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From Pills to Facebook to the Presidency… Claiming Our Movement & Our Victories

January 8, 2013

I’m famously long-winded … if you’re looking to get involved please join us on January 14 in Albany or save the date of January 23 (Long Island) and January 24 (Westchester, details TBA) for our Roe events.

I haven’t paid to read Time Magazine’s cover story, yet.  It apparently announces the death of what I like to think of as “our movement”.   I did view the free two-minute version available at the website.  Several things strike me as short-sighted or completely inaccurate.

The video’s narrative could lead the uninformed to believe that abortion was invented in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v Wade, effectively legalizing abortion.  This is a popular myth amongst those who want abortion to be illegal – the idea that if it’s illegal, it doesn’t happen, which has been proven false again and again.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Abortion has existed in some form or another – mostly dangerous – since our earliest historical recordsToday, in the U.S., 1 in 3 women has an abortion at some point in their lives.  Today, there are no women in the U.S. of reproductive age (15-44) who were of reproductive age prior to Roe. (Perhaps what bothers me most about the narrator’s comments about generational shifts is simply that the only time I hear about generational tensions, it’s within this movement – as though the 20 year olds and the 50 year olds get along just great in labor, or banking.)

The truth is that prior to 1973, many women had abortions, and many women suffered and died because they were unsafe.  And, the people fighting to make abortion safe and legal were a minority.  It’s not like every woman of childbearing age took to the streets, as pop culture’s selective memory might have you think.  But the movement, such as it was at the time with its own tensions, did include unlikely allies – in 1967 a group of clergy were published in the New York Times announcing their ability to refer women to safe abortion providers.  Today we have the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, embracing denominations as diverse as Buddhism to Protestantism to Islam.  Not to mention Catholics for Choice.  And perhaps my favorite (I’m a nerd) – The Guttmacher Institute – check out their new Roe at 40 infographics!

Since 1973:

  • Maternal mortality plummeted.
  • More women have graduated from college and joined the workforce.
  • Medication abortion is widely available – harkening back to the days of midwives and herbal remedies for “blocked menstruation.”
  • Telemedicine is revolutionizing women’s access to abortion & other health care in rural areas.
  • The pro-choice and pro-life movements were created and then died.

Ok, that’s dramatic.  But seriously: maybe the rumors of the death of the pro-choice movement have not been exaggerated.  As much as I adore this article by Robin Marty, claiming our many (and recent) victories, I think we need to stop putting labels on ourselves and on people who support a woman’s right to make her own personal decisions about child bearing.

Labels don’t work.  People hate labels.  Americans, across generational and party and religious lines, understand that the issue of abortion is just not that simple (see polls here, here, here, here, and here).  Abortion is deeply personal, often complex, and not something that can be plunked easily into a “pro” or “anti” box.  The number of Americans who support access to safe and legal abortion is consistently higher than those who feel the label “pro-choice” fits them.  I can’t count the number of times that, in my six years of paid work in this field, I have met someone who says, “I’m not pro-choice, but I couldn’t make that decision for someone else.”  Or, “I’m pro-life, but I don’t think it should always be illegal, I don’t want the government involved.”  Or express some version of those sentiments.

Ultimately, decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child must be left to a woman – with the counsel of those she trusts, whether that be her family, her faith, her partner, or her friend – and the counsel of her doctor or health care provider.

So, take action to claim your part in supporting a woman’s right to make her own informed decisions when it comes to her own pregnancy.  You can join Planned Parenthood in Albany, NY, this Monday, to help keep abortion safe and legal here – register before the end of the day on Wednesday, Jan 9.  If you’re looking to learn more or can’t make a full-day trip, come to our annual celebration of the decision in the Roe case. Jessica Arons, of the Center for American Progress, will talk about Securing the Promise of Roe   in Long Island on January 23 and Westchester on January 24 (the full details for the Westchester event are coming soon – keep an eye out at for details).

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