Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion for all Americans, turned thirty-four this winter. To honor the occasion, we should take time to reflect on the women who helped us reach this anniversary. Their struggles and determination made it possible for many women to have autonomy over their own bodies, health and lives—but there is much work left to do. Some believe that my generation takes for granted all that was handed down to us, but I would like to give you another perspective. While abortion remains a critical issue to young women, other reproductive health concerns have gained importance in ensuring a woman’s ability to have control over her body.
The immediate and enduring threat of HIV/AIDS, for example, is a crucial point of action for people under the age of 25. More than 15 percent of women don’t have health insurance in this country, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to visit a gynecologist for annual exams or STD screening, let alone afford abortion services. After 30 years of the Hyde amendment, low-income women on Medicaid continue to be denied financial coverage from the government to obtain abortions. And a new vaccine, Gardasil, can be used against HPV, yet the cost of this series of shots is beyond most women’s means. We may have gained ground for the women’s movement when Roe was decided, but we have unfortunately fallen behind when it comes to educating our youth about what their reproductive options are and how to access them.
Under the Bush administration’s abstinence-only-until-marriage program, young women are often left in the dark when it comes to contraception, pregnancy, and STD prevention. Young women are being asked to take complete responsibility for their bodies but often are without the access to the education that would enable to make safe choices. Yet there are reasons to be optimistic. As we celebrate the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the entire pro-choice community should be encouraged that young women are indeed working to build a holistic approach to reproductive choice that is both inclusive and adaptable.
The phrase “pro-choice” no longer refers to a single issue; it has expanded to meet the reproductive health concerns facing all women. We are no longer starting and ending our conversations with abortion; we are talking about comprehensive sex education, HIV/AIDS, access to health care, including maternal care, we are supporting motherhood, and we are listening to the views and ideas of younger women. Most importantly, we are learning that in order to empower all women and make the most of our activism, we have to expand our work to encompass the diverse sets of circumstances under which women in this country live.
On this 34th anniversary of Roe, I urge all young women to embrace the emerging and expanding vision of reproductive justice, and to tell your own story of the issues that you face in your own communities each and every day. Our fight may not be the same as those of generations past, and the way in which we go about it may be different from what others had envisioned. But in order to build movements, we must be able to fight our own battles in our own way. As we do so, we look to the women who fought for Roe to give us their wisdom and expertise, and we hope they have faith in our abilities to face the new challenges to reproductive justice that will inevitably arise in the years to come.
Excerpted from an article entitled What Roe Means to Me: Growing Up Under Legalized Abortion printed on the American Progress website 22 January, 2007. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/01/roevwade.