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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Photo credit: wikimedia commons


Cathy C.
Cathy C6 years ago

wE ARE JUST EXPERIENCING THE LAST DYING GASP OF RIGHT WING, CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS expressing themselves politically. They are hopping mad that it's a democrat in the white house. They want their power back, so they focus on abortion. They want abortion resctricted at all cost, even eliminated.

Julimar C.
Julimar C6 years ago

Sandra, I agree with you, almost 100%. I only slightly disagree with your last comment because I do believe in responsibility too, but it gives the impression that it's suggesting that being irresponsible is the main reason women will go get an abortion. I think it's sad when people like Jaime imply something like this; how can we just judge and assume that every woman who tries to get an abortion was someone who just "should've kept her legs closed"? If you don't share that point of view, I apologize, I'm just stating the impression that last comment gives me. I'm aware that other people might interpret it differently.

pam w.
pam w6 years ago

"To each (HER) own!"

That's why it's called CHOICE.

Jaime J.
Jaime J6 years ago

Stephen, you have no need to apologize; I appreciate your honesty most because of the ownership of responsibility. That is one of the issues in this whole debate that always angers me. People choose to have sex and then when pregnancy occurs, they want a way out of the "mess" that they have created. And worse, now they want someone else to pay for it!

I know what it is like to carry a child, and when he was born, it was the most miraculous event in my life. Even from day one when I knew I was pregnant, I never once saw him as anything more than a new life. At six weeks I heard his heartbeat, at my first ultrasound at eight weeks I saw him turning and twirling with his developing toes and fingers; at fifteen weeks we found out he was a "he"; the more he grew, the more I grew, the more I could feel him! It was truly an amazing experiencing. So, no, I could never see how a women could say "no" to that life.

To each his own...if women want to make the decision to have an abortion, they will have to live with the emotional consequences of that decision. Though, I don't agree with it, I also don't agree that the government should always dictate what we can and cannot do. So, I will support you and your "rights", but don't get in my way of mine (The Bill of Rights).

Ro H.
Ro H6 years ago


rene davis
irene davis6 years ago

Thank you!

Robert Cruder
Robert Cruder6 years ago

Consider a reproductive drawing in which a woman may not have an abortion if she draws a black card but who is required to have one if she draws a white card. Most people sense that this is wrong. No human should be forced by law to make such a personal and irreversible decision EITHER way.

Many people ARE willing to force the black card into the hands of SOME women but must invent a personal failing that justifies denying those women the same rights as everyone else. That is what led to the fanciful discussion of “legitimate rape”.

On the continuum between the black card and the white card, the pro-choice side has already moved half-way from the mandatory abortions and sterilizations that exist in China. Unfortunately the anti-choice side is unable to recognize and reciprocate on that courtesy.

Immobility is not a sign of strength (since the dead are most certainly immobile) and must be a sign of weakness.

janice b.
jan b6 years ago

They WISH we would give up.....our rights to our own body.

catherine Mearns
catherine Mearns6 years ago

Its the woman's choice and as for saving the fetus, who saves the children of wars who's numbers count in the millions, people object to paying for abortions but don't mind paying taxes for war, yes pay money for bombs to be dropped on innocent children, but then again why should it bother anyone aslong as it is not in their backyard. A woman has a choice in abortion, she has no choice when it comes to wars and lets face it war is war.

pam w.
pam w6 years ago

Sandra...I sent you a big, gorgeous green star for this statement "Parenthood is a privilege, NOT a punishment!"

Beautifully said! Enforcing a pregnancy doesn't just punish the also punishes everyone else who depends on her....including the unwanted child!