Today, January 22nd, 2013, marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. As a "pro-choice" president, Barack Obama is likely to mark that anniversary, as he has every year of his presidency, with a statement reaffirming a woman's constitutional right to abortion. But on this anniversary, the 40th anniversary, maybe it is time to ask him for something more. It is time for the leader of this country to stand up for all the 1.2 million women a year in the U.S. who have an abortion and against the stigma which is the real threat to abortion rights and services in this country.
The stigma that surrounds abortion means it is okay to regulate abortion care differently than other health care services. This week Virginia joins several other states in implementing unnecessary requirements for the buildings where abortions (an already low-risk medical service) are performed. These regulations make abortion more expensive to provide, not more safe. They will mean that Virginia has fewer abortion providers. Ironically, what makes abortion safer is when care is more accessible geographically and economically, the reverse of what Virginia has done.
The stigma that surrounds abortion means it is okay to treat women as if they don't know what it means to be pregnant and what an abortion does to a fetus. Last year, Texas implemented a law that requires every woman to view her ultrasound image 24 hours in advance of her abortion, even if she doesn't want to. Mandatory viewing doesn't change women's minds about abortion but it does tell them that the state thinks what they are doing is wrong.
The stigma that surrounds abortion means it is okay to deny insurance coverage for abortion. Last year, Wisconsin passed a law banning abortion coverage in the new health exchanges created as part of the Affordable Care Act. When abortions aren't covered as part of health insurance women take that money from other household expenses such as rent and food. Families suffer when abortions aren't paid for by insurance.
The stigma that surrounds abortion means most of us think we don't know anyone who has had an abortion. While abortion is incredibly common -- one in three women will have one -- but most women don't ever tell anyone about their abortions. Silence and shame make it harder for women to emotionally cope after an abortion and mislead the public into thinking that it's okay to regulate and restrict the procedure because it doesn't happen to them or anyone they know.
So instead of reaffirming the right to abortion as a legal matter, this year the president could stand up and say: "To the women of the United States who have had and will have abortions, I respect you and your decision." After all, women don't have an abortion because they have a constitutional right to one. Women have abortions because it allows her to manage her life, her family, and her future.