A United Church of Christ congregation in Wisconsin will mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, one of the Supreme Court's most important rulings, with a commemorative gathering on Tuesday, Jan. 22 to raise the awareness of the remaining work for reproductive rights.
"It remains relevant because reproductive rights remain a contested political and social issue," said the Rev. Andrew Warner, senior pastor of Plymouth Church in Milwaukee and a board member of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
The interfaith gathering on Jan. 22 brings together members of the Jewish community, the Unitarian Universalists, and other UCC congregations in the Milwaukee region.
"We extended invitations across the theological spectrum," Young said. There are also attendees from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood. Other guests include a woman who had an abortion performed as a teenager before the Supreme Court's ruling on the case in 1973. A member of the Plymouth congregation, Dr. Ann Windsor, will also address the crowd from her perspective as a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist.
Warner wants the event to be a witness on the importance and value of women's reproductive rights, especially as funding for programs such as Planned Parenthood is reduced.
"I think the reason it's important to mark the anniversary is there continues to be legislative effort and judicial effort to restrict women's access to a range of reproductive action," Warner said. "If this was no longer a [cause] of conflict, maybe it would be commemorated. But there are more and more states that have protests at abortion clinics.
"When I drive by the abortion clinic there are always protestors outside it," Warner added. "It was a historic decision 40 years ago, but it's a court case that is still debated and contested in society today."
"So often the public hears there is only one Christian voice on this issue, and that's not true," Windsor said, referring to religious conservative stances on reproductive rights. "There are many voices from other religions, Christian included, who feel strongly about this issue."
A recent poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reveals that opinions about overturning Roe v. Wade have changed little in the eyes of the public in the last two decades. Currently, 63 percent of those polled by Pew Forum are opposed to the Supreme Court completely overturning the case, compared to 60 percent in 1992.
The ruling by the Supreme Court in 1973 gave women a constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies, but Windsor thinks the current generation has taken the landmark case for granted. Windsor has practiced medicine for 19 years, and her services focus more on pregnancy issues; she does not provide abortion services, which is a separate service in Wisconsin and is only available at four locations in the state.
Beyond the issue of geographic accessibility, Windsor also highlighted the need for making reproductive health services (such as contraceptives) and sexual education more available. "The less empowered are more impacted," she said. "We should celebrate and make [reproductive health] available to all women, not just women who can access it."
Windsor wrote an article for the congregation a year ago on Roe v. Wade, and she'll use it as a starting point when she addresses the audience on Tuesday.
ROE V WADE — 39 Years Later
By Dr. Ann Windsor
Roe v. Wade means that women have the freedom to choose a destiny separate from their reproductive potential. It means that women can safely and privately make a choice that often gives them a second chance at their future, allowing them to complete an education, develop positive relationships, achieve financial security or improve their own health. For some it means adequately caring for their existing family and children. Even for women who never have an abortion, simply having the right to choose is empowering.
Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Some of these pregnancies are wonderful surprises, but many are not. Ideally, every pregnancy would be cherished and pregnancy would be a joyful experience for every woman. In a perfect world there would be no unintended pregnancies, no assaults, no contraceptive failures. In a perfect world there would be no abortion. But the world is not perfect. We live in a human world, where mistakes happen every day. The truth is that abortion will always happen. It is merely a question of whether it is safe and legal.
Prior to Roe v. Wade, there were hospital wards devoted to the care women suffering from abortion complications, usually related to infection and bleeding. Many of these women died. My father was a medical student in the 1950s and witnessed this at St. Louis City Hospital. These were desperate women who risked their lives to end a pregnancy. Since Roe v. Wade, abortion has become the safest procedure performed in the U.S. In fact, the health risks of a first trimester abortion are lower than the risks of continuing a pregnancy.
Roe v. Wade acknowledges that no one else can determine whether ending a pregnancy is a right or wrong option for any woman. No one knows what it is like to walk in her shoes. We are not here to judge. Roe v. Wade understands this is a private decision for a woman to make for herself since it affects her body, her health, and her well-being.
Preventing unintended pregnancy is the key to minimizing abortion. As we celebrate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remain outspoken advocates of contraception. We must ensure that safe and reliable contraception is accessible to all women regardless of their financial resources, regardless of their employers. I urge everyone to support organizations like Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin devoted to providing reproductive health to all women, regardless of their ability to pay for services. I also urge you to support the Obama administration's requirement that most employer health care plans (other than churches) be required to provide prescription contraceptives to employees at no additional charge. Several employers here in Milwaukee do not currently cover prescription contraceptives for their employees and this must change.