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Celebrating Our Victories on the Anniversary of Roe

Jennifer Dalven,
Director, Reproductive Freedom Project,
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January 22, 2012

So it’s been a bad year for reproductive rights and justice. Alright it’s been an exceptionally bad year. States passed a record high number of restrictions on the right to access abortion care and contraceptives that, as so often is the case, hit women with the fewest resources the hardest. And anti-choice lobbyists found new and insidious ways to try to take away health care from women, and to punish those who seek and provide abortion care.

But rather than simply lament, though, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is the right moment to take careful stock of our victories, what we can learn from them, and to recommit ourselves to demanding more. “Victories???” you say. “What on earth is she talking about?” Here is what I mean.

On Friday, the Obama Administration announced that it would stand firm to protect the health of women and children. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a rule to add birth control to the list of services that all insurance plans must cover without imposing aco-pay. This was a huge step for women’s health. We know that almost all women, regardless of religious background, use contraception at some point in their lives. And most of us use it for the better part of 30 years, at a cost of around $50 a month for the birth control pill. Despite all of this and despite an exception for houses of worship, the powerful lobbying arm of the Catholic Church put extraordinary pressure on the Obama administration to revoke the rule or to vastly broaden the exception. But after an outrcry from women’s health activists, the Administration refused to back down.

In November, Mississippi voters went to the polls to overwhelming defeat a constitutional amendment that would have banned abortion. That’s right. Voters in one of the most conservative states in the country rejected an abortion ban. The press and the pundits said we had no chance, but when Election Day came, Mississippi voters spoke loud and clear. They trust women. Period.

It is these types of victories that inspire me and give me hope for the future. They remind me that Americans across the country are with us. No matter what their personal views on abortion are, they don’t want government to stand in the way of a woman and her family making their own personal and private decisions. And they remind me that if we make ourselves heard, we can move our government to do the right thing to ensure that all of us have not only the right, but the ability, to make those decisions.

The challenge for all of us then on this Roe Day is to do commit ourselves to doing more to harness this power. To ensure that every woman has the ability to make the best decision for herself and her family, we must all pledge to get involved, to pay attention, and most importantly to take at least one more action in the coming year. It can be as simple as committing to signing up to receive the ACLU action alerts and sending an email to your congressperson urging them to support increased access to reproductive health care. With your help we can reclaim the promise of Roe and have even more reason to feel inspired.

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