Protecting Access to Women's Health, 41 Years After Roe v. Wade

I am proud to live in a state like California, where we can -- and must continue to -- advance women's health. And I look forward to the day when the rest of nation joins us, because the ability to access reproductive health care shouldn't depend on a woman's zip code.
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January marks the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court Case that legalized access to abortion for women throughout the nation. This landmark ruling is grounded in a belief that the majority of Americans continue to hold today -- that every person should have the right to make private medical decisions without the interference of politicians.

Forty one years after the passage of Roe, young people are energizing our movement. They led to a decisive defeat of a harmful 20-week abortion ban in Albuquerque -- which marked the first time a city asked to approve this type of ban. Young people also played a key role in defeating Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race, largely based on his extreme views on abortion. And of course, they packed the Texas state capitol in support of Texas State Senator Wendy Davis while she held her ground in the historic 11-hour marathon filibuster to run out the clock on an extreme and dangerous anti-women's health bill.

Unfortunately, women across the country are still fighting for their right to make private medical decisions. 2013 witnessed the 2nd highest number of abortion restrictions ever enacted in a single year -- 2nd only to 2011. According to recent data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, more than 200 restrictions on abortion access have become law since 2010. As a result, more than half of American women of reproductive age now live in states where access to abortion is obstructed. And these attacks are happening in states that already have a great need for health care.

We know that these extreme actions are deeply unpopular with Americans of all political backgrounds. This is most apparent when we look to young leaders and activists in our community. More than any other generation, Millennials believe that safe and legal abortion should be available in their communities. Six in ten Millennials believe abortion should be available in all or most cases, which is a pattern that exists across generational lines. Like a growing number of Americans, most young people don't identify with the traditional "pro-choice" and "pro-life" labels. This simply doesn't capture the complexity of the way most people think and feel about abortion.

Unlike the rest of nation, California bucks the trend of restricting access to reproductive health care. As Californians, we have an obligation be proactive when it comes to women's health. That's why our state has invested in family planning - because we know that when women have access to affordable contraception, they are better able to prevent unintended pregnancy and decide when they are ready to start a family. It's why California's teen pregnancy rate is dropping faster than the national average. And why our state required insurance companies to cover birth control, just like any other prescription drug, long before the rest of the country.

California must be a trend-setter in passing commonsense legislation that moves women's health forward. That's why Planned Parenthood sponsored Assembly Bill 2348, a bill by Assembly member Holly Mitchell in 2012, which expanded access to birth control. Last year we were part of a coalition to pass Assembly Bill 154. Authored by Assembly member Toni Atkins and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, this bill improved access to abortion by allowing specially trained health clinicians to perform early abortions. This is particularly important for rural communities where a lack of providers means women must travel great distances or delay accessing care. Because of Assembly Bill 154, women throughout the state will be able to receive timely, quality care from providers they know and trust in the communities where they live.

In the coming years, health care reform -- also called Obamacare -- will take unprecedented steps forward to improve access to care for women across the nation. Obamacare eliminates the ability of insurance companies to charge women higher premiums for coverage, simply because of their gender. The law also requires preventive health services -- like life-saving cancer screenings, STD testing and birth control -- to be covered by insurance companies without a co-pay.

As we mark another year of safe and legal abortion, it's important to reflect on both our successes and challenges since the passage of Roe v. Wade. But it's even more important that we keep moving forward. I am hopeful for a future where we truly stop playing politics with women's health. A future where every woman receives the care she needs, from preventive screenings to birth control and abortion. Where public policy is based on scientific fact and the best interest of our communities.

I am proud to live in a state like California, where we can -- and must continue to -- advance women's health. And I look forward to the day when the rest of nation joins us, because the ability to access reproductive health care shouldn't depend on a woman's zip code.

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