In Search of ‘Reproductive Justice’ — In These Times
In the spring of 2011, pro-choice activism seemed to be undergoing a renaissance. The right to abort a pregnancy, secured by Roe v. Wade in 1973 is one of the most definitive victories of the feminist movement—and remains one of the most vehemently contested. Still, the right has long felt relatively well-defended by large organizations, like NARAL and Planned Parenthood, which made it seem there was no reason for novice activists to join the fray.
HR 3 and HR 358—the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” and the “Protect Life Act,” respectively—changed that, sparking off a wave of resistance that seemed poised to define a large part of what it meant to be feminist in 2011. Yet as the year draws to a close, it’s easy to feel disappointed.
The resistance began in response to several immediate threats. HR 3 aimed to restrict federal funding for abortion (which is already banned under the Hyde Amendment), and specifically penalize insurance plans that covered abortion. HR 358 would make it possible for doctors to kill their patients, rather than provide life-saving abortions. The extreme nature of these bills — HR 358’s legalization of murder by neglect, HR 3’s attempts to crack down on rape and incest exemptions by forbidding coverage for all but “forcible” rapes—was frightening. The legislation underlined precisely how fragile established gains like Roe v. Wade were.
Grassroots initiatives (including one that I helped to spearhead, the #DearJohn hashtag) sprang up. Feminists began to speak of a “War on Women.” Petitions were created; rallies were held. The power of the moment felt inspiring.
But HR 3 passed the House this spring. HR 358 passed the House on October 13. The Senate has had to vote down an initiative to defund Planned Parenthood. And a multitude of radical state-level initiatives—Ohio’s bill forbidding abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, Oklahoma’s forced ultrasounds, the “fetal personhood” movement currently gaining steam in Mississippi—have been introduced, and sometimes made law.
It would be easy to view this as defeat. I did, initially. But, as I learned from speaking to advocates, the truth is far more complicated. If the resistance seems less visible, that may just be the result of looking at it through the wrong frame.
“There’s an interesting thing that is happening around resistance that’s more complicated than just visibility,” Eesha Pandit says.
Pandit—with whom I worked, during #DearJohn—stresses that the resistance to all this legislation is ongoing, and that much hard work has gone into it. But she also spoke of re-framing the very nature of the debate.
“What we’re seeing as a potential pivot point for us,” she said, “is a real chance to step back and put all of it on the table, in terms of reproductive justice, not just abortion…”