It is certainly an important time for America’s discussions of health, but also an important time to talk about equality in America as it relates to access to reproductive health care.

University of Pennsylvania professor Salmishah Tillet wrote on June 4th about where reproductive justice fits into the broader discussion of civil rights.  She argues that the threat to reproductive justice that George Tiller’s murder constitutes is critically important to women of color, who often face particular challenges in obtaining comprehensive family planning materials.  She says:

While abortion is rarely seen as a civil rights issue, the dismantling of Roe v. Wade would have dire consequences for African-American women….  Today, reproductive injustice continues to adversely affect African-American women. Federal underfunding of adequate family-planning programs and lack of access to inexpensive, readily available contraceptives certainly play a role."

However, this civil right is being challenged for African-American women and women throughout the United States.  Recent events remind us that legislation is only the beginning of what access means.  Aside from financial barriers, abortion providers are increasingly terrorized out of serving American women.  In many communities, violent extremist groups provide endless challenges to providers of women’s health care. In a recent LA Times article, DeeDee Correll describes the safety concerns that Tiller’s friend and colleague Warren Hern endures every day

“Hern has been familiar with the hazards for decades. After performing abortions for more than half of his life, the 70-year-old doctor has never been injured, but the constant threats with which he has lived since 1973 have transformed his life into a series of security measures: sleeping with a rifle, scanning rooftops for snipers, wearing a protective vest.

“‘It ruins your life,’ Hern said."

Under these circumstances, it is no surprise that, according to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, the number of abortion providers in the US has fallen by 11% since 1996.

Obviously, this is a difficult issue to stand up for when the stakes are so high.  This anonymously produced video, “Silenced,” details the challenges faced by those who work at abortion clinics.  It was released on May 26th, just five days before Tiller’s death.  Recent events make it painfully timely.

The abortion debate seems to be spiraling out of control, as evidenced by "pro-life" activist Bob Enyart’s recent irresponsible statement in the LA Times: "If a Mafia hit man gets killed, people recognize it’s an occupational hazard."  Additionally, Sotomayor’s nomination raises the stakes in the debate about reproductive justice.  At such a defining moment, and with so many voices are chiming in about reproductive justice, it is important to come out strong and show support for the doctors that provide access to critical health procedures for all Americans.

Reproductive justice is about real choices– not just passing laws, but also training health care providers and ensuring access to crucial reproductive health procedures.  Keeping abortion providers safe, and ensuring that the provision of women’s health remains a viable career is an issue of health and equal access to opportunity for all Americans.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website

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