Every four years, reproductive justice advocates mobilize to support the presidential candidate who we hope will protect and advance our rights. Election after election, we are unable to hold those we elect accountable for promises made, and fail to achieve the gains that we need for women to exercise their full reproductive and human rights.
This year, we must work differently.
We must give up old messages that no longer resonate, move out of our organizational silos and build new alliances. We must develop an aspirational vision that includes all women and the complexities of their choices to continue or end a pregnancy, and stop compromising for the sake of political expediency. This year, too much is at stake.
We again have our work cut out for us. In the last decade there have been unending attacks on reproductive rights. The chipping away of access to abortion that started with the Hyde Amendment has become an all-out jackhammer assault. We need to create a long-term strategy to protect and expand reproductive rights.
Gigantic Steps Backward
Four years ago, optimistically anticipating that a change in the presidency would open the door for a progressive reproductive rights agenda, a coalition of advocates spent months creating an inclusive policy document. It presented a powerful list of priorities that included: promoting unbiased information about reproductive and sexual health; improved access to contraception; securing women’s right to choose and obtain abortion; improving health care for pregnant women; supporting reproductive rights and health in foreign assistance programs; and promoting recognition and protection for reproductive rights as human rights.
Reviewing these goals, created so recently, is sobering. While the Global Gag Rule has been repealed and our Secretary of State speaks at global forums about the importance of reproductive rights, domestically, we have taken gigantic steps backward on reproductive freedom and rights.
Nine states have moved to ban abortion for any reason after 20 weeks (and Arizona has banned abortions after 18 weeks); 119 restrictive state laws, including waiting periods, restrictions on medication abortion and biased counseling passed in states between January 2011 and June 2012, and the Supreme Court has upheld the right of legislators to determine what procedures doctors can use when providing later abortion care.
Amazingly, even the right to contraception is now contested. In the 1970s, there was a U.S. postage stamp celebrating family planning. In contrast, in the last two years, 11 states have moved to defund at least some family planning clinics.
While these egregious assaults on abortion access have primarily occurred at the state level, we have suffered reverses at the federal level, as well.
Abortion care was excluded from the Health Care Reform plan long before it was voted on, and the House of Representatives is dominated by members who would like nothing better than to make abortion illegal again by overturning Roe v. Wade. At every level, the bedrock of women’s reproductive rights is being undermined. The cracks are becoming a crevasse, and too many vulnerable women, particularly young, low-income and rural women, are falling through the gaps, unable to access the reproductive health care that they need. Fifty five percent of U.S. women of reproductive age now live in one of the 26 states considered hostile to abortion rights.
These setbacks are the result of a long-term strategy by those whose goal is to end abortion and limit women’s autonomy.