04/17/2014 05:12 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2014

Can Women Decide for Themselves?

Not a bad idea at all, making one's own decisions. Unfortunately, it's not always easy today if those are health care decisions, especially if you're a woman... especially if you're poor... especially if you live in the many, many areas of the U.S. without access to a women's health clinic. But increasing numbers of Americans are out to change those odds.

Many of them attended a packed-house forum, "Making Your Own Decisions: Reproductive Health in 2014" sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice in San Francisco April 16. The event featured a panel moderated by Rose Aguilar, host of KALW's Your Call, and including Becky Roosevelt, Program Officer, Reproductive Health and Rights for the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund; Margalynne Armstrong, Associate Professor of Law, Santa Clara University; and Andrea Jackson, Assistant Professor at the University of California San Francisco and Medical Director of the San Francisco General Hospital Women's Clinic. Amy Everitt, State Director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, introduced the panel and the event.

How is it going, the business of personal health care decisions? "We're making good strides," Roosevelt said. She cited the Women's Health Protection Act introduced in Congress last November with 33 co-sponsors thus far, and the growing coalition of major organizations and grassroots efforts. Inclusion of all these voices, she said, will be the necessary catalyst for change.

Jackson added that providers "need to be comfortable being advocates. It's not just about abortion," she said, "but about all medical care." What's needed, Jackson said, is to remove the shame that has somehow been attached to abortion, to encourage patients to tell their stories. (This story-telling author quietly cheered.)

Armstrong ventured the opinion that actions (and activism) will necessarily involve social media. "I have a 23-year-old daughter," she said. "If you want to reach my daughter, tweet her."

Among the saddest of stories panelists shared were those of women today without the money to access reproductive services. "My daughter has friends all over," Armstrong said; "she has friends who live where there is no choice." Jackson told of working in Zimbabwe, where abortion laws are extremely harsh - including prison terms of up to five years for women convicted of attempting to self-abort. In a "post-abortion care unit," she said, there was "a row of women sitting on a bench, bleeding." And then, she spoke of post-abortion care units here in the U.S., in California (and elsewhere), with women on benches, bleeding, after attempting medical abortions without proper supervision.

Despite the grim stories, despite misperceptions that there is a lack of interest among the millennial generation and concern for increasing numbers of women denied reproductive care as clinics are forced to close, there was optimism from audience and panel members alike. Roosevelt cited a recent Wall Street Journal poll that indicated a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and over 70 percent want Roe v Wade upheld.

In other words, women can make their own decisions.