As of April 15, state and national governments continue to struggle with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In many areas, frontline health care workers are overwhelmed with the influx of cases, and officials have ordered health care facilities to suspend “non-essential” procedures, like elective surgeries, in order to ease the strain. But officials in some states have classified abortion as an elective or non-essential procedure for the duration of the pandemic — a de facto ban which could continue for months. As of April 15, legislators have made attempts to effectively ban abortion indefinitely during the pandemic in states including Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, with more potential limitations coming in states like Kentucky and Mississippi. Many of these states have a history of being hostile to abortion rights. While reproductive rights advocacy groups and abortion providers are challenging the restrictions, the appeals process is tricky: In the span of two weeks, the Texas abortion ban has been suspended and reinstated twice, before a federal court ruled on April 13 to allow medication abortions — though not most surgical procedures — to continue.
Joining the pushback is reproductive rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America, which launched a digital ad campaign on April 15 to hold President Donald Trump and anti-choice politicians accountable for attacks on abortion rights during the pandemic. In the first ad, which will run on Facebook, Instagram, and stream on video, a group of four young women discuss abortion access during the pandemic via video chat. Bridget Todd, 34, is one of the women featured in the ad. She spoke with Elite Daily’s News Editor Lilli Petersen about what she thinks is at stake, why she took part in the ad, and what she wants young women to remember in November 2020.
Abortion access has been an important fight for pretty much my whole life. Reproductive freedom, health care, and access to abortion are probably my top voting issues, because they affect every other issue that you encounter.
People need the freedom to make their own health care decisions, and using the coronavirus as a smokescreen to prevent that is unacceptable.
Right now, it's especially important to pay attention because Trump and Republican politicians are using the coronavirus pandemic to try to push their own anti-choice ideology, restricting abortion and controlling pregnancy-capable bodies. Politicians in places like Texas and Ohio are categorizing abortion services as “non-essential,” effectively banning those procedures until this pandemic is over. They make arguments like, “We can't waste the personal protective equipment (PPE) on doctors performing abortions. That all has to go to doctors dealing with coronavirus right now.” But if you've ever found yourself in need of reproductive care, you know it is essential. It is timely, important health care.
People need the freedom to make their own health care decisions, and using the coronavirus as a smokescreen to prevent that is unacceptable. Right now, officials and the public should be listening to doctors, scientists, and medical experts — not taking away people's rights and jeopardizing people's safety and health. On March 18, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology put out a joint statement calling abortion an "essential component of comprehensive health care," saying that it's time-sensitive and should not be delayed during this pandemic. But as people scramble to take care of themselves and their livelihoods, politicians are actively trying to strip away the right to abortion access.
Just because Americans are social distancing and quarantining, it doesn't mean these attacks are going to work.
People who support reproductive rights need to send a very clear message that just because Americans are social distancing and quarantining, it doesn't mean these attacks are going to work. Voters are not going to forget this in November, and the majority of Americans who believe people need to have access to reproductive care are going to remember this, and they're going to vote against anti-choice candidates.
Using my voice in NARAL's ad was a reminder that regardless of whether you're doing it from the steps of the Capitol or from your apartment on Zoom, it's important to speak up, because these issues will get lost otherwise. I'm grateful to organizations like NARAL working to highlight the way the coronavirus has been used as an excuse to attack reproductive care.
I remember when Trump was first elected, a lot of people said, “Oh, maybe it won't be so bad.” But one of the first policy changes he enacted rolled back abortion care and reproductive rights. From expanding the global gag rule to attacking birth control domestically, it was very clear that rolling back reproductive rights was something central to the administration's agenda. The attacks on access to abortion and reproductive health care have been nonstop ever since, and that’s why I call him out specifically in the ad.
As young women, we're often told our stories don't matter. But you can't empower women without listening to our experiences. Stories provide opportunities for people to make change — whether it's by voting, or getting involved in a campaign, or volunteering. Taking action really can be as simple as sharing your story with your friends, with family, and talking about what’s important to you as a voter. That’s the first step to making social change.
Young women should remember their rights are non-negotiable.
This is a pivotal moment and young women should remember their rights are non-negotiable. More Americans are in favor of abortion rights than against them, and if you care about these rights, you need to speak out. I'm going to be talking to my mom, my dad, my cousin, my friends — everybody I know — to make sure they're voting in November. The stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines right now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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