HB 865, the all-out ban on abortion attracted national media attention this week, but this bill won’t end abortion in Florida. It’s a distraction.
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.
If birth control were readily available and we were taught proper family planning, abortions would not be needed, thus rare is perfect. You are damaging what we have worked for, for so many years. To be so cavalier about it, as if no thought goes into the decision, helps their case, not ours.
As someone who has been fighting for this all of her adult life this article is a disappointment.
“Rare” and “tragic” is stigmatizing rightwing framing. The need for safe access to abortion never goes away.
It’s not even a controversial observation. “Rare” gives weight to the rightwing premise that abortion is a moral hazard. It is also, unfortunately, precisely the kind of calculated triangulation that gives progressives a lot of their misgivings about the Clintons. It’s a deliberate sop to the religious right — “We hate it too, of course.”
But “safe, legal and rare” is not a framework that supports women’s health needs: it stigmatizes and endangers it.
In a 2010 research article, Dr Tracy Weitz, Director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) program at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote that “rare suggests that abortion is happening more than it should, and that there are some conditions for which abortions should and should not occur”.
“It separates ‘good’ abortions from ‘bad’ abortions”, she added.
Steph Herold, the deputy director of the Sea Change Program – an organization that seeks to create a culture change around abortion and other stigmatized reproductive experiences like miscarriage and adoption – agrees. “It implies that abortion is somehow different than other parts of healthcare,” she told me. “We don’t say that any other medical procedure should be rare.”
What’s really at issue in Douthat’s column is the perils of accepting the right-wing frame when constructing liberal positions. By unilaterally presenting abortion as a very bad thing in the 1990s, the message mavens of the Clinton administration, with their construction of “safe, legal and rare,” gave abortion opponents a rhetorical rationale for piling on restrictions that, in many states, make abortion inaccessible to increasing numbers of women — despite the fact that the Supreme Court decided decades ago that their right to the procedure is protected by the Constitution.
Debunking the right’s contraception myths
But it’s also worth reiterating, as Adele Stan did this weekend and reproductive rights activists have been saying for years, that if you’re more than nominally pro-choice, you cede important ground by embracing the “safe, legal and rare” formulation that Douthat cited as a consensus. As the National Network of Abortion Funds tweeted, “Let’s reject ‘rare.’ If abortions are legal & accessible, number of abortions performed should = exactly the number of abortions necessary.” Contrast the following data points — the 87 percent of U.S. counties that lack an abortion provider, the financial barriers that right-wingers would like to increase with insurance bans, and the significant stigma around abortion — with the fact that almost half of all pregnancies are unintended. Suddenly, “rare” becomes more about a lack of real choice rather than choosing from an abundance of options. If, as a matter of public health policy, we are doing a terrible job of preventing unintended pregnancies, and some women want abortions and can’t have them, then the current rate is too low.
Brook- you make an excellent point about language and phraseology…you would have thought wordsmith Frank Luntz was writing for the Clinton administration…the same administration that brought us “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act” …conciliation always has consequences…even if the “languages polls well at the time and we are now feeling the effects of “rare”, “legal”, and “safe” as Republicans define, through legislation, the definition of each word…using them all against all of us who believe in our right to privacy and the autonomy to do with our bodies as we see fit…let that sink in…Republicans are using our words to define what, where and when we should have access to a Constitutionally defined private procedure…
I am old enough (81 years) to remember the horrors of back alley abortions that were common before Roe v Wade in 1973. That Supreme Court decision had an enlightening treatise on the history of abortion and focused on viability of the fetus. It is a masterpiece of balancing the rights of the woman to have an abortion when there is no possibility of viability (in the first three months) and the rights of the fetus to be born (in the last three months). In the middle three months any abortion is primarily a medical decision as viability advances to probability. That decision is readily available on the internet.
My grandmother who adopted me also had horror stories of the time when back alley procedures were the only option. She never shared details, but it was clear to me from her passion on the subject, that there was no questioning her authority on it.
One way she spoke about it was that she was glad I wouldn’t have the experience of living during a time when women had this hanging over them. IN other words, a generalized loss of power accompanied the inability to access family planning resources. Makes perfect sense.
Pls check out center for reproductive policy. Fight this before Supreme Court base on Texas policies.
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