WHEN IT comes to abortion rights, the battles seem endless and whichever side you support, your camp is like Leonardo DiCaprio at the Oscars — you just can’t win. And if you’re an abortion rights activist, it’s easy to focus on the government doors being closed, because there’s a lot of slamming.
Quick recap: back in March, Texas legislation mandated new regulations shutting down dozens of perfectly safe and legal abortion clinics that served thousands of women. Though a federal judge struck down those regulations just last month — one of which required that abortion clinics have ambulatory surgical centers like the ones hospitals have — state attorneys wasted no time in appealing. And in June there was the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby’s objection to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to include comprehensive contraception (including four common versions of birth control that the arts-and-crafts giant considers “abortifacients,” or abortion-inducing substances). See? Women’s abortion rights: not winning.
But despite these notable setbacks, not to mention the hassle of reconsidering where you buy your yarn and Bedazzlers, this year has had several major wins that deserve a standing ovation.
Just a few weeks ago the director of California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) sent a letter out to seven insurance companies reminding them of the instated 1975 Knox Keene Act, which equired basic health care services to include abortion and “must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.” Winning. Now, if only every state could follow suit.
Although, maybe not as sweeping, there have been small breakthroughs in even the reddest of states like Alabama and Mississippi. This year laws trying to close Mississippi’s one clinic (yes, one clinic) and Alabama’s five were thrown out by both state courts. Both argued that closing the clinics was a violation of constitutional law and would be placing an unwarranted burden on women seeking access to the procedure. Even if it’s minor, that’s cause for ya’ll to celebrate.
And back in California, legislation isn’t the only institution making a statement. Hollywood stepped up on the big screen earlier this summer with the release of the first abortion “rom-com” entitled Obvious Child. The bold indie film captures the struggle of a twenty-something comedienne, Donna, played by the hilarious Jenny Slate, who has a one night stand that results in her getting pregnant. But instead of having the baby, like in that other romantic comedy about getting “Knocked Up” (hint: that’s the title), she decides to terminate the pregnancy. Sure, we’ve seen this trope of dealing with getting prego played out before countless times, but there’s something poignant about inserting the taboo topic and difficult decision process into a comedic format — almost more effective than a dramatic documentary or an MTV reality show. Yea, “16 and Pregnant” was effective for the wrong reasons.
Writer and director of Obvious Child Gillian Robespierre chose to cast the issue into a more realistic light, one that many modern women can surely relate to, regardless of ever having to face an unwanted pregnancy. Because, unless you’re having intentional baby-making sex, every woman that’s having sex — married or single — has thought about how she would deal with the consequence of getting pregnant. We have to think about it. Birth control fails, condoms break, and you might be faced with a decision that you weren’t expecting. And it’s about time that an onscreen scenario can reflect the awkwardness and self-doubt many women experience from a more realistic perspective.
One of the stand-out scenes in the movie is when Donna’s mother confesses that she had an abortion years ago when they were illegal. The mother describes a dodgy situation that didn’t include the medical standards required today. The moment captures how far abortion rights really have come from the times when women had to get secret abortions on kitchen tables or make-shift clinics without ensured comfort, or ensured insurance that included basic medical principles. When you look all the way back, women’s rights have made significant strides, and this light-hearted movie is a nice reminder of what previous generations had to face.
So Texas might have popped a jab with its widespread clinic closures, but Planned Parenthood shot back with a lawsuit, proving that for every setback there will always be a champion fighting for women’s reproductive rights. When there’s not, that’s when we should be worried. And while the end of this war might not be in sight — there are still too many states with restrictive and strange laws for women, like the mandatory ultra-sound before the procedure or the fetal heartbeat bill — it’s important to celebrate the little battles won along the way. And so far this year, progress has been made. Baby steps or not.