Abortion rights at stake in 2016

Abortion 40 years after Roe vs. Wade
Abortion 40 years after Roe vs. Wade

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  • Nancy Pelosi, Cecile Richards: Friday is the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a victory for all women
  • The Republican leadership in Congress continues to oppose women's right to safe, legal abortion

Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

(CNN)The Republican leadership in Congress, along with every one of their presidential candidates, opposes women's right to safe, legal abortion. Yet, the majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support access to safe, legal abortion. Stunningly, Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted 11 times in the current Congress to limit women's access to health care, including contraception.

We believe that every woman should be able to make decisions about her pregnancy, including whether to end it, without shame, judgment, harassment or intimidation -- and certainly without interference by politicians.
Nancy Pelosi
Cecile Richards
On Friday, the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we remember what life was like before the right to safe and legal abortion was assured by the U.S. Supreme Court -- for married women, single women, young women and older women.
We consider the prospect that many women across the country could be forced to return to those appalling, cruel circumstances. Already, too many barriers to accessing additional care, such as birth control and breast cancer screenings, exist for low-income women and women of color.
With the court soon hearing the biggest abortion case in decades, the stakes for women's access to safe, legal abortion are higher than ever. Before Roe v. Wade, many desperate women turned to illegal, back-alley abortions.
Ellen Freese of Maine remembers her own experience in 1966, when she was 20 and a college student in Vermont. It was a time when unmarried women were unable to obtain birth control, and she experienced an unintended pregnancy. A large underground network had been organized in an effort to exploit women in desperate circumstances.
Freese was directed to a doctor in the Washington area, who brought her to an undisclosed location. She did not know where she was. The man who performed her abortion was remote and distant. She was given general anesthesia, and has no memory of the procedure itself.
On the plane back to Burlington, she recalls, "I thought about how I could have died, alone. I would have been missed, but probably never recovered." Today, she is 70. "Fifty years have elapsed," she says, "I count myself among the lucky ones."
Is this the kind of country to which we want to return?
Yet, this is a reality in 2016 today for many American women because of state restrictions. In Texas, women are traveling hundreds of miles, crossing state lines and waiting weeks to get an abortion, if they can at all. Researchers from the Texas Policy Evaluation project estimate that "somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 women in this age range [between 18 and 49] have tried to end a pregnancy on their own without medical assistance."
And it's not just Texas.
At the state level, politicians have enacted 288 restrictions on abortion over the past five years, totaling more than one-quarter of all restrictions enacted over the past 43 years since Roe v. Wade. As a result, 57% of American women live in a state that is hostile to abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute. More needs to be done to increase access to all health care for women.
Fortunately, with President Barack Obama's power of the veto pen, we've been able to fight off votes against women's health. But currently, every single Republican presidential candidate not only opposes safe, legal abortion, but poses additional serious threats to women's health care access.
Combined with the Supreme Court's scheduled review of these harmful clinic shutdown laws, the right to safe and legal abortion in this country is at greater risk than any time in the past two decades.
It's no wonder that a new generation of activists is enraged and engaged. Some 68% of millennials don't want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and even 72% of Republicans agree that abortion should be legally available in some form.
We refuse to turn the clock back. We continue to fight for every woman's right to make her own personal health decisions without interference from politicians.
Every American woman -- no matter who she is or where she lives -- must have access to the health care she needs to care for herself, her family and her future.