The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank Thinks Pro-Choicers Need to Chill Out

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post thinks the debate surrounding abortion, or what he refers to as "Roe Week," is absurd. In his latest column, Milbank criticizes abortion provider Merle Hoffman for raising a 'false alarm' about the threat to reproductive rights in this country.  He then goes on to cite the numerous marches and events that will take place on both sides of the debate over the next week as the country celebrates - or laments - the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in this country. All of this attention troubles Dana Milbank.  He writes, "if these groups cared as much about the issue as they claim, and didn’t have such strong financial incentives to avoid consensus and compromise, they’d cancel the carnivals and get to work on the one thing everybody agrees would be worthwhile — reducing unwanted pregnancies." He chastises the choice movement by telling us that "not every compromise means a slippery slope to the back alley."  He tells us to stop with the "sky is falling" argument and to acknowledge that the majority of Americans have legitimate concerns. As you can imagine, I've never had a man tell me - a feminist - to "simmer down" and "be reasonable" before.  Maybe Dana Milbank doesn't think the sky is falling, or that reproductive rights are being steadily rolled back in this country, simply because he's so busy critiquing the "theater" surrounding the debate that he hasn't bothered to really take a look at what's at stake. Milbank is on the right track with his admonishment of the Conservative side to pay more attention to family planning if they really want to reduce abortions.  But if he thinks that's what we should all be focused on, and it's the pro-lifers who aren't willing to compromise on that, then what on earth is he admonishing the pro-choicers for?  Oh yes, for crying wolf and not being reasonable.  I'd like to take this opportunity to remind Mr. Milbank that "being reasonable" is what got us the Hyde Amendment.  Milbank wants us to find common ground with the pro-life movement and work on that.  Except as I've written about in the past, there is no common ground with the pro-life movement.  They aren't anti-abortion; they're anti-women. The unprecedented efforts we've seen in 2011 to repeal a woman's right to choose how to live her life and how to exercise agency over her own body goes far beyond just Roe v. Wade.  And yet, Milbank seems to just want us to focus on getting along and finding middle ground in reducing unwanted pregnancies and - always - to learn to play a little nicer. The sky isn't falling? The Guttmacher Institute has a solid (yet depressing) overview of 2011 already, so let's just do a quick review, shall we? - In all 50 states combined, more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related bills, amendments, and pieces of legislation were introduced.  Of these, 135 were enacted in 36 states, and 68% of these new provisions—92 in 24 states—-restrict access to abortion services. - North Dakota was added to the list of 36 other states that require abstinence-only education. - Montana, Texas, and New Hampshire all drastically reduced funding to family planning services out of proportion to cuts to other health care services. - Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah adopted provisions prohibiting all insurance policies in the state from covering abortion except in the most extreme cases (life endangerment). - Five states adopted provisions mandating that a woman obtain an ultrasound prior to having an abortion. - Now that Texas and North Carolina have been added to the list, we're looking at 26 states that mandate that a woman seeking an abortion must wait a certain period of time between getting counseling and having her procedure done.  Even stricter regulations were proposed in South Dakota (don't even get me started on the host of other choice-related problems in South Dakota -only click through this link if you really want to feel sick.). I understand that Dana Milbank doesn't appreciate seeing "gruesome photos of fetuses" or images of bloodied hangers, but there's a reason everyone's coming out in full force.  WE'RE NOT GETTING THROUGH. I'm outraged that "legal" in this country doesn't mean available, accessible, or affordable.  I'm outraged that in addition to literally trying to close abortion clinics, pro-lifers are trying to enact legislation that would make fetuses into persons (Ohio is the latest, for those who haven't been keeping track).  I'm outraged that we're still teaching kids in public schools that women having sex is a bad and dangerous thing - hell I'm outraged that abstinence-only education still even exists.  This debate isn't just about abortion.  It's about women's health, women's rights, and women's choices. Milbank uses as the "hook" in this piece a report commissioned by abortion-rights activist Merle Hoffman to examine the effect of economic need on abortion coverage.  Except one has to wonder if he even bothered to read the report.  The conclusions in the report were not based exclusively on "journalistic" reports, but also on newer research from credible institutions like Gallup and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and from peer-reviewed research that explored the increase in numbers of women choosing abortion for economic reasons. These are more than "journalistic" sources. Furthermore, all the data supported the trend presented, and none contradicted it.  The idea isn't to wait three years for a full and comprehensive, state by state analysis to realize that there's something going on. But my bigger concern is that Dana Milbank thinks the pro-choice movement needs to acknowledge "legitimate concerns" and stop crying wolf.  This is because when it comes to reproductive choice and abortion rights, he doesn't think the sky is falling. But I suppose that's easy to say when the sky isn't falling on him.   For those who are interested in telling Dana Milbank (@Milbank) why abortion rights really are at risk in this country, you can email him at or post a comment to his piece. Photo Credit: Ennuipoet via Creative Commons License

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  • Robin Pugh Yi

    Thank you for your commentary and concern on this issue. I wrote the independent report to which Hoffman referred. A central point of the report, which does present data on increased demand for services in many clinics since 2008, is that women who choose abortion do feel the sky is falling. When researchers ask why women choose abortion, a major factor is financial constraints that make them feel they have no other choice. The main conclusion of the report is that credible debate and policy making require understanding and addressing this aspect of the issue.

  • GloPan

    Great post, Abigail. All I can say is, Amen, Sister.

  • http://http.// MadamaAmbi

    Sista Abigail, the sky is definitely falling and many women who have been paying attention to this unbelievable cascade of anti-woman legislation have been shouting the alarm that there is A WAR ON WOMEN. Loretta Ross recently wrote about linkages between voting rights and black abortion on Ms. Blog. The social consequences of women who cannot control their own bodies are vast. But I don’t get it. Why do these people want women having babies they can’t support economically? Psychologists and sociologists have published studies on what this does to women, children and familes as far back as 1950, or earlier. What are they smoking? They want kids aging out of foster agencies?

    It’s more than women having control over their bodies and their reproductive health: it’s a battle over who has power over life and death. Patriarchy is built on an order that’s existed for millenia and one of its tenets is that only God has the power, except when he hands it over to men. And there are plenty women who also believe this is what God wants.

    Let me add another layer of alarm to your very thorough summary of what’s really, really, really happening: how is this different from many so-called “laws” of Islamic fundamentalism? The fundamentalist religious creep in the U.S. is right before our eyes. It will not only control women! It will devastate gay rights! It will set back scientific research! It will require all social service agencies to adhere to a draconian interpretation of Christianity! Right now, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a proud “originalist.” That alone makes me shudder at yet another religious and/or constitutional fundamentalist getting on the court and it will happen if/when we have a Republican president and, for instance, Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires.

    Women’s movement has made incredible structural change and here again is pushback. This is not going to stop unless…unless this fight is joined by all human rights advocates. All. Unless white feminists unite with black feminists on this battlefront. We could have so much more leverage. It’s time for a united front that finally puts the rights of women at the TOP of the priority list. Throughout history, women’s rights have been seen as tangential to revolution. This hierarchy has got to get flipped on its head.

  • Laurette Cangialosi

    Mr. Millbank cannot possibly understand. Unfortunately it is a very frightening situation,when your choices are constantly being threatened. If men could become pregnant, pro-choice would never be an issue.

  • http://http.// MadamaAmbi

    I must correct a misattribution in my comment. I was referring to a blog post by Loretta Ross on, not on Ms. Blog. Here’s the link to her post:

    It’s an intersection with an already multi-intersected intersection…imo…a very eye-opening, big-picture analysis.

  • grrljock

    Thank you for laying out the stupidity of Millbank’s “argument”. Sigh. Sometimes it feels like our civilization hasn’t advanced much in a couple of millenia.

  • Abigail Collazo

    Thanks for reading everyone. You all make such good points. As if it’s not bad enough that our rights are being rolled back left and right, so many people don’t even seem to know about it or acknowledge it. Oy vey!