Forty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that women — under limited circumstances based loosely on fetal viability — had the legal right to access the abortions the state had theretofore prohibited and limited them from accessing.
Notably, the illegality of abortion had never completely kept women from accessing abortion. It kept them from accessing it safely, it kept them from accessing it without fear of jail, it kept them from asking it with minimal risk to their lives and reproductive chances and it kept it, in some cases, from accessing it privately or without fear. But, as Kate Manning pointed out in today’s New York Times, all the lack of modern medical knowledge and techniques and/or the lack of the legal right to do so never kept women from accessing it.
The modern anti-abortion movement doesn’t seek to change women’s minds about abortion. It doesn’t seek to covert the unbelievers, nor win the battle for the hearts and minds of the masses — or the one in three American women who will have a legal abortion in their lifetimes. Occasionally, anti-abortion activists limit their activities to praying to their God for a wholesale change in worldwide human desire and thousands of years of behavior. But, by and large, the official movement’s goal now “is of course to shut it down” — and by “it,” the governor of Mississippi means the state’s only clinic that provides abortions to his constituents who want it.
Protestors outside of clinics claim they’re there to changes minds, but walk past a gauntlet of screaming people shoving pictures of bloody (and medically inaccurate) fetuses in one’s face and one is forced to question whether they really care if they change those minds through love and righteousness or fear and intimidation. Anti-abortion activists work to prevent medication — a.k.a., pill — abortions because it limits women’s need to pass through the protestor gauntlet. They push laws to force women to return to the clinic two and three times to make it more likely they won’t be able to afford, time- or money-wise, to return at all. They hide their full intentions — like the elimination of non-barrier birth control, the elimination any medical or situational exemptions to abortion bans and who exactly would face legal consequences if abortions did occur in their perfect world — behind the language of “life” and “legitimate rape” and supposed sympathy for the legions of women whose rights they want to curtail and actions they want to criminalize.
The law used to limit women’s access to abortion to illegal abortions, to back-alley practitioners, to poisons and sharp pointy objects and pain and suffering. The Supreme Court only made legal methods and practitioners that limit the pain, physical risk and humiliation of those methods, and the freedom to use them without fear of incarceration. The anti-abortion movement knows it cannot change the minds of the majority of Americans who think women should have (at least) some access to safe, legal abortion, and they might not be able to change the law of the land, and so they seek to minimize the availability of safe, legal abortion without much care that their actions limit women to the other kind. They encourage people to create gauntlets to shame the women who seek access, they encourage legislators to create more barriers to hurt and humiliate the women who make it through their gauntlets and, in the end, they want to drive it all back underground because they believe that some percentage of women will be forced to carry their pregnancies to term and that’s good enough for them.
They can’t change people’s minds, so they’ve set out to change the law. And they have been able — and will continue — to succeed as long as those who believe in the right to access a safe and legal abortion don’t fight, and don’t pay attention to what is going on.
[“The Girl In Confusion Holds Contraceptive Tablets In Hands” on Shutterstock]