How bad is it?
As Elizabeth Nash from the Guttmacher Institute clearly laid out in the Netroots Nation panel on state attacks on reprodutive rights, we are under attack, yes it’s worse than ever, no it’s not getting better. In state legislatures across the country this session, 76 abortion restrictions were adopted in 15 different states. Many states, including Alabama, Lousiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconson, are still moving forward with legislation. Recent restrictions range from banning abortion after 20 weeks on the bogus premise that is when a fetus can feel pain to mandating ultrasounds that women must look at prior to all procedures. These laws do not seek to accomplish anything but to ban abortion when anti-abortion advocates feel they can get away with it. This is just the first step really.
In 11 states there have been attempts to restrict family planning funding, most famously in Indiana where the state has successfully banned funding to Planned Parenthood. Apparently now states are willing to gut funding for contraception, cancer screening, and HIV and other STI testing for low-income men and women as long as it means providers that include terminations as part of their practice are abolished as well. Logically, the largest and most significant provider of sexual and reproductive health care has been the easy (and most consequential) target.
Speakers in both this and the contiguous panel on the war on contraception discussed how all of these restrictions stem from and contribute to a culture that blames women. This isn’t just about abortion and this isn’t just about contraception; this is about sex and politicians (chiefly old, white and male) being uncomfortable with women having it unless they’re engaged in a heterosexual marriage and are doing it to procreate.
This is a battle for women’s ability to attain their own life goals and to decide if they’re able to feed another child. But as Jodi Jacobson, Editor-in-Chief of Rh Reality Check, pointed out, even within progressive movement there’s a tendency to limit these issues to the realm of women’s issues. This about creating familiies. We should all care about this.
Pamela Merrit, another speaker on the first panel, is a founding member of the Trust Black Women Partnership, which was formed in response to the threats posed by the billlboards decrying the ”genocide” of black babies in the womb. She discussed the intention of these billboards – to shame women – with the unspoken backdrop of the history of controlling women’s bodies, particularly women of color. These billboards are part of a larger stragegy on the conservative right to make comprehensive reproductive health care so inaccessible that it doesn’t matter if it’s legal. This war is not contained to legislation but extends into how all of us view and think about these issues. According to Pamela, shame to access is just as bad as a fear to your physical safety. That is what these billboards seek to achieve.
As Representative Erin Murphy of the Minnesota House stated, these pieces of legislation are completely devoid of any concern for women or their families. As a surgical nurse in obstetrics and gynecology, she has experience taking care of many women losing pregnancies. She gets that this is actually about real people. We could use more legislators like her.
The conversation continued into the next panel and both the speakers comments and the questions posed during the session reflected thoughtful consideration of what has brought us here and what we’re up against. One pointed and, as it turned out, prophetic question adressed whether or not the President is really on our side in all of this. All of the panelists – Sarah Audelo, Amanda Marcotte, and Kaili Joy Gray – concurred that this isn’t an assumption we can necessarily make based on the White House’s track record so far this term. This reality was illuminated in the following morning’s conversation with White House Communications Director Dan Pheiffer, as he refused to acknowledge that a war on women is taking place in this country.
While the White House isn’t quite on board, those of us who work on women’s health and rights are perfectly comfortable saying there is a war on women and as a movement we need to gear up. Abortion access is health care. We need to act as if we are under attack and it’s about people’s lives. Which, of course, it is. And if our friends don’t back us up, then they aren’t really our friends, are they?