Guest columnist Jan Schakowsky: This fight isn't over: if the Senate can't protect women, we need a new Senate

The United States Supreme Court, in a devastating six-to-three decision, has overturned Roe v. Wade, ending half a century of precedent and stripping away the long-established constitutional right to abortion. Americans have now lost the most sacred right, the right to control their own bodies and health care. We have lost the freedom to decide when, where and if we will have a child.

The cruelty doesn't end there. Justice Clarence Thomas said bluntly that the court should also reconsider rules that protect the right to contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.

While states like Illinois have laws protecting abortion rights, millions of Americans in states around the country have already seen those rights taken away. Many more states are expected to enact new laws to do the same. Few if any of these state laws make any exceptions to allow abortions in the case of rape or incest, requiring even young girls to give birth to their rapist's child.

Without Federal protections, all of us suffer, as desperate women, birthing people and their families seek a place to turn for help.

I remember the days before Roe, when women who needed an abortion were pushed to take extreme measures. While women of means were able to travel out of the country for the procedure, the vast majority had to take measures into their own hands with risky and dangerous options. Many women died, leaving behind grieving families and communities.

Let's be clear. Roe v. Wade was not the beginning of women having abortions. It was the end of women dying from abortions. Now, by overturning Roe's protections, the Supreme Court has set off a national health care crisis that will last for generations.

Attacks against Roe v. Wade began almost on its first day but have risen to a fever pitch over the years. Anti-abortion politicians like Sen. Mitch McConnell and former Vice President Mike Pence have made their goal clear: to pack the Supreme Court with extremist justices and ban abortions nationwide, with no exceptions.

Understanding and anticipating the danger ahead, in September 2021, the U.S. House of Representative passed, for the first time in history, legislation that would enshrine the protections of Roe into law. As soon as we finally had a pro-choice majority in the House, Democrats passed the Women's Health Protection Act. The current Senate has, thus far, failed to pass the bill. But this could change after the November election.

There is one fact that the Senate can't hide from: The United States is a pro-choice nation. Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of voters - up to 80% - oppose the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Americans don't want politicians making decisions about their most personal and private matters, including when and if to have a child. As Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a Florida congresswoman and candidate for Senate, said, "When I was deciding about having a family, I did not consult with my governor or senator."

The battle for abortion rights is far from over. There is a tsunami of opposition, and it is growing by the minute. Shortly after the decision was announced, I joined a large group of House members and advocates who marched to the Supreme Court. We were chanting "We trust women, we won't go back."

At the same time, in Chicago, a large group gathered with the governor and mayor. Demonstrations are taking place in cities and communities large and small across the country.

After the decision, President Biden made a passionate speech, vowing to take all possible actions to protect women who seek abortions. He pointed out that never in U.S. history has a fundamental right that affects so many Americans been taken away. Every justice appointed to the Supreme Court, by both Republican and Democratic presidents, has supported and reaffirmed Roe v. Wade. It wasn't until Trump's three appointees took the bench that this right was snatched away.

President Biden ended on a powerful and encouraging note. He said, "This decision must not be the final word. Congress must act. With your vote, you can act. YOU can have the final word."

The answer is as close as the next election in November. I urge everyone who cares about women's health and the fundamental freedom and right to privacy to vote. Vote as if your life depends on it, because in too many cases, it does.

• U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky is a Democrat from Evanston.

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