Roe v. Wade built on the social and legal trends in the country at that time to make abortion legal, more accessible and safe. This reflected the growing concern about women seeking abortions despite the risks to their health and safety.
Estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and ’60s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. One analysis, extrapolating from data from North Carolina, concluded that an estimated 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions occurred in 1967
When abortion was illegal, it was primarily higher income, white women who were able to travel or arrange to obtain safe abortions. Death rates clearly reflect racial and income disparities: In New York City in the early 1960s, one in four childbirth-related deaths among white women was due to abortion. In comparison, abortion accounted for one in two childbirth-related deaths among nonwhite and Puerto Rican women. The mortality rate due to illegal abortion was 12 times higher from 1972 to 1974 for nonwhite women than for white women nationwide.
Today, as we celebrate the anniversary, we celebrate the many powerful improvements in the health and general well-being of women and families as a result of the right to legal, safe abortion. The right to make childbearing decisions has enabled women to pursue educational and employment opportunities that were often unthinkable before.
Health risks are vastly reduced: In 1965, 17 percent of all deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth were the result of illegal abortion.
Today, fewer than 0.3 percent of women undergoing legal abortion procedures sustain a serious complication.
Jane Parker, Now’s time for vigilance over women’s rights
For most Americans, it’s difficult to imagine that abortion in the U.S. could actually be criminalized once again.
While legal scholars and journalists debate the likelihood of a Roe reversal, healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood must seriously consider the outcome of such a devastating legal action.
According to a recent report from The Center for Reproductive Rights, the consequences of overturning Roe sound frighteningly similar to pre-Roe days when women risked their lives in order to control their reproductive destiny.
If Roe fell, abortion law would revert to the states, where emboldened anti-choice hard-liners have already unleashed a pre-emptive battle.
According to the CRR study, 21 states are poised to immediately ban abortion should Roe be overturned, and six states already have laws on the books to criminalize women who self-induce, with consequences that include fines and imprisonment.
The incremental approach of the abortion-rights opponents is working. They considered it a major victory when last April the newly composed U.S. Supreme Court broke with over 30 years of precedent and upheld the first federal abortion ban since Roe that does not include an exception for the woman’s health.
Let’s be clear. Banning abortion won’t reduce the need for it. It will, however, result in untold misery, and possibly even death, for women desperate to obtain the service.
Cheryl Rollings, Roe Reversal Would Bring Untold Misery
In the thirty-five years since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, two trends have emerged in the legal landscape around reproductive rights—in the United States, a troubling retreat from longstanding commitments to the principles of Roe; and around the world, a growing recognition of women’s fundamental human right to reproductive health and self-determination. Once in the vanguard, the United States Supreme Court has reneged on the robust constitutional protections embedded in Roe. While in sharp contrast, legal protections for reproductive rights internationally have increasingly been moving ahead.
To cite just a few recent examples, on April 24, 2007, Mexico City lawmakers voted to legalize abortion, recognizing the right as central to women’s health. A few months earlier, Portugal adopted a similar measure. And in 2006, the Constitutional Court of Colombia declared unconstitutional the country’s blanket criminalization of abortion. Citing fundamental rights to life, health, equality, liberty and bodily integrity, the Court held that “reproductive rights have finally been recognized as human rights.”
Yet in the face of such global progress, the United States, whose Constitution is one of the world’s first and most majestic human rights documents, is sliding backwards, away from its promises of equality and freedom, back towards a society in which women are presumed not to know their best interests. This attitude was reflected in the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which all but invited anti-choice extremist to step up their assault on Roe.
In 1973, Roe v. Wade gave strength to the global struggle for women’s equality and dignity. And though the debate over abortion in the United States is as heated and political today as ever, we at the Center for Reproductive Rights pledge to remain vigilant in our work, advancing laws and policies that protect not only the right to abortion, but also the right to comprehensive sex education, safe and healthy pregnancy, and the full range of safe and effective contraception both here in the U.S. and around the world.
More Blog For Choice posts throughout the day!