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On Roe v. Wade anniversary, a letter to one fighting for choice

As the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade nears, host Melissa Harris-Perry addresses a letter of encouragement to a woman leading Virginia's fight for reproductive justice.
/ Source: Melissa Harris Perry

As the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade nears, host Melissa Harris-Perry addresses a letter of encouragement to a woman leading Virginia's fight for reproductive justice.

Just three days shy of closing the calendar on 2012, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell offered a final parting shot in last year’s onslaught of legal restrictions against women’s reproductive rights.  Quietly, with no public announcement, he certified new regulations that could result in the closure of abortion clinics in the state.

Here is where we find ourselves, as we approach this month’s 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision — watching as state anti-choice lawmakers gradually chip away at the federal government’s affirmation that a woman has the right to control her own body.

But we also find ourselves witnessing vocal, impassioned, and effective resistance to those efforts as well.  So, this week, as we near the anniversary — and the seemingly inevitable Supreme Court challenge — to Roe v. Wade, I want to address this week’s open letter to one of the voices who led that charge last year: NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director, Tarina Keene.

Dear Tarina:It’s me, Melissa. I hope in 2013 that you get a minute to relax, because 2012 was a busy year for you. It was only March when Governor Bob McDonnell signed a bill requiring doctors to perform an ultrasound on women before they can end an unwanted pregnancy.But thanks to you and the protests sparked by the spotlight you helped shine on this legislation, the law passed — minus its most invasive provision that would have forced women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.And yes, thanks to you, those Republican legislators in Virginia can never again claim ignorance about the phrase “vaginal probe.”  But more importantly, you put lawmakers in other states on notice that we will not stand by idly while they mandate invasive medical procedures for women. After all that, you deserve a moment to catch your breath.But you won’t get it, because Governor McDonnell is at again.  He knew you and Virginia’s pro-choice advocates would be waiting to pounce if he made a lot of fanfare about his new regulations, so he snuck them in between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Now, Virginia’s 20 abortion clinics may have to make costly renovations that have nothing to do with the safety and health of their clients, but everything to do with forcing those clinics out of business.Tarina, provisions like this are why you and other state and local advocates for women’s rights are a critical line of defense for reproductive justice.Because while its opponents wait to attempt a killing blow to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court, they are also delivering its death by a thousand tiny cuts with restrictive state laws. This slow erosion of reproductive rights has left us with the conclusion reached by this week’s Time Magazine cover story, that quote, “Getting an abortion in America is, in some places, harder today than at any point since it became a constitutionally protected right.”According to the Guttmacher Institute, last year, 43 laws were passed in 19 states to limit women’s access to abortion.  It’s the second highest number of annual abortion restrictions passed by state legislatures.But Tarina, I want you to take heart.  Because it is also fewer than half the restrictions passed in 2011 — a year in which a record 92 abortion restrictions were enacted.  The difference in those numbers is due in part to people like you who stood *against* restrictive laws, stood *for* women’s reproductive rights, and put the issue on the forefront of our election year political agenda.And that is what I want you to remember as we near this milestone in the defense of women’s rights. Yes, the fight to defend those rights is in many ways harder than it was four decades ago. But do not give up.  Do not give in.  Stand your ground.  In fact, keep pushing to lay claim to even more ground for reproductive rights.Let us not only work to block restrictive state laws, but to push even farther for federal policy that expands and improves reproductive justice. So that in another 40 years, we will reflect on 2013 — and 1973 — as the years that women made history.Sincerely,Melissa

You can find NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia on Facebook and Twitter.