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Keep abortion safe and legal, in 40th year after Roe v. Wade and beyond

Helen Nienhueser

On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the constitutionally protected right to privacy includes every woman’s right to make her own personal medical decisions, without the interference of politicians.

Here in Alaska, we established that right three years prior, as I worked with amazing women and men in our state to reform Alaska’s abortion law to permit a woman to make her own decision in consultation with her family, her doctor and her faith.

Ending the days of dangerous and often deadly back-alley abortions has been one of my life’s greatest accomplishments. The women who died rather than face an unintended pregnancy were not around to witness Roe, but I witnessed it through their eyes and I know one thing for sure: We must never, ever return to the days of criminalizing abortion.

Unfortunately, despite this constitutionally protected right to privacy, politicians both here in Alaska and around our country insist on interfering with a woman’s pregnancy decisions. For example, the continued attacks for nearly 20 years on low-income women’s access to funding for abortion in our state are appalling. This year, Sen. Coghill says he doesn’t rule out possible legislation addressing government-funded abortions. In fact, he stated he intends “to look for the opportunity quite frankly.” Sen. Coghill may want to limit accessibility, yet each time this happens the Courts have had to step in and pull the state back.

That’s because in Alaska, women with very low incomes are granted equal access to the legal pregnancy options available to other women due to a 2001 Alaska Supreme Court ruling that ordered nondiscriminatory public funding of abortion. Restricting access is blatant government overreach into a woman’s personal medical decisions. A woman wouldn’t turn to politicians for advice about birth control, mammograms or cancer screenings, so why should bureaucrats be making decisions concerning her pregnancy?

If we learned anything from this past election, it’s that voters rejected some of the nation’s most vocal and extreme opponents of safe and legal abortion. It is unlawful and unpopular to block women’s health care. Politicians who advance these bills do so against the will of their constituents.

Instead of working to restrict access to abortion, we should work on providing more sex education, family planning funding, and other reproductive health care to ensure women have the tools they need to prevent unintended pregnancies.

The truth of the matter is a majority of people in this country and in Alaska agree with the Roe v. Wade decision that abortion should be safe and legal -- 64 percent according to a recent nationwide poll, up from 60 percent in 2010. We recognize that abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision. For me personally, I do not live anyone’s life but my own, and I do not know the circumstances in another woman’s life.

Helen Nienhueser was the leader of the campaign to legalize abortion in 1970 in Alaska, three years prior to the Roe decision. She lives in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com