The post-Roe revival of an unstoppable movement for reproductive rights is just beginning
In this post-deer At this time, the reproductive rights movement is now also armed with personal testimonies that transform an issue in real time. Abortion-related stories – once relatively rare and often shrouded in shame – are now prolific and shrouded in justice.
A 10-year-old Ohio rape victim who was forced to cross state lines to terminate her pregnancy. A Florida orphan teenager deemed not “mature enough” by state courts to initiate an abortion, but apparently well placed to raise a child on her own. A Texas woman forced to carry on wearing an unviable pregnancy for weeks until she could find a doctor willing to perform a procedure to extract the dead fetus.
These are the ingredients of an unstoppable force. Anyone of childbearing age, not to mention their mothers and fathers, can look at these stories and imagine, It could be me or my loved oneregardless of the circumstances under which they got pregnant and how badly they may or may not want to carry to term.
Looking for my 2015 book Don’t Tell Me to Wait: How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama’s PresidencyI became convinced that the stories of gay and transgender Americans shared readily in the media and at kitchen tables across the country helped distinguish the LGBTQ movement from the reproductive rights movement during Obama’s presidency.
Indeed, by the end of Obama’s term, gay rights had advanced faster than most activists had ever dreamed possible, while pro-choice achievements languished. Not only did Obama fail to pass the Freedom of Choice Act, which he promised to do”First thingat a 2008 campaign event at Planned Parenthood – he also signed an order strengthening the prohibition on using federal funds for abortions to win the votes of anti-abortion Democrats (who still existed at the time) for his health care law.
But today, the reproductive rights movement has both the poignant anecdotes and a similar sense of urgency that animated LGBTQ activists before President Obama’s tenure. Following the sudden gutting of the Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade in June, pro-choice organizers are now moved by the self-determination imperative that LGBTQ activists have felt in the wake of Proposition 8, the 2008 California ballot initiative that stripped same-sex couples of rights of the hard-won marriage. If that right could be taken away in one of the most liberal enclaves in the country, gay rights activists knew that a host of state-sanctioned protections around relationships, employment, and more were under threat in all the countries. Likewise, the Republican attack on reproductive freedom will not stop at abortion.
But the parallels between the LGBTQ movement and the reproductive rights movement go back even further. Given how far Republican laws now impinge on the good medical judgment of doctors, silencing these injustices could literally lead to the deaths of pregnant women and transgender men, many of whom are also parents of young children.
It’s no coincidence that “Silence = Death” was the iconic motto of ACT UP, the fervent and fearless HIV-AIDS activists who persuaded a neglectful federal government to accelerate research, development and access to life-saving drugs in the 80s and 90s. The HIV-AIDS epidemic prompted a generation of LGBTQ Americans to come out. After all, no one was going to stand up for their health, well-being, and freedoms unless their stories were known to family members, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens. This source of personal truths laid the groundwork for unprecedented progress on LGBTQ equality that social scientists have marveled over other social issues, including abortion. Support for marriage equality, for example, jumped about 20 points in the decade before it was legalized — from 37% in August 2005, when same-sex marriage bans swept the country, to around 58% in the summer of 2015, when the Supreme Court struck down those bans.
Today, same-sex marriage has gone from an issue that divided Democrats to one that united them while driving a wedge through the heart of the GOP base, with pro-LGBTQ suburbanites largely diverging from homophobic evangelicals.
Abortion rights are rapidly making the same transition. The big difference is that a solid majority of Americans were already with the reproductive rights movement, they just needed a reason to prioritize the issue at the polls. An extremist Supreme Court has now entrusted top activists with this rushed event and a flood of heartbreaking stories to create lasting change.