Rudinger: 40 years after Roe v. Wade, Americans still fighting for reproductive freedom

Jan. 29, 2013 @ 11:17 AM

This month marks 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that recognized that a pregnant woman has a right to make her own private medical decision about whether to carry a pregnancy to term or have an abortion.

Unfortunately, many politicians are still trying to take that essential decision away from women by enacting restrictions that make it harder for a woman to access reproductive health care or make medical decisions about her own body. In just the past two years, states have passed almost 140 new restrictions on women’s reproductive health care.

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that would require abortion providers to conduct a mandatory ultrasound on all women seeking abortion care, regardless of their circumstances, and describe the images in detail, even if the woman objects. The measure made no exceptions for women under any circumstances, including cases of rape, incest or those who receive a tragic diagnosis during a much-wanted pregnancy.

A federal judge temporarily blocked those intrusive measures in October 2011 pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights. This government intrusion by politicians into a woman’s personal medical decisions is not only unconstitutional but also prevents medical providers from being able to exercise their best judgment when providing care to patients.

Of course, abortion remains a very controversial topic, and opinions in our state vary greatly. But we can all agree that any decision about a woman, her body, and her health, is better made by the woman, her family and her doctor, than by politicians in Raleigh.

Across the country, people are increasingly agreeing with this sentiment. Recently, voters in states as diverse as Mississippi, Colorado, Florida and North Dakota all rejected ballot measures that would have interfered with a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about pregnancy and abortion. Politicians with extreme views on abortion and contraception, such as then-Congressman Todd Akin, who notoriously caused national outrage when he used the term “legitimate rape,” lost at the polls, as well.

In fact, Americans are so fed up with politicians trying to interfere with a woman’s private health care decision that a recent Gallup poll found that 39 percent of women in 12 battleground states, including North Carolina, said abortion was the most important issue for women in the 2012 election.

Last spring, after the all-male New Hanover County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to reject $9,000 in state funds for family planning, its members faced an immediate and widespread public backlash that led the commissioners to vote to reverse course and accept the funds. One commissioner, Jonathan Barfield, told media outlets that he realized he was wrong to originally vote against accepting the funds after talking to his wife about the issue. “I don’t have the right to choose for any woman,” said Barfield, who had referred to himself as “one of those abstinence guys” when he at first voted to reject the funding.

The lesson here is that however each of us feels personally about abortion, Americans are increasingly opposed to politicians trying to take that decision away from a woman, her family and her doctor. If supporters of reproductive freedom stand together and continue to make our voices heard on these issues, we can stop politicians from interfering with the essential right that the Supreme Court recognized 40 years ago – the right of every woman to make personal decisions about our own body and reproductive health.

Jennifer Rudinger is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.