Forty years following the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, I am overwhelmed with emotions. I am filled with gratitude for the women who came before me and fought for my rights. I am also mourning, not for myself, but for the hundreds of thousands of women who died because they were not afforded the same rights I am today.
Before 1973, women did not always have safe and legal access to abortion. Many women were forced to go to desperate measures to ensure that they had control over their own bodies.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, before Roe v. Wade, more than 200,000 women per year had illegal abortions in the United States. Death from illegal and unsafe abortions accounted for about 17 percent of all maternal deaths in 1965. That’s 34,000 women whose lives were lost because they did not have access to one of the safest medical procedures available when properly done in a professional environment.
We learned a tragic lesson from the years before Roe: Women will get abortions whether they are legal or not. Roe v. Wade did not mark the start of women having abortions; it marked the end of women dying from abortions.
The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade comes at a time when we have seen more restrictions on abortion than any other time after Roe. There were more anti-choice abortion laws passed between the years of 2010-2012 than there were in the years 1973-2011. In Michigan, we have passed the most restrictive abortion law in U.S. history. We now have mandated ultrasounds, a 24-hour waiting period, extensive and unnecessary regulation of doctors who perform abortions, and we can no longer perform telemedicine prescriptions in the case for abortions for women in rural areas.
These restrictions greatly impact women who live in some parts of the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan who now have to drive more than six hours to obtain an abortion in this state.
We know that these restrictions do not discourage women from having abortions. Instead, they force women to have illegal and dangerous abortions. Furthermore, these laws affect poor women and women of color much more than they affect privileged women and white women. These laws are just as racist and classist as they are sexist.
Abortion is a fundamental human right. As women, we should have the right to control and own our bodies. We should be able to decide what happens to us.
Abortion is not a rare procedure in the United States. According to the Guttmacher Institute and Advocates for Youth, one in three women will have or has had an abortion in her lifetime. That is nothing to be ashamed of, and it should not be stigmatized.
We need to start talking about abortion, what it means for women and what it means when we take women’s choices away.
We’ve come a long way since Roe, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
Editor’s note: Marie Reimers is the Vice President of Voices for Planned Parenthood at Central Michigan University.