By Madeleine Dean
Nearly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.
For decades, it has protected a woman’s right to make the most difficult – and intimate – of choices.
That choice is something no woman wants to face. It is the hardest, most heart-wrenching decision of a woman’s life. And when the right to make that decision is taken away, things can go terribly wrong.
We have seen it in my family. During the 1930’s, my mother-in-law’s mother was living in Scranton. She and her husband had six children, and she was pregnant with another when the family learned that bringing the child to term would likely mean that neither she nor her child would survive.
Maybe the outcome would have been the same – perhaps she would have chosen to go forward with her pregnancy. But that was a choice she never had, and both she and the child died – leaving six children without a mother.
That tragedy has reverberated within our family ever since – and it could have been avoided. And this is just one instance of many – in which women’s choices are not their own but are dictated by the people around them.
The question, then, is whether we are willing to engage with the circumstances that sometimes lead women and their doctors to consider abortion.
So many of the recent abortion laws – in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and elsewhere – are rooted in a refusal to acknowledge this fundamental point. These laws send a clear message: “We have our beliefs, and that’s that. We are not interested in hearing about the challenges or medical emergencies women face. We would rather cover our ears or look away.”
I have seen this same attitude here in Pennsylvania. I spent six-and-a-half years in Harrisburg, and too many times heard arguments on the House Floor from legislators – a majority of whom were men, none of them doctors – who were not willing to discuss the facts.
Well, we fought them – and so far, we are winning. I am so thankful to have such great champions for women in Gov. Tom Wolf, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Women’s Health Caucus Chair Rep. Mary Jo Daley D-Montgomery, and former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.
In Congress, we are fighting too. I am a co-sponsor of Rep. Judy Chu’s, D-Calif., Women’s Health Protection Act of 2019, which protects a woman’s ability to determine whether and when to bear a child – and defends the rights of healthcare providers to provide reproductive health services.
I am also a co-sponsor Rep. Katherine Clark’s, D-Mass., Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act of 2019, which directs the State Department to record information on reproductive rights in its human rights report.
We will continue to stand up for women’s reproductive healthcare – but it is essential that we recognize the stakes. The recent state-based restrictions on women’s reproductive healthcare are part of a nationwide strategy to challenge Roe v. Wade – and if Roe falls, we will be looking at a very different landscape.
We cannot let that happen. We have to push back on every front – in the courts, in Congress, in the legislatures, and on the op-ed pages. Our leaders need to know: women’s reproductive health is not optional – it is a basic right.
Above all, we have to insist that this debate is not abstract. It is about real women making incredibly difficult choices in painful circumstances.
Women do not deserve to be judged.
We deserve to be heard; we deserve to be understood; and we will have our rights protected.
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat, represents the Montgomery County-based 4th Congressional District. She writes from Washington D.C.