By Lela Johnston, NARAL Pro-Choice NC Intern and NC State University Senior
Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day to not only celebrate the progress women have made but to acknowledge the ever-present work needed for gender equality. This year’s theme is “Make It Happen”.
No one woman’s life or experience is completely shared by another. There are incredible women in every single country of the world that “make it happen” every day—in politics, in business, in the arts, in their communities, in their families. This day is to honor all women. How could I possibly fit all of the social, economic, and political achievements of women into one blog post? Is there really one connection that all women share?
In fact, there is. There is one connection that stretches across geography, experience, and time, linking women in every corner of the world. And without it, gender equality cannot ever really “happen”.
Reproductive rights. The autonomy over our bodies—that is the one connection all women share. All women have the right to bear healthy pregnancies, to use contraception, and to access safe and legal abortion. Protecting the right to choose not only improves the success and upward mobility of a woman’s life: it saves her life.
Laws outlawing abortion only increase maternal death rates. Each year, an estimated 42 million women worldwide obtain abortion services to end unplanned pregnancies; approximately 21 million of them obtain the procedure illegally. Complications due to unsafe abortion account for approximately 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide, nearly 50,000 deaths a year. In under-developed countries, where abortion is often illegal, maternal death rates are much higher than in developed countries with access to abortion .
But threats to reproductive rights are not limited to the “under-developed” parts of the world. In the United States, battles to protect a woman’s right to choose are still fought daily on the state-level. Costly and medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers, from mandatory waiting periods to biased-counseling requirements to limits on public funding, make access to safe and legal abortion a near-impossible challenge. Anti-choice restrictions delay the possibility of safer, early-term abortions and increase the likelihood that women will pursue dangerous, unregulated methods to end their pregnancies.
As I celebrate International Women’s Day, I will celebrate not only the diversity of women and their achievements past and present, but I will appreciate the essential rights that link us all. Gender equality will be a reality only if women’s reproductive freedom is protected in every community around the world. With reproductive justice, we can (and we will) “make it happen”.
 World Health Organization (WHO), Unsafe Abortion: Global and Regional Estimates of the Incidence of Unsafe Abortion and Associated Mortality in 2008, at 1 (2011)
 Guttmacher Institute, Facts on induced Abortion Worldwide (Jan. 2012) at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html#r15a; Rachel Benson Gold, Abortion and Women’s Health: A Turning Point for America?, Guttmacher Institute, New York, at 31 (1990)