Lifting our Glasses to Abortion Rights: Cheers and Jeers from the Year

Today is the 37th Anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the landmark case that made access to safe abortion legal in the United States. Today we join with other feminists in the blogosphere to Blog for Choice. This post originally appeared as part of the What Does Choice Mean to You? series on RH Reality Check.

For any woman in the United States currently of reproductive age, the Roe v. Wade decision has meant that she has always had the ability to safely end a pregnancy that was unintended or dangerous for her health.

Recent events— the death of Dr. Tiller and the battle over healthcare reform—have served as a constant reminder that even in the United States, protecting access to safe abortion remains an ongoing struggle. Internationally, change is slow and incremental at best, and access to safe abortion services remains limited: Each year, nearly 70,000 women die unnecessarily from complications related to unsafe abortions, with 97% occurring in developing countries.

Our partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America have demonstrated courage, stamina, creativity, and resilience in the face of fierce opposition, guided by the conviction that no woman is free unless she has the right to make decisions about her own body. And, like any movement for social justice, the movement for safe abortion internationally has seen its ups and downs.

When I look at the glass half-full, I recognize the tremendous victory of our partners at Catholics for the Right to Decide in Bolivia, who successfully advocated on behalf of a new constitution that specifically entitles men and women to sexual and reproductive rights, and states that life is not defined as “starting at conception.” I think of Dr. Boniface Oye-Adeniran, an obstetrician-gynecologist and one of the four coordinators of the Nigerian Campaign Against Unwanted Pregnancy, whose creativity has paved the way for a new cadre of abortion rights advocates to demand change. And, I think of a little-known victory won by our colleagues YKP in Indonesia that has the potential to better the lives of millions of women and girls by increasing access to safe abortion services in a country where a woman can be imprisoned for up to 12 years for “suggestive behavior.”

When I look at the glass half- empty, I think of the thousands of lives that unsafe abortions claim each year. Women’s rights advocates are fiercely attacked and targeted by conservative groups, and continue to be threatened, insulted, and physically assaulted. In the Dominican Republic, lawmakers ratified Article 30, effectively making abortion illegal in all cases, despite the ongoing mobilization and demonstrations by men and women throughout the country. And in Mexico, a year after the Supreme Court upheld a Mexico City law allowing abortion in the first trimester, the majority of states have amended their constitutions to criminalize abortion, a trend that one advocate aptly calls “outrageous, disappointing and very frustrating.”

Today, as we lift our glasses to celebrate the 37th anniversary of Roe, and the promise of future wins, we must all recognize the importance of the ongoing movement for abortion rights worldwide, a movement that will require the dedicated efforts and support of women and men for years to come.

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