Apologizing Away Our Rights: An Open Letter to Planned Parenthood

When did abortion become the health-care procedure whose name we dare not speak?  In the mass mailing Planned Parenthood sent out last week, the word “abortion” appears nowhere.  Not even the flaccid euphemism “pro-choice.”

What’s going on here?  Why did Planned Parenthood opt to gag itself in its solicitation of funds for their services, at a time when that vacuous nut job from Alaska running for veep, Sarah Palin, threatens to overturn Roe v. Wade if she and McBush win office?

Now is not the time to rehash what we all know about the right wing’s attacks over the decades.  They stand for Victorian sexual mores and life-crushing economic policies — that’s why we call them the right.  They are social and fiscal reactionaries and petty hypocrites to boot.

But in the face of the right’s audacious attacks on women’s right to control our own bodies, we are drowning in silence and equivocation from well-funded women’s organizations and the political party that claims to give a damn.

Hillary Clinton‘s actual response to the Palin nomination was to congratulate her and say, “Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debate.”

Oh really?  Would that be the voice demanding that rape victims in her state pay for their own $1,200 rape kit?   By the way, Alaska leads the nation in reported rapes per capita, according to the FBI, with a rate two-and-a-half times the national average.

Clinton, echoing the calls of mainstream women’s organization leaders for reducing the number of abortions, used the anniversary of Roe v. Wade three years ago to say that abortion is a “sad, even tragic, choice.”

This sort of apologetic and defensive stance toward abortion is echoed by Barack Obama, who has barely mentioned it on the campaign trail.  When he did in the primary debates, he said abortion “was a profoundly difficult issue for the women and their families.”

This years-long retreat from a full-throated defense of abortion has been disastrous, and it predates the Bush regime.  The Democrats’ longstanding acceptance of legislation for parental consent, waiting periods and “counseling” for women seeking abortions led to the alarming decrease in the accessibility of abortion under Bill Clinton, who ended his eight years in office with abortion services available in only 14 percent of American counties.

Let’s demand a stop to all this hand-wringing over a basic medical procedure that one-third of women under 45 have undergone, almost always without complications.  Millions of women do not agonize over this choice, and many who do are likely to have absorbed some of the imposed guilt and fear as a result of these tepid responses to the right that half concede the issue.

This posture is not only losing ground to conservatives, but it is literally peeling away support for abortion among young women.  The Los Angeles Times recently reported that “18- to 29-year-olds are consistently more likely than the general adult population to favor strict limits on abortion.”  A Pew survey found 22 percent of young adults support a total ban on abortion, compared with only 15 percent of their parents’ generation.

We have to go back to simple, straightforward and unapologetic claims that abortion is health care, and health care is a right.  If we don’t, I seriously fear that those protest signs we’ve carried for years reading “No Return to the Backstreet Butchers” may wind up becoming devastatingly prophetic.

Sherry Wolf is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review.

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