Between January 2017 and November 2020, 35 states passed 227 laws that restricted a woman’s access to abortion services. Seven states — Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah — accounted for more than half of those laws. Abortion opponents are hoping that Donald Trump’s appointment of more than 200 federal judges, as well as three Supreme Court justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — will help overturn Roe v. Wade.
It is worth noting that all of these attempts to chip away and ultimately eliminate a woman’s constitutional right to make a private decision to end a pregnancy are being made in the absence of any statistics that abortions are becoming a more dangerous procedure or any other information that might justify a return to a national abortion ban.
The debate about when life begins continues, fueled by religious or personal views though no scientific, legal, or medical discoveries provide any reason for Roe to be declared erroneous. A woman’s right to privacy is held captive to the personal beliefs of a minority of Americans who contend that the termination of a pregnancy is murder and that the “life” of a fertilized egg is to be preserved without consideration for a woman’s health or life.
As the former CEO of the first and largest family planning and abortion clinic in Rhode Island — the most Catholic state in America — I have spoken with patients and those who cared about them. I have stood next to women in the operating room and held their hands. I have comforted them when they were fearful, advised them when they were undecided, and I have supported them in those instances when they decided to postpone or cancel their procedures. I understand how emotionally overwhelming the abortion decision can be, and I also was encouraged when patients all but unanimously expressed the same singular emotion post-op: relief.
Abortion has existed for centuries and will always exist. It is medically safer for women than ever before (especially with the chemical procedure making surgery unnecessary). In fact, the Guttmacher Institute issued a recent report showing 39 percent of women choosing abortions are increasingly relying on the safer abortion pill rather than surgery, up from 29 percent in 2014.
Choosing termination must remain a woman’s decision to be made without duress of any kind. The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling created the national standard for legal abortions in the United States. Nearly a half-century later, the issue remains contentious, with 43 abortion-related cases having been heard in the last 16 months.
So it is time for lawmakers and the judges who mop up after them when lawsuits are filed in court-clogging numbers to resist the political pressure from all groups — religious or otherwise — to continue to try to dismantle Roe and the safe medical care provided women, as well as the privacy, peace of mind, and personal health decisions it protects.
Nearly half a century has passed since the Roe decision, and countless millennia since the first woman ended a pregnancy on her terms. As part of a woman’s constitutional right to privacy, as the Supreme Court ruled, this most private personal decision must be protected.
Mary Ann Sorrentino is a freelance columnist who writes from Cranston, R.I.