40 Years after Roe v. Wade, Attacks on Access to Reproductive Health

@ The Radcliffe Institute
October 25, 2012
Ivelisse Estrada

The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade may be fast approaching, but there’s no denying the dramatic increase in attacks on reproductive choice.

“Little by little, the right to abortion has been chipped away—and that chipping has turned into a sledgehammer in the last two years,” Susan Yanow told the audience gathered at the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America on Wednesday afternoon for the presentation “Access to Reproductive Health Care: In 2012, It Shouldn’t Be This Hard!

The event featured two leaders working to promote women’s health and access to abortion: Yanow, founder of the Abortion Access Project (now known as Provide), and Judy Norsigian ’70, executive director and founder of Our Bodies Ourselves, examined attacks on reproductive choice—and how to combat them.

Abortion restrictions recently passed in the United States—such as waiting periods, unnecessary requirements and restrictions on funding, and state-mandated counseling that sometimes includes misinformation—disproportionately affect young, poor, and rural women. Yanow suggested that it's time to change the conversation: if the language of choice is no longer working, perhaps it's time to partner with other social causes and talk about "reproductive justice."

Norsigian noted that attacks on reproductive health care stateside have an impact beyond our borders. New regulations that block funding for contraceptives have an effect on HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality rates in countries to which the United States provides aid.

A founding member of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Norsigian said she also felt saddened and demoralized by "the level of basic ignorance or willful denial of scientific evidence" exhibited by members of Congress and state legislatures. Her organization has just launched a national campaign, Educate Congress, to provide a copy of the classic women's health primer Our Bodies, Ourselves to each of the 565 members of US Congress—"So that we can advance evidence-based policymaking in the reproductive health arena," she said.

The Schlesinger Library is the repository for the Records of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, which produced Our Bodies, Ourselves, and for the Papers of Kip Tiernan, cofounder Community Works, which cosponsored the event.

"Community Works," said cofounder Fran Froelich, "is the only network of nonprofit organizations that's completely devoted to social justice." When it was established in 1982, the network was strongly endorsed by the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, and Community Gifts through Harvard—which begins next month—was the first campaign to support its cause. Community Works will once again participate in the campaign this year.


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