Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. NARAL is calling today Blog for Choice day to highlight why, 39 years later, we are still fighting for full legal abortion in this country. So today I wanted to blog about a common misconception about abortion – that it’s a “single issue.”
I am tired of hearing abortion referred to as a “single-issue”, as if solely supporting pro-choice politics and politicians is indicative of some extreme, uncomplicated dogma. Because voting for pro-choice candidates is absolutely crucial to me as a voter, and I will not vote for anyone who is not pro-choice, I’ve been repeatedly called a “single-issue voter” in arguments, as if it is the worst, most horrifying slur in the world. Other political science and international affairs majors bemoan the existence of “single-issue voters”, people they think are too simultaneously unintelligent yet blindly passionate to reasonably participate in the political process. I find this stance, judging anyone’s individual reasons for voting to be incredibly problematic, especially given the issue of reproductive health and rights. Who knew that voting for women’s freedom of choice, complete freedom of bodily autonomy is a “single issue”?
Abortion is not a single issue. Abortion and abortion rights are a very complex series of issues that are often misunderstood and oversimplified by people in the media and opponents of choice. Abortion is an issue of intersectionality, and it is impacted by race, class, and gender/gender identity. Voting pro-choice is certainly not voting solely on a “single-issue”. And even if someone believes that it is, given that the “single-issue” in question is one of women’s liberation, isn’t that issue incredibly important?
Consider the impact of race. Black women are disproportionately likely to have an unintended, unwanted pregnancy, and therefore an abortion. This is not because, despite anti-choice rhetoric, they are complicit in perpetuating a genocide against their own race, but is because of major healthcare disparities. Such major disparities exist because ours is a hegemonic political and social system that privileges white people above Black people. So, clearly, abortion is an issue about race, and it has been politicized as such, given that anti-choice ideologues love to talk about the nonexistent “genocide of Black babies” or frequently cite the (incorrect) statistic that there are more Planned Parenthoods in Black neighborhoods in America than white ones.
Now, think about class. Laws restricting access to abortion are disproportionately impacting those women who are not white, middle-upper class women. The women, then, who are most directly impacted by anti-abortion legislation are lower-income women. Six in ten women who have abortions already have one child, and according to the Guttmacher Institute, most chose abortion so that they could take care of their children. Additionally, four in ten women who have abortions are below the federal poverty line.When laws are passed that impose unnecessary regulations which close clinics (such as Virginia’s recent TRAP laws), make women check with more than one doctor prior to an abortion, or make women wait a full 24 hours after seeing a doctor to have one, poor women get seriously shafted. Women who can’t afford to take more than a few hours off work, or can’t afford childcare, or do not have a car and therefore cannot travel, sometimes across their state, to the closest clinic are very negatively impacted by severe abortion restrictions.
Abortion has to do with education – what we’re teaching in schools to ensure safe, enjoyable, consensual sex and what we’re teaching to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STIs. The “single issue” of abortion has to do with abstinence-only education and the fact that it doesn’t work. At all. And it has to do with the fact that, to ensure that “morality” and “family values” are instilled in our youth, we don’t disseminate contraceptives in schools. Most high schoolers have no idea where they can get contraceptives, and the effects of this policing of sexuality and abstinence-only are staggering. Teen pregnancy rates here Harrisonburg, where only abstinence is taught, are double those of the state as a whole. People are not prepared at all to have safe, pleasurable sex because we refuse to teach them how to prevent STIs and pregnancy because of antiquated anti-sex attitudes, and the idea that a woman’s morality is inextricably tied to her abstention from sex.
At a recent campus protest against a visiting racist anti-choice group, an anti-choice woman had a problem with my sign “abortion is a human right.” Because apparently women aren’t humans deserving of rights? Her specific critique was that men can’t get pregnant, and pro-choice individuals apparently don’t want men having any say in the abortion process or something. But, as I explained to her, men can get pregnant and need abortions, and that truly underscores the intersectionality of abortion and choice. Gender is a social construct, meaning that one’s biological sex does not always match up to their gender identity. Anyone with female reproductive organs who also identifies as male can still get pregnant and can still need an abortion.
Simply put, women’s rights are human rights (thanks, Hillary Clinton). Abortion is a fundamental woman’s (and man’s) right, and a cornerstone of the entire idea of women’s liberation. Therefore, it is a crucial human right. And I don’t think that human rights are ever single-issues, especially not a human right that is so important and informed by the intersection of race, class, gender, and gender identity. Abortion is about women’s—and men’s, and non-gender binary people’s—autonomy, health, freedom, future, and that “overused” word, choice, and it should never be oversimplified as anything else.