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Roe v. Wade 38th Anniversary: A Time for Celebration -- and Commitment

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As we celebrate the 38th anniversary on Jan 22nd of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, this day must also signal a commitment to the future -- to protect and advance women's reproductive freedom despite the challenges and risks.

This year, 2011, also marks the 40th anniversary of Choices Women's Medical Center, which I founded shortly after New York State legalized abortion in April of 1970. Before there was Roe, there was Choices, and the history of the two are intertwined. I will never forget the first woman who came to Choices. She was from New Jersey, a state where abortion was still illegal. She was young, married with one child, but having another child at that time was financially impossible for her. Since that day so many years ago, Choices has been there for hundreds of thousands of women assisting them in what is one of the most difficult and profound decisions of their lives.

While Roe established abortion as a legal right for women, current laws in many states mean women still have to cross state lines or face other restrictions to secure abortions.

This month, Guttmacher Institute released a new study revealing that abortion providers have reported a dramatic increase in harassment -- from 82 percent in 2000 to 89 percent in 2008. In May 2009 Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who provided later term abortions -- and whose dedicated service was guided by his slogan, "Trust Women" -- was gunned down in a cold-blooded assassination. Today, we see an emboldened right-wing assault in legislatures as well as at clinic doors.

And where are our nation's leaders when it has taken nearly two years after Dr. Tiller's murder to begin a federal investigation into a potential larger conspiracy around his death? Where is justice when a pharmacist in Idaho is allowed to refuse a patient potentially life-saving anti-bleeding medication because she may have had an abortion?

The attack by some religious institutions continues as well, including revoking the Catholic status of a hospital for giving an abortion that saved a woman's life. In the meantime, religious leaders gathered in New York recently to strategize to decrease the abortion rate -- not by increasing access to comprehensive sex education and birth control, but by decreasing access to choice and publicly shaming those who had an abortion.

While there have been some victories to celebrate in the past year, like Operation Rescue's "Flip" Benham's conviction for his "wanted" posters targeting abortion providers, or Alaska's recent strikedown of a ballet proposal to ban abortion as unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, these wins are still few and far between.

And now, with a new slew of Republicans entering Congress and a GOP-controlled House, it is looking increasingly ominous. The new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, well-known for his extreme anti-abortion views, has underscored his sentiments by meeting with the infamous Randall Terry, one of the originators of clinic blockades that the NY Pro-Choice Coalition and I organized against in 1988 when "Operation Rescue" came to NYC. Then there's anti-choice Republican Rep. Joe Pitts, the new Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, surely eager to restrict abortion access even more than now. With 600 bills introduced last year to restrict reproductive health care and rights, how many are on the horizon for 2011? Even one more would be too many!

On this anniversary, we commemorate those heroes like my dear colleague George Tiller whose legacies remain to inspire everyone who cares about women's lives. Sadly, we also enter 2011 without abortion providers Susan Hill and Robin "Rocket Woman" Rothrock. At the same time, we honor the many providers who continue to assist women with great bravery, perseverance and love.

On this anniversary, we celebrate Roe v. Wade and rededicate ourselves to meet the challenges ahead, to protect women's lives and the providers who serve them -- whether on the streets, at the clinics or in the legislative chambers. As I said in an editorial in the Lines in the Sand edition of On the Issues Magazine:

Our bodies are lines in the sand. Each one of us proclaims that the power of the state stops at our skin when we lay our bodies down for an abortion, saying, with that action, that it is we who will decide when and whether to bear children. Or when we leave a violent relationship. Or when we resist and when we take the right to sexual pleasure. And when we declare that we must live in freedom.


When you draw a line in the sand, you have got to be prepared to defend it, to take risks and embrace challenges. That, too, calls upon the body, as well as the body politick.


This was posted originally at On The Issues Magazine.

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