3 Strategies for Promoting Women's Right to Safe Abortion Care
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As current staff members at Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS), an organization that has advanced the health and human rights of women and girls over four decades, and longtime reproductive justice activists, we continue to hope that safe and affordable abortion care will, someday, become a reality for everyone. With increasing attacks and restrictions on abortion access worldwide, we have our work cut out.
Here, in the U.S., the debate around abortion has become especially polarized. Right-wing and anti-choice groups bombard young people with messages that stereotype and stigmatize those seeking abortion services -- both individuals and entire communities. Think: billboards have popped up around the country equating abortion to the genocide of African-American children, who are further described as an "endangered species." These -- and other -- oversimplified messages mock a personal and often complex decision, not to mention the right to a constitutionally-protected and medically- safe procedure. They influence how people, especially young people, articulate and align themselves on abortion. They drive our activism -- our tireless commitment to alliances across aisles and opinions, and to conversations that move beyond "pro-life" and "pro-choice" rhetoric to focus on the individual, her needs, rights and circumstances.
Engaging, mobilizing and building alliances on an issue like abortion can be an uphill climb. But as 2012 rolls in, we want to take a few minutes to remind you about why it is important and suggest a few ways you can go about this challenge.
Building Up Our Friends
Our allies are our greatest strength. We especially need to appeal to the hearts and minds of people "on the fence," by connecting abortion rights to principles that they hold valuable -- equality, privacy, dignity, security and more. We must show how these principles will be affected if we do not have the fundamental right to reproductive freedom. We believe that we can even engage anti-choice people in conversations about how restrictions on access to abortion affect women and girls -- especially those who are uninsured, under-insured, socially or ethnically marginalized and isolated.
We need to take a few minutes to contact the judges in our communities and ask them to defend the rights of women and girls. Monica Roa, the lawyer who argued a case before Colombia's Supreme Court that liberalized that nation's restrictive abortion law in May 2006, identifies judges as a key audience: "Judicial bias is a major conflict throughout the world." She proposes a highly effective "court targeting" approach that includes getting better acquainted with specific judges and their position on issues.
And we must not forget our friends, our existing allies -- an activist neighbor, a local abortion fund or a provider -- on the forefront of the abortion rights movement and under threat because of it. Supporting them is critical and we can do so in a number of ways. We can donate money to local abortion funds which provide financial and logistical assistance to women that need abortions, or simply volunteer our time to their activities -- a list of abortion funds is online. We can also volunteer at clinics, in roles that range from administrative to serving as clinic escorts that guide staff, providers and clients in and out of clinics and shield them from harassment and pro-life demonstrators. If these options seem daunting, we can help tremendously by just talking -- with family and friends at home, with our community via blogs and local newspapers, and with our political representatives on the phone.
Listening and Engaging Listeners
In our bid to build alliances across the table, those of us involved in the struggle to preserve abortion rights must develop new tools of moral suasion. How? For a start, we need to be good listeners, good storytellers and patient communicators, and to create safe spaces for respectful dialogue, either one-on-one or in groups.