For the 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade: Change

Today, on the 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we usher in an extraordinary moment of hope and opportunity. For the first time, we have elected an African American president in an election that inspired Americans across the spectrum: young and old, men and women, rich and poor, Democrats and Republicans, and people of all colors and faiths. Many were moved by Barack Obama's call for a new conversation about race, democracy and the aspirations to a greater good for us all. This new conversation holds great promise for reproductive rights.

In the days following President Obama's inauguration, it is tempting to use this Roe anniversary to make demands for policies we want from our new administration: rescinding the global gag rule, restoring affordable birth control at college health centers and reversing the Bush administration's midnight rule allowing a broad range of health care providers to refuse basic reproductive health services.

But we're asking for more than policy change. We want the conversation to change. Political winds may shift regarding one particular policy or another, but access to basic, safe reproductive health care must remain constant in the United States, no matter the administration, and no one should be afraid to talk about it.

Everyone's story is different, and we form our beliefs on reproductive issues for different reasons and from different experiences. Each woman has her own history, her own life circumstances, her own health issues, her own dreams and desires, her own vision of how she can make the world a better place. Many care for children, elderly parents, or other loved ones in need.

I hope this moment brings with it a new sense of openness regarding women's reproductive health care in America. Abortions have been out of back alleys for decades, and the discussion shouldn't have to retreat there.

Through my work, I am privileged to hear the personal stories of many women who have had to make some of the most difficult decisions of their lives. Even if some of us disagree on the issue of abortion, most of us can agree that the life-altering decisions involved are private, personal ones we must be able to make based on our own circumstances, beliefs and values. It is neither my place nor our government's to make such an important life decision for someone else.

We may have different stories, but we hold common hopes "We may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction -- towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren," President Obama said in his March 2008 speech on race in Philadelphia.

While each woman's path is different, I am most struck by what we all have in common. All of us care about living the fullest lives possible and doing our best for the people we love. When we bring children into the world we want them to have the same opportunity to live full lives. And we want to build a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

Abortion and reproductive freedom are important pieces of ensuring this common dream. To create a better future, we each must have the freedom to make profoundly personal decisions about our lives without unwarranted government intrusion. As with all freedoms, there are limits. But a government that respects the integrity of its people both interferes as little as possible in these essentially private decisions and helps ensure that everyone has the information and opportunity to make these decisions responsibly.

We can continue with the politics of abortion we have known for a generation -- unconscionably leveraging fear, exploiting the very difficulty of the decision itself for political gain and preying on women by cultivating a sense of shame surrounding the issue. Or we can learn from the past year and seize this moment of hope.

Let's start a new conversation, one that begins with the understanding that both the decision to have a child and the decision to have an abortion come from a place of profound respect for the value of life and a strong commitment to ensuring a better life for all.

By Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

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