Magazine article Dissent

Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Magazine article Dissent

Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Article excerpt

How can the reproductive rights movement start to win again?

"Start" is the operative word. We're getting crushed out there. Since 2010, 283 abortion restrictions have been passed in the United States. Women's access to contraception is under attack, not just from religious employers, now empowered by the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, but also in some state legislatures. Abstinence-only sex education continues to receive millions in government funding, even though studies show it doesn't work. Women who have stillbirths or miscarriages are being arrested for their conduct during pregnancy. As one repro-rights activist wrote on a listserv recently, it's not even a question of David versus Goliath anymore. It's David versus the Empire State Building.

What to do? In the short term, we need to elect a pro-choice Democratic president and Senate and hope Justices Scalia (age seventy-nine) or Kennedy (also seventy-nine)-with luck, both-retire. (It would be nice if Justice Thomas decided to kick back and relax too, but he is only sixtyseven.) A solid pro-choice majority on the Supreme Court, plus strong support in the White House and Senate, won't solve all our problems, but will buy pro-choicers some time for broader activism and persuasion. If the next president is a Republican, game over.

We also need to put more energy and resources into winning elections at the state and local levels, because that's where most legislation against reproductive rights is enacted and that's where women seeking abortions face violence, harassment, and ostracism. Right now, Republicans control sixty-eight out of ninety-nine state chambers, and thirty-one out of fifty governorships. They have total control of twenty-four states. How to change that is, to quote President Obama, above my pay grade. Pro-choicers took back Virginia after the mandatory transvaginal ultrasound scandal blew up in 2012, but the reelection of anti-choice governors Sam Brownback, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie shows that even Republicans who mess up their states' economies and have unpopular positions on things people care about, like public-school funding, can win at the polls. At some point, Democrats and progressives will have to deal with the fact that a lot of our voters only cast a ballot in presidential election years. If we can't change that, we'll eventually be powerless, even if no Republican ever wins the White House again.

In the long term, we need to change the discourse and the thinking around reproductive rights. The majority of Americans say they support Roe v. Wade, but that doesn't mean they necessarily oppose abortion restrictions that flagrantly violate it, as we've seen with the passive acceptance of twenty-week bans, seventy-two-hour waiting periods, restrictions on insurance coverage, and laws like the ones in Texas that claim to protect women's health but are actually intended to shut clinics down. Most anti-abortion legislation happens in legislatures. When they are given the chance to cast a ballot and have to think hard about the pros and cons, voters often reject anti-abortion measures. That happened in 2013 in Albuquerque, where energetic grassroots organizing persuaded voters to reject a twenty-week ban that would have closed one of a handful of clinics that perform abortions after twenty-four weeks. But direct balloting on reproductive rights issues is rare. And sadly, the same voters who reject an antiabortion ballot measure too often reelect anti-abortion legislators. …

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