Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ensured a woman’s right to have an abortion, will mark its 40th anniversary Jan. 22.
But the ruling left room for interpretation and alteration, touching off a cultural and political war that is still being fought on a variety of fronts, from Congress to state legislatures to our local counties.
The number of abortions rose for 17 years after the ruling, but it has been dropping ever since. The reasons are numerous, observers say, and include better family planning, wider use of contraception, restrictions imposed in many states, better sex education and moral persuasion.
“Certainly, there’s access to affordable contraception,” said Debra Marcus, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of South Central New York.
“I think there is an improvement in medically accurate sexual education in the schools,” she added. “And the studies are showing that teens are more likely to delay having sex, and when they do, they’re more likely to be using contraception. … There really have been improvements.
“But I also do think that in places like Mississippi, South Dakota, the South, the Southwest, all of these restrictions on abortions mean that there are women who have unintended pregnancies, that they’re really not prepared to be parents. … And they don’t have access to abortion services and therefore there are higher rates of unintended pregnancies.”
The Rev. David Mickiewicz, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oneonta, suggested another reason.
“My impression is that science has helped make an impact in that now, with ultrasound, to a very early age in the womb, we can see visuals,” he said. “Images speak volumes in our particular culture,” he said.
To Mickiewicz, those images help reinforce the belief that life begins at conception.
“The Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, other Christian denominations … we believe in life from the womb,” he said.