What Do We Do About the Most All-Out Assault on Abortion Rights Since Roe?

This is a moment for sober reflection. How did we get to this point and what do we do now?

Walk for Choice

HR3, the most extreme anti-abortion federal bill yet, just passed the House of Representatives and moves on to the Senate now. If it becomes law, health insurance that includes abortion coverage would no longer be tax deductible, and the IRS could be required to audit rape victims. 512 state-level bills restricting access have been introduced in the first three months of 2011. Many of these bills directly challenge Roe. For instance, there is the so-called “heartbeat bill” in Ohio, which would ban all abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected – supported by many of the fascists hoping to run for the presidency in 2012, from Michele Bachmann to Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. A fetus supposedly testified for this bill in the Ohio legislature, taking the surreality to another level. Then there is the Louisiana “feticide” bill which decrees 15 years hard labor to punish women and doctors for abortions.

Pro-life, your name’s a lie.

The federal bill which would have defunded Planned Parenthood (which, for the record, is not allowed to use any taxpayer funds for abortion services under current law) was defeated; but now other states are going to copycat Indiana, which just went ahead and defunded Planned Parenthood anyway. This may mean the loss of all federal Medicaid funds for Indiana, as states aren’t really supposed to single out one healthcare provider and refuse to allow Medicaid recipients to receive their services.

While the Tea-Partying Republicans are the main force behind all these efforts, 10 Democrats co-sponsored HR3, and 16 voted for it.  The Iowa Senate Majority leader, a Democrat, is the politician orchestrating the effort to prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart from providing abortion services in his state. There are countless other examples at the state level of Democrats joining these efforts to actively curtail our most fundamental and basic rights to control our own bodies.

How does this compare to the situation in other countries? In Canada, pro-choice activists are afraid that the new conservative government may institute something like the Hyde amendment there (preventing the government from ever funding abortion services, even for Medicaid/Medicare patients, which has been status quo in the US since 1976). This means that, as it stands now, the Canadian healthcare system freely provides women with abortions! In Tunisia, the small majority-Muslim country that set off the “Arab Spring” protests this year, abortion is free. Yet, in the US, the most powerful country on the planet, Christian fundamentalists from the backwoods to the highest levers of power, call upon all those who “love babies” to root out all new and fragile manifestations of a more just society for women, LGBT people and others, even as their beloved military continues to kill real living children, women and men by the thousands in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We need to understand how and why all this is being tolerated so that we can change this dynamic.

This latest and most widespread attack on access to abortion builds on a wave that has been growing for more than 30 years. Anti-abortion fundamentalists have taken the offensive to shame women who insist on controlling their reproduction and their lives, to spread ignorance, and to violently attack doctors and those who defend them. They have attacked the science and the morality of our rights. Only a movement that is unapologetic and uncompromising in its insistence on the right and morality of abortion can stand up to and defeat these attacks.

While interviewing Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, Rachel Maddow pressed the question, “Why isn’t anyone standing up for the right to abortion, rather than just talking about contraceptives and pap smears?” That’s an excellent question to ask Richards. While only 3% of all of Planned Parenthood’s numerous and important services are abortions, the reason they are being targeted has everything to do with the right to abortion (contraception as well, which is inseparably connected for the anti-abortion movement). So where are the advocates in the public sphere, proudly pointing to the ways in which the right to abortion and birth control empowers women and breaks down the barriers to participation in society, advocates who angrily denounce the immorality of forced child-bearing? Where are OUR voices? There are blogs aplenty, making coherent and articulate arguments for reproductive rights, telling moving stories, and persuading people one-by-one to break through the propaganda offensive and see the true nature of the anti-abortion movement.

But the pro-choice movement by and large is still accepting the terrible terms set by the antis and negotiating for smaller and smaller pockets of access to this basic right. This is literally true now. Ninety percent of all US counties don’t have a provider. Whole states are getting ready to outlaw abortion altogether. This retreat stems not just from “big girl organization” fear of the open dialogue inherent in new media online. It’s deeply rooted and long-practiced approaches hinged on political compromise, electoral politics, seeking common ground with outright misogynists, and most of all, the needs of the Democratic Party, not of women.

Amanda Marcotte addressed this on RH Reality Check: “We’re understandably busy trying to fight incursions against the right to abortion, but because of this, we haven’t been doing enough to expand the right and put anti-choicers on defense.”  Yes – and we also need to stop accepting the terms that there’s anything wrong with abortion! What could be more moral, more just, than ensuring people have the right to decide what happens inside their uteruses? It’s high time we seize the lofty language of morality from these oppressive creeps and re-orient all of society in a more just way.

There is good reason to fear the anti-abortion movement, which some call the “American Taliban” and others, “Christian Fascists” (what else can you can people who want the IRS to conduct “rape audits”?). But we can’t let that fear paralyze us, suffocate our voices, or allow acceptance of a truly intolerable state of affairs now.

Politics-as-usual is a dam holding back an ocean of people who care about the humanity of women.

Here we are, approaching the second anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. If ever there was a need for mass, visible resistance in the streets to this whole hateful agenda, it is now.

Organized solely on the internet in a matter of weeks by first-time activists, the first Walk for Choice brought thousands of people in 40+ cities into the streets a few months ago. The walks continue in many cities this May 21. Find one near you asap! Organize one in your area if there isn’t one set up yet.

Walk for Choice
May 21 – Times/locations vary
All locations are listed here.

Particularly important among all the Walks is the action at the Germantown Reproductive Health Services in support of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. He’s on the frontlines, literally now, as Operation Rescue and their Maryland friends have opened up a base to harass him and his patients from right across the street from the clinic.

Support Dr. Carhart
Saturday, May 21 · 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Reproductive Health Services 
13233 Executive Park Terrace,
Germantown, Maryland
Event page on Facebook 

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  • freetobe

    for quite a while and feel that many women are too passe or afraid to stand up for their rights because of fears of retaliation in some way.   

    I know that many men who are pro-choice keep asking why women are not defending themselves and how can we stand for this attack on our bodily rights? I agree with them how can we?

    If we were more assertive as well as physically strong as men this would not be an issue. I think mysogynist men just know they can take advantage of us because we are physically weaker. It is one of those mind things. threaten me and I will let you have it attitude and it scares women or catches them off-guard.

    Look at the poor women in Africa. no-one is sticking up for them and they obviously cannot do it for themselves. A catch 22 situation and it sucks it just sucks. if I could go punch those political bastards and knock them out I would do it in a heartbeat!!!

    We have to do something and NOW no waiting or all of our rights will vanish!

  • robertasteve

    1. Make up a list of every Federal and state representative of any party who has in these recent sessions voted in favor of laws limiting a woman’s reproductive freedom. Count up the number of men v. women who voted for these laws, figure out the incredibly unbalanced ratio and campaign to have bloggers and sympathetic journalists publicize the hell out of the fact that it is overwhelmingly men, who will never have to be subject to them, who have passed these clearly punitive laws against a woman’s legal right to choose what goes on with her own body. My apologies to the men who are in favor a a woman’s right to choose, but the hell with political correctness. It may not be a legitimate argument on the debate floor, but it is certainly a visceral argument which will get the attention and, one hopes, wake up the women of child-bearing age who remain silent while their rights are being stripped from them. 

    2. Start local actions against the so-called pregnancy crisis centers. Start picketing them in just the way that anti-choice groups have been picketing abortion clinics. Get the press out to cover what might be a novel story but what should ultimately turn into a common one.

    3. Well, I did title this “Two ideas.” But someone more clever than I, please come up with some simple refutations or retorts to the accusation that a woman is committing murder when she opts to terminate a pregnancy. The anti-choice forces have made that charge so ubiquitous that even civil libertarians who support a woman’s right to choose are stopped by it. One can’t just say, “No its NOT!” or even “I don’t care!” in reply to this indictment, but there must be a few things one can say to refute that odious charge .

    Just as today’s parents who unwisely choose to forego life-saving vaccines for their babies because they have no memory of the horrors of the diseases the vaccines prevent, so today’s women of child-bearing age have no recollection of what life was like prior to the Roe v. Wade decision. Ways must be found to reach them, startle them, warn them of what their options are likely to be if an anti-choice law winds up going to the US Supreme Court which, in its current make-up, is one vote away from ending their right to decide what happens to their own bodies, a right they now take for granted.  

    Also, I have met young women who, without yet being faced with the problem of an unwanted pregnancy, insist that they are anti-choice (because murdering a baby, as they have been told, is such a sinful thing to do), but when faced with the dilemma themselves do opt for termination. As is often said, no one ever plans on terminating a pregnancy, so the pro-choice movement must find a way to reach those women of child-bearing age who mistakenly believe they will never have to make such a choice. 

    I have a sister. Many years ago when the youngest of her five kids (kids she raised virtually by herself since her husband was an exec who travelled extensively) was finally in elementary school, she became pregnant. As she put it to me, she just didn’t have it in her to start over, yet she knew her husband would never agree to her terminating the pregnancy. She lived out west in a city that had no abortion provider and was going to have to fly to another city, have the procedure, and fly home all in the same day so that no one knew. She had to turn to me for the $ because there was no way she could spend her household funds for it without having to come up with some explanation to her husband which she feared would give away her secret. So I sent her the $,  happy that I had it to give, and the deed was done. She’s in her 70’s now, and I am still the only one who knows. My sister who was married and having kids long before Roe v. Wade. never, ever imagined she would need to terminate a pregnancy, and yet, unimaginably, she did need to and was able to exercise that freedom.

    I am in my 60’s and no longer have a dog in this fight. I do not have it in me to lead the charge, but I still have enough energy to take part in the battle. 



  • prochoiceferret

    But someone more clever than I, please come up with some simple refutations or retorts to the accusation that a woman is committing murder when she opts to terminate a pregnancy. The anti-choice forces have made that charge so ubiquitous that even civil libertarians who support a woman’s right to choose are stopped by it. One can’t just say, “No its NOT!” or even “I don’t care!” in reply to this indictment, but there must be a few things one can say to refute that odious charge.


    “Hey, some people feel meat is murder, too. It takes all kinds…”


    “Millions of our mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, bosses, co-workers, store clerks, nurses, shrinks, school teachers, waitresses, manicurists, masseuses, […] are murderers?”


    (Quote murder conviction sentencing guidelines) “Why do you want to do this to my mom(my)?”


    Ask anti-choicers how they want to punish women who abort sans remorse, and when they inevitably soft-peddle their answer (rather than following murder-one sentencing guidelines), mock them mercilessly that even they don’t believe abortion is murder.


    “I had an abortion when I was (insert number here), and I’m glad I did. You know why? Because then I wouldn’t have (insert name here) today.” (pick up photogenic child or two)

  • arekushieru

    Or, PCF, even this one:  If my momma hadn’t had sex with my daddy on the same day that his sperm fertilized her egg, I wouldn’t be here, either.

    Btw, your last point fits the circumstances surrounding my brother’s birth, very neatly.

  • arekushieru

    Keeping women pregnant is one way to make them vulnerable, and it’s nothing that can be done to men.  A woman is definitely more prone to attack and injury and less likely to be able to defend herself when pregnant, especially in the latter stages

  • prochoiceferret

    Or, PCF, even this one:  If my momma hadn’t had sex with my daddy on the same day that his sperm fertilized her egg, I wouldn’t be here, either.


    I think that usually happens on the same day, unless you finish right before midnight ^_^


    But yes… people don’t seem to think very hard about the implications of millions and millions of sperm.


    Btw, your last point fits the circumstances surrounding my brother’s birth, very neatly.


    The ultimate rejoinder to “You wouldn’t exist if your mother had aborted you” is “I wouldn’t exist if my mother hadn’t had an abortion [when she needed it].”

  • loucid

    Humans are not legally considered ‘persons’ without a functioning frontal lobe. When a persons frontal lobes are damaged in an accident, they are considered ‘brain dead’ and their immediate family is shown respect if and when they decide to donate the organs to others.


    A fetus does not develop frontal lobes until very late in the pregnancy, therefore cannot possibly be considered a ‘person’. Fetii are all brain dead.


    Saying a fertilized egg is a person undervalues the effort required to grow a new human.  It takes 9 months of attention to health and nutrition to just give the physical form, of this new human, a chance to develop up to its full potential. Sometimes the physical potential is so limited that the new human would have a very short or unpleasant life. Other times circumstances, like alcohol or illness, may have already have damaged fetus in ways it will never recover from.  If both parents have the resources and wish to dedicate their time to building a new human under these circumstances they should be able to do so. But, forcing parents who do not have the will, time and resources to attempt to do so is a recipe for misery and, probably, great expense for society.  


    Saying a fertilized egg is a person disrespects the effort required to build a new human. It takes approximately 20 years of guidance and support for physical needs to produce a well functioning member of society.  Expecting fallible parents with limited resources to provide this for a random number of children is just demanding them to fail.

  • crowepps

    The egg remains viable, that is, alive for about 72 hours, but is capable of being fertilized for only about 12 – 24 hours.


    The sperm however is viable for a longer period and has been found in the uterus 5 – 7 days after coitus. But they are capable of fertilizing an ovum for only 48 – 72 hours after being ejaculated. The time taken by the sperm to reach the tubes is between 6 – 12 hours but many authorities say it can be as early as 1 hour.


    The sperm can be delivered early and have to hang around waiting for a ripe egg as long as three days.  The reason Plan B works is that it can prevent an egg being released for those sperm to fertilize IF it’s taken immediately.  Once the egg has been fertilized, Plan B no longer will work.  It might be better to say ‘if momma and daddy hadn’t had sex on Saturday day, I wouldn’t have been conceived on Monday.’

  • squirrely-girl

    Sperm can live in the female reproductive tract for up to 96 hours… meaning conception can occur after unprotected sex a few days before or after ovulation. 


    I have seriously never felt the need to “scare” my students… the truth is MORE than enough to encourage those individuals who don’t wish to get pregnant to use birth control. 

  • squirrely-girl

    Saying a fertilized egg is a person undervalues the effort required to grow a new human. 

    I feel the same – I figure if a fertilized egg is a “person” than women should be able to squat them out and let them grow themselves. “Persons” don’t require the use of another person’s body to survive.

  • arekushieru

    Yeah, I KNEW that, but I just did not retrieve it.  So, yeah, let’s put it that way.  :D