Let's cut right to it: A law that bans abortion is a law that mandates pregnancy. And forcing women to be pregnant is a clear-cut denial of freedom. Between the continued state-level assaults on abortion rights and the news last week that the Trump administration plans to overturn Obamacare's birth control mandate, that freedom is directly in the line of fire. Which is why I'm so baffled by the spate of high-ranking Democrats suggesting that the left abandon reproductive rights as a core principle.
Last month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are "not a rubber stamp party" and that abortion rights were "fading as an issue" for voters; Bernie Sanders supported an anti-choice mayoral candidate in Nebraska, saying "you just can't exclude people who disagree with us on one issue;" and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards argued at the DNC that the party would be more successful in the South if they supported anti-choice candidates.
But a woman's autonomy over her body and life isn't just "one issue" or a political strategy: It's a fundamental human right. In fact, the United Nations included lack of access to abortion in their 2013 report on torture and inhuman treatment, noting that denial of abortion care is gender-based abuse. In Pelosi's pivot away from abortion rights she also said, "In our caucus, one thing unifies us: our values about working families." How is preventing gender-based abuse not a value of working families? It goes to show how tenuous women's rights really are that leaders on the left would be willing to dismiss these truths in the name of political expediency.
Part of the problem is that expecting women to repeatedly defend abortion is dehumanizing in and of itself. In the weeks following Pelosi's and Sanders' comments, we relayed the statistics—as we have had to time and again—showing how curbing access to abortion hurts women. Or how laws passed under the guise of protecting women are little more than cruel roadblocks to necessary care.
We patiently go over the ways in which the right to have an abortion is a key part of economic equality and justice. We share our personal stories—often to a hostile reception—of how access to abortion made our lives better. Or, in my case, how an abortion protected my health and possibly my life. (The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and is the only place where that rate is rising.)
But why do we still have to go to such great lengths? Making these arguments feels like begging for scraps. It's humiliating to be put in the position of having to convince someone of your humanity. I'm tired of women having to explain themselves to people who will never know what it feels like to be pregnant when you don't want to or cannot be.
How many studies need to be done? How many articles do we have to write, or stories do we have to share, before people will accept that a woman's ability to control what happens to her body is as necessary to her as oxygen? When will they realize that denying us this is deadly?
During times of political strife, it's always the rights of the most marginalized that are deemed expendable or strategically fraught. When George W. Bush was president, I remember the same arguments—we needed a "bigger tent," abortions rights were a "single issue."
But Democrats would do well to remember who greeted Trump on his first full day in office. It was women, millions of us, marching around the world and outside Trump's door to remind the new administration that we are here and that our rights and our humanity are not so easily ignored. If need be, we can show up at the Democrats' front steps, too.
Jessica Valenti is a contributing editor to MarieClaire.com—read her weekly column here.
Jessica Valenti is a columnist and author of five books on feminism, politics, and culture. Her latest book, Sex Object: A Memoir, was a New York Times bestseller. Valenti is also editor of the ground-breaking anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and the founder of Feministing.com, which Columbia Journalism Review called “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” She has a Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
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