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Abortion rights at stake

March is Women’s History Month. The U.S. Supreme Court has played a key role in that history, and it will continue to do so.

In its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court recognized the right of a woman to make her own very personal choices based on her own situation and beliefs. This week, the Court will hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case that could erode that right by letting politicians impose their own views. It is without a doubt the most consequential case related to abortion rights to reach the Supreme Court in nearly 25 years.

{mosads}The case centers on HB 2, a Texas law that restricts access to abortions, making it harder if not impossible for women in that state to exercise what the Supreme Court in 1992 said was “liberty protected by the 14th Amendment” in making “the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy.”

The Texas law is part of a national wave of restrictions enacted over the last five years by abortion opponents who are set on cutting off access to abortion. The Texas law establishes burdensome, medically unnecessary requirements on abortion providers, including demanding all health facility offering abortions essentially become mini-hospitals, known as ambulatory service centers (ASCs), even when the building specifications do nothing to improve patient safety. Additionally, the law requires doctors providing abortion services to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital within 30 miles, which hospitals can deny for any reason, regardless of a physician’s qualifications or competency.

Do not be fooled – this is not an attempt to improve the safety of abortion, which is one of the safest medical procedures a woman can have. In fact, first trimester abortions have a risk of less than .05 percent of major complications. That’s why healthcare providers like the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Public Health Association are urging the Court to reject HB 2.

Simply put, these unnecessary requirements are nothing more than a backdoor attempt to eliminate access to abortion services for women in Texas. Other states are following suit — in the last five years, 162 providers offering abortion services have been forced to shut their doors. There is no question that more will do so if HB 2 is not struck down.

We don’t have to imagine the consequences for women’s health – we already have plenty of evidence from Texas:

  • The number of clinics that provide abortions services have dropped from 42 to 19, and could fall to 10.
  • The number of women living more than 200 miles from a clinic increased from 10,000 in April 2013 to 290,000 by April 2014
  • At some clinics, women have had to wait up to 23 days to schedule an abortion, which could nearly double the number of second trimester abortions.
  • Access to family planning and contraception has dropped and the number of unplanned pregnancies is up by 27 percent.

Of course, there are real women behind those numbers. Women like “Alice,” a mother of two who was in the process of divorcing her husband who raped her and left her with a pregnancy she could not handle. After working three jobs to earn enough to afford the procedure, Alice also had to find a way to get to the nearest provider—twice—which was located 85 miles away, take time off from work to make those trips, and find childcare.

Or “Janet,” a full-time graduate student and single mother living in Dallas who had to travel 300 miles away to Houston after a Dallas-area clinic told her she couldn’t get an appointment for more than 5 weeks – which would have resulted in a much more expensive procedure. She had to miss classes, find childcare for her son, and use her savings to pay for multiple nights in a hotel and more than 500 miles of round trip travel.

Shutting down women’s health clinics that provide abortions – along with a wide range of other health services – is the goal of HB 2, and it is part of the broader strategy we’re seeing in state legislatures. In Congress, Republicans have voted six times to defund Planned Parenthood. Three House committees and 12 states found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. A Texas grand jury not only cleared the organization of wrongdoing, it indicted its accusers – those who released a series of highly edited videotapes.

Yet, we see another attempt to launch yet another round of investigations into Planned Parenthood. A new Republican-launched Select Panel – on which I serve as the ranking Democrat – has been created at taxpayer expense to continue the attack.

The strategy is clear – take away women’s access to abortions and family planning by eliminating access to women’s health clinics that provide those services and many other essential health services like cancer screenings and wellness visits. It is an attempt to take us back in time, to pre-Roe days when many women were forced into obtaining illegal abortions that put their health and lives at risk. Roe v. Wade was not the beginning of women having abortions. It marked the end of women dying from abortions.

We need a U.S. Supreme Court decision that does not take us backwards but moves us forward in the fight to expand women’s rights and protect women’s health. Women are watching.

Schakowsky has represented Illinois’ 9th Congressional District since 1999. She sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

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