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Roe v. Wade, 40 years later

By Aaron Blevins, 1/24/2013

Anniversary of court decision commemorated


Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationally, and across the country, pro-choice advocates commemorated the milestone.

From left, activists Dr. Arthur Fleisher II, Serena Josel and Sandra Fluke speak during “Abortion Under Siege” at NCJW. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

At the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA), however, supporters expressed concern and proposed a call to action to oppose any attempts to restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare during a panel discussion called “Abortion Under Siege”.

“Forty years after Roe v. Wade, many women are still unjustly denied access to abortions due to a federal restriction, which is called the Hyde Amendment,” NCWJ/LA vice president of advocacy Lee Saltz said. “This amendment withholds insurance coverage of abortion in most federal health programs, such as Medicaid, except in cases of rape, incest and when a woman’s life is at risk.”

She referenced attempts to restrict access to reproductive healthcare options in cities in Arkansas, Mississippi and South Dakota, and said such efforts endanger women’s health, limit women’s equality and erode religious liberty.

Moderator Michele Kort, senior editor of “Ms.” magazine, agreed, saying that more than 100 new state laws have been passed around the country to restrict access to abortions in the last two years.

“It’s a great day of celebration, but it also renews our vigor to defend it because we’ve spent forty years defending the right to legal abortion in this country — especially because there’s been more and more restrictions in state laws,” she said.

Dr. Arthur Fleisher II, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said he performed abortions prior to Roe v. Wade and before California legalized abortions three years earlier. He said he worked in a Los Angeles County hospital unit for female patients who had been harmed by unsafe abortions.

When discussing abortions, it is important to use proper terminology, Fleisher said. For example, “pro-life” advocates are actually “pro-birth,” as they have no concern for the welfare of the child after birth, he said. And “pro-choice” advocates are not “pro-abortion.”

“All of us would like to see abortions or terminated pregnancies reduced to a minimum, especially by promulgation, widespread availability and the use of birth control. But the option or choice must remain that of the pregnant woman,” Fleisher said, adding that abortions, when conducted properly, have a lower complication and death rate than a normal term pregnancy.

He said several problems still exist regarding abortions: the number of trained abortion providers is too low, officials do not promote the use and increase the availability of birth control enough, and pro-choice advocates are not mobilizing in every state.

“Women will always find ways to end unwanted pregnancies … and there is no law that will end the practice of abortion,” Fleisher said, citing a New York Times editorial.

Sandra Fluke, a women’s rights advocate who had been vilified by Rush Limbaugh after speaking to House Democrats regarding mandated insurance coverage for contraceptives, also spoke.

She discussed various court cases that had impacted abortion access, beginning with Roe v. Wade, which found that a woman should have a right to privacy to make decisions regarding her pregnancy. That right needed to be balanced against the state’s interest in protecting a woman’s health and protecting prenatal life, Fluke said.

She also referenced Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down a state law that made it illegal for anyone to purchase contraceptives. The court found that it violated marital privacy. A later case, Eisenstadt v. Baird, expanded that decision to include unmarried women, Fluke said.

“It’s really interesting to me how all of these social justice constructs tie together in this line of cases, and how privacy is an idea that, even in the law, runs through so many of our civil rights and fights for various groups in the social justice spectrum,” she added.

Since the Roe v. Wade decision, each Supreme Court case has gradually rolled back its protections, Fluke said, citing Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which required women to notify their partner when having an abortion, which could be problematic in domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

“That could be the cause of the pregnancy in question,” she said, adding that the court implemented an undue burden test that allowed the court to “restrict access up to a certain point as long as the burden is not undue.” Fluke said this “magic line” allowed restrictions such as parental consent for teenagers, informed consent requirements for physicians and 24-hour waiting periods. “Planned Parenthood v. Casey opened the door to a lot of creative and dangerous restrictions that we are now fighting.”

She referenced two other cases from the 1990s that made it evident that pro-choice advocates were losing the “public relations war.” In those cases, misinformation and inflammatory terms were used to describe a procedure that is sometimes medically necessary, Fluke said.

“That’s really where we are today,” she added. “We’ve gone from Roe v. Wade being a 7-2 decision … to a point where Roe v. Wade certainly hangs by one vote. Absolutely, it could be gone in a glimpse.”

Serena Josel, the public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, spoke about California’s role in impacting the national abortion and reproductive health debate. She said advocates need to encourage new leaders and think proactively.

“There’s really no better place to do that than here in California,” Josel said, adding that California was one of the first states to legalize abortions.

She discussed a bill by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) that expanded access to contraceptives by allowing registered nurses to dispense the most common forms of birth control in community clinic settings.

“This may not seem like such a big deal, but especially for women in rural communities, access to birth control in a matter of hours or days instead of waiting weeks for an appointment is a really big issue,” Josel said.

She also referenced a new bill by Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) that expands access to abortion in California by allowing advanced practice clinicians like midwives to provide early, first-trimester abortions. Josel said Planned Parenthood had studied the practice.

“We’ve found that they’re extremely safe,” she said. “The complication rate is just as low as when physicians provide them.”

Josel said California advocates should find ways to engage young people regarding women’s rights to health care, encourage people to think about issues involving fertility and continue to find ways to help men and women plan for family life. She also suggested that advocates “hold the line” in California and other states.

“The restrictions we’re seeing placed on our colleagues in other states are absolutely terrible, and we have an obligation to help and we have an obligation to send funds and send staff to help,” Josel added.

Reina Martinez, a member of the West Hollywood Women’s Advisory Board and Hollywood NOW, said she has strived to create a new generation of feminists, but had noticed that many LGBT and transgendered people did not feel that the reproductive justice debate applied to them due to their lifestyles.

“To me, this is unacceptable. I have personally taken on this mission to unite all women — the transgender women, the lesbian women and men, of course, who feel compelled to fight on the behalf of Roe v. Wade,” Martinez said. “We all need to come together.”

The anniversary of the Supreme Court decision was not just commemorated locally. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said in a statement that the battle still rages over women having the opportunity to make their own reproductive health choices.

“On the anniversary of this momentous decision, we must remain vigilant in protecting a woman’s right to choose, particularly in the face of efforts at the state level to limit the ability of women to access the services they need in making the best decisions for their health and families,” she said. “With historic numbers of women serving in Congress, there is no better time to ensure that women’s health and reproductive rights are respected and protected for future generations.”



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