Why We Need Roe v. Wade Now More Than Ever

Today, the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade turns forty-three years old. For forty-three years, the Supreme Court has upheld their decision that a woman's constitutional right to privacy also protects her right to make personal health care decisions about abortion. And, for forty-three years, women have had the constitutional right to access abortion services without government interference. After the unprecedented attacks this past year on Planned Parenthood and reproductive health broadly, it is perhaps more important than ever to wish Roe a resounding happy birthday.

Through our efforts in Congress and across the state of Illinois, we are fighting to protect all women's access to reproductive health care. Unfortunately, that fight has only intensified in recent years. On Capitol Hill and in state houses across the country, anti-women's health politicians continue to make it clear that they will stop at nothing to end access to a safe, legal abortion. Data released from the Guttmacher Institute shows that in the year 2000, 31 percent of women of reproductive age lived in a state hostile to abortion rights, with no women living in a state with enough restrictions to be considered extremely hostile. By 2014, 57 percent of women lived in a state that is either hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights. This alarming increase was in part because of the 288 state-level restrictions on safe, legal abortions that have been enacted since the 2010 mid-term elections.

Even in our home state of Illinois, where access is less restricted, women still bear the undue burden of increasing national attacks on abortion and reproductive health services. Because of restrictions on abortion access in their own state, many women in neighboring states are forced to travel hundreds of miles and cross state lines to seek an abortion. However, their rights should not have to depend on their zip code. In our own state, restrictions on Medicaid coverage for abortion unfairly impact low-income women, making abortion inaccessible to them through the Medicaid program.

As Americans, it is always important to remember where we once were and how far we have come. Before Roe, illegal abortions were common. In the 1950s and 60s, estimates indicate anywhere from 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed annually. Of course, these are only the reported numbers, and given the stigma surrounding abortion, the actual numbers were likely much higher. By making abortion legal, Roe v. Wade made abortion safe, not only marking a major step forward for women's rights but also saving countless women's lives.

Unintended pregnancy was a reality for American women in the decades before Roe and remains a reality today. However, persistent, misinformed attacks--in states like Texas, where the state legislature aims to entirely defund and shutter Planned Parenthood statewide--are making it impossible for women to access their constitutionally protected right to abortion. How can the United States claim to be the world's leader while simultaneously denying basic rights to half of its citizens?

As 2016 begins, we await the Supreme Court hearing arguments in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the biggest abortion case in decades. As advocates for choice, we must be resilient. We must not let politicians, who believe they are above the Constitution, interfere with the personal health decisions of women. It is the job of a woman, not a politician, to make informed decisions about her own pregnancy.

U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL-05) is a member of the Pro-Choice Caucus in the House of Representatives. Carole Brite is the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.