In 1973, as women and allies around the U.S. rejoiced at the historic Roe v Wade decision that finally recognized the right to choose, Ed Markey began his political career in the Massachusetts Legislature as a staunchly anti-abortion state representative. Markey steadily climbed the ranks of the Democratic Party so that by 1983 he was a representative in U.S. Congress, and he launched his first campaign for U.S. Senate in 1984.
During the 10 years between between his election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and his Senate bid, Ed Markey established a consistent pattern of voting for restrictions on women’s reproductive freedom. So much so that Republican lawmakers saw him as an allyfor their anti-abortion agenda. Markey supported numerous legislative provisions that threatened to strip menstruating people of their right to control their own bodies, even in cases of rape and incest. The most notable piece of legislation that Markey passed was the 1976 Hyde Amendment, a legal measure that prevents federal funding from being given to any organization that provides the full cadre of medical choices for people who can give birth,
including abortions. That means that Medicaid recipients who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy are forced to choose between carrying to term (inflicting undue physical, emotional, and financial strain, as well as possible damaging physical and mental health consequences), struggling to pay for an abortion, or resorting to dangerous self-inflicted abortions.
Markey changed his public stance on abortion in late 1983, which was coincidentally just in time for his 1984 Senate race. (This is not the first time Markey has had a sudden change of heart just before a new campaign, but I’ll leave that for another day.) Claiming he
had a change of heart regarding imposing his religion on others, Markey started
to vote pro-choice.
Maybe Markey’s reasons for changing his public position on abortion were not politically calculated, but I’m not exactly convinced. He professes his support for the right to choose, but I was stunned to see Planned Parenthood’s support for this Democrat who has never offered
full-throated support for the bodily autonomy and reproductive freedoms of women and all who can give birth. Seems like a pro-incumbent move on the part of Planned Parenthood, rather than real support for Markey.
Simply voting in favor of pro-choice policies (and arriving at even that most basic support more than a decade late) isn’t enough. Markey hasn’t redressed the harm he inflicted on millions of Americans (not to mention millions around the world who suffer under the effects of the Hyde Amendment). If he truly regrets his anti-abortion past, or even if he just honestly had a change of heart, Markey would be at the forefront of the battle to appeal the Hyde Amendment. He would write legislation to expand women’s rights. He would introduce bills that restore resources to pregnant people. He would use his experience of switching from an anti-abortion booster to a pro-choice advocate to convince other conservative politicians to do the same. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done any of that. Instead of standing up for his supposed pro-choice beliefs by speaking out and being bold, Ed Markey has chosen to remain silent on the issue, hoping that we would forget the suffering his legislation induced on us. But we haven’t forgotten.
We haven’t forgotten the panic, terror, and shame that the Hyde Amendment has struck into the hearts of women and menstruating people. We haven’t forgotten that the policies Markey endorsed continue to deprive women and pregnant people of bodily autonomy, stripping
them of their humanity in the process. We haven’t forgotten that it directly targets poor people, specifically poor women of color, and perpetuates the socio-economic barriers that exist for this group.
Contrary to what he’d like you to believe, Senator Ed Markey is not the poster child of the pro-choice movement. Rather, he used to be the Right’s anti-abortion Democrat darling. He voted for a decade to rob pregnant people of their choice, even if they’d gotten pregnant under the vilest of circumstances. Once he changed his mind, he made no overt attempt to reverse the legislation he passed. Ed Markey is not an ally to menstruating people, he’s simply a politician who strategically chooses and changes his public stance on abortion.