6 Victories For Reproductive Freedom You May Not Realize Happened This Year


There’s no question that 2014 has been a difficult year for the reproductive rights community. The Supreme Court ruled against pro-choice groups in the Hobby Lobby and abortion clinic buffer zone cases, and the midterm elections brought a wave of GOP victories at the state and national level that will surely result in even more anti-choice legislation next session.

It’s easy to feel like everything is hopeless. But there were also a few bright spots this year. 2014 brought several examples of progress when it comes to protecting and upholding reproductive rights, and pro-choice groups say they’ve been laying important groundwork for a new, proactive approach in this area moving forward.

Here are some pieces of good news you may have missed:

1. San Francisco took a stand against sex-selective abortion bans that exploit racial stereotypes.

Abortion opponents gather in San Francisco's Civic Center for the "Walk for Life" rally

Abortion opponents gather in San Francisco’s Civic Center for the “Walk for Life” rally

CREDIT: AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach

In September, San Francisco became the first city in the country to take a stance against “sex-selective abortion bans,” after its Board of Supervisors voted to approve a resolution that prohibits this type of law from being enacted.

This type of abortion restriction — which became particularly popular in 2013 — bans the practice of ending a pregnancy based on a fetus’ sex. Abortion opponents claim that Asian women in particular are more likely to terminate a pregnancy if they find out the fetus is a girl; when South Dakota approved a sex-selective ban this past spring, for instance, lawmakers argued it was necessary because of the state’s large population of Asian immigrants.

But there’s absolutely no evidence that Asian-American women in the U.S. are choosing to have abortions because they don’t want to give birth to girls. The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPWF), which has been instrumental in pushing back against these racially biased assumptions, recently released an extensive report that thoroughly debunks this myth.

That’s exactly why San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu (D) introduced the resolution in his city. “The rhetoric used by legislators advocating these measures is perpetuating racial stereotypes, is deeply offensive and can lead to the denial of health care services to women,” Chiu said in a statement before the measure’s passage. “No woman should ever be scrutinized by her doctor based on her racial or ethnic background, but this is exactly what a sex-selective abortion ban encourages.”

2. The country inched closer to ensuring abortion coverage for low-income women.

Activists lobbying to repeal abortion coverage restrictions for low-income women

Activists lobbying to repeal abortion coverage restrictions for low-income women

CREDIT: All Above All

For decades, there have been some issues that are considered simply too politically unpopular to touch, the so-called “third rail” of politics that pro-choice group assume elected officials will never venture near. The Hyde Amendment — a federal budget rider that prevents low-income women from using their Medicaid coverage for abortion services — has historically topped that list. But this year, that slowly started to change.

Led primarily by young women and women of color, a new coalition of reproductive rights activists has been busy pushing for lawmakers to start seriously considering getting rid of Hyde, which deepens the economic divide among the Americans who are able to exercise their reproductive rights. The All Above All campaign, founded last year, toured across the country this summer to drum up support for the policy change.

The advocates who participated in that campaign told ThinkProgress that the people whom they met were really receptive — plus, their internal polling shows that more Americans support repealing these coverage restrictions than you might expect. Now, they’re taking their fight to the halls of Congress, lobbying for federal legislation on the issue.

Repealing Hyde obviously isn’t going to happen overnight. But the fact that advocates are organizing around the issue — coupled with the fact that some U.S. lawmakers are joining the fight — is a significant shift from the way that the country used to approach federal funding bans. Plus, the legislative push is already beginning on a local level. This fall, Seattle passed a resolution calling for the end of all federal restrictions on abortion coverage.

3. California dramatically expanded its residents’ access to abortion care.

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D), who sponsored the legislation that expanded California's pool of abortion providers

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D), who sponsored the legislation that expanded California’s pool of abortion providers

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Last year, the Golden State bucked the national trend and passed several pieces of legislation intended to expand — rather than attack — reproductive rights. One of those measures, Assembly Bill 154, has had a particularly important impact on the state since it went into effect this spring.

Assembly Bill 154 expands the pool of abortion providers by allowing nurse practitioners, midwives, and trained physician’s assistants to perform the procedure during the first trimester, after a multi-year study confirmed that those professionals can safely provide early abortions. It was specifically intended to address the shortage of abortion providers in the state, particularly in rural areas where women may have trouble making the long trip to the nearest doctor. Now, those residents have more options.

And so far, the new law had has another significant effect: helping to reduce abortion stigma by integrating the procedure along with the rest of women’s routine reproductive health care. Now, midwives and nurses — who are involved in the health services related to the rest of their patients’ reproductive lives, like pregnancy tests and birth control consultations — can also be available to help women end a pregnancy. Abortions don’t need to be scheduled on a special day when a rotating physician is available to drop by the clinic, which means that anti-abortion protesters are no longer able to target the patients with appointments on “abortion day.”

“It’s a much less stigmatizing way to offer an abortion,” one of the certified nurse midwives at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Marin County, who is now able to perform abortions, told the Los Angeles Times in October.

4. The media started paying more attention to women’s personal abortion stories.

Actress Jenny Slate, who stars in the romantic comedy "Obvious Child."

Actress Jenny Slate, who stars in the romantic comedy “Obvious Child.”

CREDIT: Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP

Some people have started calling 2014 “the year of the abortion story.” It’s not hard to see why. There’s been a groundswell of support for emphasizing women’s personal experiences with the procedure, and more people have become comfortable speaking out.

Prominent figures like former gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards, and NPR host Dee Dee Bridgewater all spoke publicly about their decisions to end a pregnancy. Emily Letts filmed her abortion and posted it on YouTube to help other women realize that it doesn’t have to be a scary experience. The movie Obvious Child brought an unapologetic story of one woman’s abortion — and the fact that it didn’t define the rest of her life — to the big screen.

And activists working to help encourage abortion storytelling pushed forward in big ways. They launched new organizations, conducted extensive research into how to best support women who share their stories, organized events on college campuses, and hosted the first-ever live streamed abortion speakout that gave people across the country an opportunity to talk about their own experiences.

5. Thousands of people signed up for the first online abortion class.


CREDIT: Shutterstock

This fall, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) taught the first online abortion class that’s ever been offered at a U.S. school. Dr. Jody Steinauer, the founder of Medical Students for Choice, decided to offer “Abortion: Quality Care and Public Health Implications” to devote more time to a subject that often gets left out of traditional medical school curricula.

According to Steinauer’s estimates after the course opened for enrollment, more than 3,000 people signed up for it.

The interest in the country’s first online abortion class is significant in an era when the procedure is often shrouded in mystery, something that allows persistent myths about it to flourish. One of the biggest myths about abortion, for instance, is the idea that it’s very dangerous; this notion has allowed lawmakers across the country to enact tighter restrictions on clinics that are forcing them out of business. Dispelling the most common falsehoods about abortion is a critical step in ensuring these myths don’t end up influencing our legislation more than they already do.

Steinauer’s approach to abortion education rests upon two fundamental truths that global research into the subject has confirmed time and time again: Some pregnancies will be unintended, and some women will access abortion. In light of that reality, she wants her students to consider the following questions: “How can we, as a community that cares about women, help to decrease morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions? How can we make abortions safer? How can we make them more accessible?”

6. There was a significant increase in proactive pro-choice legislation at the state level.

A women's rights activist holds a sign during a rally in New York

A women’s rights activist holds a sign during a rally in New York

CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Groll

There are some likely suspects when it comes to pro-choice legislation: Usually, California, Oregon, and Washington are leading the nation in the field of reproductive health. But this year, additional states made their own moves to protect reproductive rights — with a wave of progressive legislation that the country hasn’t seen for years.

“Significantly, legislators quickly showed a clear interest in protecting or expanding access to sexual and reproductive health care,” researchers from the Guttmacher Institute wrote in April, when they analyzed the legislative trends for the beginning of the 2014 session. “Some 64 provisions have been introduced so far this year to expand or protect access to abortion, more than had been introduced in any year in the last quarter-century.”

This year, legislators took steps to enshrine protections for abortion in their state constitutions; establish buffer zones around abortion clinics; establish parity between maternity coverage and abortion coverage; and permit expediated partner treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Plus, the political conversation as a whole has titled toward issues related to women’s health. At least five members of Congress took a public stance in favor of repealing the Hyde Amendment this year, something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. Candidates didn’t shy away from talking about reproductive rights in the lead-up to the election. Even Republicans started advocating for expanding access to birth control. Groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America plan to continue pressuring lawmakers to support comprehensive packages of legislation related to women’s equality.