Almost since the Roe v. Wade decision, a majority of Americans, according to the Gallup organization, have agreed with the statement: “abortion should be legal under certain circumstances,” which is essentially what the Supreme Court ruled in that landmark case and has continued to uphold, despite an increasingly fragile, pro-Wade majority.
Despite this popular and legal “majority,” the group of Americans (about 15 percent to 20 percent) who agree that abortion should be “illegal under all circumstances” has been highly effective in several areas: winning lots of skirmishes at the state level, resulting in more restrictions on abortion; trying to scare women from considering or having an abortion; and intimidating medical professionals who offer them.
According to a study released by Guttmacher, anti-abortion absolutists have succeeded in 22 states that enacted 70 abortion restrictions during 2013. Noteworthy among these states are North Dakota, Texas (where a bill signed by Rick Perry has caused the closure of 37 of 42 abortion clinics), Arkansas, and North Carolina, which collectively passed 26 abortion restrictions last year. Attempts to restrict access to abortion don’t stop there. Lawmakers in Kentucky would like to require women to undergo a narrated ultrasound, late term abortions could be criminalized in South Dakota and a “fetal personhood” ballot amendment in Colorado would define life as beginning at conception.
It is in this context, we should consider the actions of Emily Letts. A counselor at a New Jersey women’s clinic, Letts, 25, decided not only to have an abortion, but also to film it and put it on YouTube. She did this, she says, to try to clear up some of the lies about the impacts on women’s health of the procedure and to lift some of the guilt that has been laid on women. For too long, those who believe in abortion rights have been playing defense, hiding behind political locutions like “safe, legal and rare.” The procedure itself may have come out of the back alleys, but the affirmative case for abortion, the necessary and positive impact it has had on millions of women’s lives who weren’t ready, able or desirous of having a child, has been in a shroud of shame. With her brave actions, Letts lifted it a bit.