Alexis McGill Johnson of Planned Parenthood shares how voting can reshape abortion access

In June, when the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, which gave Americans broad access to abortion, many across the country were concerned and even alarmed.

After all, the decision rolled back what many people saw as a lifetime of freedoms, as the court reversed federal protections for abortion and sent back to the states the authority to decide laws governing the procedure. In the states that enacted laws restricting abortion access, certain groups of people, for example those who had been victims of sexual assault or incest, who did not know that they were pregnant or who had planned pregnancies that ultimately became unviable, suddenly found themselves without access to reproductive health care.

“It’s an incredibly terrifying time,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., told In The Know at the MAKERS Conference in Dana Point, Calif., last week, where she was a speaker. “We have had a right to control our bodies for 50 years, and that right was just stripped away by the Supreme Court.”

Thirteen states have banned abortion, and Johnson said she believes that number will increase to 25 in the coming year. Given the many changes in the laws, which vary from state to state, women with fewer resources arguably have even more cause for alarm.

“The impact is that now, people have to travel, on average, 400 miles out of state just to get access to care,” Johnson told In The Know. “That requires travel money. It requires hotel money. It requires child care, because so many people who are seeking access to abortion are already parents. And, it requires the ability to take off time from work.”

“The decision is expected to disproportionately affect minority women who already face limited access to health care,” Yahoo News reported, based on statistics analyzed by the Associated Press.

Taking action

While many opponents of abortion have supported these decisions, Johnson, as the leader of Planned Parenthood, which advocates for reproductive freedom, said the organization is taking action.

“We are litigating in every single state that introduces a ban, and we are working to provide care to people everywhere where we possibly can,” she said.

She’s also encouraging voters to take action.

“Nov. 8 is Election Day,” Johnson emphasized. “Up and down the ballot, abortion is on the line, whether you are voting for an attorney general, a state lawmaker, a governor, a senator, a member of Congress. Each of them has power to decide whether or not you have access to abortion in your own state.”

The urgency comes not only because of the restrictions surrounding abortion specifically but also because of related bills affecting access to contraception and in vitro fertilization as well.

“It was about accessing all freedoms related to our ability to protect our rights to privacy,” Johnson said, referring to the constitutional right to privacy that the Roe v. Wade decision upheld.

While Johnson is vocal about her position as the leader of Planned Parenthood, all of these issues are also personal to her, as a woman and a mother of daughters.

“I was born in 1972. I was born literally five months before Roe v. Wade was codified,” she shared. “I grew up my entire life — 50 years — knowing that I had a right to control my own body. And now that Roe has been overturned, now that I have daughters who are 13 and 10, it’s insane to me that they are going to grow up with fewer rights than I have had, than you have had.”

That’s why Johnson is encouraging people to make their voices heard at the polls.

“It is really essential that we continue to fight for laws that protect our ability to make decisions about if and when we want to become a parent, or when it’s time to complete our family,” she said. “Because your ability to determine what your future is depends on your ability to control your body.”

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