Opinion

Opinion: ‘Roe’ never guaranteed abortion access. It’s time to build something better

Many of us heard of the passing of Sarah Weddington, the fearless attorney who represented Jane Roe in the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case 49  years ago this month. As I reflect on her accomplishment, I’m met with deep frustration, fear, and hope for what this day represents.

Frustration that nearly five decades later, Roe has never been enough for people of color, people with low-incomes, and other marginalized communities. Fear for what it could mean if the Supreme Court overturns what’s been a foundational anchor in our rights to decide if and when to become a parent. Yet, hope thinking about the re-envisioning and re-building already happening for an abortion access  landscape that has never been setup for anyone but the privileged.

Abortion providers know better than to wait until the chips fall. In fact, those chips have been slowly falling around us for generations. That’s why the work to sustain abortion access isn’t new. Rather, it’s reached a pivotal point for people across our region where Roe has been rendered meaningless.

Re-imagining access starts with believing in a better future despite worsening political realities — a future of abortion access where we’ve worked in community to remove barriers like travel, lodging, and financial hurdles for patients accessing reproductive health care, including abortion.

Planned Parenthood’s Regional Logistics Center (RLC), which we’ve unveiled for the first time in honor of this year’s Roe anniversary, seeks to connect patients in one phone call to reproductive justice, rights, and health resources that can ease the burdens politicians have placed on them. Our collective work ensures abortion remains accessible, regardless of their ability to pay. In deep partnership with Hope Clinic for Women, abortion funds far and wide, and other practical support organizations, the RLC’s founding ethos is this: no matter what politicians impose on us, we will continue to center patient needs every step of the way, no matter what.

Some of those barriers are almost as old as Roe. Racist and discriminatory policies like the Hyde Amendment — passed just three years after Roe —  bans publicly funded programs from covering abortion. Public and private insurance bans in the state of Missouri create unfair financial burdens for people who already navigate oppressive systems that widen the race-class divide.

These attacks against reproductive freedom span generations. And though we’re nearing a possible end to Roe, we know the attacks won’t stop if and when Roe is overturned. Politicians are already targeting preventive services like birth control and setting up a system that empowers citizens to surveil their neighbors through bounty hunter laws. The consequences of these policies will ripple across every right and freedom we’ve collectively fought for and won. Legal experts warn leaving constitutional rights in the hands of individual vigilantes is a slippery slope that could start with creating a chilling effect on abortion access, and then be used to effectively reinstate bans on marriage equality.

After all, this is about power and control. Today it’s abortion access, tomorrow it will be any other assault on our rights and freedoms. We will not allow politicians to make decisions for us without fighting back and plotting forward. .

Yamelsie Rodríguez

We have no idea what our reality will look like this time next year. While we honor the rights Roe v. Wade established, we know there’s endless opportunity to rebuild something better in its place. That’s where hope lives — in a just future with reproductive freedom for all people, the right to live free from oppression, and the ability to build the lives we all deserve. That is the essence or Roe we can and should carry forward in our fight to secure reproductive freedom.

This commentary by Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, is published from The Missouri Independent through a Creative Commons license.

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