Jan. 22 marks the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. As of the 22nd, American women will have had the right to decide the fate of their own bodies for 38 years.
Every year around this time, I like to take a moment and think about what this right means to me. I have never been pregnant (nor, obviously, had an abortion), but I find it extremely reassuring that if I were ever to find myself pregnant and scared, I would have options available to me. I would have the right to decide what changes my body would go through in the next nine months. I am lucky enough to have an emotional and financially supportive family that would help me through whichever decision I decide to make, and to live in a place where abortion services are readily available.
Unfortunately, not every American woman is so lucky. In the state of Kansas, for example, there are three abortion providers, according to abortion.com’s service listings, for a population of almost three million people. Ninety-seven percent of counties in Kansas have no abortion providers.
So while women in Kansas have the legal right to obtain an abortion, how many are completely unable to because they have no access?
Geographic distance is not the only obstacle that many women have to overcome in order to obtain a safe, legal, common medical procedure (about one-third of American women will have an abortion in their lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-partisan think-tank that focuses on reproductive health). Guttmacher’s State Facts About Abortion: Kansas, show there are laws that require medical professionals to lie to women, telling them that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer. There are laws that make women wait 24 hours between having a counseling session and having the procedure (which will be extremely hard to do when a woman lives four hours from her nearest clinic). There are laws that require that young women under the age of 18 inform or get permission from their parents before having an abortion — and it’s not unheard of for parents to abuse pregnant teenagers, or kick them out of the house, or, in extremely disturbing cases, for a father to have impregnated his own daughter.
All of these laws hinder a woman’s right to decide what happens to her own body. Many people will counter these arguments by mentioning adoption as a viable alternative — and it is, for women who do not want to have a baby. But what about the women who don’t want to be pregnant? There are plenty of women who do not want their bodies to suffer the sometimes agonizing symptoms of pregnancy, and I, for one, can’t blame them for that.
More importantly, though, these laws infantilize women. A law mandating that a doctor gives women false information is basically telling women that they are not smart enough to research for themselves what will happen to their bodies. A law requiring a 24-hour waiting period between counseling and an abortion tells women that they can’t possibly have thought this over enough.
I can’t speak for all women. I know there are plenty of women who disagree with me. But I find it insulting that some politician in an office thinks he or she knows what’s better for my own body than I do. Laws outlawing abortion do not make sense, and they do not save lives. Abortion is still going to happen, legal or not. Rich women will still fly to Canada or another country with legalized abortions. Poor women will still scrimp and save, just to be mutilated with a coat hanger. Even poorer women will still end up with children they do not want or can’t afford. And women will still die. In 1965, illegal abortions accounted for just under 200 deaths. In 1995, that number was less than 50.
Making laws against abortion does not save lives, it does not protect the unborn, it is not good for women. It tells women that they cannot make decisions about their own bodily autonomy. This January, think about your own right to decide, and think about what you can do to make that right more accessible to others.