Our Fight for Abortion Rights Must Be Bolder

We are losing a fight that by all measures we should be winning. Polling shows that a vast majority of Americans support keeping abortion legal, yet abortion rights are at unprecedented risk.

The fact that we’re losing this winnable war is what keeps me up at night.

Protestors dressed as Handmaids from The Handmaid’s Tale marching for reproductive rights. The costume has become a rallying cry for women opposing draconian and increasing restrictions on abortion access. (Charles Edward Miller / Creative Commons)

Recently, the New York Times wrote a story headlined on “the battle over abortion” that was met with major push back in the reproductive rights advocacy community. The title—”How a Divided Left Is Losing the Battle on Abortion”—says it all. While many of my fellow colleagues in reproductive freedom space take issue with the claim, I unfortunately have to agree with the analysis.

But the piece is missing one major note: any kind of collaboration, experimentation or innovation between abortion rights organizations and members are wrapped in fear, and the “play it safe” mentality we’re striving to fit into makes it almost impossible to actually work together.

The fear abortion advocates have is a product of a massive campaign from the extreme anti-abortion minority that has weaponized misinformation about abortion. These groups are overly funded and extremely coordinated. Relentless digital ads, horrifying crisis pregnancy centers, field organizing and media talking heads elevating propaganda have left our organizations playing constant defense—and unable to look toward the future.

This fear extends to funders who want to play it safe by donating only to large, established institutions, leaving local clinics that are doing the work without the proper resources to continue operating. While it’s important for larger organizations to be well-funded to fight important legal battles, and change policy at a national level, we still need to be supporting and creating infrastructure for the people on the ground who are providing critical care to patients.

The thing we need to remember, as representatives and defenders of the pro-choice majority, is that our fear has not saved us. It has not protected us from anything except working together. I love and respect my fellow abortion rights warriors: they are doing massively important work and building networks that many groups are engaged in. But it’s just not enough. We need to do better at collaboration and working together so that we can bring about the progress that we need and that Americans believe in.

I’m all for safe sex, but not safe strategy. We need to do this work differently. And we must do better before it’s too late.


Heidi Sieck is CEO and co-founder of #VOTEPROCHOICE, which identifies and supports pro-choice champions up and down the ballot and connects the nation's prochoice majority with prochoice candidates. You can follow her on Twitter @HeidiSpeaks.