Tara Murtha & Susan Frietsche: Nothing ‘pro-life’ about overturning Roe v. Wade
Next week is the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion case that affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion.
Every year around this time, people who call themselves “pro-life” cite statistics related to the number of abortions in the United States since 1973 while calling to overturn Roe.
Abortion is indeed a common experience. One in four U.S. women will have an abortion by the time she is 45.
Of course, women don’t have abortions because of a decades- old court case. American women had abortions before Roe. We know this from the testimony of women who lived through those times and the death certificates for women who didn’t. In 1965, 17 percent of all pregnancy- related deaths were related to illegal abortion.
We also know that women living in places where abortion is criminalized have abortions at roughly the same rate as countries where it is legal (a recent study suggests abortion is in fact more common where it is criminalized).
Criminalizing abortion doesn’t lower the abortion rate; however, it significantly raises the maternal mortality rate. Approximately 13 percent of global maternal mortality is due to unsafe abortion in places where it’s criminalized or inaccessible.
Overturning Roe would enable states to criminalize abortion, which hurts and kills women. What’s so “pro-life” about that?
Meanwhile, while working to bring the big case they believe will overturn Roe, pro-life lawmakers have passed hundreds of state-level restrictions designed to reserve access to safe, legal abortion care for the relatively rich.
In part as a result of that strategy, in Pennsylvania, only 17 freestanding health facilities provide abortion care, and 90 percent of Pennsylvania counties lack an abortion provider. That means many Pennsylvanians — especially rural women — struggle to come up with the means to travel hundreds of miles to obtain safe abortion care.
Not everyone can do it. The vast majority of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. And so some low-income women are circumstantially coerced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, give birth against their will and face related medical risks.
The risk is significant: The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country. Here in Pennsylvania, the same “pro-life” lawmakers obsessed with passing abortion restrictions have allowed the maternal mortality rate to double since 1994. Like everywhere else, maternal and infant mortality rates are much higher for black women and infants than their white counterparts.
We understand some people believe only the relatively rich deserve access to the full spectrum of safe, legal reproductive health care, and that a low-income woman who experiences an unplanned, unwanted or complicated pregnancy should be forced to carry that pregnancy against her will. We know the same “pro-life” advocates who cite statistics indicating they know abortion is a common experience work to overturn Roe because they believe risking injury and death should simply be the cost low-income women pay for seeking an abortion.
We just think it’s time to stop pretending there is anything “pro-life” about that.
Tara Murtha is director of communications
for the Women’s Law Project (www.womenslawproject.org), a public interest legal organization devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls in Pennsylvania and beyond. Susan Frietsche is senior staff attorney there.