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Women will always need access to safe, legal abortions

Two bills that Gov. Mark Dayton recently vetoed are part of the “incremental approach” to restricting a woman’s right to choose.

A young man set to graduate from a local seminary recently interviewed me about why I am pro-choice.  He contacted me as a class assignment to talk with someone who held a view opposite of his own. I am so thankful he called me, as it inspired me to send Gov. Mark Dayton another thank-you note. Here’s why:

We made small talk, discovered we both have two children, and our interaction was very pleasant. He then cut straight to the point: Why do you hold a pro-choice position?

My answer was simple: There will always be a need for abortion. It is my job to ensure that it is safe, legal, and accessible for any woman who chooses it.

Always will be unintended pregancies

The lives that we lead are complicated: often wonderful, often terrible, with many twists and turns along the way.  There will always circumstances that result in unintended pregnancies. Sadly, there will always be ectopic pregnancies and fetal anomalies, no matter how wanted or planned the pregnancy is. And, I fear, our society will always have to deal with the risk of rape, and I am loath  to imagine a woman forced through a pregnancy under such circumstances.

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I have heard many of these stories from women themselves. When I first started my work in the reproductive rights community, I was startled when people began to tell me their stories. I now find it to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job, and I take their sacred stories to heart. 

These stories remind me that a woman and her physician — not politicians — should make health-care decisions.  As part of my job, I lobby members of the state Legislature. I hear some struggle to pronounce “ectopic pregnancy” or incorrectly repeat the name of the fetal anomaly a woman described in her public testimony, all while assuring her that her baby “would have been fine just fine.” This experience has strengthened my resolve.

Incomplete rhetoric

The legislators speaking at the hearings I referenced are working hard to outlaw aborion, but they are silent on what comes next.  It is almost as if we are to believe that if abortion is outlawed, it will simply cease to exist. 

I told the young student interviewer that women have been here before, that there was a time before safe, legal abortion. The need to access abortion services remains even when it is deemed “illegal.” For example, even though abortion is illegal in Brazil, it has a higher abortion rate than the United States. And, for women in Brazil, the leading cause of maternal death is unsafe abortion. In 2005, IPAS Brasil reported that nearly 100 percent of the 250,000 maternal deaths due to unsafe abortion could have been prevented had care been provided in a safe, legal setting.

I shifted the conversation from Brazil to talk about  closer to home. This year in Minnesota, the state’s largest anti-choice organization worked to pass two bills. One would single out abortion providers for onerous licensing  requirements that other health-care providers don’t have to follow. The other bill would ban the use of telemedicine to provide medical-abortion care. This bill would restrict abortion care for women in rural Minnesota who rely on telemedicine networks to talk to their doctor.

A deceptive strategy

These two bills are part of the “incremental approach” to restricting a woman’s right to choose. They do not explicitly seek to ban abortion outright; their deceptive strategy is to make obtaining an abortion incredibly difficult, and to overburden abortion providers with impossibly strict “licensure” requirements so that in effect there is no access to abortion.

I am grateful that Minnesota has Gov. Mark Dayton, who vetoed these two bills recently and vetoed three other anti-choice bills in 2011. He understands that women’s lives are complicated, politicians aren’t doctors (yet!), and women will always need access to safe and legal abortions.

So here’s my letter to Gov. Dayton in light of his two recent vetoes.

Dear Gov. Dayton,

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Thank you for understanding that there will always be a need for safe, legal abortion.


Linnea House

I hope you’ll join me in sending one of your own.

Linnea House is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.


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