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It's time for a grown-up conversation about choice (Guest commentary: Detroit Free Press)

Published January 22, 2013, by Detroit Free Press.

Guest Commentary by Lori Lamerand, Detroit Free Press guest writer.

 

Published: 01.22.13| Updated: 01.22.13

Every day, Planned Parenthood does more than any other agency to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. Prevention — not abortion — comprises 97% of our services. Statewide in 2011 Planned Parenthood performed more than 27,000 exams to prevent and treat pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix. We performed more than 26,000 breast exams, more than 2,000 prenatal visits and 104 vasectomies. Across Michigan we provided nearly 100,000 tests for sexually transmitted infections. In all, we helped 90,000 Michigan women, men and teens get the reproductive health care that they needed — even when they did not have insurance or the funds to pay for their care.

Yet, it is the constant haranguing over abortion that takes up a disproportionate amount of our political resources — especially with the rise of the conservative right. Their strategy to focus on state and local politics has enabled them to erode many progressive policies that Americans have come to take for granted, including civil rights and fair labor practices. That same political apparatus has chipped away at abortion rights state by state. That’s despite a May Gallup poll that shows 25% of Americans believe abortion should be legal under an circumstances and 52% believe it should be legal under certain circumstances. Recently, we experienced an unprecedented attack on the rights guaranteed 40 years ago by Roe —24 states passed 92 bills to restrict access to abortion. Here in Michigan, while the state struggles to put its citizens back to work, legislators spent the 2012 lame duck session passing some of the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in the United States.

But it seems we’ve arrived at a watershed. As the conservative right broadens its agenda to encompass attacks upon birth control, the nation is realizing that the slippery slope of abortion has two sides. Millennials in particular have been troubled by the rollback of rights they took for granted, and women were mobilized in the most recent election over the issues of abortion and reproductive justice. It turns out that while Americans may not be willing to support unfettered access to abortions, they don’t want to see the procedure completely banned, either. Generations of Americans — regardless of political affiliation — understand that it’s just not that simple. Abortion is a deeply personal decision, and not something that can be put squarely in a “pro” or “anti” box.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last 40 years, it’s that old labels and tired rhetoric do nothing to address the real problem. If as a nation, we want to make abortions safe, legal and -- above all -- rare, the focus needs to be on preventing unintended pregnancies, not making abortion more difficult or expensive. The strongest role for the state to play in this debate is to support preventive health care and education so that all women can make the decision that is right for them and their families.

Lori Lamerand is CEO of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan.

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