40 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the constitutionally protected right to privacy includes every woman’s right to make her own personal medical decisions, without the interference of politicians – including the right to end a pregnancy. Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer screenings and this past November voters went to the polls and affirmed that politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy. That’s why from courthouses to statehouses to Capitol Hill, Planned Parenthood will continue to protect access to health care for women across the country — taking action to ensure that women have access to care, no matter what.
As many of our supporters will have no doubt heard by now, Planned Parenthood has recognized that the abortion conversation in America has evolved. As a nation and as a movement, our language has shifted and it’s time we started looking beyond the labels of “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” In fact, the number of people who say abortion should remain safe and legal is significantly higher than the number of people who readily identify as “pro-choice.” Forty years after Roe, Planned Parenthood’s mission stays the same: to protect the fundamental right of all individuals to manage their own fertility and sexual health, and to ensure access to the services, education and information to realize that right. But, as our conversations around the issue become more nuanced and more complex, our language must catch-up and reflect the changes in the way we think, talk and organize around abortion rights. Simply put – “Choice” just isn’t enough anymore.
The conversation among Millenials has also shifted. Contrary to the assertion of a recent Time Magazine article this perceived shift in the movement’s younger generation is not about an “appeal to new audiences” but is instead based in need. In short, it is not about image; it is about necessity. When mandatory-waiting periods exist (which is the case in 26 states) between the time a woman receives counseling on abortion and when the actual procedure can be performed, the legal right to abortion is no longer enough. Let’s say for example this is a woman with no paid time off, working a minimum wage job and struggling to make ends meet. As a result of this mandatory waiting time, she is forced to take multiple days off from her job, leaving her with no pay, in order to go to the one available abortion clinic in her state. Or maybe she stays at home while her partner works. Multiple appointments at a clinic to determine her options leave her stuck trying to find childcare that may be economically out of her reach. When these kinds of barriers to medical care, such as abortion, exist, we cannot assume that the legal right is enough – our work lies in a shared focus on access to abortion.
Talking about abortion means talking about a complex topic and it means talking about a personal decision that should be made by a woman, her doctor, her family and with the counsel of her faith, if she so wills it. As we look at where we are and the work we need to do in the next 40 years AFTER Roe - it’s time for our language to reflect the real conversation and realize that simple labels aren’t enough. We must do better as a movement to ensure that the right to manage fertility and sexual health is looked at from a holistic view, taking into account all of the factors - legal and otherwise - that prevent women from accessing a safe and legal end to their pregnancy. Changing the way we talk about abortion won’t singlehandedly change the reality for women on the ground. It won’t protect the legal right to an abortion and it won’t necessarily mean that Americans will start thinking about both legal choice and access - but it’s a start.
by Patrick Comerford, Staff Contributor, Social Media Coordinator and Reproductive Justice Advocate, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England