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Going Backwards in Time: Access to Abortion At Risk In 3 States

October 31, 2014
Dominique Chamely Wearing Renaissance Period Clothing

Public Policy Fellow Dominique Chamely at a Renaissance Festival

Sometimes, it is fun to pretend to go back in time. I mean, it’s precisely the reason I love visiting Renaissance festivals, hiking away from the city, and cooking from old school recipe cards written in mostly faded, somewhat indiscernible short-hand.

As entertaining as those hobbies are, I know it’s just pretend—I know I’m not actually traveling back in time, and there’s a good chance I wouldn’t if I could. See, I’m not willing to swap medical care and air conditioning for archery and jousting, I always carry bug spray when hiking, and I have a box of cake mix in the pantry as a back-up.

I guess that’s the reason I get so nervous when I look at the upcoming election. This year, voters in three states will have the option to go back to a time before Roe v. Wade.

For the Nov. 4th election, Colorado, North Dakota, and Tennessee each have ballot initiatives that would result in banning abortion, regardless of the circumstances. There would be no abortion at all, not even for rape, incest, or to protect the mother’s life. Colorado’s Amendment 67 would literally make abortion a crime–adding unborn humans to the definitions of “person” and “child” in the Colorado Criminal Code. North Dakota’s Measure 1 would grant the “right to life of every human being at any stage of development.” And Tennessee’s Amendment 1 would give the legislature unlimited, unrestricted authority to make any decisions they like regarding abortion, because as the measure states, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion.” Supporters of these legislative initiatives are primarily concerned with the protection of women and their unborn children.

Protester Holding Sign Saying Keep Abortion Safe, Accessible and LegalBut, in reality, these amendments don’t just ban abortion—they restrict access for those with limited economic means (i.e. cannot afford to travel to other states for the medical care they need). Which means banning abortion for individuals of low income, and largely those from communities of color. Let’s take Tennessee as an example. People of color make up roughly 20% of the state’s population. Of the 18% of the state population living in poverty (just over half of which are women), an estimated 84% are people of color. This means that, nearly half of all the Tennesseans living in poverty are women of color.

With Halloween around the corner, I can’t help but think that this is just a nightmare. Women make up more than half of our population, over 62 million are of reproductive age, and 99% have used contraception at some point in their lives. On average over a million women seek access to abortion services annually, including 16% of pregnancies in CO, about 10% of pregnancies in ND, and 18% of pregnancies in TN. I mean—it’s been 40 years since the Supreme Court decided in Roe V. Wade that women have a right to terminate their pregnancy should they decide to or should they need to.

And yet, it’s not just pretend. This conversation continues to be debated year after year, in state legislatures across the country. Women continue to encounter a number of unnecessary political barriers when seeking access to abortions. And in this election, abortion rights will be subject to a public vote. So, depending on the turnout next week, women in Colorado, North Dakota, and Tennessee could be transported 40 years back in time. The only difference is they’ll still have cell phones and the ability to wear pants (without scorn).

So, I wonder what’s next. I know right now, I live in a modern world where women have the right to consider all their options, not just ones that the legislators and the ill-informed public decide they should have. Will it stay that way?

I know that for me, personally, I’m looking forward to a future that provides fair treatment, regardless of economic status, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. I’m looking forward to the day I can take my child (which I will have when and I how I choose) to a Renaissance festival and reflect on how lucky we are to not be living in the past.

So, why should LGBTQ people care about these issues?
Apart from all the other reasons, the bottom line is this is a question of bodily autonomy and access to quality healthcare—two issues that are essential to our lives and underscore the entire LGBTQ movement.

By Dominique Chamely, National LGBTQ Task Force Public Policy Fellow

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