Milestone for Women’s rights

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we realize that labels no longer fit

Volume 113, No. 3March, 2013

Joan Malin

A mom and her child participate in a Planned Parenthood rally in NYC in February 2011. The sign reads: “Making abortion illegal does not stop abortion. It only prevents women from having safe abortions, and can cost them their life. Pro choice is pro life!”

In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the nation’s first family planning clinic in Brooklyn, and women lined up for birth control information. Within nine days, Sanger was jailed for her advocacy, but a movement for women’s health was born.

Today, Planned Parenthood of New York City carries on Sanger’s commitment to helping women access reproductive health care – birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, HIV testing and counseling, abortion and sex education. In 2011, nearly 50,000 New Yorkers visited our four health centers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Twenty-nine percent of our patients are Latinos and Latinas. Our patients are college age and middle aged, married and single. They represent nearly every nationality and cultural background.

In New York, where thousands of musicians, artists and performers can find incredible opportunities but not always access to affordable, quality health care, our centers are as important as ever. We know that thousands of New Yorkers depend on Planned Parenthood of New York City to offer care, no matter what.

We also know that New Yorkers depend on us to make sure they can continue to access the important services we provide. Even here, in the great melting pot of New York City, the one thing our patients and supporters appear to have in common is a fundamental understanding that reproductive health care – specifically abortion – is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a woman to consider if and when she needs it. Ultimately, decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her health care provider.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, what we hear every day in our health centers is reflected nationwide. Outdated “pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels just don’t fit the way most of us think and talk about abortion.

The diversity that makes New York so unique is helping to drive this shift in conversation. Research from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health found that nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of registered Latino voters support a woman’s ability to make personal, private decisions about abortion and seven in ten would support a close friend or family member who needed an abortion. A new poll released recently by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that African-Americans and Latinos/Latinas increasingly oppose overturning the Supreme Court decision.

The need for safe and legal abortion remains urgent. Opponents of women’s health have made it increasingly harder for women to access it. Here in New York, opponents are working to block common-sense legislation that would make it easier for a woman to access important medical care when she needs it.

In contrast, New York’s Governor Cuomo committed to advancing reproductive health care policy as part of the Women’s Equality Agenda proposed in his recent State of the State address. The bill, which includes protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination, simply guarantees a woman’s right to make her own private and personal health care decisions. Troubling gaps exist in current New York State law that make it a potential crime to provide an abortion to protect a woman’s health, potentially compounding a tragic situation where a woman must choose between protecting her health or continuing with a very wanted but risky pregnancy. If passed, New York will once again position itself as a national leader for women’s rights and equality.

Locally, New York City Council members have introduced a resolution to champion funding for comprehensive reproductive health care. Both the New York City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are committed to assuring women’s equality and access to reproductive health care.

A lot has changed in the years since Sanger first began helping women learn about birth control in Brooklyn and the forty years since abortion was legalized nationwide. But one fundamental truth holds: all people deserve high-quality, affordable health care and the respect to make personal, complex health care decisions free from political interference.

Let’s use this anniversary to move beyond the labels and put our beliefs into action. Join me in calling on lawmakers to advance women’s health in New York and around the country.

The opinions of guest commentaries in Allegro do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, members or officers of Local 802. To submit a guest commentary or a letter to the editor, send an e-mail to

Joan Malin is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. This commentary was published in the March 2013 issue of Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians’ union (AFM Local 802). For more information see The opinions of guest commentaries in Allegro do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, members or officers of Local 802. To submit a guest commentary or a letter to the editor, send an e-mail to