Forty years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. David S. Cohen, a professor in the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, whose scholarship explores constitutional law and gender issues in the law, weighed in with us about where it stands today.
According to Cohen, the legacy of the landmark decision is very mixed. Today, abortion rights are under attack throughout the country, with states trying to impose restrictions on abortion in every way imaginable. Moreover, since the mid-1970s, indigent women in most states cannot receive Medicaid coverage for abortions, forcing them to sacrifice the necessities of life such as shelter, food, and clothing in order to exercise their constitutional right. The effect of these new state restrictions and the long-standing prohibition on Medicaid funding is that Roe may have established a constitutional right, but for many women, access to that right is incredibly difficult.
But, Cohen says, even though access is difficult, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Roe continues to have a very important impact — women no longer die from seeking out abortion and doctors no longer risk jail time for performing one. Before Roe, women still had abortions and doctors still performed them. However, because abortion was illegal in most states, women died or became very sick from self-abortion or from seeking out unsafe providers. Legitimate doctors who performed abortions risked their careers. That has changed, and more than 50 million women have had safe, legal abortions since Roe.
As Cohen puts it, Roe has to be celebrated for this simple fact — women are safer. But, says Cohen, we cannot stop fighting to make Roe a reality for every woman in this country who wants to control her body.
Members of the news media who are interested in speaking further with David S. Cohen can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.