A new bill currently moving through the Tennessee House of Representatives would require the state to publish the names of doctors who perform abortion procedures for the public as well as detailed information about women who receive them. The Life Defense Act of 2012, sponsored by Representative Matthew Hill (R-Jonesboro) would also require the Tennessee Department of Health to make detailed demographic information of these women available to the public, including age, race, marital status, education, number of children, location of procedure and how many times they have been pregnant.
If this law sounds unconstitutional, that's because it should. Almost 50 years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Griswold vs. Connecticut that a state cannot prohibit the use of contraceptives on the grounds that the Constitution protects the right to privacy. After this landmark case, the Supreme Court further ruled in Roe vs. Wade that a woman's choice to have an abortion was protected as a private decision.
Despite the triumphs for women's rights in cases such as these, the so-called "War on Women" still wages on 50 years later. Our own presidential candidates have only added to this rhetoric. Rick Santorum has argued that cases such as Griswold should be overturned, and Mitt Romney recently spoke in an interview with a Missouri television station of his plans to eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood, while it does provide abortion services in some clinics, is an organization that has given thousands of women access to family planning advisors, cancer screenings, HIV tests, and contraceptives. To cut this basic health-care funding would be a detriment to thousands of women. In Texas, this is already being seen as lawmakers have slashed $40 million from the program, which is 90 percent of the program's funding. The Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan organization working to alleviate poverty, said poor women would have difficulty finding new doctors who participate in the program. About 130,000 women receive healthcare from the Texas Women's Health Program through Medicaid, 44 percent of whom are treated at Planned Parenthood clinics. This cut, along with $73.6 million cut last year in state funding for women's health and family-planning services, has given dozens of clinics no option but to close. What's more is that even though taxpayer money isn't allowed to go to organizations that provide abortions, the law is simply cutting off funding to any clinics with an affiliation to a provider, even if it's just a shared name, employee, or board member. To top it off, Georgia Republican state representative Terry England even went as far as to say that women seeking abortions of stillborn fetuses should carry these fetuses to term because that's what cows and pigs must do.
Sadly, the list does not stop there. While many Republicans have been supporting legislation that shames women out of exercising their constitutional right to access abortions or contraceptives -- or literally trying to rid them of their options, such as cutting funding to Planned Parenthood -- they have failed to realize what birth control and safe abortions have given women. Contraception has allowed women to pursue careers and personal goals, options that were limited to many women before birth control and abortion were made legal and accessible. To go back to a time when women could not enjoy the same freedoms as men should be unthinkable. Instead, many Republicans, such as Rep. England, are essentially trying to force society to take five steps backwards and reduce access basic health care.
As a female and member of a younger generation, it is not only discouraging, but actually frightening to see what is happening across the nation. I hope to grow up in a society that recognizes and upholds the reproductive rights of women -- not one that essentially takes them away. For a teenager that is on her way to entering the real world, I hope for all women in this country to have access to basic health care, to be in control of their reproductive health, and to be able to decide when it is right for them to have children. Legislation itself cannot prevent all of this from occurring, as our rights are still being legal challenged. Reproductive rights are not an issue of right or left, rather is an issue of politicians prioritizing our health before their ideology, which in the end benefits the entirety of our society. Not only are reproductive health services life-saving, but making them accessible reduces unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, as well as granting women the freedom to control the timing of their children. Women, young or old, and also men need to let this message -- that our rights cannot be taken away -- ring loud and clear, whether it's by spreading the word and informing others, calling our state representatives to prevent absurd laws from going into place, or taking to the streets in protest. This is our time to remind our politicians and leaders, just as men and woman did 50 years ago, that we demand, not ask, the recognition of our right to privacy, the right to control our bodies, the freedom to determine when and in what manner we reproduce, and to not have these rights taken away from us simply because we are women.