Freedom is under attack around the world. Police are rounding up hundreds of opposition protesters in Moscow, while hundreds of thousands are protesting in Hong Kong for freer elections, a free press and freedom from extradition to China.
Yet in the United States, the hard right is taking extraordinary actions to restrict freedoms for half the population: women. Six states have passed laws in 2019 banning abortion. These so-called “heartbeat bills” ban abortion before many women even know they are pregnant. Alabama went even further in May, passing a near-total ban on abortion, and Tennessee just announced it plans to do the same.
The Trump administration is taking a different approach with its “protect life” rule that withholds federal funding from family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood unless they stop providing abortion services. This will leave millions of women with no options in unwanted pregnancies, and no choice in what they do with their own bodies.
It’s time to call these rules what they are: attacks on our basic freedoms. I’m proud that America is the “land of the free,” but those words ring hollow when half the population is prevented from seeking basic health care to address life-changing circumstances. Over 6,000 women chose to have abortions in hospitals and health clinics in Alabama in 2017. That number could fall to zero as women are forced into dangerous situations without access to basic health care services.
The Trump administration’s “protect life” rule is even more far-reaching because it withholds critical federal funding for family-planning clinics unless they stop even informing women that abortion is a health-care option. Planned Parenthood provided family-planning and health-care services to over 4 million people in 2017. Two-thirds were women and men of color and two-thirds were on low incomes. Nearly half had no health insurance. Defunding these clinics would leave many Americans without options, and the impact could have significant consequences.
Planned Parenthood provided HIV testing for over 740,000 people in 2017 and diagnosed 240,000 sexually transmitted infections. This not only impacts women, but men and children as well, and it disproportionately impacts people of color. This fight, like the ones in Moscow and Hong Kong, is far from over.
What can we do? Concerned people made over 350,000 calls to members of Congress and gathered 1.5 million signatures in response to the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and block funding for Planned Parenthood. Putting this pressure on elected leaders is the best way to fight back, but we can do more.
The Supreme Court confirmed the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade almost a half-century ago. That’s why the quickest way to fight restriction efforts like this new “Protect Life” rule may be through the courts. Courts, applying the holding of Roe and other abortion decisions, should strike these state laws down.
Over the long term, however, any legal strategy must be buttressed by a public education campaign to win the messaging battle over abortion. We must remind voters that abortion restrictions are not a “women’s issue” or even an “abortion issue”: they are a health care issue and a matter of basic bodily freedom. This public education campaign should be geared toward boosting turn-out in elections for federal and state offices.
We need to repeal these draconian laws and fight for the millions depending on family-planning and medical services provided by Planned Parenthood and others. We may have an autocratic president, but we don’t have an autocratic political system. A two-pronged strategy of legal challenges and public education can repudiate the recent spate of anti-choice laws.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have summed it up best in 1993 by saying: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It’s a decision she must make herself. When [the] Government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.” But words matter little if Americans don’t turn out to vote. It’s time to show that we really are the “land of the free.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.