A Real Anniversary Present
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A shorter version of this piece originally appeared in Metro NY.
For a 35th wedding anniversary, you're supposed to get a gift of coral. If you're lucky, it comes in the form of decorative bowls, or maybe even jewelry.
Today marks the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the historic court case that legalized abortion for American women -- but I'm not expecting any presents. Instead, I'm sure I'll get the same thing I did last year (and on the 30th anniversary, and even the 25th): the slow yet deliberate whittling away of my ability to make my own health care decisions.
The increasing number of restrictions on abortion and birth control across the country are well documented. In April, the Supreme Court upheld a federal abortion ban that has no exception even if a woman's health is in danger. This year, the federal Deficit Reduction Act eliminated subsidies for birth control, increasing the price low-income and college age women pay for birth control â€“ in some cases a five to ten time increase.
I am now 27, and I grew up taking legal abortion and birth control for granted. Sure, I heard my mother's horror stories of underground abortion networks and black market birth control, but to me they were just that â€“ stories. They had the same effect as that urban legend about finding a mouse in your burger at McDonalds â€“ kind of freaky, but outlandish enough that I wasn't actually going to stop eating my Big Macs.
Unfortunately, I'm starting to gather my own versions of what I once would have considered urban legends. Four years ago, my friend accidentally became pregnant while living in a small town in Texas. Her only option was to drive fifteen hours and two states over to visit an abortion clinic â€“ a clinic that has since closed.
Just a few years ago, I walked into a pharmacy in Union Square â€“ right here in Manhattan. Freshly graduated from college and without health insurance, I was there to fill a birth control prescription. Shaking his head, the pharmacist refused to fill my prescription, mumbling something about how it was too expensive. When I pushed him further, he (incorrectly) said it would cost me hundreds of dollars to get a month of the pill. Insecure and broke, I believed him, and went for three weeks without filling my prescription until a call from my OBGYN set me straight.
A year and a half ago, South Dakota banned abortion entirely. With admirable work on the part of Planned Parenthood and support from women across the country, the ban went up for a public referendum and was defeated, but not by a landslide.
It's not, however, hopeless. As this current election cycle seems to have reminded all of us, young women can be a powerful political force. According to everyone from the Washington Post to Chris Matthews, young women are important enough to swing a presidential primary â€“ surely we can reclaim the debate about reproductive rights.
We can't just rely on a 35-year-old court decision to protect us any more. Somewhere along the way, we lost control of the debate about our bodies and our rights. But the thing is, if we don't stand up for our rights, who will do it for us?
So I say on this, the 35th anniversary of our mothers' historic fight: Let's become that political force to be reckoned with. Tell your state legislator that you want state laws updated to include protections for women's health and safety. Call your U.S. representative and ask them to restore birth control subsidies, making sure women have not only the legal right but the financial ability to access it. Volunteer with Planned Parenthood. And, perhaps most importantly, make sure that whomever you vote for in the presidential election will let us make our own health care decisions.
This year, let's actually give ourselves an anniversary present that's worth keeping: The right to choose.
Erica Sackin is a member of the Planned Parenthood of New York City activist council.