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USA: In the defence of threatened abortion rights

Wednesday 24 January 2018, by siawi3


The Untold Story of the Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Gloria Totten

January 22, 2018
People’s Blog

Today – January 22 – is the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which recognized abortion as a constitutional right.

This year, as in every other, the media has focused coverage on the annual anti-abortion demonstration in Washington, even though it is not news. Clearly, there’s nothing new or noteworthy about that.

What’s different about the Roe anniversary this year is the newly proactive abortion rights movement.

Today, lawmakers from 25 states and 3 localities join together to announce they will introduce legislation to affirmatively protect women’s fundamental right to abortion. This nationwide demonstration of resolve is just the beginning for 2018. Importantly, it’s part of a larger movement-wide effort to take the offense on abortion rights.

In 2016, there were 81 proactive abortion rights measures introduced in 25 states. Last year, that increased to 133 measures in 33 states and four localities. This year, the Public Leadership Institute is pushing to increase the number of proactive bills and resolutions to 200 in nearly 40 different states.

Part of the reason for this increase is the distribution of the Public Leadership Institute’s Playbook for Abortion Rights—the great majority of the policies introduced are similar to model bills published in that book. And part is the energy generated by the Women’s March and subsequent organizing for women’s rights.

This effort for the proactive is far from a symbolic. Just over the past year:

.Oregon enacted HB 3391, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which requires health insurance policies across the state to cover abortion, as well as contraception and other reproductive health services, at no cost to the patient.

.Illinois enacted HB 40, which provides Medicaid funding for most abortions, as well as insurance coverage of abortion for state employees.

.Hawaii enacted SB 501, which requires anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to post and distribute notices about the availability of abortion and reproductive health services in the state. Crisis pregnancy centers are anti-abortion offices disguised to look like medical clinics which offer services such as pregnancy tests and prenatal sonograms, and lie about medical facts, all in an effort to stop women from having abortions.

.Maryland enacted SB 1081, which provides financial support to abortion clinics if federal funding is cut. And California Treasurer John Chiang created a program similar to Maryland’s, making Community Clinic Lifeline Grants available to facilities that provide abortion services.

.Delaware enacted SB 1, which guarantees the right to abortion under the Roe v. Wade decision. The law also repeals obsolete anti-abortion statutes.

Many of the bills announced today are similar to the new Delaware law. They would “codify” Roe, meaning they would write the constitutional right to abortion into state statutes. This is because the Supreme Court is just one justice’s death or retirement away from reversing Roe.

If that ruling is overturned, individual states would decide whether women have access to legal abortion and, at present, only 17 states protect the fundamental right to abortion in their statutes or constitutions. In this potentially decisive election year, it is crucial to understand that such legislation is not just essential policy, it’s extremely good politics. Polls consistently show that about 70 percent of Americans support Roe.

Our allies in the states say it better than I can: “Protecting abortion rights is essential to women’s freedom, privacy and health. We’ve had enough of the attacks. Women deserve better,” insists Michigan State Senator Rebekah Warren. “We have fought for 45 years to protect the right to abortion under Roe, and we are ready to fight another 45,” declares NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri’s Executive Director, Alison Dreith.

So let’s all do more than demonstrate. And let’s not confine ourselves to opposing regressive legislation. It is time to fight for proactive measures that represent our values, the kind of policies that make news, put our opponents on the defensive, and excite Americans who care about women’s rights.
Common Dreams This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.



Abortion Rights Advocates Working to Turn the Tide

February 9, 2017

Gloria Totten

Many of us have been fixed to our screens, watching in horror as President Trump and his colossally unqualified administration roll back progress at an unprecedented pace.

But, let’s remember this political moment came, in part, because of relentless attacks by conservatives in the states on the full range of issues: encouraging discrimination against immigrants and LGBTQ individuals, limiting collective bargaining and the right to sue corporations for wrongdoing, encouraging the carrying and use of guns, tearing down environmental and health-care protections, and using voter ID and gerrymandering to tilt elections. This moment was built on a foundation of divisiveness that was sown in the states.

The right wing’s broadest attacks, of course, have targeted reproductive rights. Over the past six years, state lawmakers have passed more than 300 restrictions on abortion. Their tactics have been designed to do more than just change state policy. They have used every bill and amendment introduced to stoke their base in preparation for this moment—an anti-choice president with a U.S. Supreme Court nomination under consideration.

At the state and local levels, it is time for progressives to go on the offensive.

It’s time to make the development of proactive policy a central component of our work. It’s time to train advocates to drive bold, proactive policy agendas in the states, even those conservatives control. It’s time to arm our activists with policies that represent their values, and that can energize them to fight for something instead of being repeatedly asked to simply defend the status quo.

Only a proactive strategy makes news, frames the debate, and dictates timing. Only a proactive strategy can force opponents to shift their resources and time defending unpopular positions. A good offense really is the best defense.

So, when it comes to reproductive rights, it is not enough to engage in defensive battles. It is important for our lawmakers and advocates to grab the initiative, framing the issue with our own legislation—to expand access to abortion, protect patients who are trying to access clinics, make abortion affordable through insurance coverage, prevent discrimination against women who choose abortion, and crack down on deceptive activities by fake pregnancy centers.

To be more specific, here are three crucial tactics to build proactive policy campaigns and how the Public Leadership Institute (PLI) has employed them for abortion rights.

Make it easy for policymakers to champion your issue. Too often, progressives hold their ideas close to their chest, worried that if they put them out there the other side will co-opt them. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Conservatives are too busy thinking up new ways to restrict our rights—churning out model bills of their own, and spoon-feeding those bills to legislators at lavish conferences—to worry about our tactics. The only effect of holding ideas close is to keep them out of the public discourse. And it does a great disservice to the terrific champions who are in office and want to fight to improve people’s lives but could use a little more support to do it.

Recognizing that lawmakers and advocates are generally unaware of proactive policy options, PLI worked with 23 other organizations to publish in January 2016 the Playbook for Abortion Rights, a compendium of model bills. We distribute it to legislators and advocates in all 50 states, conduct webinars on the content, and offer technical and policy support to anyone who wants to introduce an abortion rights bill.

Conduct research to understand who supports your ideas. In the near term, our lawmakers and advocates should drive proactive policies that contrast progressives with conservatives, make real improvements in people’s lives, and are popular. In the long term, we should drive policies that are not immediately popular, as long as we are willing to engage in sustained organizing on them in ways that shift the public’s understanding of the issue over time and grow a base of supporters. It takes both strategies to create major change, and it requires public opinion testing to understand who supports what and why, or why not.

On abortion, PLI commissioned a nationwide poll, which found that ten of the bills in the Playbook are favored by at least 60 percent of U.S. voters. Even better, seven of those models are supported by at least 75 percent. This data helped us make the case for a proactive abortion rights strategy in the states, emboldened advocates, and gave policymakers the information they needed to select the right policies for their states.

Advocates and policy champions must join together from the start. It’s not uncommon for issue experts to sit in a room and cook up policies, nailing down every last detail before bringing the legislative champions into the process. Yet, it’s those very champions who are the legislative experts, who understand their colleagues, constituents, and chamber rules. The issue experts and the legislative experts must move beyond “inside-outside” roles and work together from the beginning of the strategy to the end, drawing on the skills and strengths of all involved.

With more than 13,000 progressive policymakers and thousands of activists in our network, my organization has been uniquely positioned to drive a proactive policy strategy in states and cities nationwide. And in support of abortion rights, that’s what we’ve done.

When PLI started pursuing a proactive abortion rights strategy in 2016, we reached out to coalitions in ten strategically selected states. We worked with them to develop their organizing plans and provided financial support, to great success. And, because we know we have some amazing legislative leaders in our network, we also went directly to lawmakers. This joint leadership—advocates and lawmakers together—is helping to fuel, for perhaps the first time, a massive, multi-state proactive policy strategy for abortion rights.

Over the past two weeks, lawmakers and advocates from 18 states jointly announced that they have, or will, introduce more than 85 abortion rights policies—standing up in the face of the right wing’s anti-choice agenda emboldened by the presidential election. The states publicly participating include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Other states are moving forward too and, overall, we expect policymakers in at least 25 different states and five municipalities to introduce more than 100 abortion rights measures. States across the country are now fighting to expand the numbers of providers, protect clinics from violence and patients from harassment, and regulate so-called crisis pregnancy centers and the lies they promulgate. Resolutions that declare “Abortion Is Health Care” are being introduced all over the country and have already passed legislative bodies in Colorado, Vermont, the City of Austin, and Travis County, Texas.

We are not going to magically enact abortion rights, or any bold progressive reform, in the many states where conservatives have control. But I can guarantee you that we will never address people’s desire for change, never affect the climate in any state, if we do not begin to pursue policies that address people’s real problems and show them that we are fighting for them.

As Senator Paul Wellstone (D), from my home state of Minnesota, said, “If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.”



New Abortion Rights Strategy in States and Localities

January 21, 2016

Gloria Totten

The battle over abortion rights legislation is being fought almost entirely at the state level, with skirmishes in localities. This will most likely continue to be true for years to come.

The anti-abortion forces understand this dynamic, have focused their resources on state legislation, and over the past five years have enacted more than 300 new abortion restrictions in the states.

How can the abortion rights movement reverse the trend? By introducing and fighting for our own proactive state and local legislation. (Spoiler alert: That legislation is right here.)

It is important to understand the public’s views about abortion. According to the latest Gallup poll, 29 percent of Americans think abortion should be “legal under any circumstances” and 19 percent believe abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances.” So most Americans can flip for or against abortion depending on the circumstances presented to them.

The anti-abortion movement’s legislation is generally message-framed to appeal to those voters in the middle. Their proposals for strict regulations on abortion clinics are intended to close them down, but they’re sold to the public as measures to keep women safe. Their bills requiring doctors to provide medically inaccurate information about abortion are designed to scare women, but they’re promoted as “right to know” legislation. Their policies banning government-sponsored insurance from covering abortion are intended to make the procedure inaccessible, but they’re advertised as saving taxpayers’ money (which is, incidentally, false).

In other words, anti-abortion leaders understand that politics is the art of persuasion.

The reason why the anti-abortion forces control the message frame is that we debate their legislation, not ours. They decide what they want to talk about—e.g. the sale of fetal parts. Then they plan a campaign around it and they introduce legislation across the states (currently pending in California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin). Our side simply responds, repeating their frame, and simultaneously convincing the media that this is the debate to cover.

The only way out of the right-wing messaging quicksand is to change the agenda and the message frame. We do that by identifying legislation where we can get people in the middle to side with us, and then plan and execute proactive campaigns based around that legislation.

Proactive abortion rights policies expand access to reproductive rights and justice. There are a wide variety of measures that can genuinely increase women’s access to abortion care, reverse obstacles to such care, explore new and innovative ways for women to receive care, and address long-existing barriers to full reproductive health that predominantly affect women of color and low-income women. But in addition to the obvious policy benefits, such legislation:

● Grabs public and media attention—It provides an alternative to the anti-abortion stories about defunding Planned Parenthood, fetal parts, abortion procedures, and “protecting” women from themselves.
● Provides a series of hard news hooks—It creates legitimate opportunities for news stories when a proactive bill is planned, is introduced, it has a hearing, there’s a vote, and so on.
● Facilitates grassroots organizing—It generates new activism and gives longtime volunteers concrete ways to engage with the movement, not just “list building” or “e-activism.” It helps organizations develop new leaders who, in turn, infuse new energy into the movement.
● Demonstrates strength—It shows policymakers that there is a real political advantage in siding with us, that there is reward for championing policies that make concrete improvements in women’s health and lives.
● Widens the playing field—It allows us to start debates in areas where we have the advantage. It makes no sense to focus all our energy on defense in places like Kansas and Oklahoma when we can make the other side play defense in more supportive states and in big cities.

Admittedly, it has been hard for legislators, council members and advocates to find popular, proactive abortion rights legislation to introduce—until now.

“A Playbook for Abortion Rights: a guide for state and local policymakers” is our brand-new policy book containing 27 model bills and two model resolutions. It’s available on our website here and there’s a link at the bottom of each page allowing you to download a PDF of the entire book. Or we’d be happy to mail hard copies if you prefer.

The release of this book is just the beginning of PLI’s abortion rights project. We are commissioning polling and advertising and will work with policymakers, advocates, activists and the public to help sustain ongoing organizing activities that turn our ideas into concrete action in the states. Contact us at leadership if you’d like to participate!


Gloria Totten is the founder and President of the Public Leadership Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy and leadership center that hosts the largest network of progressive lawmakers in the nation.