You Can Walk And Talk About Abortion And Guns At The Same Time

Come on, Democrats. You can do it.

As Hillary Clinton approached the podium in the Washington Hilton ballroom, the entire ceiling was bathed in pink and purple light that appeared to be emanating from the stage. The hundreds of audience members, seated at banquet tables, held up pink signs bearing her name. Given that she's the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major party, you might think the event was a big, belated party for Clinton.

But none of that pink was for her, really. It was for her audience. Three days after clinching the Democratic nomination, Clinton chose to make her first major speech as the presumptive nominee in front of Planned Parenthood.

The 100-year-old women's health organization made its first-ever presidential endorsement when they backed Clinton in January, but for all their performative advocacy for women's equality, Democratic politicians, especially those who run for and become president, are usually much too cautious when talking about reproductive rights. They aren't even that keen to say the word “abortion” out loud. President Obama became the first sitting president to address Planned Parenthood last year, and though he mentioned the "right to choose," it didn't go unnoticed that he didn't say what could be chosen. Moderators ignored reproductive rights through every primary debate until Clinton herself brought it up during the ninth Democratic face-off in April.

This kind of rhetorical about-face matters, because liberal silence on abortion has long allowed conservatives to control the public discussion. Clinton speaking up in April, and later in front of Planned Parenthood itself, gave me hope that we might one day have a Democratic president unafraid to openly discuss abortion. That will matter even more as we engage on another topic not typically aligned with reproductive health: gun control.

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Lawmakers only tend to get animated about guns when we get a dose of concentrated death, and then only briefly. Since the Orlando nightclub massacre, it's been the same routine, rinse and repeat: The news breaks, is dissected, pundits ask whether this will be the time that Washington can get gun control passed, we sigh because we know it's pointless, and then a feeble congressional effort typically goes to shit. It just happened again; despite Senator Chris Murphy's 15-hour filibuster last week, the Senate failed to advance any one of four proposed measures to limit gun sales.

But it wasn't a complete waste. At least Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, approached the problem with an eye on how new laws address racial injustices and domestic violence. He was being intersectional, in other words. But noting how much guns contribute to domestic terrorism against abortion clinics will only help the case that Murphy and his allies in Congress are making.

We need to talk about reproductive rights when we talk about guns because, too often, guns threaten reproductive rights. Gun control and abortion are often conjoined in political arguments to prove how ridiculous it is that Republicans would seek to legislate a woman's womb but not assault weapons. But the two issues are united primarily because our nation's obsession with firearms puts abortion patients and doctors in real physical danger.

It hasn't been that long since a clinic providing reproductive care experienced a terrorist attack. Just last November, a man named Robert Dear, seemingly believing the hype from last year's fraudulent videos alleging that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts, shot up a Colorado Springs branch of the organization. Three people were killed and nine were injured. It’s natural to grow jaded or numb as our nation's mass shootings pile up in our news feeds and collective consciousness. But abortion clinics and providers face daily threats upon their lives and facilities. Despite its ineffectiveness, the prospect of domestic terrorism has always been a tool of the anti-abortion movement — and the ready access of guns makes it even more likely that someone who might be inclined to keep their crazy to themselves might decide to take action.

So it matters, in this cultural and political moment especially, to see a potential president offering forthright support of reproductive rights and abortion access — but a forthcoming Supreme Court decision is one reason why Clinton should integrate that argument with her push for gun control and an assault-weapons ban. After all, Texas, a state with some of the nation's most lenient gun laws, is the locus of the biggest fight for abortion access currently in the courts. The Supreme Court will soon issue a decision in the most important abortion case since Roe v. Wade made the procedure legal — Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a challenge to a 2013 Texas law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. (Can't meet those requirements? Then your clinic closes.) Fewer clinics for women also concentrates the targets for potential domestic terrorists. This, sadly, is the kind of shit we have to think about.

Gun violence is a reproductive-rights issue, and vice versa. Some look at gun control as the goal always out of liberals' grasp, similar to conservatives wishing in vain for the outlawing of abortion. But the right has managed many limits on abortion access, while the steady flow of firearms hasn't been stemmed at all. Right now, abortion patients and doctors live under the constant threat of violence, and the ridiculous number of guns in this country only exacerbates that. Exercising one's reproductive rights should not require this much courage.

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