The battle for reproductive freedom has become a mainstay of American politics. Whether it's over contraception coverage, access to abortion, or providing sexual education in public schools, the struggle over a woman's ability to control her reproductive health always seems to prompt fierce debate. For advocates, maintaining and expanding access to these services requires hard work, but according to a new National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) report, legislation protecting reproductive rights increased in 2018, suggesting that there's a powerful momentum building — and it could continue into 2019.
The report found that there were 422 bills aimed at protecting reproductive freedom, introduced across 44 states, as well as Washington D.C. Of that number, 100 bills were fully enacted, 34 passed in at least one chamber of the legislature, and 51 passed in at least one committee. Only five were vetoed. This, the NIRH says, means that more proactive bills were passed in 2018 than in any of the last five years, when the organization first started keeping track.
But while the report suggests that there is a lot of energy being directed toward expanding and preserving reproductive freedom, NIRH president Andrea Miller tells Bustle that this should not be understood to mean that the fight is over, or that women have protections guaranteeing things like access to abortion care, birth control, and other reproductive health services.
"There’s certainly a significant increase in momentum and the proportional shift in terms of state legislative work, but let me just be clear: none of this can negate the fact since the Trump-Pence administration took office, there’s been a constant onslaught at the federal level against reproductive rights and health," Miller says.
Advocates are fighting tooth and nail to ensure reproductive rights remain protected at the local level, and the NIRH report backs that up. But Miller shares a refrain often repeated by activists, one that cautions against mistaking action for outright success. She explains that she believes there's an "absolutely concerted effort" to limit and overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as to "pack the courts" with judges who are hostile to abortion access.
In looking toward how reproductive rights protections may shift in 2019, and taking recent trends into consideration, Miller says she would be "realistically optimistic." However, the situation, she says, is "extremely dire."
"The current laws on the books, the current state of access — particularly for those who many not have the resources or the flexibility or [ability to] live in places where their services are acceptable, is dire," she tells Bustle. "The state of affairs in the court in terms of sustaining federal protection across the country feels very dire. That is a fact."
That being said, Miller believes that all of this work and energy could push legislation and culture in a positive direction. "If you look at the long game," she says, "including even what could happen next year, there are signs of hope and signs of momentum."
But maintaining that momentum requires a sustained effort. Activists, in conjunction with local legislatures, are helping to push that momentum forward, she says, but there's more work to be done. Miller advises those who want to help push reproductive rights efforts forward to become involved with their local discourse. Post to social media, she says; write letters to the editor about why these protections and expansions are important.
And, she adds, support your local independent abortion providers, if you can. "The more that we show in our communities that we recognize and believe that these are important and positive additions and positive elements our communities, the more we’re going to see those services survive," Miller says.
The fresh wave of proactive legislation passed in 2018 may, indeed, bode well for 2019. But as Miller made clear, the effort is far from over. Progress, especially in the realm of reproductive freedom, requires continuous work.