One of the simplest ways to see how progress is happening (or not happening) is to observe attitudes around issues.
Nothing against weed, but weed will probably be legalized in all states before abortion, and the thought of that makes me crazy. I’m all about weed, in the most casual, recreational, and fun sense of it. I understand that there’s a legitimate medical need for it, which, in all other cases, overrides the fun part. I also understand that the war on drugs has been long fought, and is a gouging aspect of our racist justice system. And nothing against gay marriage, but there are more legitimate issues directly relating to the harm toward those in the queer community than in which states same sex marriage is won.
In a time where more and more states have begun to legalize and begin to see weed as harmless, and gay love as “same love” or whatever, we’re also facing issues with other states beginning to tighten their hold on basic health for women. Even with the minor triumphs in Mississippi and Alabama, this feels like an incredible struggle. Gay marriage and weed legalization have both seen an increase in acceptance over the years, but abortion is stagnant, and in some cases, backsliding in terms of public attitudes. Why have attitudes shifted so dramatically with some of these issues, and not at all toward abortion? Popular culture has increased the visibility and normalization of gay rights and smoking weed, but to talk or joke about women’s health is still icky, and scary.
The weird part is that despite the regression, the majority of Americans still believe that early term abortion is justifiable for cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is threatened. (I am an all cases sort of girl, but we can fight about that in the comments.) And yet, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, have all made great efforts to shut down every last clinic they have. To date, there are no rural clinics in Texas, which means that if a woman in one of the poorer or more remote parts of the state so much as wants to get a free or low-cost pap smear, it is now completely impossible without taking days off work and traveling long distances. Texas is paving the way for legislative and bureaucratic restrictions on women’s health, and other states are following suit.
Several months ago, a New Jersey abortion counselor, Emily Letts, filmed her own abortion. In the video, she can be seen reflecting on her choice and taking deep breaths with her eyes closed while the doctor performs the procedure.
Since abortion is both a highly politicized and a highly intimate procedure, most people don’t get adequate insight into it before deciding it’s a good idea to talk about it. Efforts like Letts’ video, or creative projects such as Jenny Slate’s film, Obvious Child, serve to normalize an aspect of women’s health that is usually demonized. But there’s definitely backlash. Many people criticized these women for glorifying abortion, claiming that they spun what some felt was a very authentic experience, into an overly positive one. It was reported that even NBC refused to run an ad for the Obvious Child film, simply because it contained the word “abortion.” Anne Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League said of the video, “I would hope the day will come when she realizes encouraging other women to blithely kill their children without any remorse at all is an irresponsible, juvenile and immature thing to do.”
When talking about abortion under the lens of women’s health, if it doesn’t show how abortion is bad, the very topic becomes glorification. In neither instance did abortion seem like any “fun,” but this of course stands in contrast to the coverage of endless actual partying that took place after weed was legalized in Colorado.
These normalization efforts are still met with resistance mainly because of misogyny. It’s not that abortions are unacceptable, it’s that women are. Abortion rights, and the closing of these clinics are more important than issues that are gaining ground, but the political ground anti-choice policies have begun to make stems from the lack of conversation—a conversation we need to have. We still talk about abortion the same way we talk about sexual assault, periods, birth control, and any other issue pertinent to women’s safety and well being—that is, we’re not supposed to talk about it. It’s safest to discuss in women’s spaces, but even then, there is fear of possible judgment, blame, and guilt, all emotions women are familiar with when it comes to addressing their bodies and reproductive rights.
Before we can start recognizing the need for these clinics, it’s important that we begin to recognize the need to increase the visibility of women’s health. Abortion can still be a personal and important struggle, but it can’t be off limits or subject to shame or fear mongering. For many women, it’s painless, life-changing, and an absolute necessity.