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Time Examines Challenges Facing Abortion-Rights Movement 40 Years After Roe v. Wade

Time Examines Challenges Facing Abortion-Rights Movement 40 Years After Roe v. Wade

January 3, 2013 — Since the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade 40 years ago this month, abortion-rights advocates have gradually lost public support, while their opponents have increasingly tilted public opinion in their favor and successfully restricted abortion at the state level, according to Time.

State restrictions on abortion have proliferated significantly in the past two decades, making the procedure increasingly difficult to obtain or offer, even as it remains legal. According to Time, the "modern era" of state abortion restrictions began in 1992 with Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which cleared the way for states to regulate abortion in ways that do not create an "undue burden" for women. In 2011, a record high of 92 antiabortion-rights regulations were passed in 24 states.

'Work Around Roe' Strategy

Abortion-rights opponents' strategy to "work around Roe" has found success in states such as Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota, all of which have just one surgical-abortion clinic. From 1982 to 2008, the number of abortion providers nationwide declined from 2,908 to 1,793, meaning that it is now more difficult to obtain an abortion in some areas than it has been at any time over the past 40 years, according to Time.

One factor contributing to the dwindling number of clinics is laws that require them to abide by hospital building standards, undergo inspections and obtain special licenses. Proponents of the laws say they are designed to make women safe, but in effect they cause many clinics to close because they cannot afford the renovations needed to comply. The technical nature of the requirements also makes it difficult for abortion-rights advocates to find a straightforward message to rally voters around, noted Cristina Page, a pro-choice author.

Loretta Ross -- co-founder of Sister Song, an Atlanta-based reproductive justice group -- said, "The entire women's-health movement was predicated on the lack of women's safety and gender consciousness in health care settings." Abortion-rights opponents' strategy of regulating clinics supposedly for the sake of women's health "is a classic example of our opponents learning from us and taking out script," she added.

Call for Change in Abortion-Rights Movement

According to Time, "If abortion-rights activists don't come together to adapt to shifting public opinion on the issue of reproductive rights, abortion access in America will almost certainly continue to erode."

Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice, said abortion-rights advocates' failure to adapt to changing public attitudes on abortion has left their cause "stranded in the past." She said, "The established pro-choice position -- which essentially is: abortion should be legal, a private matter between a woman and her doctor, with no restriction or regulation beyond what is absolutely necessary to protect the woman's health -- makes 50% of the population extremely uncomfortable and unwilling to associate with us."

The abortion-rights movement also has grown more fragmented because of a "widening generational divide," according to Time. Some young abortion-rights activists say that established leaders of the movement -- including NARAL Pro-Choice America, led by Nancy Keenan; the National Organization for Women, headed by Terry O'Neill; and Feminist Majority, run by Eleanor Smeal -- are "hindering the movement from updating its strategy to appeal to new audiences."

Erin Matson, former vice president of NOW, said she is considering starting a new organization that specifically targets young people. She said young advocates have embraced the cause of "reproductive justice," which encompasses not only abortion rights but also contraception, child care, gay rights, health insurance and economic opportunity. "It's a more holistic frame. And you see more younger people connecting with that," she said (Pickert, Time, 1/14).