Rep. Trent Franks recently made news for his crusade to ban abortion after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia. While Franks’ action is particularly brazen because the Arizona Congressman was not elected to represent the women of D.C., he was really just jumping on a growing anti-choice trend of restricting when women can legally terminate their pregnancies. Franks’ home state currently has the most draconian law in effect, decreeing that any abortion after 20 weeks gestation – which the state is defining as the 18th week of pregnancy – is illegal in Arizona.
When Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in his church three years ago, many people, both in the pro-choice movement and the country at large, feared for the safety of abortion providers. There was so much talk about how providers – and their families, and their patients, and their clinic staffs – deserve to be able to live their lives without concern that a violent extremist will decide that it somehow makes sense to kill in the name of the “pro-life” cause. There was also a lot of talk about the role of late-term providers in general: how vital their work is, and to what extent Dr. Tiller’s murder might prevent other doctors from providing this service. But I don’t think anyone was seriously talking about the possibility that late-term abortions themselves might just be legislated out of existence. That seemed too brazen an assault against Roe v. Wade to even consider, too direct a strike against women’s rights and privacy and autonomy.
Yet now here we are, three years later, and abortion rights are being assailed from all sides. It’s frustrating and discouraging and maddening, and while the victories are heartening, they’re also few and far between.
But for all the very real concern that these attacks raise, the final word on abortion will never come from a court or statehouse. No politician or judge has ever been able to successfully convince people how to live their lives, and that goes double for anything involving abortion.
For forty years, the pro-choice movement has drifted away from the personal and into the political, into the thicket of court battles and ballot initiatives and an increasingly brazen anti-choice movement. For four decades, it’s been reacting to attacks on an issue that Roe v. Wade was supposed to settle. It’s time to take back the terms of the debate, to be on the offense again and never apologize for supporting the right to choice.
“Women’s stories will always carry the day,” a pro-choice activist told me years ago, and she’s right. Real and lasting change will only come through personalizing the issue, through talking about the many reasons why abortion is a valid and acceptable choice that does not need to be qualified and explained. It will come from a refusal to judge those that choose abortion, regardless if they make that choice in the sixth week or the twenty-sixth week. And it will come from those of us in the pro-choice movement never losing sight of exactly what we’re fighting for. In the words of Dr. George Tiller:
“Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.”
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.