Why I Fight to Keep Abortion Safe and Legal

Posted on April 29, 2012

The Root, April 29, 2012 by Tamara Tunie

Your Take: Mississippi’s new law blocking access is one reason, says Law & Order: SVU actress.

I have a good friend who comes to mind a lot lately, now that it seems barely 24 hours can pass without the news reporting on some new bill or state law aimed at eliminating women’s access to safe, legal abortion.

Years ago, I went to a Planned Parenthood health center with this friend, who had to end her pregnancy due to health problems that could have killed her. She had cysts that caused very heavy bleeding and made the pregnancy far too risky to carry to term. Planned Parenthood was the only option for her to get the medical care she needed to save her life.

The prospect of my friend dying was beyond frightening. She was a young, vital woman with a passion for life and so much left to accomplish. Fortunately, she also had a provider to turn to for this medical care. I don’t know what she would have done if that option had not been available to her.

Because I know what my friend went through, I find it terrifying when I see politicians like Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant working to cut off women’s access to abortion by shutting down the health centers that safely provide them to women.

Recently, Bryant signed a bill into law that was specifically designed to shut down the state’s only abortion provider. The law goes into effect July 1, and includes requirements that medical experts say will do nothing to improve patient safety, but will likely eliminate Mississippi women’s access to safe abortion.

Lawmakers in Alabama are considering similar legislation, and across the country in states like Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin, legislators are doing all they can to prevent or interfere with a woman’s ability to make her own health care decisions in consultation with her family, her doctor and her faith.

Abortion is a deeply personal and complex decision that should be left up to a woman and her family, not politicians. I am frightened — and, frankly, angered — by politicians meddling in these personal decisions, because I’ve seen firsthand how important it is that women have access to safe and legal abortion. What’s more, some politicians are perfectly willing to sacrifice women’s access to other health services — including lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings, regular gynecological exams, affordable birth control and STD screening and treatment — just to achieve their goals of shutting down health centers that also happen to provide abortion services.

Let’s be clear: When far-right Republican lawmakers talk about shutting the doors of women’s health providers, what they’re really talking about is taking away the only source many low-income women have for receiving a wide range of reproductive health care services.

Black women are particularly vulnerable to being hurt by these attacks since a significant number of us are struggling financially, uninsured and living in states hostile to women’s reproductive health.

Mississippi tops the list of states with the largest percentage of African-American residents, and Alabama and Georgia are among the top 10. What’s more, in 2010, more than 20 percent of African Americans were uninsured, compared to less than 12 percent of whites.

Clearly we have a lot at stake in the fight to maintain access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion. For six years now, I have been lending my voice to this fight. The truth is, we all need to lend our voices and energy to it, because there are some very powerful opponents lending theirs to the effort to end women’s access to affordable reproductive care, including abortion.

Supporting women’s health care is crucial because it may well save the life of your mother, sister, wife, daughter or — as I learned firsthand those many years ago — friend.

Tamara Tunie, an actress, plays Dr. Melanie Warner, the medical examiner on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She has been a member of Planned Parenthood’s Board of Advocates for six years, and most recently she has been helping the organization promote a short documentary, A Vital Service: African-American Stories of Reproductive Health.