Why There Is No Progressive Agenda Without Abortion Access

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Culture & Conversation Politics

Why There Is No Progressive Agenda Without Abortion Access

Jennifer Driver & Erin Matson

Part of being a true progressive means standing in solidarity with communities of color and firmly rejecting racist efforts to control bodies and lives.

For more on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, check out our special report.

It’s no secret that abortion rights are under attack from all sides in our country.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments a week ago in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that could overturn or gut Roe v. Wade and eliminate the constitutional right to abortion, whole cloth or for all practical purposes. At the same time, anti-abortion state legislators across the country are following Texas’ lead and proposing copycat legislation of that state’s six-week abortion ban and bounty hunter enforcement mechanism, which could eliminate access to abortion for millions more people even sooner.

Amid all these threats, it’s more important than ever to have champions for abortion access in state legislatures. But now we’re witnessing another troubling trend: Some lawmakers and advocacy groups that are pushing harmful legislation to restrict abortion are simultaneously seeking to claim the mantle of progressive values, falsely asserting that politicians can oppose abortion access while still being “progressive” on other issues.

Roe has collapsed and Texas is in chaos.

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This deeply dangerous and misguided worldview is being championed both by individual elected officials and a network of organizations without a significant membership base to support them, such as the self-described “Democrats for Life.” These groups sometimes claim to advocate on a range of progressive priorities like climate change and racial justice, but in reality they spend almost all of their time and resources helping anti-abortion lawmakers develop and advance policies to put reproductive health out of reach for more people.

The so-called “pro-life” position espoused by these fake progressives and their legislative allies fundamentally contradicts true progressive values. The progressive worldview is grounded in a core belief in personal autonomy, whether that means ensuring access to basic health-care needs, guaranteeing the right to vote, or protecting people against discrimination. Abortion access is a racial justice issue, a gender equity issue, and an economic issue; all these concepts are interrelated and cannot be siloed from one another. And no lawmaker can assert themselves as a champion of progressive values while also supporting policies that put the autonomy, health, and lives of their constituents at risk.

Abortion is safe, necessary health care, and our progressive values demand that we support people being able to receive the care they need without unnecessary barriers or stigma. Those who hold progressive views also recognize the importance of facts and expertise. Prominent medical associations like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists support abortion access because they recognize that it is an essential part of comprehensive reproductive health care.

But while abortion is health care, it isn’t just a health-care issue. Restricting access to abortion also has a lasting impact on people’s overall physical, emotional, social, and economic well-being. For example, research shows that denying abortions to patients who want them negatively affects their mental health and makes them more likely to experience economic insecurity and stay with violent partners.

Being anti-abortion isn’t just a political decision. It’s a decision to attack people who can become pregnant. It’s a choice to criminalize our decisions.

Abortion restrictions create additional financial and logistical barriers to accessing basic, necessary reproductive health-care services. These laws often force people seeking abortion to travel long distances to get care, which can require taking time off from work, arranging transportation, and paying for child care. And the impact of these restrictions falls most heavily on those who already disproportionately lack access to health care, including low-income communities, Black and brown people, and LGBTQ individuals. At their core, policies that restrict abortion are racist, xenophobic, and designed to exert power and control over people born into bodies disfavored by the system of white patriarchy. Part of being a true progressive means acting in solidarity with communities of color and firmly rejecting racist efforts to control bodies and lives.

There’s another reason why only lawmakers who support abortion access can claim to uphold progressive values: Progressives believe in democracy, and the overwhelming majority of the people in this country support abortion access. Recent polling shows that 80 percent of Americans support the legal right to abortion. Yet Roe v. Wade hangs on by a thread, and if it is overturned, politicians stand waiting, with bills already drafted, to completely ban and criminalize abortion in every state possible.

There is too much at stake to allow anti-abortion extremists to co-opt progressive values by espousing a dangerous and harmful agenda. We’re in the fight for our lives. Being anti-abortion isn’t just a political decision. It’s a decision to attack people who can become pregnant. It’s a choice to criminalize our decisions. It’s a choice to deprioritize the allies and communities whose support will be essential if we want to advance a true progressive vision at the national level and in states across the country.

Thankfully, there are elected officials in state legislatures who are proactively working to protect and expand access to abortion. In states from Virginia to Hawaii, legislators have enacted policies that expand insurance coverage of abortion care and broaden the types of providers who can offer this care. We need to urge more lawmakers to follow the lead of their colleagues and champion a progressive agenda that guarantees all people can get the health care they need, including abortion care.

We cannot afford to have elected officials cherry-pick which progressive values they support, or to silo abortion apart from the numerous other political, social, and economic issues it connects to. We must push our elected officials to do the right thing for us and the country by unapologetically acting in support of abortion access.