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Red state women speak: How abortion restrictions affect them, their daughters

Melissa McEwan
Published: Thursday March 16, 2006

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With South Dakota having passed legislation banning abortion that provides saving the life of the mother as the only exception, and at least 10 other states considering legislation seeking to ban abortion or limit abortion access, many progressives are beginning to consider a challenge to Roe v. Wade inevitable. While some feel secure in the notion that Roe will be upheld, others worry that abortion rights will be slowly chipped away by state restrictions until Roe is rendered effectively impotent.

At least one feminist blogger has already made available information on performing abortions in anticipation of the procedure being criminalized.

Pro-choice women in red states are particularly concerned— some for their own futures, and some for the futures of their daughters. These are their thoughts on the future, as told to RAW STORY.

Mandy, South Dakota

Mandy is a 23-year-old college student in Vermillion, SD, and president of the student group U.Vox Voices for Choice, which launched e-campaigns to their representatives and organized a letter-writing campaign in opposition to HB 1215. Approximately 80 hand-written letters to members of the Senate were sent from U.Vox Voices for Choice; nearly 100 more were gathered by their sister group at Augustana College in Sioux Falls.

Five members of their group also attended the South Dakota Advocacy Network for Women's "Women 4 Women event in early February, where women and men from around the state traveled to Pierre to meet with legislatures and lobby for women's issues such as sex education, violence against women, equal opportunity, and reproductive rights."

The group organized a roadside visibility campaign, and some members attended a Planned Parenthood rally in Sioux Falls, observing a "National Day of Solidarity for South Dakota." Hundreds of people turned up for the event, at which Mandy spoke.

In the end, the legislation passed in spite of their efforts.

"I'm ashamed that both the South Dakota Legislature and Governor Mike Rounds value politics more than the health and well-being of the citizens of this state," Mandy said. "I'm also saddened that our legislators seem to act more so on their own ideals than serving as fair and neutral representation for the people of South Dakota. It is outrageous that the abortion ban sailed through the legislature and the office of Gov. Rounds without any exceptions for victims of rape or incest. HB 1215 is disrespectful of victims of an already abominable crime. The passing of this bill will do nothing to help our state's problems, so with that, I'm entirely disappointed and very concerned about the future of this state."

Mandy is concerned that her state "is heading down a very dark road," one that will result in failing not only South Dakotan women, but whole families. "One of the primary reasons that women of our state seek abortion services is financially based," Mandy said. "If these women are forced to bear more children than they can afford, the repercussions will be very dangerous. I have deep and grave concerns for the instances of child abuse in this state seeing a staggering incline."

Mandy fears that Roe will be challenged, but hopes that voices of reason will prevail—and she has no intention of conceding the fight.

"We are brewing some fantastic ideas that are still in early phases of planning. We are by no means lessening our efforts. We will continue our activism with vigor and intensity. The fight has just begun."

Deborah, Florida

Deborah is a 45-year-old mother of three who lives is St. Petersburg, Florida. She believes that Roe will be challenged, but that it will not be overturned, fearing instead that the spate of state legislation being considered will incrementally render Roe useless in protecting the rights of women, particular women in poverty.

"I fear the laws will result in abortion being more and more difficult to obtain for women of little means," Deborah said. "Young women, poor women, women who cannot take time off from their jobs to travel across county lines, much less state lines—they're the ones who will be affected. Women of means will simply drive or fly to a state that does offer abortion services; they can afford the travel, they can afford the hotel room, they can take time off work—if they work at all. Daughters of the wealthy will never have to give birth to rapist's children or accidental babies. You can count on that."

She has turned her concern about parental notification laws in Florida, and similar—or even more restrictive—state laws being passed or considered nationwide, into activism, writing "to everyone," signing petitions, and donating money to pro-choice organizations, as has her mother, "who is both a pro-choice and naturalized American citizen and a registered Republican." And, she has just started her own blog—a place where she hopes to reach a new generation of women.

"I had a discussion with a friend who is a couple of years my senior. We agreed that far too many young girls today are contemptuous of feminism," Deborah said. "They don't like the whole concept of it, they say. Clearly, they don't get it.

"They have no idea how hard their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers fought so they could vote, so they could have control of their own bodies. They take their freedoms for granted while sneering at what they deem undesirable, or butch, for some reason. They equate being a feminist with being unfeminine (whatever "feminine" means), or with hating men.

"It's a very sneaky fallacy and I have no idea how it gained such foothold, other than the laziness that is part of human nature. Nonetheless, it's appalling. Make that terrifying."

Rachel, Indiana

Rachel, 36, lives in a small town in Indiana—a state which received an F from NARAL last year. This year, two abortion-related bills passed Indiana's House: House Bill 1172 would require abortion providers to tell women that life begins at conception and to offer anesthesia for the fetus; House Bill 1080 would require the closure of abortion clinics that failed to meet rigid building standards. The Indiana Senate made changes to both bills, and final versions are still being negotiated between the two chambers. Next year, the Indiana General Assembly plans to vote on a bill which would ban abortion in the state.

Rachel believes that Roe is already being challenged with measures such as the recently passed abortion ban in South Dakota and fears that it may be overturned.

"I'm afraid it's a real possibility," said Rachel. The general public is too ignorant of the implications, both in terms of human rights and in terms of the practical outcomes—more illegal abortions, more unwanted children—and politicians have proven too willing to treat abortion as a campaign slogan rather than something affecting real people. I can't see the Democrats standing up for a woman's human rights—and the Republicans are actively undermining them."

In a state where so few legislators are pro-choice, Rachel feels she has little recourse about the changes being proposed in her state, and the possibility of future restrictions on choice is beginning to take its toll.

"I'm concerned hat people are going to suffer while all of this shakes out," Rachel said. "I know that I'm feeling a lot more stressed. It's scary thinking that my rights—and my life!—are so vulnerable to whim and chance.

"I keep thinking that I'm having a nightmare and wondering when I'm going to wake up," she continued. "It's bad enough that there are people in this country who think I'm less than equal to men; it's beyond frightening that there are people with the power—and the will—to impose those beliefs on all of us, and to do so without any regret about the terrible implications for women, children, and human rights. These people don't do this reluctantly; they do so proudly and eagerly and they have no compunctions about using their power in these ways—and it seems like no one with power is standing up to them. It is profoundly discouraging, and I become depressed if I think about it too much."

Kathy, Alabama

Kathy, 46, resides in Birmingham, Alabama, where a bill has been introduced in the Senate which would ban all abortions except in the "extreme" case of danger to the mother's life and find "any person" causing or participating in an abortion guilty of a Class B felony. Kathy finds herself concerned on behalf of her three daughters, "who have to live in Bush's America."

"I see the impetus for most of these laws as either political payback to religious conservatives or deep-seated contempt for women—or both," Kathy said. "Banning abortion certainly won't stop it, but girls and women will start dying again. The inherent lack of concern and lack of respect for women does not bode well for the future of my three daughters."

Kathy's frustration with the current attack on abortion rights is coupled with what she sees as a selective interest in protecting life.

"I also have big problems with the hypocrisy of those who oppose abortion under any circumstances but also oppose comprehensive sex education, use of contraceptives, and provision of funding to ensure that all pregnant women have access to good prenatal care and that all children have food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care. They seem more interested in punishing women for having sex than they are in 'saving the unborn.'

"I'd love to see abortion become safe, legal, and rare, to quote Bill Clinton," she continued, "but our government will have to pull its collective head out of the sand first. If we're going to reduce unintended pregnancy, then we need to provide our children with accurate information about sex and encourage development of safer and more effective contraceptives.

"But there's also a bigger issue. Teenagers who are involved in making their own futures, who have goals and dreams and believe they can achieve them, are much less likely to get pregnant or impregnate someone else. In our society, with the growing gap between the wealthiest and everyone else, average kids can't dream those dreams the way I did. We have to change the direction of this country; we need leaders who represent all of us, not just those who make fat campaign contributions. We need leaders who do more than talk about taking care of children. And we need leaders who won't exploit religion to get votes.

"Hey, I can dream, can't I?"