January 22, 2007, marks the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and on behalf of VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood, I would like to draw the community’s attention to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that awarded women the constitutional right of privacy in making the personal decision to carry out or terminate a pregnancy. The Roe v. Wade anniversary serves as a powerful reminder that reproductive freedom is something that has been given to the young women and men of our generation, and it is our turn to work to uphold that freedom which is now under attack.

The majority of Americans strongly support Roe v. Wade. The rejection of abortion bans and extremist politicians in the 2006 midterm elections affirmed that we do not want government to interfere in personal, medical decisions. Despite that, the Bush administration recently appointed anti-choice, anti-birth control extremist Eric Keroack to the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs. Our nation’s family planning programs are now in the hands of someone who supports the belief that “birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness.” The administration’s wildly inappropriate appointment exemplifies the depth of its misunderstanding about women’s health care needs.

Upholding Roe v. Wade is about protecting women’s health and safety – that fact is made real in our mothers’ and our aunts’ stories of pre-Roe days and back alleys. Abortion is a reality in a country where half of all pregnancies are unintended and its illegal status before 1973 did not prevent up to 1.2 million women a year from seeking help in ending unwanted pregnancies. Forced to seek unsafe procedures, women who had illegal abortions were left sterile, injured or dead. Since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973, women have regained the ability to seek safe abortion services earlier and more safely. The legalization of abortion has decreased maternal deaths and improved living conditions for children. Meanwhile, women living in states with strong anti-abortion laws suffer from lower levels of education, lower earnings and less visibility in the legislature.

The freedom I have today because of Roe was not available to my mother’s generation. Not only does my right to privacy free me from the very real dangers of illegal abortion in our not-so-distant past, it empowers me to explore my education, employment and sexuality without the fear of being criminalized for seeking an alternative to an unwanted pregnancy. I have control over a private decision about my body, which allows me to decide when or whether to become a parent while I plan my career.

VOX, along with Planned Parenthood, continues to fight for women’s reproductive rights and care, promoting the education and services necessary for making healthy decisions. As opponents chip away at the progress that Roe v. Wade has afforded us, we must stop and think about what life would be like without it, and realize the value and urgency of continuing to protect this essential right for women.

If you are interested in learning more about current reproductive rights issues or would simply like to show your support, please join UCSB’s VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood at Protect Choice! – a celebration of the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The rally will take place on Saturday, Jan. 20 in Anisq’Oyo’ Park, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Join us for inspirational speakers, live music and food, and get informed about current reproductive rights issues.