What Do We Do About the Most All-Out Assault on Abortion Rights Since Roe?

The pro-choice movement by and large is still accepting the terrible terms set by the antis and negotiating for smaller and smaller pockets of access to this basic right.

This is a moment for sober reflection. How did we get to this point and what do we do now?

Walk for Choice

HR3, the most extreme anti-abortion federal bill yet, just passed the House of Representatives and moves on to the Senate now. If it becomes law, health insurance that includes abortion coverage would no longer be tax deductible, and the IRS could be required to audit rape victims. 512 state-level bills restricting access have been introduced in the first three months of 2011. Many of these bills directly challenge Roe. For instance, there is the so-called “heartbeat bill” in Ohio, which would ban all abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected – supported by many of the fascists hoping to run for the presidency in 2012, from Michele Bachmann to Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. A fetus supposedly testified for this bill in the Ohio legislature, taking the surreality to another level. Then there is the Louisiana “feticide” bill which decrees 15 years hard labor to punish women and doctors for abortions.

Pro-life, your name’s a lie.

The federal bill which would have defunded Planned Parenthood (which, for the record, is not allowed to use any taxpayer funds for abortion services under current law) was defeated; but now other states are going to copycat Indiana, which just went ahead and defunded Planned Parenthood anyway. This may mean the loss of all federal Medicaid funds for Indiana, as states aren’t really supposed to single out one healthcare provider and refuse to allow Medicaid recipients to receive their services.

While the Tea-Partying Republicans are the main force behind all these efforts, 10 Democrats co-sponsored HR3, and 16 voted for it.  The Iowa Senate Majority leader, a Democrat, is the politician orchestrating the effort to prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart from providing abortion services in his state. There are countless other examples at the state level of Democrats joining these efforts to actively curtail our most fundamental and basic rights to control our own bodies.

How does this compare to the situation in other countries? In Canada, pro-choice activists are afraid that the new conservative government may institute something like the Hyde amendment there (preventing the government from ever funding abortion services, even for Medicaid/Medicare patients, which has been status quo in the US since 1976). This means that, as it stands now, the Canadian healthcare system freely provides women with abortions! In Tunisia, the small majority-Muslim country that set off the “Arab Spring” protests this year, abortion is free. Yet, in the US, the most powerful country on the planet, Christian fundamentalists from the backwoods to the highest levers of power, call upon all those who “love babies” to root out all new and fragile manifestations of a more just society for women, LGBT people and others, even as their beloved military continues to kill real living children, women and men by the thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We need to understand how and why all this is being tolerated so that we can change this dynamic.

This latest and most widespread attack on access to abortion builds on a wave that has been growing for more than 30 years. Anti-abortion fundamentalists have taken the offensive to shame women who insist on controlling their reproduction and their lives, to spread ignorance, and to violently attack doctors and those who defend them. They have attacked the science and the morality of our rights. Only a movement that is unapologetic and uncompromising in its insistence on the right and morality of abortion can stand up to and defeat these attacks.

While interviewing Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, Rachel Maddow pressed the question, “Why isn’t anyone standing up for the right to abortion, rather than just talking about contraceptives and pap smears?” That’s an excellent question to ask Richards. While only 3% of all of Planned Parenthood’s numerous and important services are abortions, the reason they are being targeted has everything to do with the right to abortion (contraception as well, which is inseparably connected for the anti-abortion movement). So where are the advocates in the public sphere, proudly pointing to the ways in which the right to abortion and birth control empowers women and breaks down the barriers to participation in society, advocates who angrily denounce the immorality of forced child-bearing? Where are OUR voices? There are blogs aplenty, making coherent and articulate arguments for reproductive rights, telling moving stories, and persuading people one-by-one to break through the propaganda offensive and see the true nature of the anti-abortion movement.

But the pro-choice movement by and large is still accepting the terrible terms set by the antis and negotiating for smaller and smaller pockets of access to this basic right. This is literally true now. Ninety percent of all US counties don’t have a provider. Whole states are getting ready to outlaw abortion altogether. This retreat stems not just from “big girl organization” fear of the open dialogue inherent in new media online. It’s deeply rooted and long-practiced approaches hinged on political compromise, electoral politics, seeking common ground with outright misogynists, and most of all, the needs of the Democratic Party, not of women.

Amanda Marcotte addressed this on Rewire: “We’re understandably busy trying to fight incursions against the right to abortion, but because of this, we haven’t been doing enough to expand the right and put anti-choicers on defense.”  Yes – and we also need to stop accepting the terms that there’s anything wrong with abortion! What could be more moral, more just, than ensuring people have the right to decide what happens inside their uteruses? It’s high time we seize the lofty language of morality from these oppressive creeps and re-orient all of society in a more just way.

There is good reason to fear the anti-abortion movement, which some call the “American Taliban” and others, “Christian Fascists” (what else can you can people who want the IRS to conduct “rape audits”?). But we can’t let that fear paralyze us, suffocate our voices, or allow acceptance of a truly intolerable state of affairs now.

Politics-as-usual is a dam holding back an ocean of people who care about the humanity of women.

Here we are, approaching the second anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. If ever there was a need for mass, visible resistance in the streets to this whole hateful agenda, it is now.

Organized solely on the internet in a matter of weeks by first-time activists, the first Walk for Choice brought thousands of people in 40+ cities into the streets a few months ago. The walks continue in many cities this May 21. Find one near you asap! Organize one in your area if there isn’t one set up yet.

Walk for Choice
May 21 – Times/locations vary
All locations are listed here.

Particularly important among all the Walks is the action at the Germantown Reproductive Health Services in support of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. He’s on the frontlines, literally now, as Operation Rescue and their Maryland friends have opened up a base to harass him and his patients from right across the street from the clinic.

Support Dr. Carhart
Saturday, May 21 · 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Reproductive Health Services 
13233 Executive Park Terrace,
Germantown, Maryland
Event page on Facebook