2009 ended with every writer under the sun reviewing the
past decade: the best, the worst, the bizarre. I guess we as a world are going
to ignore the fact that there was no year "0" and pretend that this means that
2010 is the beginning of a brand new decade. And who am I to buck popular will
on what is fundamentally an irrelevant question? Since this is the start of a
new decade, I’d like to take the time to look forward towards the next 10 years
in the struggle for reproductive rights and justice.
After all, the past decade was a pretty bleak one. The
pro-choice movement didn’t advance the ball down the field, and even our
defensive maneuvers didn’t work so well at times. We rounded out the decade
taking a timid position on health care reform in hopes that things wouldn’t get
worse, and unfortunately it looks like they will. But if we stop playing not to
lose and start playing to win, I suspect we might send the right wing into
retreat and actually gain ground in improving women’s lives and the sexual
health of a nation.
With that in mind, here’s my wish list of things the
pro-choice movement should set out to do in the next 10 years. And I mean set
out to do, not just pay lip service to.
Repeal the Hyde
Amendment. The health care reform debate demonstrated that standing on the
ground we’ve already lost doesn’t do us a bit of good. Pro-choicers should have
demanded that health care reform include abortion funding for everyone covered
by the federal government who is currently cut out of the loop — including
federal employees, Medicaid recipients, and our veterans — but instead we just
asked for the status quo. The result was the Stupak-Pitts amendment and the
potential for women on private insurance to lose abortion coverage. Obviously,
timidity doesn’t work.
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More importantly, the pro-choice movement needs to stand for
justice. The way that Medicaid recipients and soldiers are left financially
abandoned when seeking abortion is a travesty of justice, and it’s not enough
to simply complain about it. We need to start taking action to pressure
legislators to repeal the Hyde amendment, and create the public will to do so.
comprehensive sex education in all public schools. Abstinence-only is a
zombie that keeps coming alive, and we keep valiantly fighting to kill it. But
getting rid of abstinence-only — with its retrograde attitudes towards gender,
homophobia, and blatant lies — is not enough. We need to demand that our kids
get real sex education that will help them make healthy choices while also
respecting their autonomy and individuality.
Address the shortage
of abortion providers. We all know the drill: the average age of an
abortion provider in this country is soaring upwards, and many doctors who
deserve to retire and spend their days playing golf stay in the business
because there’s so many women who need abortions and so few people to provide
them. Few counties have abortion providers, and many women have to travel
hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to get one. And it’s because younger
doctors don’t want to perform abortions. They don’t have any memories of the
horrors of septic abortions (unlike many older doctors), and the harassment
they face if they join up seems like too much trouble.
The problem is complex, but not unfixable. We should lobby
for stronger protections for abortion clinic workers, so that fear doesn’t
drive would-be providers away. More importantly, we need to find a way to get
people with the right attitudes and the right skills into the business. Programs
encouraging bright, young pro-choice people into medical school to train as
ob-gyns who perform abortions is a good start. Pushing medical schools not only
to teach the procedures for abortion, but also to highlight the dangers of
self-abortion would also help. Perhaps a scholarship program for medical
students who train to be abortion providers, or a debt forgiveness program for
those doctors that provide abortion? There are endless possibilities, and we
should undertake them.
Reduce the unintended
pregnancy rate. Bluntly put, the provider shortage is a matter of not just
too little supply but also too much demand. As a nation, we have way more
unintended pregnancies than we should, because we as a nation aren’t using
contraception as much or as effectively as we could. Luckily, this is a fight
that we are already fighting, right now by extensively researching why it is
that contraception intentions so often fail.
Getting people to a place where they can and will use
contraception more effectively when they don’t want pregnancy will be an
enormous task. A lot of it will require cultural shifts, mainly getting past
hang-ups about sex that cause people to feel that preparing is "slutty," and
moving towards a culture where having a child is seen more as an active choice
and not so much something that just happens to you. It will require a culture
where women are empowered to demand that their male partners take their health
and desires into account, where condoms are just a sign of respect and not some
emasculating bummer. But we shouldn’t fear that this is too much to take on;
the feminist movement has produced remarkable changes in a short period of time
before, and we can do it again.
the STD transmission rate. The same sort of cultural and economic changes
that will help lead to lower rates of unintended pregnancy will help result in
fewer STD transmissions. More openness, less shame, more backbone in the
bedroom-all of these things make it easier to use condoms every time, get
tested regularly, and get treated as soon as you exhibit symptoms, all of which
are factors in reducing the transmission rate.
These are just some ideas for a 10-year pro-choice agenda to
move the ball down the field. The comment section is open; I’m interested in
hearing what you want to see made priorities and what should be done to reach