An op-ed by Julie Burkhart
The pro-choice movement in the United States is at a critical crossroads. A new reproductive justice movement is emerging from the hardships endured by women in this country, one that will challenge the heated, sometimes violent suppression of women’s dignity and human rights.
This year, more legislation to limit women’s access to abortion and to legally separate fetuses from the pregnant women who sustain them was introduced in state legislatures than ever before – over 350 bills. Less commonly known is the fact that these laws also undermine the rights and health of pregnant women who wish to continue their pregnancies. According to Amnesty International, the United States spends more than any other country on health care, yet women here have a higher risk of dying due to pregnancy-related complications than women in 40 other countries.
Poverty, geography, religion, politics all play a dominant role in determining who can and cannot get birth control, maternal health care and abortion services in the United States. Maternal care and abortion rights are intertwined–more than 60% of women who have abortions are already mothers. Despite this, a woman’s human rights–her right to make medical decisions, right to religious freedom, right to personal dignity are all increasingly taking a back seat to efforts to re-criminalize abortion. It’s harder to end a pregnancy than it was 20 years ago due to the barriers women must overcome and the fact that reproductive health clinics continue to close.
In states across the U.S., especially the Midwest and South, where women are earning less and less, the cost of an abortion is often out of reach. Add hours of travel, unpaid time off from work, childcare, and the obstacles to getting an abortion become significant. These same obstacles keep many women from getting the prenatal and postnatal care they deserve.
These states are also home to some of the most restrictive and punitive laws curtailing women’s access to reproductive health care, and also claim some of the highest teen pregnancy and child poverty rates in the country. The Washington Post recently reported a rise in teen pregnancy rates, despite the $1.5 billion spent on abstinence-only programs
over the past decade.
Anti-abortion and anti-government activism is heated, high-profile, and often violent. This violence culminated in May 2009, when Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in Wichita, Kansas. His murder seems to have emboldened the anti-choice, anti-woman movement, while the women of these regions suffer the most.
This continuing campaign against women is unacceptable and un-American.
While state legislators push bills to penalize women who continue their pregnancies to term in spite of a drug problem, they do nothing to advocate for family and medical leave nor do they work to stop hospitals from banning women who have had previous cesarean surgery from delivering at their hospitals unless they agree to have another such surgery – whether they need it or not. The Federal outlook is no better. The new Congress is gearing up to host an unprecedented number of bills that go against women’s dignity and
human rights. Unequivocally, we have more legislators who allow their opposition to abortion to trump the worth of women.
Following Roe in 1973, the U.S. saw an extraordinary improvement in public health and women’s health with the legalization of abortion – but all this progress, access to maternity care and abortion care, is under increasing attack. This trend must be reversed and the rights of women must be respected. Doing so will result in more favorable health outcomes for women and their children.
What is emerging in 2010 is not our mothers’ reproductive rights movement. This is a reproductive justice movement that addresses abortion care, maternity care, birthing rights and sex education in a holistic manner – each element part of a greater whole. This is a movement that recognizes that a woman’s decision regarding pregnancy, no matter its outcome, is a moral and personal one.
The simple truth is that the same women who have abortions are already mothers or will most likely become mothers. It is imperative that we value these women, these mothers and ensure that they have full access to all of the maternal and reproductive health care services they need. America should do nothing less for the sake of women and their families.