Specifically introduced with the larger aim of challenging Roe vs. Wade, one state’s new so-called “heartbeat bill” intends to expand the definition of “personhood” to include a cluster of cells the size of a sweetpea.
In practical terms, the Ohio House of Representatives Bill 565 puts a ban on abortion after six weeks—the earliest time in a pregnancy a fetal heartbeat can be detected—with no exceptions to the bill for rape or incest. With the bill’s proponents far from alone in their mission, it is also a bellwether for frightening times to come.
Personhood bills are nothing new, and now, fueled by right-leaning leadership and a Supreme Court bench stacked toward conservatism with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, it’s reasonable to worry that the battle over abortion is about to get worse.
“What happened in Ohio this month is evidence of the way that the attacks on reproductive freedom are at once shocking…and completely familiar.”
Yet, what happened in Ohio this month is evidence of the way that the attacks on reproductive freedom are at once shocking…and completely familiar. Threats to abortion rights are so incessant that they are also mundane—and the persistence of the narrative can make it harder to pay attention.
I’ll admit, this happens to me all the time. A new TRAP law will crop up in the headlines and, for the span of 10 minutes, I will fall down the rabbit hole of legislation aimed at restricting reproductive rights, trying to wrap my head around this latest fresh hell. Depending on the specifics of the story (i.e. where it rates on the spectrum of perceived egregiousness) I might fire off a tweetstorm or start poking around for on-the-ground organizations.
But I might also sit it out, assuming I’ll catch the next one. Because when it comes to women’s rights, we’re on a sickening merry-go-round of “same shit, different day.”
In a way, this is the incredible feat the pro-life movement has managed to pull off in the half-century since Roe vs. Wade became law of the land. Bill by bill, law by law, abortion foes have maintained a barrage so constant that this state of emergency passes for normal, making it feel like America is forever in a fight for reproductive rights that’s never fully won or lost.
Perpetuity is both an alarm and an excuse; it gives even the most committed pro-choice advocates cover to check in and out. The fight will be in progress whenever we get back, the thinking goes—and besides, haven’t we earned a post-midterm reprieve? I don’t mean to be glib: I count myself in this camp. Furthermore, taking a breather is a part of the #resistance cycle.) These days, the struggle to stay engaged is real.
At the same time, staying on top of each and every new regression is clearly a Sisyphean task that only organizations with the bandwidth and funding are truly capable of tackling. NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and plenty of others do an incredible job tracking progress and regress on a melange of fronts, as well as keeping interested parties informed via email blasts, social media campaigns, and various other channels. However, at a certain point, even that important messaging can start to go stale.
For instance, after the Ohio bill passed, pro-choice groups issues plenty of comments condemning the legislation and its supporters. They were consistently damning, and unity makes a powerful statement. Still, if you read one press release, you read them all, only with slightly differing specifics. As a result, the urgency of the message is muted (unless you’re directly impacted yourself).
“The irony is that each new chink in the armor of Roe vs. Wade ups the stakes for all of us, and that it’s only now—when then abortion rights are endangered—that they can be kept from going extinct.”
The irony is that each new chink in the armor of Roe vs. Wade ups the stakes for all of us, and that it’s only now—when then abortion rights are endangered—that they can be kept from going extinct. But with so much else vying for our attention, and so many stories that sound the same: How do we, the ordinary women, keep up with it all?
It’s a question without a perfect answer—and one that is, ultimately, a decision about how and when you’re willing to engage. Personally, I’ve settled on a philosophy of paying attention to the small picture. “All politics is local” may be a platitude. But when it comes to abortion rights, it’s also a good rule of thumb for how to actually make an impact.
I live in New York City, where I feel fortunate to have lawmakers who largely support a woman’s right to choose, and so, for me, day-to-day advocacy looks like supporting local clinics and sometimes putting my money where my values are when I see organizations advocating for women on the ground in vulnerable communities.
But after this month, I’ve decided to counteract the consistency of anti-abortion narratives with my own persistent message, newly taped to my laptop, that I see whenever I sit down to type.
“None of this is normal,” it reads in black Sharpie marker. It’s a note-to-self that can be applied to a wide ranging gamut of news items these days, from “alternative facts” to rising tides, attacks on reproductive rights to hyper-partisanship.
But, more than anything, it’s a reminder to listen: When the same shit crops up every day, that is itself a compelling reason to pay attention.