I have not known a time when abortion and contraception were illegal. I have always believed that reproductive rights are human rights and accepted that the right of privacy is broad enough to encompass a woman’s reproductive decisions. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the basic principles of reproductive autonomy I take for granted as a young person in America are in unprecedented peril. This administration does not share my belief in the inherent right of individuals to make their own informed reproductive decisions, and instead believes it appropriate for the government to intrude into to matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decisions whether or not to have sex, how to protect reproductive health, and whether or not to have a child. This administration’s stance is a serious threat to choice.
Choice is about education, access, and freedom. This administration is challenging each of these aspects of choice.
Education is crucial to insuring that individuals are informed about safe and legal reproductive health choices. Many young people in America today are denied comprehensive sexuality education and information and instead encounter the “abstinence only” education programs exalted by this president. It is no wonder that health clinics across the country see teenage girls – who have signed “abstinence only” pledges and insist they are not “sexually active” – coming in seeking treatment for STDs or testing HIV positive. American teenagers are being taught to morally judge the intimate actions and decisions of others, but are not being equipped with the tools to adequately understand responsible intimacy. To ensure that young people are healthy and empowered to make responsible decisions, they need education.
Access is important to choice because reproductive rights are meaningless if they cannot be realized. Women need access to reproductive health services, abortion and contraception, no matter where they live or how much money they earn. Currently, about one in 10 women must travel over 100 miles to find abortion services. Many states subject women seeking abortions to biased counseling and mandatory delays before they can receive treatment, restrict minors’ access to abortion, restrict public funding of abortion services or prohibit insurance plans from covering abortion services, and maintain bans on abortion procedures. These impediments to access often make illusory the right to legal abortion guaranteed in Roe v. Wade. The illusory nature of access causes those with the weakest political voices – low-income women, women of color, young women – to bear the greatest burden of the restrictions on choice imposed by those who do not share, or understand, their experiences.
Access to contraception is likewise challenging. The current attack on access was illustrated in the recent decision by the FDA to delay its decision whether to approve Plan B emergency contraception (EC) to be available over the counter. Despite an FDA Advisory Committee’s 24 to 3 vote recommending approval, scientific evidence showing that EC is safe and effective, and research indicating that widespread availability of EC could prevent 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions each year, the FDA succumbed to political pressure from this anti-choice administration and delayed its decision, thereby denying Americans the security of safe and effective nonprescription Ec= If this administration was really interested in reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions in this country, rather than blindly pursuing an anti-choice agenda, it would encourage the FDA to approve over-the-counter EC.
Freedom is the essence of choice because it respects the autonomy of individuals to make private decisions about their bodies – decisions that best meet their physical, emotional, economic, and spiritual needs. With freedom of choice comes responsibility. Denying comprehensive reproductive health education and preventing access to reproductive health services hampers the ability of individuals to make responsible choices, thereby compromising their autonomy and their health. Trusting individual women and men with the responsibility to make reproductive choices is essential to a just society. The ability of individuals to control their reproductive lives is crucial in ensuring that biology is not destiny and in allowing for equal participation in the economic, social, and political life of our nation.
I have not known a time when abortion and contraception were illegal. I have planned my life able to shape my own destiny and assured of my reproductive autonomy. But if the trends of this anti-choice administration continue, I may lose that invaluable assurance. Join me and millions of other Americans in a historic public demonstration of support for reproductive freedom and justice on April 25 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit: www.marchforwomen.org.
Mattie Johnstone is a second-year law student at the Georgetown University Law Center where she is president of Georgetown Law Students for Choice.