37 Years Later: Reflecting on a Landmark Decision
Saturday, Jan. 22 marked the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Like Martin Luther King Day, this anniversary commemorates a struggle with results we now take for granted. Roe v. Wade, which hinged on the 9th and 14th Amendments protecting the right to privacy, did not just grant women the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion or bring a pregnancy to term; it also allowed the use of contraceptives.
Roe v. Wade has been under siege at the national and state level since the decision, but there has arguably never been such an outcry over its implications and so many cases and legislative measures that seek to reverse a woman’s right to choose. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, women will not only lose legal access to abortions, but will lose legal, affordable access to contraceptives and post-intercourse measures like emergency contraception—or the “morning after” pill. This will be a disaster for college women seeking to lead responsible, sexually active lives.
Although male condoms are a form of contraception, the onus still too often falls on the woman to prevent pregnancy. The woman is the one bringing the baby to term; she is the one whose health is affected by pregnancy, and she is expected to rear the child regardless of whether the baby’s father provides support. We all know that having a child frequently forces women to devote most of their efforts to childrearing and working to support themselves and their children, often eliminating their chances of pursuing higher education.
The risk of sexual assault on campus moreover increases the imperative that female college students have access to contraceptives and abortion care. Incidents of rape or assault are not isolated occurrences; they are clearly part of a culture of dominance and fear. No female should have to spend, at a minimum, nine months of her life paying for the sexual violence of another. Even without such a risk, college hook-up culture and recreational sex practices create the demand for contraception. Female students, and the males who respect them, should not take sexual freedom for granted; we all need to make sure that sex stays safe and take precautions to avoid pregnancy.
Whether or not we personally agree with abortion, we need to make sure that a woman’s constitutional right to choose, as stipulated in Roe v. Wade, is upheld. If a case or legislative bill manages to reinstate the notion that life begins at conception—thus voiding a woman’s right to privacy–then we will lose access to legal contraceptives, which prevent the act of conception. Moreover, we will lose access to affordable contraceptives because health insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and other parties will no longer be able to receive legal funding and subsidies for their production and sale.
Let’s look at the numbers. It is estimated that 70,000 people a year die because of unsafe abortions, and that number is believed to be lower than the actual total. According to the Guttmacher Institute’s studies, 19.2 million unsafe abortions occurred in less developed countries where there are restrictive if not prohibitive measures regarding contraceptives and abortion. Furthermore, in 2009, the average cost of a nonhospital abortion in the US was $451; that’s the result of around 62 hours labor at federal minimum wage.
While unintended pregnancy rates have dropped overall in the US, there has been a 29 percent rate increase among poor women. If contraceptives were outlawed nationally, it would reverse the decrease in unintended pregnancies and impact the women least likely to be able to afford abortions. Clearly, more than free love on college campuses is at stake.
We all need to make sure that young women retain an equal opportunity to attend college and enter the workforce, and that they have the right to control their futures by controlling when they become pregnant.