January 22nd marks the 39th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade. Prior to this decision, abortions were illegal in most of the states because there was no federal ruling to support women’s access to it. Prior to this decision, if a woman wanted to control her own body, her own future, her own health she either had to have the money to travel to a state where abortion was legal or risk having an illegal abortion. While there were many reliable underground abortion providers such as Chicago’s Jane; most abortions were provided by untrained, unlicensed practitioners who preformed a procedure and hoped it worked. This resulted in severe injuries and often death for the woman.
Roe v Wade brought abortion out of back alley providers and into the hands of legitimately trained and licensed health care providers. This has had huge implications for women being able to determine their own lives and values. Along with being one of the most monumental decisions in terms of women’s equality; it is also one of the controversial. Groups opposed to abortion rights have been working for the past 39 years to slowly and surely chip away at the protections Roe v Wade gives.
According to the decision abortions cannot be restricted up to the point of viability which is generally considered to be around 24 weeks. Over the past few years however states have been passing laws that in fact restrict abortion prior to 24 weeks. The first, though not the only, to do so was passed in Nebraska and bans abortion past 20 weeks on the theory that a fetus can feel pain at that gestation. The research on the theory is spotty at best and most medical experts seem to concur that the reality is that a fetus cannot feel pain until much later in the pregnancy.
The spotty research however was more than enough for the anti-choice zealots to pass this law and many others similar to it in other states. The Ohio State Senate is now actually debating a law that would ban abortions past the time that a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around 5 or 6 weeks. These laws are intentionally being passed with the purpose of getting an abortions rights group to challenge them with the hopes that when the lawsuit makes it to the Supreme Court, the conservative majority will actually overturn Roe v Wade as part of the decision.
In order to celebrate the rights granted by Roe V Wade as well as to raise awareness to the threats these rights are facing NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other abortions rights groups are hosting a myriad of events over the weekend. If you can, go and participate. And If you go, share your experiences in the comments, we’d love to hear about it!