We All Deserve the Freedom to Control Our Bodies

For 400+ years, we’ve been playing by their rules. (You know—the ones cisgender white men made.) Not any more. Women are the majority of voters in this country and together we have the power. It’s time for a new set of rules that values all of us—our bodies, our lives and our work. The Majority Rules project—an artful essay and op-ed series from Ms. and Supermajority Education Fund—marks an essential step toward achieving gender equality.

Rule 2: Our bodies are respected.

January marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that recognized the right to an abortion “without excessive government restriction.” For 49 years, Jan. 22 served as a reminder of this hard-won freedom and the constitutional authority that protected one of the most personal decisions a person can make.

But this year, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landscape of reproductive freedom in this country looks markedly different.

Reproductive freedom is under attack like never before. Immediately after the Supreme Court decision this past June, previously passed “trigger laws” ensured that abortion was immediately banned in more than a dozen states. Additional states have implemented severe restrictions on abortion, and in some cases, criminalized abortion to such an extreme that doctors are legally restricted from performing life-saving care on pregnant women and people—forcing doctors to choose between saving lives or going to prison.

Because of these new legal complications, women and all people who need abortions have been forced to continue dangerous pregnancies that threaten both their physical and mental health—a reality that can only be described as traumatizing and barbaric. 

As is true of many policy outcomes in this country, anti-abortion laws disproportionately affect women of color and women who earn low incomes, who now face even greater geographic, systemic, and financial barriers to accessing abortion care. 

On top of restricting abortion access, we’ve also seen calls to criminalize birth control, even though people in the country agree that birth control is an essential part of healthcare.

Attacks on the freedom to make decisions for our own bodies have not been limited to abortion and contraceptives; these attacks also extend to the transgender community. Over the past few years, more and more state legislators have introduced bills that are explicitly designed to create barriers for transgender people seeking gender-affirming care. 

Attacks on reproductive freedom and anti-trans legislation go hand in hand, as they are both about controlling which bodies are respected and who gets to make choices about their own lives. Decisions about our bodies, including abortion and gender transition, are deeply personal choices that should be made solely by the person seeking healthcare—free from political interference. 

Despite the continued attacks on the right to control our bodies, I remain hopeful about the path ahead. We’ve seen a huge movement for abortion freedom, and the groundswell of support has been nothing short of inspiring—from everyday people dedicating their own time and resources to help those most in need of abortions, to the medical providers who continue to treat patients with kindness and care despite facing threats and attacks, to the organizers who continue to lead reproductive freedom protests and rallies in communities big and small, demonstrating the diversity and power of the pro-abortion movement. 

I’ve been equally inspired by the outcome of state ballot initiatives designed to protect reproductive freedom, beginning with Kansas this past August, when voters showed up in record numbers to protect abortion access. It didn’t end there. This past November, voters in five states—California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont—overwhelmingly took action to protect abortion access through ballot initiatives. And across the country, the loss of abortion rights motivated voters, particularly young women, to turn out in record numbers. 

When women and transgender people are free to control our own healthcare decisions, we’ll know that our bodies are truly respected. But this fight is about so much more. We want to ensure that all bodies are respected—and that includes, but extends past, abortion and gender-affirming care.

Respect for all bodies means that everyone, regardless of their job status, immigration status, the amount of money in their bank account or any other factor, deserves access to affordable and accessible healthcare. It means that the health concerns of women and people of color are listened to and addressed by medical providers. And it means that we must swiftly address the devastating Black maternal health crisis in our country. 

The road ahead might feel long, but the power and strength of our movement gives me incredible hope. By working together, I know we can achieve the respect and freedom that we all deserve.

Restricting or criminalizing abortion does not eliminate abortion. These laws simply put lives at risk. … But people are fighting back.

Cecile Richards

Explore The Majority Rules series, a collaboration between Ms. and Supermajority:

  1. Our lives are safe. (feat. Mariska Hargitay and Alicia Garza)
  2. Our bodies are respected. (feat. Cecile Richards)
  3. Our work is valued. (feat. Reshma Saujani and Ai-jen Poo)
  4. Our families are supported. (feat. Stephanie Beatriz and Amanda Brown Lierman)
  5. Our government represents us. (feat. Alicia Garza and Katherine Grainger)


Cecile Richards is a co-founder of Supermajority Education Fund and a national leader for women’s rights and social and economic justice. As president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund for 12 years, Richards worked to increase affordable access to reproductive health care and to build a healthier and safer world for women and young people.