Take a breath. Now another. Welcome to November, 2008! It’s been a long road, fraught with small victories, large-scale uncertainty, and oh yes, plenty of anti-woman rhetoric. (Hey, remember when John McCain air-quoted “women’s health”?)
Anyone routinely typing words like “abortion” and “reproductive rights” into a Google News search saw the huge mess of a political battle that was being waged right on top of our bodies (well, some of us needed only peer into the window of a pharmacy or attempt to enter a family planning clinic to see that). From Bristol Palin’s teenage pregnancy to Jill Stanek’s sketchy story to support the Illinois Born Alive legislation, heart strings were snapping left and right for women’s tales of reproductive woe. The powers that be used women’s bodies for every political trick in the book, and yet they forgot one thing: they still don’t own them, we do. Even today as I write you peering two and a half months ahead to the day change will apparently come to America, or four years from now when Roe v. Wade will apparently still be in tact, I know my body is no less of a battleground than it was eight years ago.
Pro-choice activists are calling this one a “bittersweet victory,” and rightly so. While Obama holds a 100% rating from NARAL, was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and has many times proclaimed his commitment to upholding Roe, anti-choice groups have picked up more steam than we’ve seen in a long time. Three major anti-choice initiatives appeared on state ballots this past Tuesday.
A summary of major anti-choice ballot initiatives:
South Dakota’s Measure 11
In 2006, anti-abortion extremists attempted to ban abortion in all cases. The 2006 measure was defeated by voters. The extreme Measure 11 was again introduced for this election cycle as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. The measure sought to effectively banned all abortions in the state, giving only a few exceptions that were so vaguely defined that most doctors stated they wouldn’t have agreed to perform any abortions at all for fear of criminal charges. South Dakota is estimated to be the most difficult state in which to obtain an elective abortion. With only one functioning clinic in the entire state, and the providers in that clinic flown in from Minneapolis, the word “choice” already has very little meaning for South Dakota women.
Status: Defeated (55% no, 45% yes)
Colorado’s Amendment 48
Twenty-one year old law student Kristine Burton and the Colorado for Equal Rights campaign gathered enough signatures this year to put a disturbing ballot initiative onto Colorado’s ballot: Amendment 48, or the “Personhood Amendment.” This amendment would give personhood not only to a fetus, but to a fertilized egg. This amendment takes anti-choice legislation to the extreme and poses a clear challenge to the commonly-held medical belief that pregnancy does not even begin until a zygote has implanted on the wall of the uterus (which can take up to three days after fertilization occurs). The amendment would outlaw not only abortion, but many forms of contraception as well, such as the IUD, the birth control pill, and emergency contraception. It would also ban some potentially life-saving medical treatments on women who have had sex in the past 72 hours because of possible damage to a fertilized (but unimplanted and therefore undetectable) egg. Women who could potentially become pregnant as result of recent sexual activity could be denied treatments for up to 72 hours out of a doctors’ legal fears that the treatment could damage a fertilized egg. Dr. Andrew Ross, OB/GYN, criticized the amendment as being “bad medicine.” Even Colorado’s Catholic, anti-abortion governor Bill Ritter said the amendment “goes too far” and severely “threatens medical care.”
Status: Defeated (73% no, 27% yes)
California’s Proposition 4
In California, Proposition 4 was a measure that would have amended the state constitution to require abortion clinics to notify parents 48 hours in advance of performing an abortion on a minor. This proposition was named "Sarah's Law" by supporters. "Sarah" was a young woman (15 years old) who got an abortion in 1994 without telling anybody. She experienced a torn cervix, a relatively harmless complication if reported early. However, "Sarah" did not tell anybody about the excessive bleeding for four days and the cervix became infected. By the time she went to the hospital, the infection had spread and Sarah died.
Opponents of Prop 4 argued that better education and expanded care for minors such as "Sarah" would protect the young women who experience abortion complications. They also argued that parental notification 48 hours before the procedure could put teens at risk of physical abuse, disownment, and further delays in receiving a time-sensitive procedure. Medical groups stepped up against Prop 4 saying it puts the patient-doctor relationship at risk because young women would not feel as comfortable being completely honest with their medical caregivers about things like rape, drug use, and abuse.
Status: Defeated (52% no, 48% yes)
While it’s certainly a victory that all three initiatives were defeated, many questions remain: will new government-elects uphold and improve on the steps we’ve taken thus far? Where does mere support for Roe v. Wade fall short of ensuring reproductive justice for all? How realistic is Obama’s view on late-term abortions? Does his proposed “prevention program” target deceptive crisis pregnancy centers and increase access to education and affordable healthcare?
Regardless of what happens, we remain committed to being there for the struggle, to seeing it through 100%.