A month ago on August 28th, Republican Party leaders officially announced the party’s platform including the proclamation that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” and the plan to ensure no federal funds go to any health care provider that also performs abortions (i.e., Planned Parenthood). And I imagine activists on both sides of the abortion debate were shocked—and breathed a sigh of relief. While some other activists are still wondering if there is a way to talk about reproductive issues in less binary terms.
Over the past decades, the pro-choice movement has spent many resources defending the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the courts, legislature and streets. Many movement leaders note that many of the measures against which they fight are “back-door” attacks on Roe that “chip away” at abortion access rather than attacking the legality of it directly. Waiting periods, parental consent, pre-abortion counseling, and other requirements are just some of the examples of the challenges to abortion that while not necessarily outlawing abortion outright, make the procedure more difficult for a woman to access. And they are challenges that can be harder to mobilize people around than a direct attack against the right to abortion would be. In Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, Luker found that Roe literally motivated many people to pro-life activists overnight. Since the book’s publication, the political atmosphere around abortion has changed considerably. But August 28th may be the day that future researchers report pro-choice leaning interviewees pinpoint as when they felt suddenly felt compelled to action to protect abortion.
On the other side of the debate, pro-life advocates may also identify that date as pivotal to them. A win by Romney would move their movement forward significantly too. Previously, even when they have had a sympathetic President in office, none has gone so far to do what many pro-life supporters feel is the right thing to do: just seek to ban abortion outright. According to pro-choice critics, the GOP’s platform gets close. The Democratic Party held its own convention where multiple speakers spoke of the President Obama’s trust in women to make their own choices about their bodies. The official platform statement on abortion is that it “is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.”
Abortion will clearly play an important role in this election but there are also activists hoping to hear more than the usual rhetoric that makes abortion a dichotomous debate: for or against. In the time between and since these conventions, I have been at events that have kept me surrounded by reproductive justice activists and scholars. These people come from many different backgrounds, education levels, and experiences. But they all are interested in advancing a more complex understanding of reproduction that goes beyond abortion access to the issues of the rights to have children and rights to parent. They work on issues like stopping shackling of pregnant women in prison, lifting welfare family caps, stopping use of environmental toxins in workplaces and many more issues that relate to reproduction than abortion. Women and their families make decisions about reproductive issues under complex economic and social conditions. The conversations about reproduction cannot remain about the “choice” and other reproductive decisions as if they were isolated from the rest of women’s lives.
In the next month leading up to the election, there will be lots of movement activity around the abortion debate. But will either candidate move beyond the divisive abortion debate to bridge their reproduction rhetoric with discussion s of economic and social justice? That would be a pivotal day indeed.