Forty years ago this month, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that recognized a pregnant woman’s right to make her own decision about whether to have a child or have an abortion. This means most women under 40 have had the security of knowing they could choose the course of their own lives and make their own decisions about if and when to have a family.
Sadly, since this great step forward 40 years ago, some politicians have made it their priority to take that power away from women. Threats to abortion rights have reached record levels, with elected representatives around the nation passing almost 140 provisions designed to interfere with a woman’s most private decisions.
Maine has faced its own share of proposed new restrictions. In the last few years, the Legislature has considered bills to impose a waiting period on women seeking an abortion, to force women to listen to a legislator-prescribed description of fetal development before receiving an abortion, and to require parental consent with no exceptions before a teenager ever could get an abortion.
We were baffled by these attempts to restrict access to safe, legal health care — Maine women already carefully weigh decisions about whether to have an abortion, and we have one of the lowest teen abortion rates in the nation. Thankfully, the Legislature recognized these bills as a solution in search of a problem and soundly rejected them.
Regardless of how one feels about abortion, it seems clear that a decision about whether to be pregnant is one better made by a woman, her family and her doctor than by politicians sitting in Augusta.
Indeed, the American people have shown they don’t want politicians to interfere in personal, private decision-making. This year, across the country, people came together to speak out against these restrictions and the lawmakers who pushed them. Recently, voters in states as diverse as Mississippi, Colorado, Florida and North Dakota all rejected ballot measures that would have interfered with a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about pregnancy and abortion. Politicians with extreme views on abortion lost at the polls.
Incredibly, however, some politicians still haven’t gotten the message. In Maine, we expect to face more efforts to take the right to choose out of a woman’s hands and put it in the hands of legislators. We also continue to grapple with restrictions on funding for abortion; in this state, Medicaid covers abortion only in cases of rape or incest, or when a woman’s life is endangered.
On Jan. 23, the Maine Choice Coalition will be at the State House to celebrate the court decision’s assurance that women can make the best choices for themselves and their families. We’ll also be calling for measures to continue moving choice forward, such as public funding for Maine’s low-income women to access the health care they need.
Legislators from both sides of the aisle have a long tradition of working together to protect the health and well-being of Maine’s women and families, and this year should be no different. When proposals to restrict reproductive health care for Maine’s women are raised, we must stand together and make politicians realize just how out of touch and out of date they are.
Ruth L. Lockhart is chairwoman of the Maine Choice Coalition and executive director of the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor.