By the end of 2017, many had declared it the year of women. It was, after all, the year of Wonder Woman, record-breaking numbers of women running for office, and, of course, #MeToo exposing a nation plagued by sexual injustice across every industry. And now, 2018 must be a year of change, transformation and above all, civic participation from everyone to make the world a better place for women.
It’s only the second week of January, and we’re already seeing reform. Through the Time’s Up initiative and legal defense fund, female celebrities and feminist activists have taken the lead on addressing the deeply important issue of systemic sexual harassment. But there’s another dire issue disproportionately affecting women that requires our efforts and attention, more so now than almost any year prior: reproductive rights.
2018 may seem like an odd year to emphasize the fight for access to abortion and family planning resources, and yet so much hangs in the balance. The nearly unprecedented attacks on reproductive health care access in recent years have added up and are coming to a head. Here are just a few eye-opening facts to summarize the state of reproductive rights going into this year:
- In the U.S., the national maternal mortality rate is not only the highest in the industrialized world, but it’s also been on the rise, particularly for low-income women of color. On top of this, there’s a jarring correlation between more restrictions on access to abortion and birth control and higher maternal deaths in states with more barriers.
- A quarter of all restrictions on abortion following the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision were passed in just five years between 2011 and 2016. If this trend continues, as we’ve been seeing in the form of a rising national maternal mortality rate, women’s living standards will almost surely decline in turn.
- Just under 90 percent of all U.S. counties don’t have an abortion provider, according to the latest data, which makes sense because in many states, the myriad restrictions passed between 2011 and 2016 included TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws that shut down clinics by enforcing expensive, difficult to obtain and medically unnecessary requirements on providers.
- As a result of this dearth of clinics, particularly in rural and more conservative areas, low-income women face an additional struggle with the fees associated with traveling to providers and lost income from missing work to have the procedure. And yet, research shows that unlike access to affordable and reliable contraception, both of which are under attack, restrictions on abortion have no effect on the rate at which abortions occur—all that’s accomplished is the disenfranchisement and endangerment of women.
- And lastly, for all the bluster about what snowflakes millennials supposedly are, a study from May last year revealed millennial women are worse off than their mothers in a number of ways, but most notably due to the relatively recent decimation of abortion and women’s health clinics. Access to crucial reproductive health care affects every aspect of women’s lives, and new limits on this have contributed to the economic disenfranchisement of many young, disproportionately minority women across the country.
With that being said, the situation may be grave, but it’s not as hopeless as it seems. There are a lot of ways to fight back and turn the tide, and the time to do so is now. Here are just some meaningful ways you can be a part of this deeply important fight:
1) Donate to independent clinics and local abortion funds
Donating to Planned Parenthood is still helpful, especially as our Republican-controlled Congress never misses an opportunity to try and defund the women’s health organization which millions of people across the country rely on for crucial health services, but it’s important to note that the majority of abortions performed in the United States take place at independent clinics, which have highly limited financial means. In the last five years alone, 28 percent of independent clinics across the country shut down. Lacking the same name recognition and base of donors and supporters of Planned Parenthood, independent clinics are even more vulnerable.
That’s why donations to your local clinic or abortion fund could go a long way. You can find clinics near you, as well as an abortion fund serving your area, at the National Network of Abortion Funds’ website.
2) Participate in abortion funds’ fundraisers
In the vein of helping out local abortion funds, stay updated so you can know when your local fund is hosting fundraisers, which could include the annual bowl-a-thon or Taco or Beer challenges. One key component of abortion funds’ fundraisers is sharing your participation on social media and getting as many of your friends involved as possible. Who says doing your part to advance an important, life-saving movement can’t consist of fun bonding with friends?
3) Volunteer—there’s so many different roles
One obvious way to help abortion clinics is by volunteering as a clinic escort. Clinic escorts play a deeply important role by helping women seeking abortion care feel safer and more comfortable as they enter clinics by walking alongside them; escorts are all the more important at clinics that are often crowded outside by anti-choice protesters, who are prone to harassing and threatening patients and staff at clinics. To get involved, contact your local clinic about opportunities to receive training and get started.
Of course, if volunteering as an escort doesn’t sound quite up your alley but you still want to help out, call your local clinic or abortion fund anyway about other ways to help out. Most abortion funds are also often looking for volunteer case managers to help with intake. You can also sign up for volunteering opportunities at your local Planned Parenthood online—your work could include phone banking, canvassing, helping out with sexual health education programs, and other roles to engage your community.
4) Vote for pro-choice candidates
On every level of government, educate yourself and others about the records and backgrounds of candidates for elected office, and only vote for those who support reproductive rights. You’ve probably noticed that measures related to abortion or family planning rarely ever appear on ballots. Instead, we elect people who make those decisions as lawmakers. In states across the country, women have suffered at the hands of anti-choice lawmakers whose tenures in their respective state legislatures have shut down or severely restricted access to abortion clinics, and there’s really only one way to change this: voting and going all-in for pro-choice candidates, whether they’re running for U.S. senate, state assembly, or city councilor.
If doing exhaustive background checks on every candidate for every race taking place around you sounds tedious, don’t worry—there’s a simpler way. Make sure to check out the website of EMILY’s List, an organization that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women on every level of government. They include comprehensive lists of endorsements for state, local, and federal candidates, and if you vote for anyone they’ve endorsed, you can rest assured you’re supporting a pro-choice candidate who will fight for reproductive rights in any capacity they can.
5) Stay in the loop!
As overwhelming as it can be, staying informed about everything going on regarding reproductive rights across the country is a must. No matter what city or state you live in, it matters how other women in different parts of the country are being treated by their lawmakers—when it comes to reproductive rights, we’re all connected by this broader movement for our human rights and need to stand in solidarity. There’s no shortage of ways you can do this, by following the Twitter feeds of groups like Planned Parenthood Action Fund or the National Network of Abortion Funds, following news stories related to reproductive rights on Apple News, or—shameless self-plug, here!—checking in once a week here at The Mary Sue to read “The Week in Reproductive Justice.”
When it comes to reproductive rights, it’s so important to see how interconnected everything is—how anti-choice lawmakers across state lines coordinate and share strategies to shut down clinics and restrict access, how all of this affects women across the country, and how to fight back.
So much remains uncertain in the struggle for reproductive rights, but one thing is clear: We’re only going to see positive change if we all do our part.
(image: Avivi Aharon / Shutterstock.com)
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