02/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Thirty-Six Years After Roe v. Wade, America Must Put Prevention First

Today marks the thirty-sixth anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which affirmed a woman's right to choose. Since being handed down, it has remained the subject of contentious debate, both sides with fierce opinions and moral convictions. I will always be a steadfast supporter of a woman's right to choose, and there might always be those who disagree. But we can find common ground by putting prevention first.

Last week, I introduced the Prevention First Act, a common sense approach to reducing unintended pregnancies, abortions, and promote public health. I am proud to have introduced this legislation along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO).

For decades, Americans of differing viewpoints have fought in the courts over access to legal abortions. Prevention First, however, offers a uniting approach that will reduce unintended pregnancies and promote public health.

The best way to reduce unintended pregnancies and thus the number of abortions is to prevent them in the first place. The best way to prevent them is to improve education and increase access to contraception. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and on both sides of this issue, support the Prevention First bill because it is a comprehensive approach to preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing the number of abortions.

The anniversary of Roe v. Wade highlights the important goal of this legislation: to provide medically accurate, science-based information to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and therefore, reduce the need for abortions.

Consider this: The United States has one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancies among industrialized nations. Each year 3 million pregnancies-- 50 percent of all pregnancies--in the United States are unintended with half of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion.

Or this: A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the nation's teen birth rate has increased for the first time in 15 years. One in three girls in America becomes pregnant before the age of 20, and 80 percent of these pregnancies are unintended.

Or this: Each year, publicly funded family planning services help women to prevent an estimated 1.3 million unplanned pregnancies and 630,000 abortions. And yet these programs are struggling to meet the growing demand for subsidized family planning services without corresponding increases in funding.

If we want to reduce the number of abortions in this country, the methodology is clear: Empower women to prevent unintended pregnancies through education and access to contraception. I encourage all Americans to come together to meet our shared goal of reducing unintended pregnancies and abortion by putting prevention first.