By Haley Hawkins, Opinion Editor
Jan. 22 marked the 40-year anniversary of “Roe v. Wade,” the landmark Supreme Court case that established a woman’s right to an abortion. This case, for the first time, brought reproductive rights to the American political table and into public discourse. To this day, this fundamental issue has expanded to include other matters of reproductive rights which continue to occupy a space on the plates of lawmakers.
The U.S. needs an establishment of reproductive freedom that won’t alter with time. This establishment, as it always should, starts with the people.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, issued a statement on the fortieth anniversary of “Roe v. Wade.”
“While 40 years of safe and legal abortion in the United States is certainly worthy of celebration, we need stronger federal protections — much like the protections that Roe once stood for — that improve women’s access not only to abortion services, but also their ability to obtain other essential reproductive health care services such as affordable contraception, fertility treatments, safe pregnancy and maternal health care,” Northup said.
Some consider reproductive rights a purely political issue. But for many, it is an intensely personal issue, one that directly affects their daily lives. Reproduction and sexual health aren’t just a matter of abstract law — they can make or break the chance for personal health.
So what do Americans really want in regards to reproductive freedom?
In short, access to affordable reproductive healthcare: namely, services you can probably find at your local Planned Parenthood.
When one hears the words “Planned Parenthood,” it’s almost always followed by news about a recent controversial funding cut and often associated with the stigmatic label of “abortion clinic.”
The truth is that Planned Parenthood is America’s most reliable and trusted provider of reproductive health services, including birth control, abortion/abortion referrals, emergency contraception, STI testing and cancer screenings — all of these services offered with the goal of providing resources for the understanding, creation and maintenance of women’s and men’s sexual health.
However, Planned Parenthood provides something that other centers don’t necessarily offer.
“Not everyone will want to go to the Health Department for reproductive health services,” said Mary Connor, community health educator for Planned Parenthood in Greensboro. “We gain patients’ trust from their teen years into their forties. We emphasize education, make sure that our clients are happy with their birth control and that they’re in a healthy relationship. We’re passionate about what we do.”
This kind of genuine care is uncommon and is a vital resource to any community within a country that has yet to paint a clear and comprehensive picture of sexual health.
Yet, the availability of these services doesn’t necessarily translate to obtainability due to a lack of resources on the part of reproductive health services providers. Planned Parenthood of North Carolina alone had all state funding pulled after a legislative decision made this past year, and — make no mistake — this lack of funding is detrimental.
“County health departments do not have the capacity to serve the people that Planned Parenthood serves,” said Sarah Preston, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “You’re still going to end up with a lot of people not getting the services they need like cancer screenings, preventative care or family planning services. The county Health Department cannot provide these services.”
Though it still continues to receive federal aid and offer discounts on some services, the lack of resources poses a problem to many women who may not be able to afford the safe, reputable services Planned Parenthood provides.
Guilford College experiences shortfalls in the area of sexual health resources as well. Director of Student Health Helen Rice says that, since Guilford cannot afford to have a pharmacist on staff, it is impossible to offer birth control or emergency contraception on campus. Instead, she and other Student Health Center staff refer students to local pharmacies and centers.
“I wish we could afford to have a pharmacist here,” said Rice. “But we’re always glad to help in any way we can, including transporting students to the Health Department if need be.”
The Student Health Center is, however, able to provide free pregnancy tests and emphasize awareness of STIs, a topic of particular importance with the recent spread of chlamydia across campus this past semester.
“We definitely encourage STI testing,” said Rice. “We want to make students aware of health concerns and aware of their bodies.”
Still, wouldn’t it be beneficial to all if students could use an on-campus center that promises to provide them with all the necessary tools for sexual health?
Again, it all comes down to a lack of resources. In some ways, Guilford College’s budget crisis mirrors that of the federal and state government.
In Guilford’s case, this means less accessibility for students in regards to tools for sexual health, resources that occupy a lower rung on the ladder of budgeting prioritization. In the case of Planned Parenthood, the result is legislative measures aimed chiefly at restricting access to abortion and other highly stigmatized reproductive health services.
“Many people making laws are disconnected from the implications of these laws,” said Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Julie Winterich. “We need to reclaim the discussion on abortion and redefine it as a necessary medical option.”
One law passed in North Carolina, the Woman’s Right to Know Act, has placed more stringent constraints on safe abortion providers.
“The Woman’s Right to Know Act included a lot of policies but were all restrictions on women’s access to abortion,” said Preston. “The new law requires that doctors recite about two pages of so-called counseling to the woman not based on healthcare or science. Also the act requires the woman to have an ultrasound within a certain number of hours before the procedure.”
This act is just one of many restrictive acts passed across the U.S. In combination with the popular marches for the repeal of “Roe v. Wade,” which occurred in D.C. around the fortieth anniversary, are enough to indicate the divisive nature of these issues and the need for more concrete establishment of and education on reproductive rights.
“Honestly, you can’t access your rights to reproductive freedom if you don’t know what your options are,” said Preston. “Part of our concern is making sure students and young people have all the information they need to make healthy decisions for themselves.”
Tia Jarrell, an Early College student and teen peer educator for Planned Parenthood in Greensboro, is one of many working towards this goal.
“Everyone has a right to what happens to their bodies and a right to make their own choices,” said Jarrell. “But if they aren’t adequately educated on what these rights are or how something works, they’re ultimately limited to thinking they may not even have rights or very few.”
Currently, North Carolina operates under a system of comprehensive sex education as opposed to the pre-2009 abstinence-only policy. However, it is difficult to know whether schools statewide are consistently following through with this mandate.
Either way, implementation of comprehensive sex education is a step in the right direction which will hopefully increase awareness among women and men on their right to sexual health and reproductive services.
Until the time comes when this awareness is universal, though, we as a country need to protect all reproductive rights as liberties which are steadfast, not malleable, and guaranteed, not subject to the will of lawmakers.
Northup said it best: “It’s time to draw the line and demand our elected officials recognize women’s reproductive rights as fundamental human rights.”
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*Planned Parenthood in Greensboro offers abortion referrals.