Last month marked the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. A landmark court decision protecting the right to privacy, Roe eliminated the need for illegal abortions and has since saved untold numbers of American women’s lives. It should be a day of celebration.
Instead, as a physician, I worry how many more such anniversaries we will enjoy. The political attacks waged on women’s health in statehouses across the country have gotten out of hand; decisions made by elected officials are effectively tying the hands of doctors and will soon be leaving our patients back out in the cold.
Many of the recent restrictions introduced are purported to protect women, but they in fact do just the opposite. As lawmakers consider policy on women’s health, it’s critical to listen to women’s health care providers, who know that legal abortion is safe — and it will only stay that way if it remains legal and accessible.
Studies show that 3 in 10 women in the U.S. have an abortion and that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the U.S. Data, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that abortion has over a 99 percent safety record. In less than 1 percent of cases do women in the U.S. experience major complications from abortion, and in those rare cases when complications do occur, they are similar to those that may occur from miscarriage, which OB-GYNs and other health care professionals treat every day.
As an adolescent medicine provider, I have spent over a decade working to protect the health of young men and women. I am thankful that I don’t have the experience of those who came before me, those who practiced “pre-Roe.” I have never cared for patients suffering from the complications of an illegal abortion or watched a woman die of sepsis due to a botched termination.
Instead, I have seen what a difference access to abortion can make. The college-bound high school senior whose first sexual encounter resulted in pregnancy. The young mother of two whose serious mental health issues are finally stable but now must decide between staying on her medications or continuing her unintended third pregnancy.
Every day I see young women with different health care needs. But one thing is constant: Every single woman deserves the right to decide for herself, in consultation with her medical provider, her family and her faith, when is the right time to become pregnant and whether or not to carry her pregnancy to term.
Happy 42nd anniversary, Roe v. Wade, and here’s hoping for many more.