National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Progress on Women's Reproductive Rights

January 29, 2013 | Reproductive Health

Last week, after a pro-choice president was sworn in for a second term and as we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, something pretty spectacular happened. NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released a public opinion survey that showed the majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Just 24 percent want to overturn Roe, and 70 percent say they do not.

While we have always known that few Americans want to return to the days when a woman had to risk her health and her life to end a pregnancy, these numbers represent welcome and significant progress in public support for reproductive rights. This survey - which was large and commissioned by news organizations without a stake in the outcome - found greater support for keeping abortion legal all or most of the time than any poll that has asked the question in a decade.

It is a measure of how far we have come and, I think, how far out of the mainstream our opponents are. During the last election cycle, candidates with extreme anti-choice views talked about "legitimate rape," referred to pregnancy resulting from rape as "God's will," and shared goals that are repugnant to all of us who respect women and care about the health and well-being of families. Our opponents' extremism is never more clear than when they fight to defund Planned Parenthood and other women's health clinics, and to take away women's coverage for birth control. And they are doing that a lot these days.

I believe the public recoils at their agenda, which came out of the shadows in the last election cycle. And I know that the public recognizes that our tireless work to defeat their initiatives, and to make contraception and reproductive health care available to all, is what women, families, communities and the country need.

So this poll provided some welcome news that is a measure of our progress, and a reminder that our values are America's values.

But at this time when our opponents' support among state and federal lawmakers far outweighs their public support, we still face enormous challenges. Securing women's right to choose is not enough if women do not have access to the reproductive health care they need - and all across this country, women's health clinics, the providers who work at them, and the women who seek care there are under siege. Many women have to drive hundreds of miles to find reproductive health care, endure unnecessary waiting periods and gauntlets of protestors. In the last two years, states have enacted some 135 measures restricting abortion care, and many of them are bad medicine, requiring doctors to give women information that is medically inaccurate, requiring women to have ultrasounds and counseling that are medically unnecessary and delay the care they need, and allowing employers to impose their beliefs and deny women insurance coverage for medications their doctors have prescribed.

But as public opinion shifts, the legislatures will too. We'll make sure of it. And we'll continue fighting until access to reproductive health care is secure for all women, regardless of age, location, income, or whether they get their coverage from private insurance or through a government program like Medicaid.


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