A few days ago, January 22nd marked the forty-third anniversary of Roe v Wade, the landmark decision that ruled women had a fundamental right to access safe and secure abortions. 1973 was a historic, groundbreaking year for reproductive rights. Since 1973, we have built thousands of abortion clinics, providing this service free of charge to any woman in need. We have made information about abortion accessible to everyone. Any woman in North America can go to a clinic in her city or town and receive the care she needs. We have funded abortion clinics in developing countries to reduce the abhorrently high number of deaths related to maternal health issues and unsafe abortions. The world has accepted that women can make educated choices about their own bodies, and as a result, women can get an abortion without fear of stigma, shaming, or targeted violence. What a wonderful world!
In reality, we have accomplished some of this. The world is a different place for a woman seeking an abortion than it was forty years ago. But not by much.
In the twenty first century, we still had a Canadian Prime Minister who made maternal health his ‘big goal’ and yet refused to provide funding for abortion clinics in developing countries where unsafe abortion is a significant cause of ill health among women. Estimates for 2012 indicate 6.9 million women were treated for complications from unsafe abortions (Guttmacher Institute, 2015). We still hear American politicians comparing Planned Parenthood to a cocaine dealer. We still see bumper stickers “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” We have a running list from Republican politicians, of how many different ‘kinds of rape’ there are, ranging from “inevitable rape” to “legitimate rape” to “gift from god rape.” We still have grown, educated men declaring that if women can have abortions then men should be allowed to rape, because “at least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t [usually] result in anyone’s death."
In reality, no movement ever holds a beautifully straight, upward trajectory, but the climb to safe, socially accepted abortions in North America has been especially volatile.
Since 1993, at least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics in the United States alone. Numerous clinic volunteers have been killed, simply for helping to make abortions possible. Many doctors, like David Gunn and George Tiller, have been frequent targets of anti-abortion terrorism and eventually killed for performing abortions.
In the last ten years there has been resurgence in the pro-life/anti-abortion movement. The incidents of protestors holding demonstrations have increased across the continent, and picketing in front of abortion clinics has skyrocketed.
Planned Parenthood is in the midst of fighting a war against anti-abortion supporters, including countless acts of targeted terrorism. American Congress passed a bill last September; Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, prohibiting the availability of federal funds for Planned Parenthood (or any of its affiliates or clinics) unless they certify no abortions will be performed. This past year a video, launching a campaign to defame the healthcare center, postulated that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for a profit at the expense of others. Most recently, the organization was subject to four arson attacks in the span of seventy-four days in the United States.
It is undeniable; there is a war on reproductive rights, and it is picking up steam.
Today, American women travel hundreds of miles seeking abortions, often from the only medical centre in their state. When they arrive, some of these women may already be miscarrying after mixing an Internet recommended herbal concoction, or may have dug into themselves with a sharp object to open their cervix.
This is a woman’s reproductive reality in 2015.
Today, getting an abortion involves extreme logistical planning, circuitous journeys, limitless wait periods, and far too much money. Against overwhelming odds, abortion providers fight to stay open and women make great sacrifices to get to them. The "war on women” is what activists are calling it, but if you look at the recent abortion restrictions, the vast majority being so successful, that this war has already been won in too many places.
If North America is the geographical location of this war, Texas is the battleground. Nowhere else is there such rampant rage and violence surrounding the reproductive rights of women today. In 2013, Senate passed a Bill in Texas that shut down more than three-quarters of Texas' 41 abortion clinics, leaving Texas to host only 18 abortion clinics in the entire state. Today, there are parts of Texas where the closest abortion clinic is over 500 miles away; effectively eradicating such an option for women requiring discretion, women living below the poverty line, women in need of child care, and a slew of other factors. The Bill also passed major cuts to the state’s family planning budget, replacing it with a crisis pregnancy center and a pro-life clinic that teaches women about the (scientifically discredited) links between abortion and breast cancer.
And though the epicenter of the debate over abortion has been in Texas, the war extends far beyond the state. The continual successes of anti-abortion extremists have slowly altered the boundaries of what is publicly admissible with respect to reproductive rights. And as we all know, if you alter a boundary and keep the flag there long enough, over time that new boundary becomes the norm. A once radical notion becomes an accepted reality.
And they say feminism is irrelevant.