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Guest MINDSETTER™ Paula Hodges: When Choice isn’t Enough

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Forty years ago, 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 – including the right to end a pregnancy. As we approach this milestone, there’s been debate as to whether or not the reproductive justice movement and organizations like Planned Parenthood are connecting with post-Roe generations. Speaking as a “Millennial” myself, I can say that young women do value the impact of Roe. But politicians and traditional powers don’t see the world in the way we do. As someone who’s chosen a career in social justice and who spends a lot of time with other young activists, there’s hope we can right this ship as our generation takes the helm.

Planned Parenthood recognizes that the abortion conversation in America has evolved. As a nation and as a movement, our language has shifted. It’s time we started looking beyond the tired binary labels of “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” In fact, the number of people who say abortion should remain safe and legal is significantly higher than the number of people who readily identify as “pro-choice.” Our language must reflect the change in the way we think, talk and organize around abortion rights. Simply put – “Choice” as a framework just isn’t enough anymore.

Last November voters strongly affirmed that politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy. From Smith Hill to Capitol Hill, Planned Parenthood will continue to protect access to health care for women — taking action to ensure that women have access to care, no matter what. Forty years after Roe, Planned Parenthood’s mission remains the same: to protect the fundamental right of all individuals to manage their own fertility and sexual health and to ensure access to the services, education and information to realize that right. 

Sadly, Rhode Island lags behind our New England neighbors when it comes to teen pregnancy rates. An investment in preventive services saves public dollars: one dollar spent on family planning saves the state $3.75. Yet we’re forced to waste time fighting unnecessary, shaming legislation like mandatory-waiting periods and ultrasounds. We need a legislature that understands that investing in prevention and comprehensive sex education is the only proven way to address unintended pregnancy. 

Millions of young people today are, like me, paying off student loans, renting and not buying, entering the workforce during a recession and experiencing high unemployment. Reproductive rights and access to affordable contraception are economic justice issues. The annual cost of birth control prior to the Affordable Care Act was $600—a cost born almost entirely by women. 

As I look at the work we need to do in the next 40 years – it’s time for our language and our policy work to reflect the real conversation. Simply changing labels and adopting new messages isn’t enough. We must work as a movement to ensure that the right to manage our own fertility and sexual health is seen holistically: that we take into account all of the factors – legal, economic and otherwise - that prevent women from having affordable coverage for contraceptives, cancer detection and care, infertility treatments and yes, abortion. 

As we forge ahead, my hope for 2053 is that old labels and endless fights will become what they should be: history.

Paula Hodges is the Public Policy & Advocacy Director for Planned Parenthood Southern New England and Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island.


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