40 Years After Roe: What Can Philanthropy Do to Protect Women’s Rights?

posted on: January 22, 2013

By Niki Jagpal

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade. The decision protected women’s rights to safe and legal abortion and essentially the right to privacy, including the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. But a quick look at the recent past demonstrates the tenuous status of a woman’s right to choose, in spite of the fact that a majority of our population supports the Court’s decision:

  • Over the last two years, some 135 state-level restrictions were enacted.
  • Four states do not have a single abortion clinic and close to 90 percent of all U.S. counties also lack a single facility.
  • 20 states have laws that allow employers and insurers to deny affordable contraception coverage.
  • 42 percent of women who avail of abortion services are poor, i.e., with incomes that are below the federal poverty line.
  • 7 out of every 10 women who delayed having an abortion did so because of an inability to pay for it.

Moreover, a majority of Americans, including religious groups, want to see Roe upheld (70 percent), yet more than half of American women live in states with legislatures that actively do not support Roe. Restrictions on abortion that were passed include mandatory ultrasounds forcing the woman to see a picture of the fetus, placing restrictions on late-term abortions, mandatory waiting periods to get an abortion and attempts to define fetuses as citizens, all compounded by the fact that we have politicians saying that pregnancy rarely occurs in cases of “legitimate rape.”

Clearly, there is disagreement about abortion among our population. However it is equally clear that a majority of us believe (to varying degrees) that it is a woman’s decision whether to keep or terminate a pregnancy. How can philanthropy help? 

Grantmakers can step in when groups such as Planned Parenthood come under attack from right-wing politicians threatening to defund them. Planned Parenthood provides a substantial proportion of the abortions in this country and states that it does not use federal funds to provide abortion services, most of which goes to preventative medicine and breast cancer screenings. And they are not alone – throughout the country, there are groups that work to provide women with access to safe abortion services. Finding and funding state-level groups, such as Reproductive Services, especially in states where restrictions are in place to ensure that no woman has to risk her life by resorting to unsafe abortion would be a huge contribution from the grantmaking community to American women. 

Niki Jagpal is director of research and policy at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).