As a veteran, I’ve been proud to contribute to and fight for American values, and to preserve our nation’s long history of expanding freedoms for all kinds of people. But this Independence Day, I’ve been having trouble reconciling the freedom I fought for with the troubling decisions emerging from the highest court in the land.
The Supreme Court of the United States is supposed to interpret, uphold and defend the rights enshrined in the Constitution. But the current court, dominated by extremist justices who are more committed to imposing their own religious and ideological beliefs on America than upholding precedent in the Constitution, is replacing freedom for all with liberty for the few that agree with them.
The recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is the starkest example: An out-of-touch court denying millions of people the right to make basic health care decisions that shape their own destinies.
The decision to have a child is maybe the most consequential that any individual can make. For 50 years, the Constitution has endowed women with the right to make that decision for themselves, without interference from politicians. But now, in over a dozen states, women no longer have that right: the justices have made that decision in their stead, although it’s the women who will face the health, economic and emotional consequences of being forced to stay pregnant against their will.
For a country that calls itself the “land of the free,” that’s about as far away from freedom as we can get. Veterans sacrifice in vain when the freedoms we fight to protect are stripped away in the name of politics.
For decades, two-thirds of the public has supported legal abortion under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection and due process. These are the basis for Roe v. Wade. For the first time in history, the Supreme Court is taking away a constitutional right, as opposed to granting more rights and individual freedoms.
The Supreme Court’s reversal of years of precedent on reproductive freedom has put state politicians in charge of people’s most personal health decisions rather than allowing people to decide for themselves what’s best for their families.
This is not the America I fought for. The right-wing court has brought to our own backyards the same kind of assault on liberty and rights that many veterans, like me, have defended against abroad.
In America, rights, access and freedom should not depend on your zip code. The Supreme Court’s job must be to guarantee that everyone may freely exercise these fundamental rights no matter where they live, what they look like or how much money they have. And, especially when it comes to health care, we must consider that people, in consultation with their doctors and families, should be the ultimate decision makers – not judges, prosecutors or politicians.
People seek abortion for many reasons. Safe, legal and affordable abortion is a basic part of health care for people who decide they can’t afford or don’t want a bigger family, who may not be ready to be parents right now, or who have health concerns. In fact, research shows that denying people access to abortion care and forcing them instead to stay pregnant has negative long-term health and economic consequences for women and their children, while enabling pregnant people to decide for themselves when to terminate a pregnancy yields better health outcomes.
In 2019 Rhode Island passed and enacted legislation that protects the right to abortion. Today Rhode Islanders who get pregnant can seek legal, safe abortion care without fear of prosecution or punishment, unlike our fellow Americans in many other states, where abortion is now a crime.
But while everyone has the legal right to abortion in Rhode Island, not everyone has access. For state employees and people in the state’s Medicaid plan, abortion is not covered. Current law denies over 100,000 Rhode Islanders health care coverage for abortion care, which means most cannot afford it even if they decide it’s their best option. We’re working to fix this by passing the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (EACA) and urging lawmakers to call a special session to do it now.
I’m lucky to live in a state where we strive to expand meaningful rights and access to more people, rather than taking them away. But I served with the dream that all Americans would have fair and equal rights, not just those in my state. Congress and national leaders must make sure abortion access is restored in every state, by passing a federal law to guarantee reproductive rights.
Ellie Beargeon is a disabled Iraq War veteran, researcher, and graduate instructor in the international development department at Clark University. Beargeon is also a lead volunteer and board member with The Womxn Project, a statewide organization dedicated to building a strong movement in Rhode Island and beyond that harnesses the power of art, activism and advocacy to advance reproductive health, rights and justice.