Add all this up, and here’s what you get: A woman who needs an abortion may have to drive hundreds of miles to a clinic (because all the ones near her closed down), take several days off work (because of travel on top of the mandatory waiting period), and figure out how to pay for the abortion itself, in addition to a place to stay and care for the children she, statistically speaking, probably already has.
For many women, that makes abortion impossible to obtain — which is why an increasing number are attempting to self-abort. (A first-trimester abortion is one of the safest procedures around, but self-abortions can easily be dangerous, even deadly.)
This is an urgent crisis. And the assumption that this issue is settled, and that all the Democratic candidates will act the same way as president to protect reproductive rights, is simply wrong. Yes, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are all pro-choice, but that isn’t good enough. Simply promising to veto abortion restrictions passed by a Republican Congress isn’t how we protect access to abortion, not when state legislatures are making it increasingly difficult for the most vulnerable women to get one.
Abortion cuts across issue lines. It’s a moral and religious issue, a social issue and, for women facing a pregnancy and a child they cannot afford or are not ready for, an issue that gets to the heart of economic security and being able to determine one’s own life course. (It’s also an economic issue for taxpayers; states pay over $11 billion a year for unintended pregnancies according to one conservative estimate.) In a recent amicus brief to the Supreme Court in a case challenging Texas’s restrictive new anti-abortion law, more than 100 attorneys and judges wrote about the abortions they had, and how their own successes would be impossible without them. “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion,” wrote one.
Americans deserve to hear at the debates what proactive steps the candidates will take not just to protect the right to abortion, but how they will expand access. How will they restore government funds to pay for the procedure? How will they stop the states from closing down clinics? How will they lead a national conversation that questions the assumptions that abortion is somehow always a difficult decision, or even a moral failure?
But that answer won’t come if the question goes unasked. In debate after debate, we’ve watched moderators pretend like reproductive rights and justice are settled issues — or that they don’t exist at all. It’s time to talk about it.