THE BLOG
01/21/2016 06:00 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2017

It's Now or Never for Reproductive Rights

We've come a long way baby.

Today, as we celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, we also face growing and imminent threats to that right.

This dual reality forces us to urgently examine the cultural, economic and political strides women have made and why access to abortion has made much of that possible.

Nearly 60 percent of women now participate in the labor force. Back in the early 1970's, that figure was less than 44 percent. In 1972, 11 percent of young women earned college degrees compared with 38 percent today. Women are now the leading or solo breadwinners in 40 percent of households. A whole generation of adult women have now lived their entire lives since access to abortion was guaranteed by the Supreme Court.

The nation today is far better because of that decision. In the past 40 years, we've seen what women are able to accomplish when they are given autonomy over their own bodies and allowed to make decisions about when, and if, they want to expand or create families. The landmark decision in Roe v. Wade opened the door for women to start making those decisions on their own terms, with their doctors and families, rather than lawmakers.

But as with our own lives, settling into your 40s can be complicated. There is a certainty about being in your 40s, and Roe shares that.

For a majority of men and women in this country today it is unthinkable that our daughters and granddaughters will have fewer rights than we do. Yet in the last few years we've seen a deliberate, systematic attempt by organized forces who see stopping abortion as a critical way to stop the strides that women have made, and politicians who either agree or do their bidding.

The laws are blatant attempts to do an end run around the Supreme Court to prevent women from accessing their constitutional right to reproductive healthcare. Their true goal is to undo women's advances in self-empowerment and their contributions to society as a whole.

These efforts make Roe a policy anomaly. It's long been accepted as law, with the support of seven in 10 Americans, but thanks to conservative lawmakers it has become almost impossible to access it in many states.

State by state, county by county, new laws are being enacted under the ruse of improving the health and safety of women, despite the fact that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures done in the United States. The only thing unsafe about abortion is its existence as a right for all.

This spring, the Supreme Court will be hearing a case that gets to the heart of what it means to have access to our rights. A positive outcome of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt will send the message that our reproductive rights can not be eroded. The court can stand up and say that state laws should not be used to keep women from accessing their right to reproductive care including abortion.

Conversely, the court could give a stamp of approval to the political efforts to dismantle reproductive rights until it is a right only in theory - inaccessible to millions of American women who live in certain zip codes or have lower incomes.

At the same time, the court will also be hearing yet another challenge to the mandate that all American women be allowed access to birth control through their insurance- regardless of the personal politics of their employer. We are back to fighting for basic rights that should be long considered settled law. In the last decade, this effort to legislate reproductive rights into extinction has been supported and encouraged by the same constituencies that see women's ascendance and empowerment as a threat.

Those same adversaries, frustrated by their inability to directly restrict a woman's rise to the highest levels of business, politics and academia, have focused on restricting her rights to her own body. They know that if you limit a woman's access to abortion, you limit her access to personal and professional power.

Reproductive freedom goes far beyond abortion. Reproductive freedom is an equalizer that allows women economic freedom. It is also, for many women, a ladder up out of poverty, away from abuse or a means to access education and professional success. That's why 113 female lawyers submitted an amicus brief supporting Whole Woman's Health explaining why they are not just female lawyers who had abortions; they are female lawyers because they had abortions. There are hundreds of thousands of women who can tell the same story in this country.

On the 43rd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it's important that men and women who identify as pro-choice recognize that this is the year to stand up for abortion rights. It's crucial that Americans come together to protect this important right that allows women to achieve economic equality and makes our country stronger. This right must be protected for the growing number of women and families who can no longer access it, and for future generations of Americans who deserve the same freedoms that we have relied on.