Strong Stance Fends Off Anti-Choice Efforts

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Re-posted from the Western States Center blog.

Every week when Olivia and I sit down to plan the work of Montana Women Vote we think of all the fabulous things we could work on. We could trumpet the personal stories of women overcoming hardship in Montana, or, perhaps, just spend the week chatting about our cats.

But alas, other issues always seem to win over our time and energy. These past few months our hopes for a calm period have been repeatedly dashed by the comments of the likes of Representative Todd Akin, whose words made it clear that the war on women is alive and well.

Todd Akin is the now infamous U.S. Representative from Missouri who, when defending his position against abortion even in cases of rape or incest, stated, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Missouri wasn’t the only place where some politicians were seriously getting it wrong this past month. A candidate for the Pennsylvania state senate, Tom Smith, took the conversation one step further. Not only did he echoed his opposition to abortion under any circumstances, but when asked how he would address his own daughter if she were raped that she had to keep the baby, Smith relied that he had already lived through something similar as a father when his own daughter got pregnant out of wedlock and she chose life. (To be clear, we don’t believe that pregnancy out of wedlock and rape are the same thing at all. Not. At. All.)

While it may seem that these troublesome remarks are more thick on the ground this year than in the past, the fact is that the Right has been fighting the war on women for decades now. Western States Center and the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center have published, A Brief History of Abortion Related Initiatives and Referenda, showing the long and concerted efforts of anti-choice activists at the ballot. This brief history shows two facts in stark relief:

1. These initiatives are overwhelmingly defeated as the majority of Americans are pro-choice.

2. Anti-abortion activists have been waging a war of attrition – a “chipping-away strategy” – that takes huge amounts of our time and energy to fight.
Here, in Montana, we are once again joining the ranks of states facing an anti-abortion initiative. This one comes not from citizen activists, but from our own state legislature, which referred the issues of parental notice for young women seeking abortion to the ballot. (This was a tactic our legislature used to avoid a veto from the governor, who counts himself among the majority of pro-choice Americans.) We hope that we will defeat this initiative as we have in the past, but we also know that we are working for the long-term as well – for even if we win this November, we will be seeing anti-choice legislation in the 2013 session, and likely more anti-choice initiatives in 2014.

Clearly, anti-choice activists have committed themselves to the sort of incremental, long-term work of influencing public debate, driving resources toward the issue, and “losing forward” by proposing these initiatives again and again.

We too must approach this work with an eye to the future – how do we defeat the current crop of initiatives, or next years’ legislation, in a way that is true to our values and makes us stronger? Surely, knowing the history of this fight is a strong first step. As always, Western States Center is ready to help lay the groundwork with this important new piece.

Sarah Howell is the co-director of Montana Women Vote and former trainer & organizer at Western States Center.