On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided by a 7-2 margin that a woman has a right to an abortion.
Forty years later, though 70 percent of Americans support the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, 87 percent of counties in the United States do not have one clinic that offers legal abortions, and several states have just one clinic. Those who operate the clinics often do so enduring constant protests and the threat of imminent violence.
Despite this, an estimated 1 in 3 women have had an abortion. And that number might be even higher if abortion were made illegal, as countries that ban the procedure report higher instances of abortion.
The so-called pro-life movement that came to being by drawing evangelicals into the Republican Party has failed in its central goal of overturning Roe. But it has succeeded in politicizing access to basic reproductive health care.
Since the Republican wave election of 2010, pro-lifers have gone into overdrive, passing 135 new laws restricting a woman’s right to choose and targeting Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health care for women.
While Planned Parenthood — which has been supported in the past by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Republicans like Barry Goldwater, and funded by the federal government since the Nixon administration — does perform abortions, it receives funding only to provide basic health care. Despite this, defunding the group has become an obsession of the right.
Governor Rick Perry of Texas is costing his state $250 million and depriving thousands of women of their basic health care provider just to keep federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood in Texas, though they perform no abortions at all.
Being stridently anti-abortion rights is a safe position in most red states. However, when Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock articulated in inarticulate ways the Republican Party’s position — that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape — they ended up losing their races in states where Mitt Romney won easily.
Only 9 percent of Americans support making abortion illegal without exception, the position of Akin, Mourdock and Romney’s former running mate and one of the frontrunners for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination — Paul Ryan.
In addition to opposing abortion, most Republicans also oppose the Affordable Care Act mandate that all women should be provided free birth control as part of their health insurance coverage. The fact that abortion activists also oppose what will be the most comprehensive effort to prevent unwanted pregnancies in American history suggests that the pro-life movement includes many who simply seek to restrict a woman’s choice to operate with the sexual freedom of a man.