As I stood in the middle of Boston Common last year, taking part in one of many Women’s March events being held across the globe, I had only one hope: Please let this become more than just a protest.
And it was. We saw after the first Women’s March, the viral #MeToo movement—which Tarana Burke started more than a decade ago—bring sexual assault, misconduct, and discrimination out of the shadows. The movement helped to remove protections that had previously surrounded many powerful men and rightly cost them their careers.
Also following the largest one-day protest in U.S. history, we saw more women and progressives run for office at every level of government, enough to cause the organizers of this year’s Women’s March to launch “Power to the Polls,” a voter registration and mobilization tour to engage diverse communities in the 2018 elections.
The momentum from the Women’s March can’t stop on Election Day. When the progressive movement has the potential to harness the power of millions of people, we should be thinking at least two steps ahead. We need to prepare not only for the 2018 elections, but also for what comes after that. We need to go on offense and drive bold, progressive policy strategies that, in fact, solve the real, big challenges people face.
Policy work, usually reserved for after the elections, must start now—especially in cities and states where progress is possible now. That’s why, today, the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion—lawmakers from 25 states jointly announced they are introducing proactive legislation to protect and expand access to abortion.
Many of the bills being announced would “codify” Roe, meaning they would write the constitutional right to abortion into state statutes. This is important because if Roe is overturned, individual states would decide whether women have access to legal abortion. And, at present, only 17 states protect the fundamental right to abortion in their statutes or constitutions. With polls consistently showing that about 70 percent of people in the United States support Roe v. Wade, this approach is both good policy and good politics.
Today’s announcement is the continuation of a trend where abortion rights policymakers have increasingly introduced and fought for proactive legislation, no longer willing to simply fight against attacks from the other side. In 2017, 133 proactive abortion rights measures were introduced in 33 states and four localities. That’s a 64 percent increase over 2016, when 81 proactive measures were introduced in 25 states. The Public Leadership Institute is working to maintain that upward trajectory by increasing the number to upwards of 200 bills in 2018—putting this policy fight at least on par with our opponents for the first time in history.
Why is this important to do, even in states where conservatives remain in control? Because it’s no longer enough to just defend against the status quo. When you’ve got millions of people who are willing to take to the streets, you need to deploy them to correct what’s wrong and fight for what’s right. This is how you energize and mobilize people.
For 45 years, the anti-abortion movement has been systematically dismantling women’s rights under Roe v. Wade. They’ve been introducing hundreds of pieces of legislation each year to impose waiting periods, bans on specific types of abortion procedures, and many other onerous restrictions to the right to abortion. And it’s worked. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 22 states are now considered “extremely hostile to abortion” because they have so many restrictions on their books.
We don’t have to wait until after the results from the midterm elections. In states and cities across the country, we have the potential now to pass laws to codify the right to abortion, expand access to affordable and convenient abortion care, protect patients from harassment at abortion clinics, stop taxpayer-funded lies from so-called crisis pregnancy centers, and make sure that people are not criminally investigated or prosecuted when a pregnancy ends.
And if there is a political wave and many of these new progressives are elected to office, we will have already teed up a legislative agenda they can see to fruition. What better gift to give them than a set of bold, proactive policies that we’ve already begun organizing for that they can begin to move soon after being sworn in?
So yes, we march. We register new voters. And we fight for policies that excite and energize the millions of Americans who care passionately about women’s rights.