Since the overturning of Roe—which would have celebrated its 51st anniversary yesterday—the GOP has been threatening our bodily autonomy at every level. Here are 7 effective ways to fend off their attacks—and win.
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This election year will demand all hands on deck. Especially when it comes to defending and expanding abortion rights and access in the U.S. There’s plenty of work to go around to counter threats to bodily autonomy at practically every level, from the hyper-local—think city councils and county commissions—to the White House and the Supreme Court, where federal power players could wield enough influence on their own to severely restrict or outlaw abortion nationwide, even in so-called “abortion friendly” and “blue” geographies. The time for picking our battles is now.
For decades, feminists warned that the end of Roe v. Wade would only be the beginning. Yesterday would have been the 51st anniversary of the court decision, and we’re seeing the awful truth behind those predictions bear out now. The anti-abortion movement never intended to stop at ending federal protections for abortion rights (which never guaranteed access to abortion in the first place, anyway), and since the Supreme Court issued its decision in Dobbs, anti-abortion lobbyists, politicians, and law-enforcement officials have only grown more bloodthirsty.
How else to describe the abortion bans that killed Yeni Glick and traumatized Kate Cox in Texas, and the (blessedly unsuccessful) crusade to imprison Brittany Watts for experiencing a miscarriage in Ohio? To describe pregnant Oklahomans told to wait until they are at death’s door to seek hospital care, or the deadly Idaho abortion ban that a Trump-packed SCOTUS has allowed to stand? Or to interpret America’s rising maternal mortality rates, worsened by restrictions on abortion, miscarriage management, and the full spectrum of pregnancy care, especially in the South and the Midwest? Or to situate attacks on abortion providers and clinics that have made it difficult and dangerous, if not impossible, for medical professionals to offer and patients to access care?
In spite of these devastating and inevitable consequences, there have been important victories for reproductive rights since the fall of Roe. Abortion has won again and again in ballot initiatives and elections at the state level since June 2022. But it is because of these victories that we will need to fight harder than ever in the coming year if we are to win the ongoing war for bodily autonomy in America. In fact, the broad success of state- and local-level protections for abortion rights since Dobbs has likely served to further inflame an anti-abortion movement that has always been driven by the fragile and abusive egotism of patriarchal politics.
To be clear: We would have seen further attacks on reproductive freedom even without victories at state and local levels. This is not an argument for victim-blaming and complacency, because bullies and abusers—and that is the makeup of the anti-abortion movement—will take advantage at any time. But we are best served to prepare for what’s next by understanding the core motivations at the root of anti-abortion politics, and to see them for what they are: the increasingly flailing, but nevertheless often effective machinations of control-mad people—many of them cisgender men—who appear to feel demeaned, even emasculated by people’s ability to access abortion.
Why else would Missouri Republicans propose homicide charges for people who have post-Roe abortions, or the city of Beverly Hills capitulate to anti-abortion pressure? Why else would a Florida appeals court refuse to entertain the case of a young person denied permission to access abortion care by a lower judge? Why else would anti-abortion politicians in South Carolina move to go beyond their already near-total abortion ban? Or an anti-abortion judge in Colorado side with dangerous, and unscientific, claims about “abortion reversal” or Oregon Republicans throw an entire, guaranteed-loser walk-out tantrum over abortion protections? Why else would the architect of anti-abortion “bounty hunter” laws be representing a domestic abuser in a court case accusing a woman of self-managing an abortion? The phrase “unlikely to pass” has been used to describe a move from New Hampshire Republicans to ban abortion after 15 days (!), but that wording may only apply to this legislative period.
We know one thing: The anti-abortion movement will never let up, because it is motivated by a feeling more powerful than “love them both”—a preposterous propaganda phrase that purports to protect pregnant people and fetuses equally—and even more powerful than the bare, unbridled misogyny, racism, and classism that underpin most abortion restrictions. The anti-abortion movement is, more than anything else, motivated in the year 2024 by the desire to rid itself of the shame of having been bested by weak, hysterical women who must be put in their place—preferably the kitchen, barefoot, but if needs must, prison or the grave will do just fine. The last thing they want are children raised by people who believe that they have a right to determine their own reproductive futures.
Coming into 2024 with this understanding—that the anti-abortion movement is an abusive and emasculated patriarchal movement, even in post-Roe victory—must shape our responses to whatever they come up with, and they will try every avenue to fill pregnant people and abortion supporters full of fear, helplessness, and complacency. Anti-abortion forces are already trying, sometimes successfully, to commandeer city councils and county commissioners into passing unconstitutional local bans on abortion and support for pregnant people (especially young people) forced to travel for abortion care. They are trying to pit abortion-supporters against our friends and neighbors, creating a culture of fear and surveillance. They are even trying to thwart and/or defeat democratically determined abortion protections enacted by voters—ostensibly the very decision-making the Dobbs ruling returned to the states.
The mainstream political press remains fixated on empty promises and nonsense talking points about abortion “compromises” from national political figures gaming for centrist votes with no ultimate accountability. But the proof is in the anti-abortion pudding: Nowhere in the United States are the dark-money drivers of anti-abortion policy—an incredibly well-funded bunch pulling the strings of the most powerful decision-makers in the country—backing down on increasing abortion restrictions, abortion surveillance, and abortion criminalization at every level, even in “blue” states. Most horrifyingly, the prospect of an anti-abortion president weaponizing the Comstock Act to ban medication abortion and the transmission of other abortion-related materials nationwide remains a live one. And anti-abortion advocates will not again make the mistake of being outspent by pro-abortion organizers in key geographies like Florida and Arizona, not only because they want to outlaw abortion, but because their miserable egos cannot abide much more losing at the hands of mouthy Americans who have the gall to make their own decisions about pregnancy.
I make it sound like there is no hope on the horizon. To the contrary, the forecast is so dark precisely because there is so much light at the end of this tunnel, because the raging, bloodthirsty abusers of the anti-abortion movement see that they are on the verge of being sidelined and abandoned. Abusers are always more dangerous when their victims threaten to leave. Which means that those of us who are able to fight must do so, and we must recognize that attacks on abortion in the places we most and least expect them threaten everyone, everywhere. There’s so much we can do.
- People living in abortion-friendly geographies must demand expanded protections and support for reproductive care where they live, and there is room for improvement everywhere. Advocates in abortion-friendlier states are already working on initiatives such as approving public funding for abortion, increasing abortion access for students, eliminating gestational abortion bans, and improving abortion access for young folks. Google or do an Insta-search and join them! These efforts don’t just improve abortion access in limited areas, but provide blueprints for expanding abortion access elsewhere, and they need more amplification and financial support.
- Anyone with the means must lend their time, money, and resources to abortion-access defenses, most especially clinics providing pregnancy care in abortion-ban states and abortion funds in states where abortion is banned and/or heavily restricted. After a post-Dobbs surge, financial support for abortion funds in key areas has dropped drastically, but the need persists as options for clinical abortion access remain under threat. Practical support funds and groups like Elevated Access provide essential resources for abortion travelers (who should nevertheless be able to access care where they live, but here we are).
- Abortion supporters must become good ambassadors for safe, self-managed abortion care, and avoid fear-mongering about coat-hanger abortions and last resorts. It is a testament to the resiliency of pregnant people and abortion advocates everywhere that access to medication abortion by mail and via telemedicine has increased post-Dobbs, even in “red” and “abortion-hostile” states. But self-managed medication abortion, even with resources like the incredible M+A Hotline, is not the right choice for everyone, and it shouldn’t be a forced choice. Everyone deserves to be able to choose the kind of abortion care that’s right for them.
- Be louder, prouder, and more dedicated than the anti-abortion folks who have no compunction about disseminating misinformation about abortion—especially their claims that abortion rights are unpopular, or not important to voters. Support for abortion rights and access has never been higher. This can manifest in lots of ways, from being the squeaky wheel with your public reps (even if they’re pro-choice!), to running for office yourself. We know that anti-abortion groups are trying to infiltrate city councils and county commissions; if you’ve been thinking about seeking out any kind of local public office, the time is now. Even if you live in a conservative area—perhaps especially if you live in what you think is a pro-abortion area—being the pro-abortion voice on your council or commission could be the difference between entertaining anti-abortion efforts or keeping them at bay.
- Understand the risks of pregnancy criminalization in a post-Roe world, even in places where abortion access and self-managed abortion is ostensibly protected. Organizations like If/When/How (full disclosure: I used to work there) and Pregnancy Justice are doing essential work tracking and defending people who are prosecuted for pregnancy outcomes.
- Connect with mutual aid networks and advocates that support abortion access wherever you live, or build one if there isn’t a local network. Bans to abortion access could manifest nationwide with the swipe of a Supreme Court pen or the election of an anti-abortion president (or both), so make sure you’re connected to like-minded people who are ready to take action before disaster strikes.
- Be a present and vocal advocate for your own beliefs around reproductive autonomy whenever the opportunity presents. Speak up when someone spouts some anti-abortion nonsense, even if it’s only to say you don’t agree. You don’t have to get in a fight or a debate, but don’t let it be a question. If you believe in abortion rights, public sentiment is on your side—and it will only grow with every affirmation.
The anti-abortion movement is betting that justice-minded people are feeling too helpless and burned-out to fight back against their redoubled efforts to attack bodily autonomy post-Roe. This is abuser logic, and it works. Browbeating people into submission, ignorance, and complacency only strengthens a movement predicated on fear and control. This is not a reason to back down, but rather a call to action to fight even harder together. It is the only way we survive.
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