South Dakota's Chill Wind
Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
[Editor's Note: Since this piece was written, Mississippi has passed an abortion ban that Governor Haley Barbour has said he will approve.]
In his dissenting opinion in a 1989 case upholding limits on access to abortion, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said: "For today, the women of this nation still retain the liberty to control their destinies. But the signs are evident and very ominous, and a chill wind blows."
The chill wind that Justice Blackmun forecast is indeed blowing across America, eroding women's health and safety and the fundamental right of women to make the private, personal decision about when and whether to have a child.
Last week it was a gale force. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would consider the constitutionality of the federal abortion ban. The ban would outlaw abortion methods used as early as 12 to 15 weeks in pregnancy that doctors say are safe and the best way to protect the woman's health. Passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in 2003, the federal abortion ban has been struck down by every court that has examined it because it lacks constitutionally required protections for women's health.
Also last week, the South Dakota Senate passed a ban that would outlaw nearly all abortions in that state. The ban would strip women of their constitutional right to determine if and when to bear children. It is a total ban affecting virtually all women seeking an abortion, with the sole exception of cases in which the woman will die if forced to continue the pregnancy.
These attacks on women's health and safety were hardly isolated coincidences. Throughout the country, that chill wind has women seeking reproductive health care services in its icy grip. Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia are debating legislation that bans abortion or would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
And the attacks are not limited to abortion. Across the country, states are chipping away at access to contraception and medically accurate sex education — the two vital means to guarantee a reduction in the number of unintended pregnancies. Missouri is considering a bill that would allow health care institutions and providers to refuse to provide any health care service, including contraception. Pharmacies that refuse to fill valid and legal prescriptions for contraceptives—often supported by state legislators—are a growing phenomenon. Many states now teach unproven, ineffective, abstinence-only sex education—a mandate of the Bush administration—that includes misleading or no information about protection once a person does choose to become sexually active.
Outlawing abortion will not end abortion, but it will put women at risk. If politicians opposed to abortion truly wanted to reduce the need for abortion, they would work with organizations like Planned Parenthood to prevent unintended pregnancy by supporting increased access to contraception and medically accurate sex education.
The majority of Americans support a woman's fundamental right to make personal and private health care decisions, including the sometimes difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. It is those politicians catering to an extreme and highly organized fringe who are creating the hostile climate. They are a reminder to us all that representatives who will support women's health and safety are critical to our ability to freely live our lives.