Roe v. Wade- What it means today

Speak Out California asked Incoming Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, Assemblymember Patty Berg, to share with us her thoughts on the significance of Roe v. Wade. Assemblymember Berg represents the first Assembly District. She is a long-time advocate for women’s health and the author of last session’s Compassionate Choice measure that would allow dying individuals to do so with respect and control over this most personal choice. She takes the gavel for her one year term from the current Chair,Senator Christine Kehoe at the end of this month.

As we contemplate the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it is worth
remembering that this landmark ruling is about so much more than
reproductive freedom. In a way, the mechanics of reproduction are the
least important part of what the ruling represents. The crucial thing to
remember, the thing worth celebrating, is the principle articulated in Roe is
that women do not need to seek permission or approval to exercise control
and freedom over their own bodies, and, thus, take control over their own
For young women today, it may be hard to imagine why we needed a court
ruling to make this clear. And, really, in a way it is wonderful that
they may not instinctively understand the full import of this change. It is
wonderful because it means young women are growing up in a freer
and better nation than the one inhabited by their mothers and grandmothers.
I believe it is unfortunate and misguided when opponents talk about Roe v.
Wade as a pro-abortion ruling. They completely miss the reality that the
ruling represents a pro-woman ruling. And perhaps it’s time that we
move beyond even that somewhat limited construct to appreciate Roe as a
pro-individual ruling. Clearly Roe stands for the proposition that certain
rights cannot be curtailed by the state.
As we are celebrating the universal truths inherent in this ruling, we
still have to protect the very specific details of it. We must always
resist any efforts that would turn back the clock and force women
to again take desperate measures when facing an unwanted pregnancy.
Thousands of women died during the era of illegal abortions and we cannot let
this become the reality of our country’s policies ever again.
I, like many of you, will always defend Roe v. Wade
both for the specific rights it expresses, and the universal
rights of freedom and privacy on which it is based.
We must always ensure that women can make their personal choice and that
they have the resources needed to make that decision. At the same time,
we need sensible policies in place for women to protect against unwanted
pregnancy including increasing the availability
of contraception in our nation and the world. We must fully
fund family planning services and provide them for all women.
Young women, in particular, should also be educated about their bodies.
I helped develop a K-12 curriculum in Humboldt County to do this very
thing. Empowering young women to make the right choices is the most
powerful tool we can give them. And the most powerful message for women
and men should always be that every child be a wanted and planned for
And that is the lasting effect of Roe v. Wade: empowerment of the
individual. And for that, I am so grateful to Roe v. Wade.
Assemblywoman Patty Berg
Incoming Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus