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Women’s Health and Rights Begin, But Do Not End, With Roe: A New Discourse on Abortion Needed

January 20, 2005

Statement of CFFC President Frances Kissling on the
32nd Anniversary of
 Roe v. Wade

WASHINGTON, DC—For Catholic women, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has been an especially appreciated acknowledgement of their moral adulthood, an acknowledgement that is consistently withheld by the Vatican and the American bishops. The decision is a unique and valued expression of our country’s strong respect for women’s rights. The US is one of only two countries in the world where the right to choose abortion is explicitly protected by the constitution (South Africa is the other country).

The right to choose an abortion is, however, not a settled issue. A minority of Americans, led by conservative religious leaders in the Catholic and evangelical churches, is working hard to make abortion illegal—and failing that, inaccessible. If they were to succeed, it would be a tragedy for US women—especially poor women—who would find themselves unable to act legally upon their own deeply held view that in some circumstances abortion is the most moral decision they can make. It is out of respect for women’s capacity and right to make good choices about child bearing that we at CFFC work to ensure that Roe survives.

At the same time, it is critical that a new prochoice discourse on abortion develops, a discourse that does not seeRoe as the end point of public conversation about abortion, but rather the beginning of an effort to ensure that far fewer women will face the need to have an abortion. It is time to take seriously the formula articulated by former President Clinton that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

That discourse will permit us to acknowledge both women’s rights and needs and our basic respect for all human life, including fetal life. It will include a stronger and more passionate effort to reduce the need for abortion by improving the economic well being of all women and families, by promoting a peace-loving approach to international conflict, by granting women full equal rights and respect in all areas of human endeavor and by providing sound ethical and comprehensive sexuality education and access to a full range of contraceptive methods.

Roe is critical to women’s rights, but it was only the beginning.