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Thirty-five years after Roe v. Wade, abortion remains vital reproductive right

Deciding what to do when faced with an unintended pregnancy is never easy. 

Different people make different choices. That’s America. 

Each woman’s circumstance is different, which means that women have abortions for many different reasons. When you stop and think about it, you realize that each situation is different. Each person’s circumstance is different. So even if we disagree about abortion itself, it is better that each person be able to make her own decision.

Tuesday marked the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. In its ruling in 1973, the Supreme Court recognized for the first time that the constitutional right to privacy includes and, therefore, protects a woman’s decision whether to continue her pregnancy. 

Nowhere in this historic decision does the court state that abortion is good or best for any circumstance. The court simply — yet powerfully — recognized the complex, personal and private nature of matters involving our reproductive lives, including the decision of whether to continue a pregnancy or become a parent.

For most people who grew up after 1973, it is almost impossible to understand what happened before women were allowed to have abortions safely, with medical doctors. In 1965, abortion was so unsafe that 17 percent of all deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth were the result of illegal abortion (National Center for Health Statistics, 1967).

The 35th anniversary of Roe is one of the most powerful reminders that the struggle to protect women’s health and safety continues. Reproductive freedom is still a political target, and the battle isn’t just being waged over abortion, but over access to contraception and medically accurate sex education.

The best way to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies is to make contraception accessible and affordable and to provide young people with comprehensive sex education that helps them make responsible decisions about their reproductive health. Political maneuvering that limits access to abortion care is not helpful to reducing unintended pregnancies.

Every time the Texas Legislature meets in Austin, dozens of bills are filed by legislators from across the state, many from Rep. Frank Corte, R–San Antonio, that not only seek to limit access to abortion care but also take aim at contraception and medically accurate sex education.

Fifteen states have now rejected federal funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs for young people, pledging instead to teach sex education that includes information about family planning and birth control. Texas is not one of the states that rejected abstinence-until-marriage programs even though Texas has the highest teen birth rate in the nation (Child Trends, 2006).

Roe v. Wade is a powerful reminder to all of us. Deciding whether and when to become a parent, and how many children to have, are some of the most personal and important choices we will make in our lives. When women and couples have access to birth control and sexual health information, they are able to plan their families and their futures.

Every year, Planned Parenthood clinics in San Antonio provide 28,000 women, men and teens with the information, education and services they need to protect their health and prevent unintended pregnancies.

Jeffrey Hons is president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Trust of San Antonio and South Central Texas.

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