Posted Online: Feb. 07, 2013, 2:33 pm
Roe v. Wade: This Is what 40 looks like to Planned Parenthood
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By Carole R. Brite
Forty years ago, most women in Illinois faced stark choices when it came to ending an unintended pregnancy:
-- If you could afford it, you traveled all the way to New York, Washington, Alaska or Hawaii to have a legal abortion.
-- If you weren't so lucky, you might find yourself blindfolded and taken to an unknown location, where an uncaring or even abusive stranger performed a dangerous illegal abortion.
The results were chilling. Illegal abortions caused as many as one-fifth of all pregnancy -- and childbirth-related deaths. This started to change in January 1973 when the United States Supreme Court affirmed in Roe v. Wade that the constitutionally protected right to privacy includes every woman's right to make her own personal medical decisions.
This landmark ruling has stood the test of time. One of the most difficult decisions a woman will ever make is now a personal and private matter. Roe's legacy of safe and legal abortions means that today, less than half of one percent of abortions result in serious complications.
Forty years after Roe v. Wade, we celebrate the influence Roe has had on improving all aspects of women's reproductive health care, including more and better contraceptive options.
This is what 40 looks like: When women have control of their reproductive health, we see them pursue higher education, obtain better jobs, and create families that are healthier and stronger emotionally and financially. The numbers tell the story:
-- Each year, publicly funded family planning services prevent 1.94 million unintended pregnancies -- including 400,000 teen pregnancies -- and prevent hundreds of thousands of abortions.
-- Women's participation in the labor force has increased from less than half in 1970 to nearly two-thirds in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and families count on the nearly 40 percent that women contribute to family incomes. Women aged 25 to 34 are now more likely than men of that age group to have attained a college degree, reversing the norm of 40 years ago, according to a 2011 federal study.
Generations of Americans -- across party lines -- do not want to go back to the pre-Roe days. In poll after poll, their message is clear: instead of framing the issue as pro-choice or pro-life, we should respect the complex real-life decisions women and their families make.
In fact, nearly two-thirds of American voters support Roe v. Wade, according to a Quinnipiac poll taken in February 2012. This is especially true among younger voters. In a post-election poll from the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of voters younger than age 30 think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Yet state legislators in Illinois and around the country continue to introduce bills that would create barriers to safe and legal abortion, and would let politicians meddle in the health care services that qualified medical providers offer patients.
We honor and thank the courageous leaders who worked hard all those years ago to ensure that today's women have medically accurate information, effective contraception and the options we need to live healthy, productive lives.
At Planned Parenthood, we know what it was like for women before Roe v. Wade. We are not willing to go back to risky, back alley abortions and to have dreams shattered by one mistake or contraceptive failure.
That is not what I want for my daughter, and I expect it is not what you want for yours.
Carole R. Brite is president & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.