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40 Years After Roe, Doctors Warn That Reproductive Rights Are In Grave Danger

By Tara Culp-Ressler on July 12, 2013 at 3:35 pm

"40 Years After Roe, Doctors Warn That Reproductive Rights Are In Grave Danger"

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(Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Dr. John J. Sciarra remembers his time as a young doctor in New York City nearly half a century ago. He remembers watching young women die from botched, illegal abortions because they had no safe options. At the time, he felt powerless to help them, and that fact haunted him.

That’s why he decided to join 99 of his fellow OB-GYNs to express his support for legal abortion. In 1972, that group of doctors published a statement in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology to make the case that giving women the means to end their pregnancies is a public health issue. Their timing was prescient; Roe v. Wade ended up legalizing abortion just one year later.

But, in the 40 years since, Sciarra has been surprised to see the state of reproductive rights moving backward instead of forward. “We did not anticipate the backlash that has turned abortion into an ideological battleground,” the retired doctor writes in a op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune on Friday. “So I have again joined 99 of my fellow professors of obstetrics and gynecology in another statement on the issue, published earlier this year, in the very same American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.”

In the new statement, Sciarra and 99 of his colleagues point out that even though abortion has been legalized and medical practice has evolved to accommodate a new range of reproductive care, the politicization of the issue still threatens to derail women’s reproductive rights. When Sciarra first advocated for abortion rights back in the 1970s, he and his fellow OB-GYNs imagined that the “increasingly liberal course of events” in the U.S. would create a rising demand for abortion care. They thought the biggest problem facing the country would be a shortage of doctors available to perform abortions. It turns out they were wrong — the biggest problem is actually the web of state-level abortion restrictions that come between women and their doctors.

“We have had 40 years of medical progress but have witnessed political regression that the 100 professors did not anticipate,” their official statement noted. “Forty years later, the change is not liberal. Its effects will threaten, not improve, women’s health and already obstruct physicians’ evidence-based and patient-centered practices.”

Sciarra is just one of two OB-GYNs who signed both statements — the original one before Roe v. Wade, and the new one earlier this year — because most of the doctors who signed on four decades ago have since passed away. Sciarra notes that none of the doctors who signed the 1972 statement ever changed their minds and rescinded their support for legal abortion rights. And now, a new generation of medical professionals is reaffirming that position with the 2013 statement.

The doctors’ new statement is well-timed. Despite the fact that Roe marked its 40th anniversary recently, reproductive rights are being chipped away from every angle. And 2013 is shaping up to be one of the worst years for reproductive freedom since abortion was first legalized. State legislatures have enacted a record-breaking number of new abortion restrictions this year, including some of the harshest bans ever seen in the past four decades.

Sciarra and his colleagues aren’t the only medical professionals coming out against the mounting pile of politically-motivated abortion restrictions. The nation’s largest group of OB-GYNs, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also recently condemned anti-abortion laws for “imposing a political agenda on medical practice.”

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