On the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, women are watching, and they are angry at what they see.
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed every woman's right to make her own medical decisions without government interference. At the time, the Supreme Court recognized the inherent right to privacy for women, an urgent issue given that women were dying in emergency rooms across the country from self-induced abortions.
But today, women across the nation are disturbed to see a set of politicians doing everything they can to undermine this landmark decision that has stood as a critical safeguard for women's health for four decades.
Last year, anti-women's health politicians across the country launched what was surely the most aggressive assault on women's rights since the Roe decision was handed down. The scope of their attacks has been mindboggling. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011, state legislatures passed more than triple the number of anti-women's health provisions than in 2010 -- the highest ever. Twenty-four states enacted 92 new abortion restrictions last year, shattering the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005.
Behind these numbers, real women are feeling the impact. For example, just a year ago, women living in rural Arizona could count on high-quality and compassionate abortion care in their own communities. But now, due to anti-women's health laws passed in that state last year, those women will have to travel long distances ─and presumably go out of state in some instances -- for safe, legal abortion care. That means time away from work, transportation costs, someone to take care of the kids -- it all adds up to an additional burden on women who are already going through a very stressful experience.
Ironically, just last week, Guttmacher reported that in countries where abortion is illegal ─ which we are close to becoming ─ abortion rates are actually higher. Contrary to what anti-women's health politicians would have us believe, evidence shows that restricting access to safe, legal abortion care does not lower abortion rates. It just forces women to search for clandestine and unsafe abortion care. And, according to the World Health Organization, complications from unsafe abortion account for an estimated 13 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide.
The best way to reduce the need for abortion is to reduce unintended pregnancy. But in the U.S., politicians are also increasingly putting up roadblocks to access preventive care, including the birth control that helps women avoid unintended pregnancy. In fact, in the past year, the House of Representatives and extreme state legislatures have worked to cut many women off from access to birth control and lifesaving cancer screenings for breast and cervical cancer.
Women have another idea. We think that when women have access to preventive care --including birth control, breast exams, and pap smears -- it is good for women, good for their families, and good for America.
So this year, Women are Watching. It's our campaign to spread the word about these unprecedented attacks on women's health and to let the public know where candidates stand on pivotal health care issues. By empowering one another to hold politicians accountable for what they say and do, we can cast informed votes for candidates who support women and women's health.
By the looks of things, we've got a lot of work ahead of us. With November in their sights, the crop of GOP presidential candidates have zeroed in on women's health and rights. In a reckless political game, every one of them has vowed to overturn Roe and take away the right to safe and legal abortion care for women in America -- even in the case of rape or incest.
And they aren't stopping there. In complete defiance of the majority of Americans, these candidates want to prohibit women from getting birth control and cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers. They want to end the nation's family planning program, which provides preventive care to more than five million women and men, and cut off access to birth control for women who need it the most. They want to end health care for millions by repealing the Affordable Care Act. They even support so-called "personhood" measures, declaring a fertilized egg a person, which could result in outlawing birth control, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. It's become a national race to the bottom to see who can be the worst possible president for women.
In short, a whole class of elected officials currently in office is dead set on turning back the clock nearly half a century. And another band of them is waiting in the wings ─ with their eyes on the White House.
Opposing Roe and essential women's health care isn't just bad policy -- it's bad politics. That's because Americans agree with the protection that Roe provides. Polling consistently reaffirms that a majority of Americans support a woman's right to make her own decisions about pregnancy in consultation with her doctor and her family. Politicians who oppose this firmly held notion are swimming against the tide, putting themselves outside the mainstream.
So, as Roe heads into its 40th year as a touchstone for women's health -- and the opportunity, equality, and self-determination that health brings -- women are standing up and taking note of who is supporting their best interests and who is playing politics with their health and lives. And they are raising their voices to let their leaders know that this is not a game.
We must continue to raise those voices and keep the pressure on. Every day, from now through November, we need to remind politicians that women are watching. We see what they are doing. We hear what they are saying. And we vote.
Follow Cecile Richards on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cecilerichards