Roe v. Wade is often used informally as shorthand for abortion access in the United States. However, the reality is that since this landmark court case was decided by the US Supreme Court in January 1973, the right to an abortion protected in Roe has been increasingly hollowed out, making the ability to get an abortion a right on paper only for far too many people.
Between 1973 and 2021, over 1,300 abortion restrictions were enacted in states, each one making it harder to obtain, afford or provide abortions. The pace and severity of these restrictions has picked up and the last decade alone accounts for 44% of all restrictions enacted since Roe was decided. In 2021, more abortion restrictions were enacted than in any other year, and 2022 could very well be worse.
While the Roe decision alone is far from enough to guarantee equitable abortion access for all people, it is still a crucial safeguard and the foundation on which to build a future where all people can get the compassionate, timely and affordable abortion care they need, want and deserve.
On the 49th anniversary of Roe, Guttmacher experts reflect on what this moment means to them.
Herminia Palacio, MD, MPH – President & CEO
Roe v. Wade was decided about 27 years after my mom had an abortion.
When she told me about it many years later, she was as clear about her reasons in hindsight as I believe she was at the time. That particular pregnancy had made her so ill that she was missing too much work. She could not afford to lose her job. It was not the right time or circumstance for her to stay pregnant.
When she had an abortion, she made a caring decision for herself, for her life and for her future. Roe v. Wade codified what my mom and millions of others already knew. People must have the right to decide when to stay pregnant and have a child. The facts are clear: Abortion is health care, plain and simple.
Aletha Y. Akers, MD, MPH, FACOG – Vice President for Research
I have been an abortion provider for more than two decades. I have seen the power that access to abortion has on people’s lives. I know that people who need abortion wear many faces and are of many genders. They are people of different ages, in different family structures and relationships, and have different faiths and beliefs. They are people who, for varied reasons, have made the decision not to birth and parent a child at this time in their lives.
What none of these people are is a simple statistic. No two patient stories are alike. What has been a common thread in their experiences is that abortion access was transformative and affirming for them, for their families and for their futures.
Today, 49 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, we are facing an unparalleled threat to reproductive freedom and justice in the United States. This Roe anniversary, my heart goes out to people who decide to have an abortion and their loved ones who will have to work so much harder to support them because of political restrictions. My thoughts are also with abortion providers, who do their best every day to offer compassionate, high-quality care in the face of political hostility, relentless harassment and threats to their own safety and well-being. My hope is that this Roe Day is not the last.
Liza Fuentes, PhD – Senior Research Scientist
This year marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark legal decision that recognized a fundamental right to abortion care in the United States.
But today, abortion being technically legal is too low a bar. An unprecedented 108 restrictions on abortion were passed by states last year alone.
Research has shown time and again that these restrictions are unnecessary and serve only to make abortion care difficult or impossible to obtain, particularly for people already facing multiple layers of discrimination.
In the near future, the US Supreme Court will decide whether to follow research and science and recognize the fundamental autonomy of pregnant people, or to roll back human rights in this country. The bottom line is that everyone who wants and needs an abortion should be able to get timely, affordable and compassionate care.
Elizabeth Nash – Principal Policy Associate, State Issues
I’ve tracked state policy on abortion for two decades, and I’ve never seen a year like 2021. States enacted a stunning 108 abortion restrictions, by far the most ever. And I am deeply worried that 2022 could be even worse.
If the US Supreme Court guts Roe v. Wade, we predict that more than half the states—particularly those in the South, the Plains and the Midwest—will ban abortion to whatever extent the Court will let them. The consequences would be devastating.
On this Roe anniversary, we need more. It’s past time for Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and for states to enact their own protections to make sure that abortion rights are a reality for all.
Rachel K. Jones, PhD – Principal Research Scientist
As someone who has studied abortion in the United States for more than 20 years, and as a Texan myself, this anniversary of Roe is heavy for me.
Research from the Guttmacher Institute and others in the field has long shown how devastating the denial of abortion access is for people who need this care. Seeing abortion rights erode like this is truly heartbreaking.
In Texas, our evidence shows that the recent abortion ban is having a cascading effect. Now that most Texans can no longer get an abortion in the state where they live, some have to travel to far-flung states like Washington, Illinois and Maryland.
People deserve to be able to get an abortion at any stage of their pregnancy—in their own or a nearby community, and certainly in the state where they live.
Sheila Desai, DrPH – Senior Research Scientist
As access to abortion rapidly erodes across our country, the importance of policies that protect this care could not be more evident. For 49 years, Roe v. Wade has stood as a symbol of reproductive freedom, but restriction by restriction, the federal protections for abortion access have been weakened and compromised, creating a tiered system where abortions are only truly available for some people and communities.
Already, too many people—especially immigrants; Black, Indigenous and other people of color; and those living on low incomes—face countless barriers to obtaining abortions. This means that many of our communities, those we love and live alongside, continue to be denied their basic right to essential health care. As someone who researches the intersection of immigration and reproductive health, it is crystal clear to me that equitable access to abortion is essential to reproductive health, rights and justice.
All people deserve to be able to get an abortion and to build their families how and when they want. It’s that simple. So, on this anniversary of Roe, I commit to continue fighting for a future where everyone who needs and wants an abortion can access care—freely, safely and with dignity.