Today marks the 38th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision: Jane Roe et al. vs. Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County. For Latinas who fought for reproductive justice, this court case was a relief and dramatically changed the landscape for reproductive rights.
Roe vs. Wade gave women access to a safe and legal abortion. By making abortion legal, the federal government made it possible to access safe abortions through licensed practitioners. The mortality rate of women seeking to terminate unwanted and unintended pregnancies has decreased significantly, but the political climate has become increasingly more tense. Instead of access improving, it has instead gotten more and more difficult for women to seek services.
Subsequent court cases after Roe v Wade gave states the right to restrict abortion access in certain capacities. States have taken advantage of this ability to restrict access to abortion. More than half of states created laws and statutes that introduced waiting periods, age restrictions, mandatory ultrasounds, spousal approval, and partial-abortion bans.
In 1992, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey gave states power to restrict abortions in the first trimester as long as it did not place ‘undue burden’ on the woman seeking abortions. What constitutes an “undue burden” is of course quite debatable, and has been the source of much controversy since that decision.
On the federal level, only three years after Roe, the Hyde Amendment passed and prohibited the use of federal funds for abortions. This significantly reduced access to abortion for low-income women, because their health insurance (provided through the government) would not cover the procedue. Now, under the 112th Congress a new bill has been proposed, HR-3,which would effectively make the Hyde Amendment permanent and add even more restrictions.
Justice Blackmun said it best when he drafted the opinion of the court back in 1973: “One’s philosophy, one’s experience, one’s exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one’s religious training, one’s attitude toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are likely to influence and to color one’s thinking and conclusions about abortion.” Justice Blackmun also acknowledged that “population growth, pollution, poverty and racial overtones tend to complicate and not simplify the issue.” 38 years later, the abortion debate continues to divide the nation in increasing levels of extremism.
As we all sit and contemplate the decisions of the higher court in Roe vs. Wade nearly 40 years ago we should be thankful that a woman’s right to choose was defended. But the war is not won and the battle is far from over. As we continue pushing for our future we must see that there are still barriers that keep certain low-income women, women of color, and other women with few options.
By Myra Guevara, Research Intern