There is no doubt Roe v. Wade is a landmark Supreme Court case, due to its historical and legal significance, but I find it difficult to celebrate its anniversary, even as someone who has accessed abortion and who fights to protect and expand access to safe, legal abortion every day. Despite the importance of Roe, it is vital to recognize the barriers people face when seeking an abortion nearly 50 years later and acknowledge that our work to achieve true reproductive freedom is not over.
This is especially evident in Pennsylvania where abortion is vastly more difficult to access now than when Roe was decided and in many parts of the state, it’s as if Roe doesn’t even exist. There are currently only 17 abortion providers in Pennsylvania as compared to the 145 that existed at the time Roe was decided, meaning patients seeking care have to drive hours on end. Pennsylvania has also imposed a 24-hour waiting period that unnecessarily forces patients delay their health care, and health plans offered in Pennsylvania’s health exchange only cover abortion in very limited circumstances.
Adding insult to injury, Pennsylvania instead funds crisis pregnancy centers that use deceptive tactics to coerce and manipulate pregnant people into continuing their pregnancy.
Although abortion is one of the safest procedures, with fewer than 0.05% of patients experiencing a complication, anti-abortion politicians consistently claim patient safety as their motivation behind bills that decimate access to abortion by either forcing clinics to close with onerous requirements, or by increasing the burden a patient must bear in order to get an abortion. The closure of clinics also creates a positive feedback loop because the further the nearest clinic is from the patient, the higher the burden a patient will have to access abortion services.
In 2019, anti-abortion legislators introduced a blitz of anti-abortion bills that would have severely impacted access to abortion in Pennsylvania. These bills were eventually vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf. Then in 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when we needed our lawmakers to expand access to telemedicine, anti-abortion House Republicans hijacked a bill by adding in anti-abortion language. As he had done before, Governor Wolf vetoed the bill, and Pennsylvanians did not receive much needed expanded access to telemedicine during a pandemic.
Now in 2021, we’re seeing the same anti-abortion bills being reintroduced. Legislators should focus on passing laws that support strong communities and families, rather than attempting to pass laws that restrict access to abortion and shame patients for their personal decisions.
We continuously see dangerous actions by anti-abortion legislators who continue to push legislation that is racist and condones state-sanctioned violence on poor people, Black and Brown people, and transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) folks -- people who already face innumerable barriers to health care.
I apologize if I am not cheerful on this anniversary of Roe, but with each anniversary that passes, I reflect on the ever-increasing difficulty imposed on people attempting to access abortion. I hope that one day we can look back and celebrate an event that truly signifies reproductive freedom because for so many people in Pennsylvania celebrating Roe is more bitter than sweet.
The work continues.
Signe Espinoza, MPH, Director of Policy, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates