A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that reproductive rights were not a priority issue for women this election year. This insight struck me while I was in a writing class with nine other (mostly liberal) women in prime childbearing years (20s and 30s), and I was the only person who mentioned that repro rights were among the three issues I considered most important in this election. I wondered what this meant.
Obviously, my sample size is way too small to accurately gauge the role that reproductive rights will play in this election. By "reproductive rights," I mean the full spectrum of policies and laws that affect when - and if - women will have children. This includes everything from whether health insurance plans need not cover birth control and whether pharmacists have the right to deny women birth control and/or the morning-after pill based on their religious beliefs (and whether pharmacies even carry these medications in the first place), to what restrictions on abortion are upheld as not presenting an undue burden on women and whether the mighty Roe v. Wade will be overturned, leaving states to decide whether women who live there can have legal, safe abortions or not. (Although the idea that Roe protects a woman's right to chose a legal abortion in every state is a fallacy - according to the Guttmacher Institute, "87% of U.S. counties had no abortion provider in 2005. In nonmetropolitan areas, 97% of counties had no provider. As a result, many women must travel substantial distances to access the service; approximately 25% of women who have an abortion travel 50 miles or more for the procedure, a significant distance and a documented barrier to timely care [Henshaw and Finer, 2003]." Three states - South Dakota, North Dakota, and Mississippi [the subject of an excellent documentary on PBS, The Last Abortion Clinic], have only one clinic in the entire state. These are geographically very large territories.)
In recent days, there's been an increase in concern for reproductive rights in this election after Sen. Obama 's response to a a Christian magazine's question about third (emphasis mine) trimester abortion, in which he basically reiterated that he's support the current laws on abortion, but said so in a way that made it sound as if women we using some shady "mental distress" clause to get around existing prohibitions. This is understandably scary to many women, and it got people talking about reproductive rights in the election in a way I haven't seen up until now.
However, where do reproductive rights fit into Election 2008? A Planned Parenthood survey earlier this year found widespread misconceptions (no pun intended) about the candidates positions on everything from birth control to legal abortion, and found that educating people about a candidate's record changed how voters thought of that candidate, which to me means that when people understand that reproductive rights are under siege, suddenly it becomes an important issue. To find out more about the role of reproductive rights this year, BlogHer is interviewing Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. To ensure the best interview, please submit your questions and comments below by Friday, July 18. BlogHer will podcast the interview in the upcoming weeks.
Some questions have already been posed on blogs:
- The Reproductive Rights Prof Blog links to a June article in Time asking, "Will Pro-Choice Women Back McCain?
- Asma Hasan asked in Glamour magazine's blog, "Do you think our fight over reproductive rights is mostly over and part of a nostalgic past, like the bra burning of feminists of yore? Or do we need to raise the pro-choice voice louder?" (The comments, by the way, are fascinating.)
- Are abortion rights just "window dressing" for the Democratic party? (This question came to me after reading But Rooooooooooe Part 3 at Astraea's Scales)
- "Should the Democratic Party Really Be the Party of Abortion?" asks The Bag of Health and Politics
I'd like to know more about whether abortion rights are secure as a plank in the Democratic party, and what it means that people are even discussing this. Again, my basic question: what role (and it does seem like there is one) does reproductive rights play in this election? How do we get out the message that it is important and make our voices heard?
Suzanne also blogs about life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants.
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