WireTap

Why Choice Matters

<b> Call to Action</b>: The future of a woman's right to have control over her own body hangs in the balance. On the 33rd anniversary of <i>Roe v. Wade</i>, here is one thing you can do to keep it alive.
The Hyde Amendment passed in 1977 prohibited the use of Medicaid funds for abortions. In the same year, a young Latina, Rosie Jimenez, the single mother of a five-year-old child, was forced to seek an illegal abortion when Texas stopped funding Medicaid abortions. Rosie died as a result of an illegal "back-alley" abortion.

Jimenez, the first victim of the Hyde Amendment, needlessly lost her life, and her fate is a prime example of the tragedy that occurs when women's reproductive rights are restricted or taken away. Jimenez was one of many women who suffered due to an oppressive system that disregarded and undervalued her voice, her needs, her health and her life. Decades later, the Hyde Amendment and increasing restrictions on women's health live on while Rosie and countless others have perished.

Today, in honor of the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I took a moment to imagine an America where a woman's right to reproductive choice is no longer protected by the Constitution. I thought about a country where abortion providers are forced to refuse women access to health care. I pictured the frightened faces of women -- especially women without economic means -- who are forced to rely on doctors who perform illegal abortions in often unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

Contemplating the overturn of Roe, I thought about how women seeking to make personal, moral decisions about their health would be forced to risk prosecution and potentially their lives. It is horrifying to imagine that this nightmare could be our reality if we allow our reproductive rights to be stripped away.

Like many young people who were born post-Roe, I hold the freedom to make my own childbearing decisions dear. At age 25, I refuse to be a part of a generation that allowed the hard-won battle for reproductive rights to be lost without a fight.

Argued in 1973, Roe gave American women the right to make their own choices about their bodies without government or religious interference. Based on the right to privacy, this landmark decision provided women with a constitutional protection for their human right to make decisions about the lifelong responsibility of bearing and raising a child. Additionally, Roe is based on the same fundamental right to privacy that allows women the right to use birth control. Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the Supreme Court has decided more than 30 cases that have directly affected women's reproductive rights.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice, Samuel Alito -- who is on record opposing abortion rights -- it becomes increasingly important to commemorate the 33rd Anniversary of Roe. In the years after Roe, anti-choice extremists have worked diligently to chip away at women's access to reproductive health care on the state and federal levels. As a result, women are in danger of losing their hard-won rights because the Bush administration appears to have placed eliminating women's reproductive rights at the top of its to-do list.

The future of reproductive freedom in America hangs in the balance. Historically, women have sought abortions regardless of whether they were legal or not. Women's lives are endangered when access to safe, sanitary health care is restricted. Close to 80,000 women around the world still die every year as a result of illegal abortions. It's incredulous that a woman's right to choose a safe, legal abortion is threatened in a country that was founded on values of religious freedom and personal liberty.

Although the majority of Americans agree that women deserve the right to decide, their beliefs are being undermined by fundamentalist hardliners who seek to impose their misguided values on women.

In an interview with Ms. Magazine, Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body, observed that, "The thing about reproduction is that, more than anything else, it tells you how a society values people." Roberts' comment reflects how anti-choice legislators and fundamentalist operatives esteem female human beings.

The pro-choice majority has made it clear that Roe is a sound, settled law. Ignoring the concerns of most Americans, President Bush nominated an anti-choice extremist judge to replace the moderate "swing-vote" on the Supreme Court. In a November Gallup Poll, 53 percent of Americans expressed that they would not want the Senate to confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court if it becomes clear that he would vote to reverse Roe.

Alito sent Americans a chilling message when he refused to acknowledge his belief in Roe as settled law during his hearings. Alito's refusal to respect a Supreme Court precedent and his extremist judicial philosophy resulted in a public outcry from supporters of freedom and justice from both sides of the political spectrum.

In honor or Roe and in memory of women like Rosie who died as a result of restrictive retrograde policies, it is imperative that we make our voices heard in our communities. We must stand up for our rights by educating our friends and neighbors, lobbying our senators through letters and phone calls, writing letters to editors, and participating in local actions and activist events.

The American people must stop Samuel Alito's confirmation to the highest court in the nation for a lifetime appointment. Freedom-loving citizens should demand that their senators trust women to make important decisions about their lives. The Senate must do whatever it takes to support the health and safety of our women.

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Jamia Wilson is a writer and activist based in Washington, D.C.