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Ellen R. Shaffer

Ellen R. Shaffer

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On Abortion: Overturn Hyde

Posted: 02/15/11 10:40 AM ET

Half of all pregnancies are unplanned. At least a third of U.S. women have abortions. Polls show that the majority of Americans -- over 60% by any measure -- are pro-choice. A similar majority are content to prevent federal funding for abortion.

Can it be true that the only people in America who support public funding for abortions are those of us who have had them?

I think not.

Sadly many Americans do not favor public funding of anything. Conflating these two issues in a polling question disguises our true opinions on both. But for too long policy-makers have accepted as a fair compromise the so-called Hyde amendment, adopted in each session of Congress, that prevents federal funding for abortion. Low-income women have suffered the consequences for decades, and successive Congresses have restricted women overseas in the military from receiving safe abortions on base, even with their own funds.

We who are pro-choice have much to learn about mobilizing in our own interest.

We have much to learn from older feminists, who crossed class lines to win the vote, and from more recent activists like Jane, the collective that performed illegal abortions until Roe v. Wade made it legal in 1973. (Gov. Ronald Reagan pitched in before that by making it legal in California.)

We have much to learn from AIDS activists, who spent decades acting on the recognition that silence=death. They went door to door in the home districts of social conservatives and convinced them that it was ok for school teachers to be gay, in the 1970s; they confronted the scientific establishment til they found a cure for AIDS (or close enough). These days, Elton John and Rush Limbaugh are dancing cheek to cheek. More importantly to lives and to policy, while painful and consequential barriers remain, critical thresholds in legal and social recognition have been crossed.

We have much to learn from Egypt.

Who is the principle adversary in this battle for women's right to autonomy?

The Catholic Church has a great deal of value to say on a number of subjects. It is a global beacon on matters of promoting peace and alleviating poverty.

The polite way to describe the standing of the Catholic Bishops on matters relating to ethical sexual conduct and the treatment of women is simply this: It is below reproach.

There are also well funded interests and reactionary politicians who recognize a great diversionary issue when they see one, and both violent networks as well as nonviolent individuals who hold personal beliefs in opposition. They must however obey the law; and it is on the law that we have lost too much ground.

These arguments are contentious and difficult, They involve engaging in debates -- one on one, and in the public square -- that we will not always win. But our survival as autonomous, independent human beings means that we must take them on. It is not sufficient that abortion is legal, if the same public funds that pay for parks, roads, cholesterol medicine and Viagra cannot be used to pay for abortions.

We don't want a case to go to this Supreme Court. Some don't want to risk losing seats in "moderate" Democratic districts. We don't want to lose, period. Who could disagree? Only those of us who might ever get pregnant or ever did, when the birth control failed or when we couldn't afford birth control, or were a kid to begin with, or were sick, or just had another plan, or ever loved someone like that. And needed public assistance to be treated the same as every other person in America in the same circumstance.

 

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