By Sarah Hogg, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.
Today, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I have a lot to think about. I’m thinking about how I’m 21 years old, and I’ve only been alive for half of the time period since Roe was enacted.
I’m thinking about my mother, my grandmother, my aunts and my cousins, all of whom had to live in a time where abortion was illegal. I’m thinking about how, 42 years later, we’re still debating whether or not abortion access should be legal, with dangerous new proposed laws popping up constantly in our U.S. Congress and in state legislatures all across the nation.
I’m a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a school with a population of over 20,000, with well over half of that population being women. Harrisonburg isn’t exactly large, but it’s not small, either. Its population is unique in that it fluctuates when JMU students return home for summer and winter breaks. Despite its size, there are no abortion clinics in Harrisonburg. In a town that claims one of the largest state schools in Virginia, with a reputation for its large number of women students, there is absolutely zero abortion access. The closest women’s health center that provides abortions is about an hour away, in Charlottesville, which is nearly impossible to get to if you don’t have a car.
So, today, while I’m thinking about the history of Roe, I’m also thinking about what it means to live in a country where abortion is legal, but is often difficult or almost impossible to access legally and safely. Furthermore, access to reproductive health services, including abortion, disproportionately targets minority women—women of color, low-income women, and disabled women—making it very hard for a large amount of women across the United States to get the essential care they need. Abortion access is one of the most targeted facets of the reproductive justice movement, evidenced by the huge amounts of anti-choice laws proposed all across the nation that specifically try to close clinics down.
Here in Virginia, this very issue has been a priority of pro-choice activists over the past few years with the introduction of TRAP laws—Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers—which have already closed clinics across the state. Thanks to Governor Terry McAuliffe and Health Commissioner Marissa Levine, TRAP is on its way to being amended, but the conversation about abortion rights and access in Virginia is far, far from over.
Right now in Richmond, the Virginia General Assembly is debating choice-related laws from everything to mandatory ultrasounds to repealing the abortion coverage ban for health insurance. Anti-choice politicians and activists try to restrict abortion access under the guise of women’s health and safety, a theme we’ve seen far too often in the fight against TRAP laws in Virginia. Proposing that clinics must renovate because their closets are too small or their hallways are too narrow is just a thinly-veiled attempt to close those clinics down—and everyone knows it.
The truth is that cutting off access to abortion (and other lifesaving and necessary services that women’s health centers provide) is dangerous, and is not helping women who need access to reproductive healthcare. 42 years after Roe. V. Wade, we shouldn’t still be having this conversation—yet, here we are.
The real defender of women’s health and safety is not an anti-choice politician, group, or law—it is Roe.
Today, I’ll be thinking about all of the above (and more), but I’ll also be celebrating and honoring Roe, and promising to defend and protect it the way it has protected women for the past 42 years.