The debate over abortion needs to change. The pro-life movement has painted pro-choice activists as pro-abortion murderers for decades. This isn’t new. What is new is the tactics. In the 1990s, pro-lifers picketed abortion clinics and threatened to assassinate doctors. Now, they’re using the political process to pass legislation that will effectively destroy women’s reproductive rights, one legal restriction at a time. Instead of going directly after Roe v. Wade or for a national ban, pro-life advocates are working at the grassroots, reducing a woman’s right to choose one county and one state at a time. In 2011, a record breaking 92 abortion restrictions were enacted, including mandatory waiting periods, required parental or spousal consent, and forced ultrasounds. Maintaining momentum, 2012 saw 43 across 19 states.
While the 2012 national election showed that women will not stand for politicians throwing around ideas like “legitimate rape,” it’s a different story at the state level. This year, state legislatures have introduced over twenty-five anti-abortion bills, including a bill in Mississippi that would shut down the state’s one remaining clinic. Yet, in a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 7 out of 10 Americans support upholding Roe v. Wade, revealing a disconnect between public opinion and state politics. State laws contradict the increasing cultural shift that supports women’s rights, and it is time for legislation that better reflects public sentiment.
There was outrage when John Koster said “the rape thing” shouldn’t serve as a reason to obtain an abortion, but what we forget is that in 21 states women in that situation must undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion. Following Mississippi’s example, North Dakota is working to pass the same legislation to shut down their last clinic. Twenty-six states require a waiting period before receiving an abortion, and in South Dakota, the seventy-two hour waiting period may no longer include weekends and holidays. If that is not state control over women’s bodies, what is?
By placing restrictions on abortion and reproductive health services at the local level, the well-organized pro-life movement is taking incremental steps that will eviscerate choice once protected under federal law. Once a policy is on the books, it is nearly impossible to overturn. This is how the pro-life movement is winning. They are winning by restricting choice in rural counties one resource deprived woman at a time.
The pro-choice movement is strong at the national level. They have control over any federal threats to reproductive rights. But in the states, the pro-life movement is organized in communities and religious institutions, with a fervor unmatched by proponents of choice. And they are one step ahead.
In a latest assault on reproductive rights, the pro-life movement is looking to telemedicine.
Telemedical procedures are increasingly common particularly in rural areas with limited health care providers. Telemedical abortions allow doctors to consult with patients over video conference and prescribe the abortion pill, an abortion service that does not require invasive surgery. Anti-choice activists have proposed legislation that requires women seeking an abortion to meet with a physician in person, effectively outlawing telemedical abortions and other telemedical reproductive health services. Pro-life politicians declare that these procedures are dangerous and ineffective. On the contrary, research shows they are completely safe, effective, and limit the number of late term abortions.
So how can the pro-choice movement combat this before we lose another battle? Women in rural states benefit most from these services, so that is where the organizing needs to start. Given the small populations in states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, the pro-choice movement needs a coalition of rural states, connecting activists to each other. This coalition should strive for access to telemedical services that cover a broad range of reproductive health issues. Not every woman who seeks reproductive healthcare seeks an abortion. Abortions are only one service. Telemedical procedures can expand access to contraception, cancer screenings, and a variety of other vital services.
The pro-choice movement has to get ahead of the curve on this, because anti-choice activists are already looking to limit access to this technology before it’s broadly utilized. State laws that limit choice are not saving lives, but stripping women of their rights as citizens. We may be winning the War on Women in Washington, but we are losing battle after battle at the state and local level. Since 2011, states have instituted over 135 restrictions on access to abortion. These policies are eroding the foundation of the protections and liberties women thought we had under Roe v. Wade. Protecting access to telemedicine is one step in the right direction. We need stronger grassroots activism in all 50 states, because federal law will not protect us. The pro-life movement has evolved, and so must we.