Roe v. Wade turns 40

After November’s election, the abortion debate took a back seat to other, more pressing issues. Americans became preoccupied with figuring out how to avoid the looming fiscal cliff, and after the Newtown tragedy, the nation’s attention turned to gun control. While Tuesday marks the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there has been no frenzy of mainstream media attention devoted to the abortion controversy. Is it possible that Americans are ready to stop politicizing a woman’s legal right to an abortion?

On one hand, that would seem to be the case. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of Americans believe that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, compared to 29 percent who believe it should be. These results remain consistent with polls taken in 2003 and 1992 (Pew Research Center). With all of the media hype and political rhetoric leading up to the election, it appeared as if Americans were more divided than ever when it came to a woman’s right to a legal abortion. Yet the reality is that our positions haven’t changed all that much over the last twenty years, which surprised Pew Research Center Director Michael Dimock: “They really haven’t changed a lot over the years which is kind of interesting because a lot of other social issues have changed a lot, gay marriage being the most notable example” (Yahoo News). While opinions regarding gay marriage seem sharply divided according to generation, opinions regarding abortion do not show a significant generational difference or gender gap. The Pew poll also found that 53 percent of Americans do not believe that the issue of abortion is that important when compared to other issues facing this county, which marks the first time that percentage has risen above 50 (Yahoo News).

On the other hand, legislation limiting abortion continues to be introduced and passed at a staggering rate. In 2012, 24 states enacted 41 anti-choice measures, down from the record breaking 71 anti-choice measures passed in 2011. Since 1995, states have enacted a total of 754 anti-choice measures. In contrast, only eight pro-choice measures were passed in 2012 (NARAL). And even though we have just begun a new year, new legislation has already been proposed in many states. Of particular note is Colorado House Bill 13-1033, introduced by Weld County Republican Steve Humphrey. The proposed legislation prohibits abortion and makes any violation a class 3 felony. Physicians who perform abortions would be subject to criminal penalty. The only exceptions would include the life of the mother or medical treatment resulting in an accidental abortion (HB 13-1033). While it is highly unlikely that this proposed legislation will pass since both the Colorado House and Senate are under democratic control, the fact that it was proposed at all shows a continuing trend of anti-choice legislation.

There appears to be a significant disconnect between what the majority of Americans support and what our legislators are proposing on our behalf. A government elected by the people and for the people should pay more attention to the people, and not just on this issue, but every issue that impacts the citizens of this country.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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