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Really, Mr. President?

Louise Melling,
Deputy Legal Director and Director of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty,
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January 24, 2011

I’ve just read the statement the president issued for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that the right of privacy encompasses the decision of a woman to end a pregnancy. The statement includes many important sentiments. But, to me, it is most striking for what it fails to say: nowhere does the statement mention the word “abortion.”

We all know that abortion is an explosive political issue and that the president is addressing many audiences. But if we really support the right to privacy, and support women, and support the ability of our daughters to have the same rights as our sons, then the silence about abortion must end. The silence does nothing but add to the stigma that already surrounds abortion. It tells women — nearly one in three of whom will have an abortion in their life times — that what they did was unspeakable. It does little but embolden our already aggressive adversaries.

We can, like the president, support access to sexuality education and birth control to help prevent unintended pregnancies; we can and do and must support women who want to continue their pregnancies; and we can and should support parents as they raise their children. But at the same time, if we care about women and we care about families, we need to support our continued access to safe and legal abortions. The days of hush and whisper were the days before Roe. Let’s not go there.