By Teresa Welsh |
Abortion, one of the safest and most common medical procedures in the United States, is an essential aspect of women's reproductive healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 800,000 legal induced abortions took place in 2009. This corresponds to a rate of 15 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and 227 abortions per 1,000 live births.
One out of three U.S. women will have an abortion during her reproductive years. One out of three. What did these women do before the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide?
Many of them sought "back alley" abortions or tried to terminate unplanned pregnancies themselves. We will never know exactly how many women died from unsafe abortions during the years the procedure was criminalized (from the mid-1800s to 1973), because many of the deaths were not accurately reported or even known. But estimates indicate that tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of women perished trying to control their reproductive lives.
The reasons why a woman would not want to continue a pregnancy are as varied as the women themselves. Those reasons can be heartbreaking—involving an abusive spouse or parent, crushing poverty, substance abuse, a terminal illness. And they can be as simple as a woman who does not want to have a child yet, or possibly ever.
Many women encounter health risks that prevent them from continuing a pregnancy safely. In fact, a woman's future fertility may depend on her terminating a hazardous pregnancy. But even for those women who do not have urgent circumstances, legal abortion can be a lifeline.
That's right—abortion can be a lifeline. Women must be able to determine their own destiny, and a critical aspect of that is planning whether and when to have a family. From this ability flows many other abilities: to seek further education, to leave a violent relationship, to build economic security, to seek a path in life that is fitting and true.
Our government must not deny women the basic human right of reproductive autonomy. History shows that women will exercise this right regardless of where those in power stand at any given point in time.
Ensuring that women have access to a full range of reproductive healthcare services is key if we want the women of this country to be healthy and free. In the four decades since Roe v. Wade was decided, the number of women who die as a result of an abortion has fallen to nearly zero. Do we really want to reverse this trend? The answer is an emphatic no.
About Terry O'Neill President of the National Organization for Women
Kierra Johnson Executive Director of Choice USA
Debra Ness President of the National Partnership for Women & Families