Today, a woman's right to choose is under assault in the Republican-led Congress. George Bush is simply wrong when he says Roe v. Wade "was a reach" and "overstepped constitutional bounds." Consistent with Roe v. Wade, our society must stand firm in its support of a woman's right to choose. A woman's decision about whether to carry her pregnancy to term is a private one - to be made, ideally, after consultation with her doctor and with the benefit of counseling that is provided in a non-coercive setting. Only by keeping abortion legal can we ensure that it is safe.
Since President Bush took office in 2001, Congress has voted 47 times on choice-related issues. In all but nine of those cases, the majority vote sought to undermine the pro-choice position:
* This past year, the House passed a bill that requires young women seeking care, and their doctors, to navigate a convoluted parental-notification system, that is likely to lead to delay in women receiving the care they need.
* In a 223-205 vote, anti-choice House members supported a law that denies contraception to poor women overseas - contraception that can prevent pregnancy in girls whose bodies are too undeveloped to deliver babies.
* Finally, in addition to confirming John Roberts as Chief Justice and Samuel Alito as Associate Justice, the Senate confirmed three anti-choice jurists - all of whom it originally rejected in 2003 - to lifetime appointments on federal appellate courts: Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor.
Reducing the incidence of abortion is an appropriate public policy goal. However, it is neither fair nor effective to seek to reduce the number of abortions through criminalization. Rather, as a society, we must embrace policies that strengthen educational and economic opportunities for women. In this way, to borrow the words of President Clinton, we can keep abortions "safe and legal, but rare." The evidence is overwhelming that when women are empowered, unplanned pregnancy rates decline. Recent reports show that unplanned pregnancy rates among poor women have increased by 29%, while rates among higher-income women have decreased by 20%. Today, a poor woman is four times as likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy as a higher-income woman.
Over the past thirty years, access to modern contraceptives and safe, legal abortion has helped American women take control of their lives and achieve more for themselves and their families. The Bush Administration's emphasis on abstinence only, in lieu of comprehensive education and safe contraception, is inadequate. Teaching abstinence alone cannot substitute for policies that promote family planning and include support for a woman's choice regarding her pregnancy.