Abortion rights FTW!
We are barely two months into 2016, and have already seen an unprecedented amount of victories for abortion rights. Kicking off the recent winning streak was Arkansas on January 19th, when the Supreme Court of the United States refused to review Arkansas’ blatantly unconstitutional ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy. Quickly following suit, SCOTUS again refused to hear a similar case regarding an abortion restriction at as little as 6 weeks of pregnancy in North Dakota.
That same week, the Kansas Court of Appeals acknowledged for the first time that pregnant people in Kansas have a right to safe and legal abortion under the state constitution. The court blocked a Kansas law banning the most commonly used method of ending a pregnancy in the second trimester. If allowed to take effect, the law could have forced some women to either undergo additional, invasive, and medically unnecessary procedures, or to lose access to abortion services entirely.
Last but certainly not least, Louisiana’s women had a huge victory when a federal judge released a ruling that put a stop on a law that threatened to shutter four of the state’s five abortion clinics. The Louisiana victory was extremely notable, as it pertained to a TRAP law (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), which is the same type of law currently before SCOTUS in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. These TRAP laws are designed to shutter clinics and cut off access to abortion services under the guise of making abortion, an already extremely safe procedure, safer for women.
Arkansas… North Dakota… Kansas… Louisiana. Can you hear the dominos falling?!
Possibly the cherry on top, however, is what became of the Planned Parenthood videos: nothing. And remember their videographer-slash-mad-scientist creators? Indicted. A grand jury in Texas, after reviewing evidence into allegations of misconduct, cleared Planned Parenthood of breaking the law. In a salacious twist, two of the people responsible for the videos, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, were indicted for Tampering with a Governmental Record, a felony. Additionally, Daleiden was also indicted for Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs, a Class A misdemeanor. In case you were wondering, that taste in your mouth is sweet, sweet justice.
The why behind the wins: While we’re busy choreographing our victory dances, it’s also important to consider why these recent triumphs have been happening.
It’s no secret that the onslaught of state-level abortion restrictions in recent years is part of a steady effort to chip away at the rights afforded by Roe vs. Wade. But never one to be cut off at the knees, the abortion rights movement has adopted a simple, yet brilliant, strategy to fight these unconstitutional laws: lifting up the voices of women who have had abortions and painting abortion in a positive light.
Speaking out about personal abortion experiences and what it means to us, as individuals, to have access to safe, legal and compassionate abortion care has become the new ammunition in the retaliation against the war on women. As a movement, we understand that winning in people’s hearts and minds is just as important as winning in the courtroom.
Perhaps the most well-known example of this occurred towards the end of 2015, when after watching Planned Parenthood endure months of congressional scrutiny, Amelia Bonow and Lindy West launched #ShoutYourAbortion in an effort to reframe the abortion debate. Almost instantaneously, social media exploded with people sharing their personal accounts of abortion. #ShoutYourAbortion proved that it becomes much harder for people to ignore abortion—a subject often considered taboo—when it starts trending and floods your newsfeed. Bonow and West helped thousands of people engage in political activism just by telling their stories.
Gaining momentum, the 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of Advocates for Youth, just had their second annual abortion speakout, a six-hour livestream event that featured people of all different backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, etc. telling their own stories of abortion. Celebrities, legislators, providers and patients told their stories to show that abortion is part of the human experience and does not—should not!—have to be shameful or stigmatized.
Organizations such as Shift., Sea Change, and Lady Parts Justice League have also come into fruition in response to the onslaught of abortion restrictions since 2010. Devoted to tackling the stigma surrounding abortion, these functional, staffed organizations are working tirelessly to educate the public about abortion and change the narrative that has been dominated by anti-abortion extremists and men for much too long.
In early January, 45 amicus briefs were submitted in support of Whole Woman’s Health, the plaintiff in the upcoming abortion case before SCOTUS. An impressively diverse group of individuals and organizations petitioned the nation’s highest court in order to articulate why abortion is a fundamental human right. One such brief came from 113 female attorneys detailing how access to abortion helped them in their personal and professional lives: “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion.” (Let’s just hope that Justice Kennedy was listening).
Abortion rights supporters have come to understand that when people tell their stories, abortion, once an abstract, theoretical decision, quickly becomes a real experience that happens in the lives of the women we know, making it harder to ignore. Sharing our stories helps illustrate that abortion is not a black or white issue, but rather one that is full of beautiful grey nuance and complicated truths. With Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt looming on the horizon, a decision that could determine the fate of abortion access in the United States, it is now more important than ever to do all that we can to secure our constitutionally protected right to equal dignity. This barreling buildup of abortion rights momentum is headed straight for the Supreme Court and there is no stopping it!