What You Need to Know About the Politics of Abortion Access Right Now
By Planned Parenthood Action Fund | Dec. 4, 2019, 4:42 p.m.
Opposition narratives might portray a movement in disarray — but advocates of safe, legal abortion are united in their determination to overcome the challenges facing people who seek care.
Facts don’t lie: with electoral wins in 2018 and 2019, including a total sweep in Virginia and the governor’s race in Kentucky last month, we are on the cusp of swinging the pendulum back in 2020. A record-high 77% of Americans support the protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, and there is no state in the nation where banning abortion is popular.
That’s why abortion opponents have fought hard to pack the federal courts, misinform voters, and undercut the political power of populations that support abortion rights. In last month’s elections in particular, abortion opponents deployed significant time, resources and efforts to misinform voters in campaigns that, in years past, they would have won easily. But Planned Parenthood and its partners in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements were ready, and abortion opponents lost — big-time — while champions for reproductive rights won up and down the ballot.
Our opponents would have you believe that the fight for reproductive rights is a lost cause — yet they couldn’t be more wrong. According to Slate, “recent polling suggests that support for abortion rights might be a bigger motivator for voters than support for abortion restrictions, and that voters are growing ever more protective of abortion rights that appear threatened in today’s political landscape.” And as The Nation writes, "the world we live in is firmly pro-choice. More Americans than ever are realizing this — and voting accordingly."
So while we may face tougher challenges now than many of us have faced in decades, we have not lost. Indeed, with public support for access to abortion at an all-time high, our champions are more ready than ever for wins in 2020.
Where the Movement Stands in 2019
Though there are reasons for optimism, let’s not mince words: across the country, advocates and providers of sexual and reproductive health care face enormous challenges. In addition to the efforts to undermine abortion access at the state level, the Trump-Pence administration has imposed a Title X gag rule that threatens to block access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other vital care for millions of patients. And the U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a case that threatens to render the protections of Roe v. Wade effectively meaningless — leaving states free to enact restrictions that block access to care and making access even more dependent on your whether you live in New York or Mississippi.
Amid these threats, as advocates of reproductive rights and access to the full range of health options — including abortion care — we know that our strength is in our unity. Protecting access to sexual and reproductive health care cannot be achieved without our partners and allies. Planned Parenthood cannot do this work to protect access if we are not supporting and uplifting our critical national and state-based reproductive justice partners so that we can build and grow our collective power as a movement.
We have had missteps along the way — and are still learning to grow and do better. We are committed to centering equity, strengthening our understanding of reproductive justice, and changing how we show up in the world. Our goal is to ensure we are not taking up space or claiming victories that are not ours and to give credit, space, visibility, and power to those leading the work in the reproductive justice movement. We know that this movement is not ours alone, and are committed to doing the work to maintain strong partnerships that strengthen the movement.
What Attacking Access Looks Like on The Ground: Alabama
Due to years of targeted attacks on abortion providers by red state politicians, Planned Parenthood health centers can experience significant challenges in their ability to provide care. Planned Parenthood’s brand is strong — and for good reason. But we saw Missouri politicians weaponize the inspections process to end abortion services there, and in Alabama, Planned Parenthood Southeast has been unable to provide abortion services due to targeted attacks on abortion providers. Alabama’s health centers are living proof of what these kinds of attacks on reproductive health care can do for access.
Safety concerns and a hostile political climate have made it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain physicians in the state. Nonetheless, Planned Parenthood is committed to providing care, no matter what. This year alone, we have been able to offer nearly 600 Birmingham patients free birth control of their choice, combined with the evidence-based contraceptive counseling we do every day at Planned Parenthood.
Independent abortion providers in Alabama have been a lifeline for people seeking abortion services with providers who face threats of violence every day. We are grateful to them for singlehandedly providing abortion care in the state and are excited to be able to resume care alongside them to help shoulder the burden of the extreme restrictions in the state.
We are excited to be able to resume abortion care in Alabama at a renovated Mobile health center and our relocated Birmingham health center by early 2020. Thanks to generous donors who have stepped in to support our efforts to improve our facilities, we can provide the care the people of Alabama need. And with our partners and allies, we will keep fighting to protect and expand access to abortion in Alabama and across the country.
Why Abortion Opponents See This Moment as Pivotal
The burden of abortion restrictions and bans falls hardest on people who face systemic barriers to accessing health care, particularly women of color. That’s why the political context in which these bans have advanced across states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia is doubly cruel.
Why? Because these states have higher-than-average proportions of Black people in their populations — and all of them have taken sweeping measures, in the years since the U.S. Supreme Court undermined the Voting Rights Act, to suppress Black people’s votes.
The role of voter suppression, from voter purges and the closing of polling places to the use of partisan gerrymandering to entrench anti-abortion politicians in power, cannot be ignored as a structural advantage that helps opponents of abortion access. Reproductive justice groups on the ground have long understood this and have centered their fight for reproductive freedom around the barriers that Black women face, including voter suppression. We are committed to fighting voter suppression efforts alongside them to restore our democracy and access for Black women.
Let’s be clear: anti-abortion politicians and the Trump-Pence administration know their agenda is unpopular. That is why they’ve fought to pack the federal courts with judges who have track records of being hostile to reproductive rights, and it’s why they’ve wielded their powers of office to suppress the political voices of historically marginalized populations — including women of color who favor access to safe, legal abortion.
Anti-abortion organizations also recognize — after overwhelming defeats in Virginia and Kentucky in 2019 and the election of dozens of reproductive-rights champions to Congress in 2018 — that without these advantages, their unpopular agenda of undermining Roe and ending access to safe, legal abortion stands no chance.
The Bottom Line: The Public is With Us — and We Can Win This Fight
Why are anti-abortion politicians and advocates fighting so hard right now, resorting to misinformation and undemocratic tactics to impose their unpopular agenda? Here’s the reason: This is a fight we WILL win. And we will do it TOGETHER.
Although all approaches to the work in the reproductive-rights movement may not look alike, we share the same mission: ensuring that every person can access safe and legal abortion. The only way we can win in this fight is by working together, and fighting for our health and our rights on all fronts — as health-care providers, as advocates and activists fighting bad laws and passing good ones, and as political organizations working to elect outspoken champions for sexual and reproductive health care.
Featured photo by Flickr user Victoria Pickering. Photo taken May 21, 2019.