Opinion Submission: Abortion is a human right, and we need to do more to protect it

, , and | PPGA Co-Presidents, PPGA Vice President, and former Student Union President

It has been nearly a year since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the US Supreme Court, sparking an onslaught of legislative and judicial attacks against reproductive freedom and abortion access. Missouri became the first state to completely outlaw abortion in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. In the months since, state legislators have tried to do everything to eliminate abortion access, from banning abortion for ectopic pregnancies to limiting people’s freedom to travel outside the state to get abortions. We all care deeply about abortion and reproductive freedom — which is why we are taking the time to share more about why these rights are so important, what is on the line, and how we can come together and address the newest assaults on reproductive freedom in this country.

Abortion is a human right because it is an essential part of reproductive healthcare. The World Health Organization identifies comprehensive abortion care as an item on its list of essential health care services, published in 2020. In the United States, it is so vital that one in four women get an abortion by age 45. Since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, a landmark Supreme Court case that ruled abortion to be a constitutionally protected right, organizations like Planned Parenthood have helped millions of people access affordable and safe abortions. Amongst people who get abortions, 75% are low-income. A disproportionate number are people of color, who often face structural, economic, political, and social factors. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, and can take the form of in-clinic abortion or medication abortion.

However, in the last few decades, a fringe and radical sect of the Republican Party has sought to scale back access to this healthcare. Since the passage of Roe in 1973, 1,338 abortion restrictions have been passed in the United States, with 44% in the last decade and 108 of them in 2021 alone. Using the unscientific argument that life begins at conception, anti-abortion activists have sought to reframe the issue of bodily autonomy as one about the “life” of a fetus. In this debate, what is forgotten is the life of women and gender-expansive people who are forced to carry these pregnancies to term. Their lives — and their rights to control their own bodies — are written off as unimportant footnotes in a crusade of bodily control. 

While these arguments have failed to move the overwhelming majority of Americans who support Roe v. Wade and freer access to abortion (69% of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, and 59% want more permissive abortion laws in their states), their proponents have made abortion less safe and less affordable. 

In Missouri, the state legislature sought to shut down our state’s only abortion clinic — the Planned Parenthood in St. Louis — in 2019. While that initial effort failed, other draconian pieces of legislation have been introduced, making it more dangerous to get an abortion. Primarily, low-income people are impacted — people who are often unable to pursue care in other states. Wealthy people — before, during, and after Roe — have always been able to access comprehensive abortion care. Restrictions have always left lower-income and working-class people behind, and have disproportionately affected people of color.

We encourage you to take action to support abortion access here in Missouri and in your home states. The first and best way to help is to set up a recurring donation to the Missouri Abortion Fund, which helped to provide over 1,800 abortions in 2021 to people who could not otherwise afford it. And if you have the means, donate to Pro-Choice Missouri, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, and Right By You — also organizations fighting for safe, legal, and accessible abortions for all. 

Second, volunteer — support people who seek abortions by serving as a clinic escort, or by staffing events to educate our community with pro-abortion organizations in Missouri and beyond. 

Third, vote — for candidates who unequivocally support abortion access, reproductive freedom, and healthcare for all people. Voting is not the panacea for structural issues, but having allies — like Representative Cori Bush, Mayor Tishaura Jones, and St. Louis City Board of Alderman President Megan E. Green — makes a world of difference. In the 2022 midterm elections, for example, we saw pro-abortion results everywhere from California and Vermont to Kentucky, Montana, and Kansas

Fourth, engage in the political process: learn about ongoing bills, join groups like Planned Parenthood Generation Action, and call legislators to oppose harmful, anti-abortion bills. And of course, we should always be learning more about abortion’s importance, about the ways access supports marginalized communities, and about how abortion access intersects with other movements for justice and liberation for all people. 

State legislators should never have the right to take away a person’s right to choose and make decisions about their body. It is especially ironic that this supposedly “pro-life” advocacy is coming from a party that restricts life-saving, gender-affirming healthcare for trans people; supports the death penalty; and frames Black Lives Matter as a terrorist group. A party that refuses to recognize the sanctity of Black life, fuels endless global warfare, and ignores our nation’s most marginalized people has no moral authority to make claims about supporting human life. 

To be truly pro-life means to respect the dignity of pregnant people, and to grant them the right to make decisions about their bodies. To be truly pro-life means addressing maternal and infant mortality, hunger, poverty, racism, and war as the key moral failures of our society, not stripping people of their healthcare and bodily autonomy for political gain. To be truly pro-life means supporting abortion — abortion that is destigmatized, legal, affordable, and accessible for all.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.