Forty-three years ago Friday, and more than a decade before I was born, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Roe v. Wade, securing women’s privacy in their reproductive decisions and making abortion legal in every state in the country.

That court case saved untold women from being injured, maimed and killed in back-alley abortions, and it allowed the United States to take a significant step forward in recognizing women as actual people with rights and autonomy, able to make decisions regarding their own bodies and their own lives.

I belong to the first generation where reproductive freedom has been taken as a given for American women and, growing up, I assumed that our country was on a trajectory toward greater reproductive justice. Not only was abortion accessible, but increased access to birth control and comprehensive sex education seemed to be leading toward more opportunity for women and a more just society.

Recently, it doesn’t seem as clear that we’re still on that path.

Over the past few years, and during the past few months in particular, we have seen some of the most dedicated, insidious and sometimes violent attacks on women’s reproductive freedom in decades.

Congress has voted several times to end funding for women’s health care provided by Planned Parenthood, an effort prompted by doctored and misleading sting videos released by extreme anti-abortion rights organizations.


State legislatures across the country have passed more restrictions on abortion services more quickly over the past five years (288 in total, according to the Guttmacher institute) than at any other point since Roe v. Wade.

In Texas in particular, restrictive new statutes hiding behind a flimsy mask of supposed concern over patient safety have cut the number of operational abortion providers down from 41 to just 17 for a state of 27 million people. Seven more clinics could be forced to close based on a Supreme Court case expected to be heard next month, with results that could reverberate across the country.

A pair of recent studies found that between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women have already tried to end a pregnancy on their own, and they project that that number will grow significantly if new restrictions continue to be put into place.

In November, a gunman attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people, including a police officer, and injuring nine others. Other clinics across the country have fallen victim to arson and vandalism. Maine has not been immune to these forces, both criminal and political.

Maine clinics have seen escalating threats, prompting increased security, and our attorney general recently charged a Lisbon man with civil rights violations for allegedly harassing clinic patients.

Maine 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, after first pledging not to vote to defund Planned Parenthood, has since voted six times to do just that. Last year, state Rep. Deb Sanderson introduced legislation (commonly referred to as a targeted regulation of abortion providers, or “TRAP” bill) that could have imposed similar restrictions to those seen in Texas.


Despite these threats, I think we’re still headed in the right direction in Maine and have an opportunity to provide a positive example for the nation. Here, defensive victories like the defeat of that TRAP bill have been joined by new, proactive efforts to protect and expand women’s rights.

In October, Maine Family Planning sued the state over $185,000 in contested funding after Gov. LePage’s administration rewrote the rules for what’s covered by MaineCare, attempting to deny the clinics reimbursement for services including blood typing, pregnancy dating and post-pregnancy contraception for women who were considering abortions.

In November, in a much broader case, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood sued the state for withholding abortion coverage for low-income women through MaineCare, saying it violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause. If they’re successful, thousands of Maine’s most economically vulnerable women will have more control over their lives and futures.

Even more encouraging, however, has been the reaction I’ve seen to these recent attacks on reproductive rights, especially among young people. On social media and in the streets I see Mainers my age and younger, many of whom, like me, may have previously felt some complacency on this issue, expressing a renewed commitment to principles enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

The recent anti-abortion backlash has taught us that even having the law and the Supreme Court on our side isn’t enough. We’ve learned that securing these rights takes personal engagement, a willingness to speak out on issues that some find uncomfortable and a commitment to building a proactive movement for positive change.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: miketipping

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: