Opinion: 51st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Fight for Women's Health | Westword

From Surgeon Barbie to the Fight for Legalized Abortion Care: The 51st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

"Our work at HHS and in Congress comes from our shared vision that everyone should make their own choices when it comes to health — not some politician or an extremist judge."
Roe v. Wade was decided 51 years ago, then overturned
Roe v. Wade was decided 51 years ago, then overturned Getty Images
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On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion care in its groundbreaking Roe v. Wade decision. That same year, Mattel unveiled a Surgeon Career Barbie.

Surgeon Barbie, and her immediate predecessor, Astronaut Barbie (who was unveiled in 1965 — the same year contraception became legal in the United States), stood on the shoulders of Flight Attendant Barbie, Ballerina Barbie and Registered Nurse Barbie.

While all represent valuable careers, Surgeon Barbie and Astronaut Barbie were particularly significant because they represented a cultural shift.

Amid the women’s movement, and newfound reproductive freedom that enabled women to plan families on their own terms, new doors were opened to education and career choice opportunities that many of their mothers and grandmothers could only dream about.

Thanks in part to the bodily autonomy granted by Roe v. Wade, starting in 1973 more women across America now had a golden ticket to start entering lucrative career fields — including surgery and astrophysics — that were previously dominated almost exclusively by men.

Because abortion care is an economic justice issue — and when it’s restricted, we all lose.

It has been shown that women who have access to contraception make about $2,200 more per year than those who do not. Furthermore, access to safe and legal abortion increases a woman’s likelihood of graduating college by 72 percent, and increases the probability that she will secure a professional role by almost 40 percent.

A year and a half ago, when extremists on the Supreme Court took away reproductive rights to abortion care in the Dobbs decision, they forced antiquated restrictions on women across the country. Post the Dobbs decision, laws restricting access to care have been resurrected from the nineteenth century. Many states have forced their way into medical decisions that should be between a woman and her doctor.

At the Department of Health and Human Services and in Congress, we have seen women be put in near-impossible positions, having to cross state lines to get reproductive health care, putting their own lives in danger.

America has seen medical providers close their doors or relocate to another state. Since Dobbs, around 60 percent of OBGYNs in states with restrictions and bans report concerns about their personal legal risks when making decisions related to abortion care with patients. This has, in many cases, left rural communities in deep deserts of care.

In addition to being both dangerous and un-American, these restrictions have also already had detrimental effects on our economy.

 State-level restrictions on abortion care cost local economies $105 billion per year, and if they were removed, our U.S. Gross Domestic Product would be nearly 0.5 percent higher. 
Despite the harm that’s already been done, there are still extremists who want to go further — taking the country back to a dark and dangerous time. Thankfully, there are also leaders who are working to restore and advance our rights so that all Americans can enjoy a brighter future.

Two shining examples are leaders that we are proud to work for and with: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who have worked since day one of their administration to protect women’s rights, health, and privacy. They’ve been laser-focused on strengthening the resources available to patients, providers, and pharmacies across the country.

President Biden issued a presidential memorandum strengthening patient safety and protecting patients, providers and pharmacies that access prescribe, or provide mifepristone. The Biden-Harris administration also took action to strengthen reproductive health privacy under HIPAA.

And the Biden-Harris administration is working hard to defend the right of all women to travel safely to another state to seek the care they need, and protecting students, and others, from discrimination in health care.

At HHS, we continue to defend FDA approval of medication abortion in court. And we’re making contraception — especially preferred methods of contraception — more accessible. In July, the FDA approved the first daily over-the-counter oral contraceptive.

Several states have joined the fight, too, declaring themselves abortion-care safe havens and deploying first-of-their-kind shields for digital data, including from apps that track menstrual cycles, near health clinics.

In Congress, the Pro-Choice Caucus [of which co-author Congresswoman DeGette is co-chair] has pushed to overcome inaction from House Republicans and attempted to force a vote on legislation that would restore our rights. The Pro-Choice Caucus has also worked to prevent extreme legislation from being signed into law. Legislation that would further restrict access to care. Along with our colleagues, we have highlighted and blocked poison pills that extremists hoped they could sneak into larger legislative packages — advancing their agenda without alarming the American people.

Our work at HHS and in Congress comes from our shared vision that everyone should make their own choices when it comes to health — not some politician or an extremist judge. Abortion care, contraception and other family planning services are economic tools that are here to stay — whether you like them or not.

We will continue to fight until reproductive justice prevails. Until those who are trying to go back in time understand that those doors were flung wide in 1965 and 1973 — and now women, inspired by Career Barbies and the leaders who fought during the women’s movement, staunchly hold them open. And we won’t ever let them shut again.

Lily Griego is the regional director of Health and Human Services. U.S. Representative Diana DeGette represents Colorado's 1st Congressional District; she's the co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus in the House.
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