Written by Marianne Mansfield

This is what happens when complacency overtakes vigilance. Here in west Michigan, I’ve noticed a few signs, billboards, etc., proclaiming the sanctity of human life. Few actually bear the word, “abortion,” but there is no doubt what the signs are opposing. Though their existence irked me, I allayed my annoyance by telling myself that it’s better that the opponents of a woman’s right to choose put up a hundred signs than ram through legislation that bulldozes the rights of all women. Give it your best to sway people like me to change my position; just don’t bully me by trying to legislate your beliefs over my own convictions.

How silly and naive of me. As the dust was settling on last week’s SCOTUS marriage equality decision, I began to hear that the Supreme Court had granted a temporary stay of a Texas law which restricts clinics in the state to such an extent that in the 2 ½ years since its passage the number of facilities providing abortions has dropped from 41 to 19.

Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case establishing a woman’s right to an abortion, was issued more than 42 years ago. I assumed wrongly, I now see, that the opponents had heard the voice of the court. I assumed, again wrongly, that they had realized the necessity of changing their tactical course to one of full-throated persuasion, guilt, and shaming. Not that I support that heavy-handedness, but at least it focuses on changing the minds of women seeking abortions rather than preventing access to legitimate, though controversial, healthcare.

I heard rumblings, to be sure. Now and then, federal legislators would propose a law that would either weaken or revoke a woman’s right to choose. Moreover, every few years, it seemed that some case or other would end up on the Supreme Court docket with the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. Those of us who wanted to see Roe v. Wade stay just as it was would write our congresspeople, march, and threaten retribution in the voting booths across the country. We would pin down potential candidates on their “choice” positions and pursue or support them accordingly. We made the same tired arguments we’d made before and would, unfortunately, have to make again and again. No male-dominated legislature should presume to make a law that takes the choice of what happens to her body away from any woman. Laws that outlawed safe and legal abortions would only lead to more unsafe and lethal abortions. Unwanted pregnancies had the potential to wreak financial havoc on the lives of women who became mothers when they weren’t expecting to. What about the women who were raped or molested by a family member? Should they be forced to carry a child to term in those conditions?

Each time we turned back the onslaught from the right-to-lifers, the Christian conservatives, and then the Tea Partiers, I felt smug. Dusting the soil from my figurative palms, I’d assume (and there is that word again) that if it hadn’t been the last time we’d need to rally, we at least had to be close. Let them put up their signs and run their commercials pulling at the heartstrings of young mothers. We had the law and the Supreme Court on our side.

Silly, naive me.

Those opposed to a woman’s right to choose have simply decided to dismantle it piecemeal. Who needs the Supreme Court when state courts are willing to help out?

For example, there are now 26 states that have imposed wait times of 18 to 72 hours prior to a woman obtaining an abortion. That is more than double the number of states that have imposed waiting periods prior to gun purchases, by the way.

Other states have sought to impose overly strict regulations on the facilities in which abortions are performed. Although the proponents of such regulations claim that they are only interested in protecting the lives of the women seeking abortions, the regulations are such that the end result is the creation of yet more barriers to access. State standards vary, of course, with the most burdensome standards in place in states such as Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. Several states mandate that clinicians performing abortions have relationships with local hospitals, requirements that do little to improve patient care but that set standards that may be impossible for providers to meet.

And then there’s Texas, with the Supreme Court’s issuance of the stay allowing 10 abortion clinics to stay open while lawyers for the state ask the court for a full review of the state’s toughly restrictive laws.

Let me be clear. I’m not an advocate for abortion. Were I still of childbearing age and pregnant, I would not seek an abortion. I do not believe in it morally or ethically. However, that is my personal position and, for the moment, still my personal prerogative.

I am, though, a passionate defender of the rights of women, particularly those who do not possess the resources to purchase what they may not be able to access under the law. I am motivated by a moral imperative that speaks to the absolute necessity of equal treatment for all men and all women. Under the law.

Recently, there was a Facebook meme circulating that caught my attention. It was a photo from UniteWomen.org. In it a white-haired woman dressed in vintage clothing from the time of women’s suffrage movement. She carried a sign which read “I cannot believe I still have to protest this shit.” While it may not have been focused on a woman’s right to choose, it certainly applies.

I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit, either. But I’ll keep doing it as long as it is necessary.