What lack of access to abortion looks like

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Last week I received my copy of Tomorrow Magazine, the product of the excellent editorial team that GOOD laid off en masse at the beginning of the summer. (You should buy a copy of Tomorrow: It’s real pretty.) The magazine is crammed with interesting articles and fun features, from zombie cocktails to infographics about continental shift. 

But the best piece is by an anonymous woman who got pregnant in a small town in Alaska. It is a harrowing piece of narrative writing about her attempt to access abortion services in a largely rural state where the government  and anti-choice activists, have done their best to forestall that possibility.

But it isn’t just the right-wing anti-abortion organizations and their political allies that are responsible for the fiasco. The medical establishment in Alaska and elsewhere in the United States has contributed to the problem by skittishly avoiding the subject for fear of controversy and peer pressure. The number of hospitals and physicians’ offices that provide abortion, always minuscule, has been declining in recent years, in contrast to Europe where most abortions are provided in hospitals. The number of American abortion providers in general has been falling since 1980 as fewer medical practitioners are willing to harassment  and terrorism. This will make stories like the one published by Tomorrow even more common.

One of the most moving moments comes at the story’s end, when the woman explains why her name is not attached to the piece:

A note on anonymity: After going to such aggressive lengths to shield my privacy, I want nothing more than to attach my name to this piece. I would like to be able to talk openly about going through a legal medical procedure without fearing a backlash. But that’s not the reality at this time, in this place. The reality is, it was my choice but this isn’t just my story. It’s my boyfriend’s story, it’s my friends’ story, it’s the story of the health care providers who helped me. For myself as well as for the people mentioned here, the social consequences of attaching our real names to it are just too high. So I’m publishing this anonymously, and have changed the names of everyone who isn’t speaking in an official capacity.

Lets be clear: It’s great that same sex marriage is a dying issue for conservatives, but “the culture wars” aren’t over as long as fear and hatred haunt abortion provision in the U.S. The passion that surrounds this issue has not died off, nor has the political heat. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 50 percent of American women live in “states [that are] solidly hostile to abortion rights.” (Pennsylvania has been labeled “hostile” since 2000.) Things have gotten worse in the last ten years. In the last two years.

One of the principal reasons I support the Democratic Party (and support forcing it to become more progressive) is its typically pro-reproductive freedom line. Fewer and fewer  Democratic politicians can get away with being anti-abortion these days, partially because conservative Democratic seats tend to get gobbled up by Republicans. (The infamous Bart Stupak is no longer in the House and many of the conservative Dems who support him are gone as well, lost in the 2010 midterms.) As Dan Denvir noted, even Senator Bob Casey has scaled back the anti-abortion extremism that his father staked his own political fame on.

The son is less outspoken than the father on social issues, including abortion. Unlike his father, he frequently calls for both sides to find “common ground” on reducing unwanted pregnancies through expanded access to contraception. He voted to confirm both Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, and supported health-care reform while criticizing Obama’s mandate that employees of religiously affiliated organizations be provided coverage for contraception. “He’s pro-life, no doubt about it,” says Franklin & Marshall political scientist G. Terry Madonna. “But for him, it doesn’t define him. It defined Santorum. It defined his father.”

Still, the only reason I’m voting for him is that his opponent is clearly worse on abortion and other sexual and reproductive rights issues. If there had been a credible primary challenger, I’d have voted against Casey despite his progressive economic credentials. I want the Democratic Party of 2020 to have no room for equivocation: Abortion access for all.

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