This year’s theme is about politics: why is it important to vote pro-choice? I looked at this question for a while and felt stumped. I vote for candidates who support reproductive health for the same reason that I vote for any issue: because I believe in it. That’s clear enough. But more specifically, we need to vote pro-choice because simply being pro-choice is not enough.
Those of us who have been paying attention know perfectly well that Roe is under attack. And 2007 was a particularly interesting year. The Roberts-led Supreme Court upheld the “partial-birth abortion” ban that has no exception for a woman’s health, despite its direct conflict with Roe. States have been tripping over themselves to pass “trigger laws” that would outlaw abortion immediately if Roe was overturned. State legislators have also been proposing an endless amount of misogynist bills that would restrict the right to an abortion: all out bans, “informed consent” laws that lie to women, laws requiring forced, medically unnecessary renovations to abortion clinics, laws requiring that women get permission from their fetus’ fathers before having an abortion, and laws granting legal rights to fetuses, or even to fertilized eggs.
Not all of the legislation, thank god, has been passed. Too much of it has. And some we’re still waiting on.
We’ve also faced attempts to shut down clinics, direct harassment doctors who perform abortions and outrageous abuse of the legal system. All of these attacks were politically motivated. And our elected officials were either a part of the problem or part of the solution.
We’ve also got the long-standing battles. There’s the Hyde Amendment, which basically rendered the Roe decision irrelevant for millions of low-income women. Internationally, we’ve got the Global Gag Rule to contend with. And though Congress has recently tried to repeal all or parts of this unjust law that has killed innumerable women overseas, it was a fruitless endeavor. Because we have an anti-choice president.
And it goes beyond abortion. Roe, ultimately, was about more than abortion. Though the specific ruling only handled that one issue, it shifted public consciousness and established other reproductive rights by default. With abortion came the realization that women can choose when and if to become pregnant. Together, with the newfound right of women to not be mothers at all, education and career opportunities were increased. It stopped being acceptable for pregnant teens to be kidnapped by their parents, taken to live in a Catholic-run prison/home and then have their babies snatched from their arms. With the right to choose the number and spacing of children came the implicit right to have children when one chooses. At least, for some women.
In celebrating Roe and “choice,” we also have to acknowledge its limitations. And that includes the poor women, primarily women of color, who still regularly have their right to raise their children taken away, for whom abortion is not a “choice” but a financial necessity, and whose fertility is regularly condemned as responsible for a whole slew of social problems. Just like we need to demand that anti-choice Republican candidates explain their stances on contraception, we need to demand that pro-choice Democrats declare their intentions to help women raise the children they have and to stop supporting health, welfare, immigration, war and economic policies that negatively impact and devalue poor mothers and mothers of color.
We’re living in frightening times for reproductive health, when we can’t even get Congress to clean up their messes and close a loophole that has caused contraception prices to skyrocket at college and community health clinics (though one of our presidential candidates, Barack Obama, has been among those who have fought hardest). We’re living in a time when the Democrats can take back Congress, but only by running a bunch of anti-choice candidates, and when Democrats who are pro-choice are terrified to say so. We’re living in a time when Rudy Giuliani — Mr. “I would nominate strict-constructionist (anti-Roe) judges” — is considered pro-choice and when such pathetic “support” for women’s rights and health has probably been instrumental in sinking his campaign. A time when basic expressions of support for comprehensive and honest sex education is used against candidates in ways that implicitly accuse them of perversion and pedophilia.
We need to make abortion a winning issue for more than just Republicans. We need to make women’s health more than a “special interest” cause, and to make social programs that help mothers perceived as something other than unsellable socialist insanity. We need to stop talking about women who have abortions and women who have children as two separate groups when they’re mostly the same damn women. We also need to stop talking about abortion rights and “morals” as though you can only choose one. Essentially, we need to stop letting the antis run the political conversation.
And we can’t do any of that unless we can at least talk about reproductive health issues openly. In a country where rights have been stripped away (or just never granted) by misogynist and racist legislators, electing pro-choice officials is one of the best and most productive things we can do. We need a pro-choice president because even if the Dems pick up seats in Congress this year, we are still unlikely to have a veto-proof majority. We need a pro-choice Congress because the president can’t sign anything that doesn’t make it to his or her desk. All of the Democrats still in the presidential race have promised to repeal the Global Gag Rule as one of their first orders of business. They’ve also promised to support comprehensive sex ed and to refuse to sign any anti-choice legislation. It’s not enough, but it’s a start, and quite frankly it’d be a fucking miracle compared to the last few decades (since most of the good that Clinton might have done given the chance was impossible with a hostile Congress). We need to get them in office, hold them to their promises, thank them and then demand more.
Voting pro-choice is the only way to get more politicians to take a stand, to see reproductive health and reproductive justice as winning issues. It’s up to us to use what small power we have as citizens to make them winning issues.
[Small edits made in the evening for style and clarity.]