Every January, anti-abortion demonstrators gather in Washington to protest Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held women have the right to terminate a pregnancy, subject to the limitations specified by the court.
This week, on the 43rd anniversary of the ruling, those protesters are closer than ever to curbing that right.
In March, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on a case involving a series of abortion restrictions adopted in Texas that would force most abortion clinics to shut down. If the restrictions are upheld, the court would effectively deny many women access to abortion services in Texas. Other states have adopted similar rules or are considering such regulations.
But a potentially adverse court decision is not the only threat to reproductive health and rights. Earlier this month, the Population Institute released its 50-state report card on reproductive health and rights. Reflecting the escalating efforts against Planned Parenthood, the overall U.S. grade fell from a “C” to a “D+”, and 19 states received a failing grade.
The state of women’s access to reproductive health is in dire straits. In 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives voted seven times to defund Planned Parenthood, an action that would deny millions of women access to their trusted health care provider. The U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate all funding for Title X, a step that would deny millions of women access to contraception.
Worse still, the physical assaults on family planning clinics are creating a climate of fear, one that may deter many women from visiting clinics for preventive health care services.
Last month, White House and Senate budget negotiators blocked the proposed budget cuts, but the attempts to slash or stop funding are not going away. The House started the new year by passing a bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, while also eliminating federal funding for the health services provided by Planned Parenthood through Medicaid and Title X-supported clinics. Congress will fail, almost certainly, in efforts to override a presidential veto, but the political tug-of-war could endure for years.
State actions on abortion rights also contributed to the lower grades in the report card. States passed 288 abortion restrictions since 2011, creating barriers to women’s access to abortions and have forced the closures of family planning clinics. There also have been attacks on comprehensive sex education, which has contributed to the decline in the nation’s teen pregnancy rate, but America’s teen pregnancy rate is still very high compared with other industrialized countries, and much of the progress that has been realized could easily be lost if sex education funds are axed.
A woman’s rights should not depend on where she lives, but increasingly they do, as wide disparities exist among states and even localities. Seventeen states in our report card received a B- or higher and four states received an “A,” but the overall trend is not encouraging. In addition to the 19 states that received failing grades, seven states received a “D.”
Forty-three years after Roe v. Wade, the reproductive rights of women are at risk. If Congress succeeds in axing funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X, or if the U.S. Supreme Court opens the door to more abortion restrictions, reproductive health and rights could suffer severe setbacks. Shutting down more family planning clinics will only increase the number of unwanted pregnancies in the United States, and cutting funding for contraceptive services will only boost the demand for abortions — legal or illegal.
Jennie Wetter is the director of public policy at the Population Institute, a nonprofit that promotes access to family planning information.