A Chill Wind Blows:Women's Freedom Depends on Reproductive Freedom
by Betty DeFazio

On January 22, 1973, a young lawyer
Demonstrators at the April 2004 March for Women's Lives in DC. Credit: http://crayz.org/

named Sarah Weddington argued the Roe v. Wade case before the US Supreme Court. The ink wasn't dry on the paper before anti-choice forces moved to try and eviscerate Roe and all that the monumental decision stands for. As we celebrate "women's history month" this March, it is a perfect time to contemplate the future of reproductive freedom.

Many of us look to the Supreme Court to ensure our liberties remain intact. "For today, the women of this Nation still retain the liberty to control their destinies. But the signs are evident and very ominous, and a chill wind blows." In 1989, then Justice Harry Blackmun, wrote those famous words in the Webster v. Reproductive Health Services Supreme Court decision. Although the legal right to make childbearing choices has been reaffirmed time and again, the future is still not certain. Recently, the Court has changed and no doubt you may feel the same chill wind that I do.

The Silent Majority
Interestingly, most Americans do not want the government making these choices for them. But, those Americans are largely a silent majority. While support for birth control and sex education has grown (most people in the US understand that prevention is a good thing), a much louder minority would have people believe that birth control is immoral and the best sex education tells kids to just say "NO."

In an effort to sort out the rhetoric, one group, Advocates for Youth, has compiled data to show support in the US for sex education. A review of a 1999 national poll by Hickman-Brown Research concluded, "(what) Americans feel about sexuality education for young people reveals an unprecedented level of support for sexuality education…" Further, they note that 93% support sex education for high school students and 84% support sex education for middle school students! "All groups, including conservative Christians, support high school and junior high school sexuality education to prevent disease and unintended pregnancy." (www.advocatesforyouth.org/factsfigures/suppsexed.htm)

Although those numbers signal support for sex education, according to the National Women's Law Center, another area raises alarms. Religious refusals to fill prescriptions for birth control and emergency contraception are expanding across the United States. "Pharmacist refusals to fill legally valid prescriptions for contraception constitute a serious erosion of reproductive rights and impede women's access to critical health care."

For too many years, both women and men have taken reproductive freedom for granted. We have become accustomed to the notion of self-determination and bodily integrity. We have grown used to the right to time pregnancies, space children, and plan families. These rights give women an equal place at life's table. Justice Harry Blackmun, called these rights "a step that had to be taken as we go down the road toward the full emancipation of women."
But, are those rights available to all? Have we attained full emancipation or are we "backsliding?"

Consider the "State Health Facts" section found on the Kaiser Family Foundation's website:
Only four states voluntarily provide funding for medically necessary abortions (thankfully, New York is one).
Only nine states have laws requiring hospital emergency rooms to offer emergency contraception to rape victims (commonly known as the "morning after pill" and New York ranks in the minority for enacting this common sense law).
Only 21 states have laws requiring contraceptive coverage (birth control prescription coverage).
30 states have enacted "Mandatory Waiting Periods" and/or "Biased Information Requirements" for women seeking an abortion.
32 states and the District of Columbia follow the federal standard and fund abortions only in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest.
47 states have a religious or moral refusal clause that allows health providers to refuse to provide reproductive services (which means people can be denied birth control, emergency contraception, abortions, and/or sterilization services).
A 2004 Congressional report showed that 80% of the "abstinence-only" curricula used in high schools contain false, misleading or distorted health information about reproductive issues!

Changing Direction
It doesn't take a "rocket scientist" to look at these numbers and see that a lack of appropriate education and the growing restrictions placed on women seeking reproductive health care will likely result in more unintended pregnancies as well as the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

Individually, one of these facts might not threaten women's access to care. Jointly, they point to a very chill wind blowing across our country. It's time for us, we, the people, to protect reproductive freedom for all women and men - now and for future generations. Let's change the direction of that very chill wind.
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Betty is the External Affairs Director of Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region, Inc.