Why don’t we believe women’s warnings about Roe v. Wade?

Last week, The Atlantic reported that a popular, Netherlands-based online group that ships medication abortion pills anywhere in the world has officially begun shipping to the United States. Women on the Web’s sister site, Aid Access, has already shipped pills to more than 600 U.S.-based women as of last week, after originally citing concerns of opposition from powerful American anti-choice groups.

Women on the Web’s creation of Aid Access to provide abortion access in areas where it could soon become (even more) severely restricted couldn’t have come at a more critical time. Women and reproductive justice activists have been sounding the alarm about the inevitable implications of Donald Trump’s presidency for the Supreme Court and abortion access for years. And now those warnings have become an impending reality, with alleged sexual abuser Brett Kavanaugh, who has a ghastly record on reproductive rights, poised to be the fifth vote to either overturn Roe v. Wade altogether or hack apart its key protections.

Yet, polling has indicated deep skepticism that abortion rights are even in trouble. A Quinnipiac poll from a few weeks after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement revealed 62 percent of voters believe that “it is not likely that the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision will be overturned within the next few years,” compared to 27 percent who disagreed.

This dismissal of women and pregnant people’s concerns, even in the face of a nearly unprecedented threat to our health, safety, and dignity, drives home a critical fact: Far too often, women are forced to prove the reality of our most fundamental experiences in the face of misogynist cynicism — even when our lives may depend on it.

In the hours after Kennedy’s retirement, journalist Brian Stelter took to Twitter to respond to a woman who had drawn a comparison between the dystopian novel-turned-Hulu-drama The Handmaid’s Tale and the future of the United States: “We are not ‘a few steps from ‘The Handmaids Tale,’” he wrote, adding, “I don’t think this kind of fear-mongering helps anybody.” The tweet was followed by similar perspectives from journalists and media outlets across the political spectrum.

From a Wall Street Journal editorial board dismissing the possibility of Roe’s reversal as left-wing farce, to a Washington Post op-ed quite literally titled “Calm down. Roe v. Wade isn’t going anywhere,” men and media figures of all political ideologies seemed to believe the real problem was not the threat of political forces conspiring to roll back women’s most fundamental human rights, but women having the audacity to speak out against this threat.

In a painfully ironic twist, it was predominantly conservative politicians, from Senators Mitch McConnell to Orrin Hatch, and media outlets including Breitbart, Townhall, and others, accusing women of being hysterical about the threat to their reproductive rights. Despite the fact that the Republican Party’s 2016 platform included stacking the courts to reverse pro-choice decisions; despite Donald Trump’s endless campaign trail promises to not just appoint anti-choice justices to the high court but even to criminalize abortion; despite Mike Pence’s recurring rallying cry of sending Roe back to “the ash heap of history.”

To hear conservatives now call abortion a “settled issue” was pure gaslighting, an attempt to portray women as crazy before quite literally killing us. Comedian Samantha Bee summed up the situation aptly in a Full Frontal segment at the time: “All Republicans have done for years is rail against abortion, and now suddenly we’re hysterical for taking them at their word?”

There are at least 13 cases that could end or severely scale back abortion rights already in the courts, any of which could be handed up to the Supreme Court by one of the more-than-an-eighth of all circuit court judges who have been appointed by Trump. Roughly 20 states currently have “trigger laws,” or laws and constitutional amendments that would automatically criminalize or make abortion illegal in the event that Roe is overturned.

In contrast, pro-choice leadership in some states, including New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, have already moved to pass state laws that would automatically protect abortion rights should Roe be reversed, to prepare for what they recognize as impending realities. States with anti-choice leadership have also moved to proactively prepare for Roe’s reversal: Voters in states like West Virginia and Alabama have successfully placed measures on the ballot that would make abortion illegal if Roe is reversed.

Meanwhile, once Kavanaugh was confirmed, groups like the National Network of Abortion Funds and Planned Parenthood almost immediately shared thorough plans for how they will protect abortion access, since the Republican Party’s unyielding war on Roe is one they’ve been forced to prepare for, for decades.

In fact, Roe has already existed in an increasingly precarious state for years now. A 2017 study by the Population Reference Bureau revealed that millennial women’s living standards are literally worse than our mothers, in part due to a recent, sharp decline in abortion access across the country. Between 2011 and 2016 alone, 27 percent of the roughly 1,200 abortion restrictions passed since Roe (1973) were enacted. As of 2017, about 90 percent of U.S. counties lack an abortion provider.

And sure, a lot has changed since pre-Roe America, when between 200,000 and 1.2 million unsafe abortions — thousands of which resulted in death and near-fatal injuries — took place annually. The development of medication abortion has redefined self-managed abortion into something that is highly safe and increasingly accessible. But surely not everyone will be able to access medication abortion, which is only guaranteed to be effective in the first trimester. Women of color and low-income women would be especially likely to face charges for attempting to self-manage their abortions, as we’ve already seen how they’ve disproportionately been criminalized for the outcomes of their pregnancies in recent years.

We know that world-wide, when countries restrict legal access to abortion, the abortion rate remains relatively constant, while the rate of unsafe abortion spikes. And we’ve already seen that pattern in the US: a study last year found found higher maternal mortality rates in states with more abortion restrictions (in a country with the worst maternal health record  in the industrialized world).

Now that Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court, it’s incumbent on all of us to proactively support people across the country who may now face tremendous barriers to reproductive health care access. In this new, increasingly dangerous reality, it’s crucial that we support abortion funds, providers, and people seeking abortion care in any way we can, that we call our representatives and demand pro-choice legislation, that we show up in every election and vote for pro-choice representatives. And it’s crucial that we listen to the voices of women about our experiences and threats to our health.

Certainly, our work to protect abortion rights will be rendered especially difficult as we shoulder the additional burden of having to prove that the dangers we face even exist. The gaslighting of women amid new, terrifying threats to our most fundamental rights is part of a broader strategy of trivializing and writing off the concerns and experiences of a majority of the population as tangential “women’s issues.” This gaslighting has a purpose: to convince women that nothing is wrong—and therefore there’s no reason for us to show up and fight. And that’s exactly why we have to show up, arm-in-arm, in full force every day.

Photo credit: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Kylie Cheung is the author of 'The Gaslit Diaries,' a book of essays exploring the gaslighting and politics that underlie American women's everyday experiences in the patriarchy. She writes about reproductive justice, women's/LGBTQ rights, and national politics. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering for political campaigns and re-watching The Office. Learn more about her work at www.kyliecheung.tumblr.com.

Kylie Cheung is the author of the book, 'The Gaslit Diaries,' a series of essays exploring the gaslighting and politics that underlie American women's everyday experiences in the patriarchy.

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