Women's freedom depends on court decision
Roe v. Wade anniversary
TODAY marks 33 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. Every year Planned Parenthood of Hawaii (PPH) and its partners in the reproductive rights community honor this historic decision. We celebrated Friday with 450 of our supporters at the Royal Hawaiian's Monarch Room to honor Dr. Virginia Pressler for her service and commitment to reproductive health care in Hawaii and to view the premiere of a documentary produced by noted Hawaii author and political historian Tom Coffman, a tribute to the late Gov. John A. Burns and the late Sen. Vincent Yano, pioneers of legislation for choice.
Hawaii was in the forefront of reproductive rights in March 1970 when it became the first state in the nation to repeal its criminal abortion law. Gov. John A. Burns, a Catholic who personally opposed abortion, allowed the law to pass without his signature. Since then, the state has supported the reproductive rights of all Hawaii's women -- the young, the poor and the disenfranchised.
On Jan. 22, 1973, a young lawyer named Sarah Weddington successfully argued the Roe v. Wade case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Since the monumental decision, anti-choice forces have been active and successful.
State legislatures on the mainland have marshaled their forces to require waiting periods, parental involvement requirements, biased pre- procedure counseling and other unnecessary barriers to access. Anti-choice zealots stand on the sidewalks of health clinics to harass staff and clients attempting to gain access to the health care to which they are entitled. Perhaps not as visible yet in Hawaii, anti-choice organizers are actively working to implement these same restrictions here at home.
Most baffling about the anti-choice activists who have been waging 33 years of warfare against choice is their wholesale rejection of the measures that would prevent the need for abortion.
They oppose comprehensive, medically accurate sex education, even though it has been proven that truthful, comprehensive sex education is effective in teaching teens responsible decision making, disease prevention and family planning.
The anti-choice forces oppose emergency contraception, and sometimes all forms of birth control. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that without birth control, there will be more unintended pregnancies, and therefore an increased need for abortion services.
During the past few years, pharmacists all across the mainland have refused to fill legal prescriptions for emergency contraception because of their own personal biases. A Target store, whose corporate philosophy supports this policy, was recently reported to be looking to begin business in Hawaii. You have to wonder how many women were left with an unwanted pregnancy after a pharmacist refused to do his or her job.
Privacy is the cornerstone of Roe, and medical privacy a part of American values. Yet attorneys general in a number of states have tried to subpoena the private medical records of women who have had abortions.
Two decades ago, Judge Samuel Alito mapped out a strategy to eviscerate Roe. As a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, he drafted a memo to President Reagan's solicitor general, suggesting that two pending Supreme Court cases provided an "opportunity to advance the goals of overruling Roe v. Wade and, in the meantime, of mitigating its effects."
Those "mitigating effects" have played themselves out in the restrictions imposed by states across the mainland. With Alito's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, we will have a high court listing dangerously to the right -- a court, in fact, that will be ideologically poised to overturn Roe.
What's been lost in the 33 years since Roe was decided is the notion that this landmark decision is about much more than the right to abortion.
It's about the right to time pregnancies, space children and plan families that parents and the planet can sustain and support.
Roe v. Wade is about self-determination and bodily integrity. It is about how securing these rights gives women an equal place at life's table. Justice Harry Blackmun, writing for the majority, called Roe "a step that had to be taken as we go down the road toward the full emancipation of women."
Thirty-three years of freedom -- and counting.
Barry Raff is chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Hawaii, a nonprofit organization providing reproductive health care and education services in Hawaii since 1966.