Pro-Choice Activist Jessica Markuson Addresses Abortion Bans

by Sofia Celeste
woman in white shirt holding a sign above her head at the stop abortion bans rally stating trust us with our bodies

NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota’s Stop Abortion Bans Rally | Image Credit: Josh Olson

By Sofia Celeste

It’s hard to fathom, that in a globalized, democratic, technologically-advanced world, ultra-conservative lawmakers are turning the tide back to a time before 1973, when women did not have the right to a safe abortion in their home state. But, alas, as abortion bans and right wing sentiment spread like wildfire through the US Bible Belt and the midwest states, a woman’s right to choose (even in the case of rape, incest or a risky pregnancy) is under threat nationwide.
“It’s the basis of democracy, that you control your own body,” Gloria Steinem once said, reflecting on Roe vs. Wade, a Supreme Court ruling that today, under the Trump government, risks being overturned, challenging yet again the constitutional “right to privacy” a woman is entitled to under the 14th Amendment.
This week, Louisiana became the fifth state to pass a heartbeat law, after Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi. Louisiana’s bill includes an exception to allow abortions after 6 weeks only to prevent a pregnant woman’s death or in cases of “serious risk” to her health. In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill criminalizing abortions after 8 weeks. Under the Missouri law that will come into force Aug. 28, doctors who violate the law, could face up to 15 years in prison.
“This is not a drill,” Dr. Leana Wen, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America told the Associated Press this week, after the state of Missouri threatened not to renew a license for its last remaining abortion clinic.
“This is not a warning. This is real and it’s a public health crisis,” Wen said.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, the advent of this “health crisis” is not shocking.  Politicians have been slowly mobilizing and enacting anti-abortion restrictions since 2017, with 19 states adopting 63 new restrictions on abortion rights and access. That total is the largest number of abortion restrictions enacted in a year since 2013. And even in the absence of restrictions, politicians in  Iowa, Kentucky and South Carolina moved to restrict public funding for family planning programs and providers in 2017, bringing to 15 the number of states that have taken aim at the family planning safety net since the 2015 release of a series of deceptively edited videos seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood, the Institute said.

All The Pretty Birds chatted with Jessica Markuson, pro-choice advocate and deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota to discuss what the future holds for women around the world and the implications this has on a woman’s freedom to do what she wants with her body.

All the Pretty Birds: What do you think is the cultural root of the wave of conservatism that has resulted in these radical legal challenges to Roe v. Wade? Do you think this is tied to the wave of populism sweeping the nation and the world?
Jessica Markuson: I think people are afraid to lose power and control. When women are able to control if, when, and how they have children. We need to be vigilant in fighting back against this approach, and remember that equality and equity doesn’t mean that other groups lose anything; we all do better when we all do better.

ATPB: Do you think there will be some sort of domino effect in other areas of the United States? What are the indications that this may/or may not be a possibility?
JM: Absolutely there will be a domino effect. From 2011-2017, states enacted 401 abortion restrictions, accounting for 34% of all abortion restrictions since Roe v. Wade, which was in 1973. It’s clear that the anti-choice movement found that the most productive way to eliminate abortion access was to incrementally pass bills at the state level. Since the nomination of President Donald Trump in 2016, and subsequently Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the anti-choice movement has become more emboldened than ever to take extreme measure like the six week bans that are currently sweeping the nation. They view the current political climate as extremely friendly, and the Supreme Court as more than affable for at least the next three to four decades.  

ATPB: The Alabama law makes performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases unless necessary for the mother’s health. And the law provides no exception for rape and incest. In your home state, lawmakers are debating over two bills, which would restrict abortions in different ways: One would prohibit the procedure if a fetal heartbeat is detected “except in the case of a medical emergency,” and the other, prevents an abortion if the “probable post fertilization age” is 20 weeks or more. What are some of your concerns?
JM: These bills are an all-out assault on the rights, health, and lives of people who can get pregnant. The anti-choice agenda is to criminalize abortion and punish women who seek reproductive health care. Women should have the freedom to make decisions about their health and well-being with their families and their doctors, full stop. We know that limiting or denying access to abortion doesn’t stop women from getting abortions, it just forces them into nefarious and dangerous environments. Banning abortion doesn’t end abortion; it just ends safe, legal abortion. Another is that with this wave of unprecedented, extreme bans (six week bans, bans without exceptions etc.) that other bans (such as a 20 week ban or a TRAP bill) will seem more “reasonable”. More “incremental” or “bureaucratic” or seemingly less extreme laws are like death by a thousand cuts, and ultimately end at women not having access to abortion care. It’s also important to remember that even though abortion care is a constitutional right, many women currently do not have access due to the many barriers standing in their way.

large white capitol building with a crowd of people at the steps holding signs to protest the abortion bans

NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota’s Stop Abortion Bans rally at the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul | Image Credit: Josh Olson

ATPB. Some states have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. Many women don’t even know they are pregnant at six weeks!  What are your thoughts on this?
JM: It is utterly terrifying. A six week ban on abortion is an absolute ban on abortion, particularly when you take into account that yes! many women don’t even know they’re pregnant- combined with the myriad of medically unnecessary requirements we force women to navigate. Women will seek and find abortion care regardless of it’s availability and legality; the real choice people have to make is whether they want women accessing a safe medical procedure or not. These bans aren’t about health care. They’re about undermining our autonomy and our ability to make decisions about our own bodies and our own futures. The consequences of an all-out ban are so scary, particularly given the fact that 1 in 4 women in America will have an abortion by the age of 45. That is a huge segment of our population, a segment that needs and deserves the ability to make deeply personal decisions about their pregnancies.

ATPB: We have heard many stories of women whose lives were saved by abortions or those who have been raped and/or the victim of incest.  What other circumstances are we overlooking?
JM: I think there needs to be more focus on the positive societal impacts abortion has, not only on women’s lives, but the lives of their loved ones, particularly children and partners. Behind millions of happy, successful people lies an abortion that allowed them the freedom to be successful. Behind millions of people who were able to pull themselves out of poverty lies an abortion they don’t regret.

ATPB. President Trump tweeted: “As most people know, and for those who would like to know, I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions – Rape, Incest and protecting the life of the mother – the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets. What is your view on his political stance?
JM: First, this is an extreme position not taken by the majority of Americans. 7 in 10 Americans support Roe and believe women should be able to make their own health care decisions with their families and doctors. I trust women to make healthcare decisions that are best for them and their families. Abortion happens for all kinds of reasons, and that’s ok, because abortion is normal health care, and a decision we should not be legislating from Washington D.C. or our state capitols.

NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota’s Stop Abortion Bans rally in Saint Pau, Minnesota | Image Credit: Glenn Stubbe – Star Tribune

ATPB:  What is your course of action now that some of these laws have already passed? What can women do to protect their rights?
JM: Just do SOMETHING! Volunteer at your local reproductive rights non-profit, whether it be directly at an abortion clinic or a local advocacy group. Donate money. Speak up and out about reproductive freedom—this is a really important and easy way to stand up and fight back! There is so much stigma around abortion that just talking about it can make a huge impact. Vote! In all elections, whether local, state, or federal. Volunteer on the campaign of a pro-choice candidate. Participate in actions and rallies.

ATPB: In your experience as a professional, when do you feel it is not okay for someone to have an abortion?
JM: I think that women get abortions for a lot of reasons. With this recent onslaught of restrictions and proposed limits, we’re stuck in a dialogue about drawing the line of when it’s ok versus when it’s not ok, and have forgotten the most important question of all, which is who gets to make that decision. I trust women and I trust their doctors and I trust their families to make their own decisions about their own bodies and lives and futures. Yes, women do get abortions later in pregnancy. It’s less than 1% of abortions and mostly, they are the result of a serious health complication that threatens her life or health, or is because of a serious fetal anomaly. Abortions later in pregnancy are often difficult, complicated, personal decisions that should not be made by politicians.

ATPB: What made you choose your profession, as a pro-choice lobbyist and advocate?
JM: I think bodily autonomy is one of the most intersectional and important issues of our time. I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but women and people who can get pregnant will never achieve true equality without the ability to control their destinies, and a gigantic tenet of that is the ability to decide if, when, and how to have children. Working at NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota for the last 7 years is one of the things I’m most proud of in my life, something I never take for granted, and simultaneously something I wish I didn’t have to do. Abortion is normal and it’s health care and I won’t stop fighting for it until reproductive freedom is a reality for everyone.

Read more on recent abortion bans in Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri.

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