On Abortion, the People Keep Speaking. Is Anyone Listening?

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Commentary Abortion

On Abortion, the People Keep Speaking. Is Anyone Listening?

Jodi Jacobson

The defeat of the 20-week abortion ban in Albuquerque underscores a critical but often overlooked point in abortion politics: When given the chance, voters have consistently rejected the anti-choice agenda.

Editor’s note: This article was amended at 12:14 pm on Wednesday, November 20th, to clarify that of the two practices offering abortions post 20-weeks gestation in Albuquerque, only one of those provides abortions up to 27 weeks.

On Tuesday, in a tremendous upset victory, voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, defeated a proposed 20-week abortion ban by roughly 55 percent to 45 percent. Arguments for the ban were largely based on the medically disproven claim that fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks’ gestation. In public statements, however, proponents of the ban, such as the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List revealed a far darker agenda, one of forcing women to continue a pregnancy and bear a child under virtually any circumstance, even when a fetus is found to have abnormalities incompatible with life.

The original ballot measure was initiated by anti-choice missionaries Tara and Bud Shaver, who after receiving training from Operation Rescue moved to Albuquerque in 2010 with the goal of jump-starting the process of a ballot initiative. Operation Rescue, known for anti-choice terrorist tactics and affiliated with Scott Roeder, the murderer of Dr. George Tiller, targeted Albuquerque in large part because it is home to two providers abortions post 20-weeks gestation and one of a handful of clinics left in the United States that still perform abortions after 24 weeks. By outlawing abortions after 20 weeks, despite almost certain court challenges, anti-choicers hoped not only to close two clinics essential to women urgently in need of health care, but also to spark similar initiatives across the country.

The defeat of the 20-week abortion ban in Albuquerque underscores a critical but often overlooked point in abortion politics: When given the chance, voters have consistently rejected the anti-choice agenda. In South Dakota, voters have twice overwhelmingly defeated anti-choice ballot initiatives promoting abortion bans. And in Colorado, voters have twice dismissed so-called personhood laws that would have banned abortions and most forms of birth control. Another personhood ballot initiative was defeated in Mississippi by a margin of 57 to 43 percent.

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Consistent rejection by actual voters of attempts to give the state control over women’s bodies tells us three things. One, polls that attempt to divide people into neat boxes such as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” or to measure support for hypothetical restrictions on abortion in generic terms do not reflect how people really feel about safe abortion care. In fact, when asked specifically about who should make decisions on how and when to bear children and under what circumstances to terminate a pregnancy, voters make clear they do not want to interfere in the deeply personal decisions they believe belong between a woman, her partner and family, and her medical advisers, even in cases of later abortion. In short, voters do not want legislators playing god or doctor.

Two, in many states, such as Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas, it is clear that legislators and in some cases prosecutors are acting against the will of the voters by enacting or implementing abortion restrictions that were either not supported in polling or outright rejected at the ballot box. According to polling by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner, for example, a majority of Texans opposed the omnibus abortion bill for which Gov. Rick Perry called two special sessions; in fact, 80 percent of those polled opposed Perry’s decision to call the special session this summer to vote on abortion restrictions in the first place. The Texas GOP/Tea Party has now gone so far as to try to quash opposition by women to these laws by undermining the rights of women to vote at all.

Finally, polls themselves have been corrupted by the dangerous misinformation campaigns led by the anti-choice community. Inundated with outright lies and misinformation, the “average” person might assume it is “reasonable” to force doctors providing abortions to gain admitting privileges at local hospitals or to require that providers of early abortion care turn clinics into ambulatory surgical centers. But virtually none of the targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws are based on valid medical or scientific evidence, and none have anything to do with the health or well-being of women. Claiming that people support these laws as “reasonable” is the same as claiming that people “supported” the war in Iraq, which was based on widely trumpeted and ideologically-based claims of weapons of mass destruction that never materialized, but the imagined existence of which was sold to the public by a media machine uninterested in separating fact from fiction or analyzing claims made by the right-wing radicals of any stripe. In other words, polling people about made-up problems with abortion care when the media can’t get the facts straight—or when journalists don’t think getting facts straight is the media’s job—in itself perpetuates a form of medical malpractice built on ideology and rejected by voters once they understand the real purpose and consequences of these laws.