The past few weeks have been rough ones for supporters of abortion rights and women’s reproductive health care. Every week a new deceptively edited video making false claims about Planned Parenthood has been released, and anti-choice politicians eagerly snap them up to feed their grandstanding. Seeing women’s rights under attack is hardly new in an era where politicians are trying to ban abortion after 6 weeks and nearly every clinic in Texas is shutting down, but this coordinated, slimy attack has been demoralizing. In the swirl of sensationalism and political opportunism, women lose, especially low-income women with little access to health care.
It’s another sign it’s well past time to take heed of Katha Pollitt’s rallying cry, calling for the pro-choice movement to get out of its “defensive crouch”:
We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.
The second reason we’re stuck in a defensive mode is that too many pro-choice people are way too quiet. According to the Guttmacher Institute,nearly one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause. I suspect most of those women had someone who helped them, too — a husband or boyfriend, a friend, a parent. Where are those people? The couple who decided two kids were enough, the grad student who didn’t want to be tied for life to an ex-boyfriend, the woman barely getting by on a fast-food job? Why don’t we hear more from them?
Given the cultural stigma around abortion, it’s understandable that many women aren’t eager to speak out. But there is power in numbers, and we have them–one in three American women will have an abortion in her lifetime. As Pollitt says, “the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves — that one in three — look on as if the struggle has nothing to do with them.” As she points out, there are plenty of other people affected by this struggle, notably the men who also benefited from not being forced into fatherhood.
Read the whole piece, and also check out Pollitt’s book-length manifesto Pro, in which she makes a compelling case for reclaiming abortion rights. It’s abundantly clear that the opponents of reproductive freedom and women’s autonomy will stop at nothing to advance their cause, from blatant lies to horrific violence. If we want to win, we have to be aggressive and unashamed to demand these basic human rights.