Instead, what’s more likely to end abortion services in Florida this session are so-called TRAP bills that threaten to close any number of the 65 abortion clinics in Florida, 16 of which are affiliated with Planned Parenthood.
TRAP stands for “targeted regulation of abortion providers.” Feigning concern that abortion should be “safe,” Republicans push TRAP bills that require facilities offering abortion services to be as fully equipped as mini-hospitals — which effectively puts them out of business. This is the exact same kind of legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered, when she donned pink sneakers and spoke for 13 hours, in the Texas state house. Unfortunately, the Texas GOP prevailed, and the number of clinics serving the Lone Star State has been reduced from 36 to just six.
The stalking horse bill, HB 865 is clearly unconstitutional, but it sailed through committee, and the media took the bait and reported breathlessly on this worthless piece of paper while the real threats — the TRAP bills — were barely mentioned.
If you’re wondering how abortion politics became so abysmal as to nurture an all-out ban to advance in the Florida legislature, look no further than the Clinton era for answers. We were hoodwinked then, and it’s happening again. The Clinton-era mantra that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare,” wasn’t just condescending, it was bad strategy. It set us up for the defeat in Texas, as well as the massacre we could possibly face here in Florida.
“Rare” suggests there’s an ideal, low number of abortions that should be performed. This is bad medicine. If we’re to have a modern women’s healthcare system, there’s no ideal number of abortions, same as there’s no ideal number of heart operations. To suggest otherwise is a shaming tactic aimed to position women as morally inferior vis-a-vis managing the size and timing of their family planning. There’s no “good” or “bad” abortion. Nor is there a “deserving” or “undeserving” woman who seeks one. There’s only craven politicians who trade our interests for political gain.
As if “safe, legal and rare” weren’t bad enough, in 2005, Hillary Clinton referred to abortion as a “sad, tragic choice to many, many women.” The political calculus, I suppose, was that the “heart liberal and head conservative” could wag her finger at loose women with the best of them. In the same speech, Hillary also suggested that abortion advocates and foes alike, should team-up to teach sex education that includes both emergency contraception and abstinence-only counseling. I’m sure this messaging was polled and focus-grouped, but it sure wasn’t reality checked. Instead of reaching out to Planned Parenthood in some kind of teaching moment, abortion opponents assassinated Dr. Richard Tiller on Sunday, May 31, 2009, in his church. It was an act of terrorism in the war on women that has yet to be fully digested.
Politicians on our side of the debate all too often fail to appreciate that for many conservatives, the war on women is about punishing women for having “sex without consequence.” Conservatives will never partner with liberals to reduce unwanted pregnancies. Their goal is punitive, not cooperative. As citizens believing we live in an Enlightenment-driven Democracy, women have expected the law to mediate on our behalf against the tyranny of religion, misogynists and abusers. Instead, the war on women has been lost one compromise at a time. It’s taken us a while to realize this.
TRAP bills masquerade as serving the “health and welfare of women.” They feed off of the Clintonian rhetoric that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare,” by pretending to be about safety and women’s health, when in fact they have only one goal: to shut down women’s health clinics.
We know the Republicans filing these bills don’t care about women’s health. What they care about are votes in what’s expected to be a rough year for them with redistricting. These bills are designed to appeal to Republican base voters who will vote in down-ballot races for anti-abortion zealots, come hell or high water.
It’s infuriating that 20 years of capitulation and triangulation has brought us to a point where we’re gee-gawing at all-out bans on abortion, instead of participating a modern healthcare system that affords privacy and dignity to women seeking reproductive services. I’m sick to death of having the same debate about women’s healthcare year after year. Losing “ground” means that women pay with their lives. This isn’t just politics. This is real life.
The Democratic Party has betrayed women repeatedly on this issue, and the “progressive establishment” continues to enable the sellout. Digging into this material serves to remind me of how not-on-same-page we are with most of the people we help elect. We keep sending them to Washington and Tallahassee, with our mid-20th century ideals of “leadership,” where they’re supposed fight for the values they ran on.
Instead, what really happens is they horse-trade our interests away in political transactions, and act surprised that we’d expect otherwise. Reproductive rights have been far from sacrosanct to Democrats. Plenty of Dems, like Sen. Darren Soto (Conservadem running for Congress in D-9 against Progressive Democrat Susannah Randolph), are eager to cut deals with religious Domionist-types who seek to punish women for having sex “without consequences.” Maybe there’s a rational reason. Perhaps these Dems have used the VAN to identify blocks of “voters who think women are dirty.” I just always assumed those people were Republicans.
Back in the heady Clintonian days of yore, we expected that efficient New Dem leadership would put the issue to rest with swift and sturdy legislation. Pharmaceuticals would replace first trimester surgeries, affording doctor-patient privacy that would put the protestor-terrorist complex out of business. As a young woman I was sure that things were only getting better. We were making progress!
Oh, how naive we were. Not only did the promise of RU-486 fizzle out, but the triangulation of Clinton-era Democrats brought about some of the worst capitulations on reproductive rights in the form of legislating what is acceptable medical practice.
The Clinton model of posturing on abortion has always been to appear to support a woman’s “right to choose,” and then negotiate a “middle ground.” It’s been recently reported that in 1997, on abortion Bill Clinton complained, “I believe that if you can’t make up your mind in the first six months, you don’t have the right to have an abortion.” As if late-term abortion was ever a matter of whim. This was after he vetoed the Partial Birth Abortion ban, because he resented having to expend political capital in the veto, and he resented even more, he said, that abortion rights proponents “had framed the question of late-term abortion selfishly, by putting it in terms of a woman’s right to do whatever she wanted.” As I said, this isn’t just politics, and his attitude here provides insight into how we lost so much ground 20 years ago. Simply put: we didn’t have a leader on our side in Bill Clinton. We had a transactionalist.
The “progressive establishment” made a fatal miscalculation when they took pressure off Bill Clinton, because in doing so they empowered him to put the focus on making abortion “rare,” with new restrictions such as parental notifications and waiting periods that left the progressive base wondering what the hell had happened. How did we lose more ground under a Democratic administration than under a Republican? Betrayal, capitulation, and triangulation, that’s how.
It’s 2016 and I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that “progressive establishment” groups claiming to speak for women are making the same mistakes they made in the 90s. By endorsing Hillary Clinton without seeking input from membership, NARAL and Planned Parenthood have shown their willingness to settle for more middle ground, more “safe, legal and rare,” and more political losses that will create truly sad, tragic circumstances for women.
Here’s a thought. Abortion on demand, without apology. We’re not going back, because we can’t afford your middle ground compromises that put women’s health and economic lives behind the political aspirations of the Tracy Flicks of our party. We’ve seen where this gets us, and it’s nothing short of a TRAP.
Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy for clients ranging from healthcare companies to museums. She’s the Senior Political Correspondent for Progressive News Network (tune this Sunday at 7 pm or download the podcast anytime), and the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. All opinions offered here are her own, delivered from the perspective of social theory, cultural criticism, and near constant stream of caffeine. Political and media analysis through a Progressive lens. Read all of Brook’s articles here. Check out brookhines.com.