The “it” issue

Trigger warning: abortion

It’s back. Abortion, the thorny intersection of bodily autonomy and medical care, is rising to prominence again as a defining political issue in US politics and specifically in the coming 2016 elections. Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a court case with the US Supreme Court to strike down a Texan law, designed to make operating a medical center that provides abortions legally all but impossible. One potential outcome of the case, if taken up by the Supreme Court, is an end to the widespread use of these laws in many states to reduce the number of centers offering abortion. This wasn’t merely a routine legal conflict, however, but a deliberate and public first shot in the coming political and legal fight over rights and access to abortion and related medical services. After all, the Center for Reproductive Rights drew up an image (presumably ahead of the filing) which asks people to share the news and image on Facebook:

center for reprorights image 9-3From here.

It’s not just those in favor of maintaining or expanding reproductive rights and their accessibility that are spoiling for a fight. Also today, the Family Research Council sent out their semi-daily “Insider’s Guide to Pro-Family News” which highlighted a post they had published on their blog yesterday. It continues the anti-abortion argument that ending federal support for Planned Parenthood’s broader organization wouldn’t necessarily affect access to medical care by noting the prevalence of Federally Qualified Health Centers and other locations where non-abortion parts of health care are available in many areas largely neglected by the US’s broader health system. It notes one fact however: that these clinics can more or less match Planned Parenthood in access to all but one federally-guaranteed medical procedure – abortion. The implicit message is clear, that that’s not a medical procedure that needs to be accessible.

Unlike other recent versions of this fight, the ability to access and the right to have an abortion are inescapably central to the current political debate. While prior discussions have been derailed from arguments over the use of birth control to defenses of the other uses of that for hormonal regulation and other medical needs, what is being zeroed in on by both sides in the on-going discussion is how directly threatened access to abortion is. This is the byproduct of a curious dualism in US politics. The right to an abortion is indisputably provided for, yet the details of accessibility of that medical procedure are hardly an afterthought. Anti-abortion activism has exploited that discrepancy for years – from demanding that no federal funds be used to directly finance abortion to the setting up of countless “crisis pregnancy centers” and picket lines. There is an organized movement in the US to make abortion financially, physically, and now legally difficult to access. In fact, the increasing inclusion of specifically anti-abortion clinics among federally-funded clinics is a key part of that effort, as a recent Vice documentary showed:

That is part and parcel with the Family Research Council’s response, down to the potential inclusion of those types of clinics among alternative medical providers to Planned Parenthood. What has been constructed over the years is an incredibly well distributed medical care system, within which it’s entirely possible to ask for an abortion but nightmarishly Kafkaesque to actually find a provider. With that continuing abuse of the split hairs between “theoretical right” and “accessible right”, the implicit argument – about whether there is a right to abortion being accessible – is now advancing to a highly visible court battle. What’s more, that’s coming to the fore just as a congress looking for a contentious issue to use in the looming government shutdown, and following that a federal election. Get ready to talk about abortion because it’s going to be inescapable while the US is forced to consider whether that division between the right to an abortion and the right to access an abortion can stand the test of time.

The featured image for this article is Debra Sweet’s image of an unnamed pro-choice protester in 2012, viewable here.

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