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On the 45th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Court Battles for Abortion Access Persist

Abortion Demonstration
Abortion Demonstration
Jennifer Dalven,
Director, Reproductive Freedom Project,
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January 22, 2018

On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision Roe v. Wade, recognizing that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to an abortion. Forty-five years later, Roe is still law of the land — but if you’ve been following the news lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Since October, the ACLU has had to go to court repeatedly to stop the Trump administration from blocking several young immigrant women from getting abortions because the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for unaccompanied immigrant minors, has as adopted a no-abortion policy. It requires any young woman who requests an abortion to visit a “crisis pregnancy center” — outfits that exist for the sole purpose of dissuading women from terminating their pregnancies — and prohibits her from going to an abortion clinic.

We’ve already gone to court on behalf of Jane Doe, Jane Poe, Jane Roe, and Jane Moe, so that they could get the abortions they wanted, but we know that there are more Janes out there. We’ve asked a federal court to allow us to bring the lawsuit in the name of all pregnant young women in ORR custody so we can put a stop to this unconstitutional policy.

But young immigrants in federal custody aren’t the only ones who the government is preventing from getting abortion care. There are so many other “Janes” who can’t get an abortion because of political interference. In the 45 years since the Supreme Court recognized the right to have an abortion, state and federal lawmakers have passed hundreds of restrictions eroding this right. In 2017 alone, 19 states adopted 63 new restrictions on abortion rights and access.

Apart from political appointees enacting blanket anti-abortion policies at federal agencies, and state legislatures passing restrictive laws, there is the Hyde Amendment, which Congress passed in 1976 to prohibit Medicaid from paying for abortion. For a low-income woman, insurance coverage can be the difference between getting the care she needs and having to go without. Restricting Medicaid coverage of abortion forces one in four poor women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Just as ORR blocks abortion access for the young immigrants in its care, the Hyde Amendment blocks abortion for “Janes” struggling to make ends meet.

Another way politicians push abortion care out of reach is through clinic shutdown laws. Despite abortion being safer than most medical procedures, lawmakers in states across the country have singled out abortion providers with extreme and medically unnecessary TRAP laws – Targeted Restrictions of Abortion Providers. These can force clinics to permanently close their doors. In 2014, 87 percent of counties in the U.S. had no abortion provider, and 34 percent of women aged 15-44 lived in those counties. Currently, six states — Kentucky, West Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Mississippi — only have one clinic left.

Without abortion care providers in their communities, women must travel longer distances to receive services and, as a result, they have to arrange for transportation, child care, and time off from work. This not only drives up the costs associated with getting abortion care, it delays women and may well push the abortion out of reach. In 2014, nearly 60 percent of women who experienced a delay in obtaining an abortion cited the time it took to make arrangements and raise money as the reason why.

Anti-choice politicians employ a wide range of tactics to deny women care, including laws that ban abortion at a certain points in pregnancy, ban specific methods of abortion, or force women to make multiple unnecessary trips to distant clinics before they can get the care they need. And it’s not only abortion restrictions. For example, for undocumented women who would have to pass a checkpoint within our borders, reaching an abortion clinic may be impossible due to punitive immigration laws. But regardless of how politicians block women from accessing abortion, the harms are the same. Research shows that when a woman can’t get an abortion she wants, she is more likely to fall deeper into poverty, stay tethered to an abusive partner, and face worse health outcomes.

That’s why the ACLU and its partners are working to ensure that women get the healthcare they need. And in many places, our elected officials are hearing our voices and we are making real progress. In 2017, states enacted 58 policies to protect and expand access to sex education and reproductive health care. That is a record number.

But, of course, we are still a long way from the world we want, where every person — whatever their immigration status, income, or zip code — can make their own decision about pregnancy and parenting. Our work may be cut out for us, but the law and the people are our side and we won’t stop until we have justice for all Janes.

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