s reproductive freedoms began much earlier. Roe v. Wade, however, the fight for women’s reproductive freedoms began much earlier.
Access to reproductive freedoms for women started in 1776 when the Founding Fathers left the states with decisions concerning family health. Since then, women have been fighting for reproductive freedoms in the form of access to contraception and abortions. The fight is far from over.
PRESENT DAY PROBLEM
While the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision in Roe v. Wade was hailed by many as a significant step in women’s abortion rights, the fight for women’s reproductive freedoms is far from over (Greenhouse and Siegel). Poor women lack resources to travel, they have very limited options when clinics are few and hard to reach. In addition, enforced waiting periods by most states, of anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, make it virtually impossible to reach far away clinics on more than one occasion (“An Overview of Abortion Laws”). When clinics close, all reproductive services disappear, including family planning information, contraception, and cancer and STI screenings.
During Barack Obama’s presidency, a conservative majority in the Senate refused to confirm many of his judicial appointments at all levels of the federal court system. Because Obama’s nominations were struck down, Trump inherited 109 judicial vacancies which he filled after he was elected in 2016. “One of President Donald Trump’s biggest achievements [for the Republican Party] since entering the White House is making the federal courts more conservative” (Wolf) by appointing two Supreme Court Justices: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh (Ridenour).
In addition to the actions of the judicial branch of government concerning abortion, the executive branch of government is currently acting to restrict any information concerning abortion options. Recently, the Trump Administration issued a rule that would make it illegal for any health care provider receiving Title X funds to inform patients about abortions, which interferes with the relationship between patients and their doctors. Abortion, which should be a medical and personal decision is becoming highly politicized. This rule is now moving the abortion issue back to the courts, where the majority of judges are anti-abortion (because of President Trump’s nominations) (“Title X: Affordable Birth Control and Reproductive Health Care”).
While she is a strong advocate for reproductive freedoms, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thinks that the Roe v. Wade decision was based on the wrong premise, leaving it more open to attack. Instead of basing the decision on equal rights, the 1973 decision was based on the right to privacy, which was a good step in making abortions constitutional, but does not address equal access to abortion services. “‘Roe isn’t really about the woman’s choice, is it?’ Ginsburg [comments]. ‘It’s about the doctor’s freedom to practice…it wasn’t woman-centered, it was physician-centered’” (Heagney). In addition, Ginsburg points out that the Roe v. Wade decision did not actually protect poor women as it did not guarantee affordable access to services. Ginsburg reminds Americans that reproductive health services are always more available for women who can afford them; however, true reproductive freedom requires access for all women (Heagney).
SOLUTIONS: WHAT CAN WE DO?
INDIVIDUAL: Even though reproductive health should be strictly a medical concern, our government has taken it upon itself to regulate abortion through our political system. Therefore, in order to combat political opposition to abortions, we must elect government officials who will push back against oppressive measures regarding reproductive rights. As states pass laws limiting access to abortions, organizations like Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Center for Reproductive Rights bring these laws to the courts to be challenged. Helene Krasnoff, Vice President, Public Policy Litigation, and Law at Planned Parenthood, comments that “with Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court we see states emboldened to enact all-out bans on abortion in an effort to get the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade”(Interview Krassnoff). The Senate is responsible for confirming the President’s nominations for all three levels of the federal judiciary. Therefore, voting for pro-choice Senators will put a check on any President’s anti-choice nominations by shutting down unfair judicial appointments.
MACRO: In addition, as states attempt to chip away at women’s reproductive freedoms and find loopholes in the Roe decision platform, it is important to solidify rights to obtain abortions, especially in states willing to pass new legislation. For example, New York passed legislation as a backup plan in case Roe is overturned. One of the advantages of states passing their own updated abortion laws is that they can address Roe’s limitations that make it more vulnerable to attack. Because the Roe decision was based on the right to privacy instead of equal rights, anti-choice states have more power to find loopholes and limit equal access to abortions. Pro-choice Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg comments that, “‘Roe isn’t really about the woman’s choice, is it?’” (Heagney). If the decision had been argued on the platform of equality, states could not pass laws limiting accessibility to abortions. For example, a recent law in Arkansas forbidding medication abortions, which currently make up about one-third of all abortions, resulted in the closure of all but one abortion clinic in Arkansas. Even if they can afford to miss a few days of work, women now have to travel hundreds of miles to access the clinic (Tavernise). These laws are supported by the loopholes in the Roe platform as they make it virtually impossible to obtain an abortion, despite the fact that having an abortion is theoretically constitutional.
INDIVIDUAL: As our generation becomes old enough to vote, it is important that we are educated in crucial issues such as abortion policy. Even though we cannot vote directly for federal court justices, we can vote for the President (who appoints the judges) and Senators (who confirm the President’s judicial nominations).
As our generation becomes old enough to vote, it is important that we are
MACRO: Reproductive rights are an issue that mainly concerns women, but is mostly debated by men. It will be virtually impossible to address the issue if women are still fighting for equal rights in our historically patriarchal society. Only 25 out of the 100 U.S. Senators are women (Women in the Senate), there are only 102 female representatives out of the total 435 members of the House of Representatives (Women in the U.S. House of Representatives 2019), and the United States of America has never had a female president. The U.S. is behind 48 other countries when it comes to closing the gender pay gap (Johnson). Creating equality for women more generally will lead to increased numbers of women in positions of power, resulting in better decisions about reproductive freedom. Gender equality and reproductive freedom go hand in hand; the only chance we have to achieve reproductive rights for all women is to broadly support an equal rights agenda.
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