March is Women’s History Month, but it’s almost painful to think about this year, as federal protections for women’s bodily autonomy can now be described as just that: history. Since the Supreme Court’s June 24th decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, we have had to ask ourselves whether our country’s laws really support women’s rights—and we have to act quickly to ensure these rights don’t become history here in Orange County as well.
We should have been celebrating a different historical milestone in 2023: the 50th anniversary of the Roe decision, which codified the federal right to abortion and to the self-determination that it provided. But since the Supreme Court overturned Roe last June in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, 13 states have effectively banned abortion, another 4 have severely restricted access. Still more states remain in flux, with new laws banning or restricting abortion access being proposed, passed, defeated, and challenged in court every day.
This constantly-changing, unpredictable, and legally unsafe environment subjects women who are already facing an intensely personal decision to unnecessary and unreasonable barriers to care. Today, nearly six in ten women live in states that ban or restrict access to abortion care—so in order to exercise their right to refuse the use of their bodies against their will, many of those women are forced to travel to our health centers in Orange County, where abortion care is still legal. They are risking their families, jobs, health, and even their lives, all because the government that is physically closest to them cares more about a false, politically-motivated idea of “protecting pregnancy” than pregnant people themselves. And our local doctors are risking their lives and their families’ safety to give them the basic healthcare they deserve.
But why should we care about all of this in Orange County, where abortion is still legal and women’s rights are supposedly prioritized? Well, consider the fact that a Texas federal court decision, due in the coming weeks, could ban the use of mifepristone, a safe, common abortion drug that has been widely used for over 20 years. That could affect abortion access in our state, as it could be a nationwide ban and could affect the ease and availability of medication abortion everywhere. With the overturning of Roe, it is even more important for people to understand that it is not a woman’s responsibility to supply children to society regardless of her own wishes. All of this is ultimately about the freedom and power to control one’s own life. Turning the act of bringing a child into the world from a choice into an obligation sends the message that what women have to give isn’t for them to give at all—it’s for others to take.
Importantly, while we are fortunate to live in a Reproductive Freedom state that prioritizes abortion access, our rights are far from safe here in Orange County. According to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, a majority of OC voters supported Proposition 1, last November’s ballot measure that enshrined the right to reproductive healthcare access in our state’s constitution. However, their voices are often drowned out by a number of extreme politicians in our region, who have attempted to do things like pass resolutions banning abortion in a particular city. These dehumanizing and disrespectful attacks on women appear to be emboldening extreme anti-abortion protestors, who are showing up outside of our health centers in greater numbers, and utilizing more violent and coercive tactics.
Our rights are eroding fast, and we have to act quickly to stop this backwards slide. Get in touch with your representative in Congress (Linda Sanchez, D-38; Young Kim, R-40; Michelle Steel, R-45; Lou Correa, D-46; Katie Porter, D-47; or Mike Levin, D-49) and urge them to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment. Support your local Planned Parenthood. Talk to your friends and family. Closely research and vote for candidates at every level of government who support women’s rights, including abortion access. Show up and speak out locally against those who would see women and their needs take a back seat to the wants and desires of others.
Celebrate Women’s History Month this year by making sure that the act of respecting women, their rights, and their freedoms doesn’t itself become history.
Ramona Thomas is General Counsel and Vice President of Risk & Compliance at Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino Counties.