Legal Abortion Is a Fundamental Right

why do we often forget that? – Published on AlterNet, by Frances Kissling, January 3, 2010.

It’s time to demand that the promise of Roe becomes a reality for women whose choices are already limited by poverty, joblessness and marginalization.

The debate about abortion coverage in health insurance reform is the latest disappointing moment in the efforts of feminists to ensure that the social transformation Roe promised women was equally available to all women, including those who were dependent on the government for health care. To hear President Obama call the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion, an “American tradition” is only the most recent of many misstatements about what a fundamental right entails. It seems that prochoice legislators, following the president’s lead, now explicitly consider that throwing women who cannot afford to pay for their own abortions under the bus is a reasonable compromise between those who favor and those who oppose legal abortion and a sensible concession to those who think abortion is immoral. 

The compromise is the logical outcome of one of Roe’s essential weaknesses: the fact that the constitutional right to abortion was based on the principle of privacy rather than non discrimination. A private right, even a fundamental one, did not, according to the Supreme Court, require the state to pay for its implementation …

… As I write, it would seem that the deal on abortion is made. Health insurance reform will not be the vehicle that restores poor women’s ability to choose abortion. It will, in some onerous way, make it exceedingly difficult for women who get their insurance through whatever “exchange” exists to get coverage for abortion.

The day such a bill passes, one would hope a bill to overturn the Hyde Amendment, to restore federal employee abortion coverage and to restore such coverage for women in the military will be introduced in both houses with the co-sponsorship of every prochoice member of Congress. All the choice PACs—Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood and NARAL—will make it clear that they will not fund or support any member of Congress who is not a co-sponsor of such legislation.

Most importantly, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment must become the number one priority of the prochoice movement and an explicit goal of the larger women’s movement. Much has been written about both movements’ need to indentify more strongly with low-income women and to frame issues of reproduction in the context of social justice and well as human rights. The restoration of funding for abortion as well as a commitment to ensuring that no woman has to choose abortion for solely economic reasons could help build the base of support needed to save legal abortion in the United States.

The immorality of using poor and low-income women’s lives and wellbeing as a way of mediating between various factions on the abortion issues must be condemned. It is time to make demands on ourselves and the demand of justice is that the promise of Roe becomes a reality for women whose choices are already limited by poverty, joblessness and marginalization. (full long text).

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