On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court established that women have a fundamental right to make their own decisions regarding childbearing. In Roe v. Wade, the court found that a woman's right to decide whether to become a parent deserves the highest level of constitutional protection. The ruling was a sensible balance that carefully considered the religious, ethical, scientific, medical, legal, and social aspects of reproductive freedom.
Roe v. Wade is considered the law of the land, and the large majority of Americans opposes overturning this landmark decision.
Three days before Roe's 38th anniversary, we learned of the grand jury's indictment of a Philadelphia physician who provided abortion services. Planned Parenthood strongly condemns the alleged actions of Kermit Gosnell, and we would condemn any physician or health-care provider who did not follow the law or recklessly endangered the health of others. Planned Parenthood maintains strict policies and procedures to ensure the highest standard of health care.
The news of the alleged practices at Gosnell's clinic prompted calls for stronger regulations of abortion services. The fact is abortion is already a highly restricted procedure, especially in Pennsylvania, where regulations include mandatory waiting periods and traveling two or three times to separate appointments. These restrictions have caused some women to delay abortion procedures, often into the second trimester, where it becomes both a higher medical risk and more expensive.
No new regulations can stop a physician who has decided to disregard the law. Restrictions that would further hinder access to safe abortion is not the answer, and will only increase the number of poor women who are forced by circumstances to turn to unsafe options for care.
All women should have access to high-quality, affordable care, especially during a time when they're emotionally vulnerable and facing a difficult decision. It's our responsibility to ensure that they are treated respectfully and cared for properly. This care should include Medicaid coverage for abortion services, which would allow women without financial means to schedule appointments at facilities that are clean and professional and offer the highest quality services. This coverage is not available in Pennsylvania.
Amid protests and threats to their safety, Planned Parenthood's clinicians, staff, and volunteers provide vital health care to women, many of whom may have nowhere else to turn. However, despite strong support for Roe, women's health and rights are threatened at every level. In the 2010 election, a significant number of opponents of women's rights and health were voted into office, and we can be sure they will do all they can to take reproductive health care away from women, including abortion.
In Washington, rather than focusing on fixing the economy and creating jobs, the House leadership has already spent considerable time on passing a bill that would have drastic and dangerous implications for women in need of serious medical care resulting from complex and sometimes life-threatening pregnancies. In Pennsylvania, an abortion-ban bill was just introduced in the Senate. Most Americans do not want elected officials marginalizing the one in four American women who have had or will need abortion procedures.
Women can continue to count on Planned Parenthood's strong voice of reason, its medical expertise, and legacy of trust to ensure that our rights won't be compromised. Planned Parenthood faces the future with enormous hope and with a commitment to stand for women's reproductive rights, despite all odds.
Dayle Steinberg is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.