Today we honor the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but we hope that the commemoration continues throughout the year. The Duvall Project will take its show on the road today as we travel to Muhlenberg College to celebrate.
Now, some antis and even advocates might find it twisted to use the term “celebrate” when referring to the anniversary of legalizing abortions. However, it is only fitting to utilize such ecstatic verbiage as this anniversary marks “not only 35 years of reproductive freedom, but 35 years of impressive gains in the fight for women’s equality.”
All across the United States today, protestors will be getting their boxers and panties in an uproar talking about the need to “stop the baby-killing.” Meanwhile, abortion rates are at their lowest since 1976. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the total number of abortions among women ages 15 to 44 declined from 1.3 million in 2000 to 1.2 million in 2005, an 8 percent drop that continued a trend that began in 1990, when the number of abortions peaked at more than 1.6 million, the survey found. The last time the number of abortions was that low was 1976, when slightly fewer than 1.2 million abortions were performed.
All we can do is speculate as to why the rates have declined, but I would like to point out that the “sharp fall came despite a comparatively tiny decline in the number of abortion providers.” While researchers at Guttmacher cannot identify the causes, the pro-choice community would like to contribute the change to the following factors: the widespread use of RU-486 (the abortion pill), the availability of emergency contraception over-the-counter, increasing use of comprehensive sexuality education programs in public schools, and an increasing number of young women and men using contraception to prevent pregnancy.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, the pregnancy rate among U.S. women aged 15–19 has declined steadily from 117 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 1990 to 75 per 1,000 women in 2002. While antis may naively attribute this triumph to widespread abstinence among teenagers, Guttmacher researchers found that only 14% of the decline in teen pregnancy between 1995 and 2002 was due to teens’ delaying sex or having sex less often, while 86% was due to an increase in sexually experienced teens’ contraceptive use.
While this might sound super, we still have a lot of work to do. Despite the decline in teenage pregnancies, the United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world. We also have an access problem: While abortion may be legal it is out of reach for most as the majority of women aged 15 to 44, live in the 87 percent of U.S. counties without an abortion provider. Finally, it may come as no surprise to most that we are the only nation in the world that uses federal monies for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
In light of both our triumphs and our challenges, we celebrate the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and vow to not take for granted this immensely important court decision. While we have come so far, we must not forget what life was like before Roe v. Wade, and to be sure to make the connection between gender equality and reproductive rights. In celebrating, we must remember why this decision is important and how we can carry on in the fight towards reproductive freedom.
Stephanie, Duvall Project