The Rumor of the Death of the Pro-Choice Movement Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
So, feminists, how does it feel to be a loser?
In essence, those are the words being screamed at us from the cover of the latest issue of Time Magazine, which boldly declares that as we prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the case that legalized abortion in all 50 states, Roe was the high point of the movement. “40 Years Ago, Abortion Rights Activists Won an Epic Victory With Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing ever since,” announces the periodical, informing those of us on the front line of the war for reproductive justice that we should just pack it up and go home.
Game over, y’all.
Well, to paraphrase a (possibly apocryphal) quote from Mark Twain, the death of the pro-choice movement has been greatly exaggerated.
Of course we have had our rough spots as of late. The Guttmacher Institute has just released a new study reporting that 2012 had the second-most abortion restrictions in of any legislative year, topped only by 2011. Unspoken in their report but still evident is the fact that one of the reasons 2012 saw so many less restrictions is because by the time 2011 was finished, there were so few bills left to propose.
Still, does that mean that reproductive rights advocates hit their high point in 1973, and it has been all down hill ever since? Not at all.
Then what has doomed us? Obviously, it doesn’t help to live in a post-Casey world. Thanks to the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened the door to states and allowed them to restrict abortions during the first trimester as long as they don’t create an “undue burden” on the women obtaining them, terminating a pregnancy has grown more difficult, more costly, and often more harrowing.
Yet the article completely disregards the wins that have occurred. Thanks to the FACE Act, women don’t have to worry that their appointment will be canceled because of rabid Bible-thumpers piling in front of the clinic door or super-gluing locks shut. Due to local bills in some states, such as Minnesota, Alaska and California, poor women have the ability to use their insurance to pay for abortions even if they aren’t pregnant as a result of rape or the pregnancy doesn’t threaten their lives. It’s a small victory, but it is still a step up over those who are in states that ban Medicaid coverage under the Hyde Amendment.
Try telling the activists of Idaho who successfully fought off the legislators intent on creating a mandatory ultrasound law in 2012 that they have “been losing ever since”and see if they agree. Or better yet, ask the millions of voters who refused to let Todd Akin or Richard Murdock win a senate seat two months ago if they think they lost.
Like political cycles, public opinion on reproductive issues will also wax and wane, and when that happens, so will the laws that govern them. Just two decades ago, the eulogy of the pro-life movement was being written: abortion had become an acceptable and mostly uncontroversial part of the societal fabric in the mid 90s, the Contract for America had barely begun to make a dent in the political scene, the Values Voters block was still in pre-conception stage, and anti-choice politicians and activists were still in the slow process of recovering from the massive disappointment they experienced when President Ronald Reagan refused to uphold his promise to look at a way to overturn Roe. A federal Human Life Amendment had lost steam in Congress and even worse, a Democrat was back in the White House.
As Jessica Mason Pieklo and I write in our new book, yes, we lost a great deal of ground in 2010. We lost even more in 2011 and the 2012 legislative year didn’t treat us much better. But if we’ve learned nothing else, it’s how quickly a cycle of friendly politicians in key positions can turn around a slate of anti-women legislation. Of course, it will continue to get harder to recover. The 2010 election didn’t just decimate women’s rights in many states, but also allowed those politicians to redraw the boundaries of their districts to further entrench them into their seats.
Still, we have new technology and procedures that can make abortion easier to undergo — such as medication abortion options and telemedicine practices that could vastly expand coverage into rural and underpopulated areas. We also have more access to contraception to prevent pregnancies in the first place, including emergency contraception options that can prevent pregnancy from unprotected sex up to seven days after the event. Most importantly, we have a new, enthused and highly motivated voting public ready to be sure that reproductive rights belong to everyone, regardless of the state they live in or their economic status.
Losing ever since? We are still fighting and we will continue to win larger and more significant victories as we go. After all, this year we have an anniversary to celebrate.
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