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The Last Four Years, the Last Five Decades

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The Cut

A weekly audio magazine exploring culture, style, sex, politics, and more with host Avery Trufelman.

With the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, women around the country are questioning the future of Roe v. Wade. So on this week’s episode of The Cut, host Avery Trufelman talks with New York Magazine writer-at-large Rebecca Traister to demystify the current state of accessibility of abortions and whether that accessibility is now imperiled. Trufelman also talks with Symone Sanders, one of Joe Biden’s senior advisers, who articulates his position.

REBECCA: Inaccessibility isn’t just recent. It’s now. It happens now around the country for millions of women for whom enough barriers have been put in place that Roe might as well not exist, because it actually doesn’t serve as a barrier. It doesn’t serve as a protection of their right to get the care that they need. So there are states all over the country where the laws are so prohibitive, where there have already been people jailed for abortion. 

AVERY: Abortions might be technically legal. But they are functionally inaccessible in Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and places like Missouri, where, in 2017, there were 12 Planned Parenthood clinics in a state with a population of nearly one and a half million women. And only one of these clinics offered abortion services.

Here Trufelman and Traister discuss the Hyde Amendment and its direct effect on abortion accessibility since 1976.

AVERY: The legalization of abortion was part of this wave of progressive legislation in the second half of the 20th century. 

REBECCA: Certainly Roe. Also the legalization of birth control, which we forget was not that long ago. Civil rights, gay rights wins. And there was this sense that there had been this sort of social progressive revolution in the United States and it had been successful! 

AVERY: And among progressives the idea was like, “Yeah, we won. So let’s not talk about it anymore!”

REBECCA: After those victories of the 1960s and ’70s, the Democratic Party by many means ran from those victories. There was a party realignment, and the Democrats did not necessarily want to be understood. In fact, they ran from the notion that they were the party of women, which was denigrated as the “mommy party.” Right. They ran from the suggestion that they were necessarily the party on the forefront of civil rights. They wanted the good parts of the reputation for these things, but they didn’t actually want to continue to fight hard on these issues. And abortion is a perfect example of that, because the Democrats immediately — a lot of them signed on to the Hyde Amendment.

AVERY: The Hyde Amendment. The dark shadow that chases Roe v. Wade to this day. The Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1976, just three years after Roe, as a part of the immediate abortion backlash. 

REBECCA:  The Hyde Amendment, which is a legislative rider that prohibits federal insurance money to be put toward abortion care, that has meant that low-income women who rely on federal insurance programs cannot get abortions.

AVERY: So wait, this means that since 1976, Medicaid, public funds, have never paid for abortions. 

REBECCA: Yeah, not a penny. No, no. 

Although Roe v. Wade did technically legalize abortion in 1973, the fight for it to be accessible to all has been a constant battle. Here, Traister explains why the battle is not lost and what comes next.

REBECCA: It’s not over. Here’s the thing about the feeling that it’s over. Here’s the reality. It’s really hard. It’s gonna be really hard. It’s going to be much harder than if people had been awake to this 20 years ago. But we know things that can be done: court expansion, making Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico states. That’s actually just the right thing to do. But it also crucially rebalances some of the power imbalances that were built into this country to preserve white male power: abolishing the Electoral College, a Green New Deal. All of these things are tied together. We are in a period in which a huge number of very exciting and very challenging solutions have actually been presented to us. And we have a path forward. It is insanely hard, but it is not, by nature, harder than the paths that have been trod by generations before us. In fact, by many measures, it’s probably easier. We have the answers. 

AVERY: We are all — myself most certainly included — going to have to work up the courage to actually talk about abortion and read about it and follow it and advocate for it and donate to reproductive-justice organizations like the Yellowhammer Fund. And, as Rebecca Traister points out, to see it as part of the larger fight against oppression.

Trufelman also spoke with Symone Sanders, one of Biden’s senior advisers, about his commitment to abortion rights.

SYMONE: Yeah, I think I think almost every senator that’s ever sat in the United States Senate, Democrat or Republican, has voted in support of the Hyde Amendment. It had always been tacked on and tucked up in a number of different bills, just to be very clear. But let me tell you where Joe Biden is. He’s going to protect a woman’s constitutional right to choose. And now I know you’re asking, What does that mean? Okay, that means that Joe Biden is going to codify Roe in law.

To hear more about the past and future of American women’s right to abortion, listen below and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

The Last Four Years, The Last Five Decades