With the Supreme Court due to decide on the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law,looks at clinic “buffer zones” and the fight for reproductive rights.
"IT’S A slaughterhouse in there! You’ll regret this all your life!"
A group of anti-abortion activists are huddled outside of Planned Parenthood. Some are praying. Others are approaching women as they enter the clinic.
"Don’t be the mother of a dead baby."
A busload of high school students from a nearby Catholic high school stand nearby, holding signs that read, “Women do regret abortion.”
Then, as if the preceding statements weren’t traumatic enough, a priest yells out at a woman entering the clinic “Happy Mother’s Day!”
This is a typical day outside an abortion clinic in 2014. As clinic escort and pro-choice activist Paul Valette describes, “Many sidewalk counselors will continue to shout at patients who have entered the private property, until they enter the building, and sometimes continue to shout at the closed doors.”
Valette has volunteered as a clinic escort since he retired from the U.S. Army in the mid-1990s. While the more aggressive era of anti-abortion tactics—like blockading clinic entrances, gluing locks and chaining themselves to doors—was largely over when he began volunteering at the Washington, D.C., area clinic nearly 20 years ago, the chaotic, intimidating and emotionally manipulative environment created by anti-abortion protesters remains the same.
He described the scene:
When patients arrive by car, [anti-abortion protesters] will often stand next to the car, making it difficult for the patient to exit the vehicle. On one occasion, a female anti-abortion protester—about 70 years old, but tall and sturdy-looking—stood in a position where it was impossible for the patient to open the door. And they routinely attempt to slide leaflets into the car through the windows.
Sometimes, protesters go even further.
"On one occasion, a patient arrived by cab. She opened the door, then leaned back away from the door, still inside the cab, to pay the drivers," Valette said. An elderly male anti-abortion protester then "entered the cab and began talking to the woman," pleading with her not to go inside for her scheduled procedure.
… In the pages of the New York Times, anti-abortion protesters like McCullen become “sidewalk counselors” who merely want to engage patients in polite conversations, and give women facing unplanned pregnancies their full range of choices.
USA Today’s Mary Ann Glendon, for example, portrayed McCullen as a compassionate victim of an outrageous attack on free speech:
Unfortunately, Massachusetts has relegated McCullen to the margins. She is now often forced to call out her compassionate and loving message from behind lines painted on the ground, like a child put in the corner for bad behavior…Moreover, the lines suggest to incoming women that McCullen and persons like her are somehow dangerous or suspicious.
In Glendon’s view, it is the faint yellow lines of a buffer zone and not anti-abortion protesters themselves who create a sense of danger outside of abortion clinics.
Today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade! We created this graphic because 70% of Americans support the principles of Roe, and we need to show anti-choice politicians around the country that we won’t be silent while they work to take away our reproductive rights. LIKE and SHARE it so we can show them, loud and clear, that pro-choice values are American values.
We are perennially told that we have to vote for the Democratic Party candidate in order to safeguard the right to abortion. Yet, the Obama years have proven to be far worse than the last 8 years of Bush in terms of attacks on this basic reproductive right.
The fight to stop the war on woman in general, and the right for any person to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, in particular, will remain a losing battle as long as people depend on career politicians in either party to lead the charge. People really need to mount a massive, grassroots movement that UPSETS the status quo — rather than relying upon it — if reproductive justice is ever to be realized.
It’s no secret that the attacks on women’s health have dramatically increased over the past few years, but that doesn’t make seeing the lineup any less breathtaking. http://bit.ly/1eT0ltQ
But there’s a solution: The Women’s Health Protection Act will stop these outrageous laws that are undermining women’s health and rights in state after state. In today’s political climate, Roe isn’t enough—and we’re not done fighting for women’s health and rights. Tell Congress to support the Women’s Health Protection Act now: http://bit.ly/1eT0ltQ
Hell yeah! My friend and hero Madeline Burrows in The Nation!
Based on two years of undercover research, MOM BABY GOD explores the student arm of the anti-choice movement.
Dr. Marie Diana Equi (April 7, 1872, New Bedford, Massachusetts – July 13, 1952, Portland, Oregon)
… Equi was one of several doctors in Portland who performed abortions, and did so without regard for social class or status. She was active in the movement to provide access and information about birth control. She also knew Margaret Sanger, and may have had a relationship with her—archivist Judith Schwartz described Equi’s letters to Sanger as “love letters”. Equi was active in the women’s suffrage movement in Oregon, which achieved success in 1912 when the state granted women the right to vote.
In 1913, she visited the site of a strike by women cherry sorters at the Oregon Packing Company, during a strike action supported by the Industrial Workers of the World among others. While attending to an injured worker, she was attacked by the police, whose brutality in attempting to end the strike led Equi to denounce capitalism and become an anarchist.
In 1916, Equi joined the American Union Against Militarism. During a war-preparedness rally in downtown Portland, she unfurled a banner reading “PREPARE TO DIE, WORKINGMEN, J.P. MORGAN & CO. WANT PREPAREDNESS FOR PROFIT”, which set off a minor riot and led to her arrest. On December 31, 1918, she was convicted of sedition under the newly revised Espionage Act for a speech made at the IWW hall opposing World War I. Her lawyers were unsuccessful in their attempts to overturn her conviction, and her daughter later recalled how she and her mother were spat upon in the streets during this period. For this reason, Speckart took Mary to Seaside, Oregon. Equi and Speckart never lived together again. In October 1920 Equi began her 3-year sentence at San Quentin State Prison, which was later reduced to a year and a half. In prison, she wrote letters to friends, one of which expressed anxiety and doubt about her “queerness,” to which her friend reassured her. Although Equi’s friends supported her they were unable to secure her pardon.
Some time after her release, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to live with Equi, and the two women lived together for ten years.
Twenty-week abortion bans compel women to carry profoundly disabled children to term.
I just want to say that I don’t think it is at all helpful to pose the question this way; that is, in terms of whether women should be forced to bear “disabled children”, as opposed to any children. This unnecessarily pits the disability rights community against the women’s rights movement. No woman should be forced to bring any child to term against her will, regardless of whether the child is disabled or not.
A strategy which fights for exceptions to bans on abortions — late-term or otherwise — on the narrow grounds of disability, rather than fighting for the complete overturning of all abortion restrictions on the principled grounds of a woman’s basic right to control her body, is inherently a defensive and losing strategy.
Radical theater artist Madeline Burrows has worked on her one-woman project, MOM BABY GOD, for the better part of two years. In the show, Burrows plays several characters from the U.S. anti-choice movement, which she created based on extensive research and undercover work. The show is touring, with stops in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Burrows spoke with about the project in an interview for Red Wedge.
MOST RADICALS dream of infiltrating the bigots to get the scoop on what makes them tick, but what propelled you toward this project and investigation?
BACK IN 2011, when there was the threat to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood, I became fascinated by the rhetoric and tactics of the anti-abortion movement. At the time, NARAL was conducting undercover investigations of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), and I was involved with a local campaign to expose a CPC in Western Massachusetts.
As part of the campaign, I went undercover to see what kind of false medical information they were giving out. It was a totally jarring and eerie experience—there were baby clothes pinned to the walls and medically-inaccurate fetal development kits—and even though I wasn’t actually a teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy, I experienced firsthand the kind of intense emotional manipulation that takes place in CPCs.
That experience left me convinced that in order to fully understand and represent the movement, and understand how it shapes the way we think and feel about abortion, I needed to experience it from the inside.
DID YOU have an endgame in mind when you set out? Was it always performance or theater?
MY GOAL was always to create a solo performance based on the material, but what that has looked like has changed a lot. Originally, I wanted to do a more documentary theater-style piece that included both pro-choice and anti-abortion perspectives. So in the early phase, I did a really broad range of research and interviews, including a number of interviews with older women who were abortion rights activists in the ’80s and ’90s, as well as women who had had abortions. Their stories were incredible, and it was really hard to say goodbye to them.
But I felt like if left-wing audiences came to the show and saw their own views represented, it would let them off the hook in a way. I didn’t want this to be a comfortable piece of theater. I wanted audiences to leave with the same kind of urgency that I felt after immersing myself in the anti-abortion movement—a feeling that this is happening right now, and we need to figure out how we’re going to respond to it.
WHY THE vehicle of theater? Or what do you think theater can accomplish?
THEATER HAS the unique ability to give audiences an opportunity to step into another world. And unlike a movie which you can pause at any time, theater forces you to engage immediately. It is also an art form that creates a space for people to experience something collectively as an audience, which I think can be a powerful thing.
DO YOU think a project like this will resonate with a certain audience, or more broadly? What has the response been so far?
THE SHOW follows a teenage girl who is dealing with her emerging sexual desires inside of this completely sexually repressive and sexist context. I think any woman, or really anyone, who has grown up in the era of abstinence-only sex ed, will relate to experiencing the contradictory sexual atmosphere that exists, where girls and women are encouraged to “be sexy,” but “don’t have sex.”
We’ve had some audience members who grew up involved in right-wing youth activism and have since broken from it, but you definitely don’t have to be a full-on right-wing youth activist to be affected by the political climate that attacks women and reproductive rights.
The audiences so far have been largely pro-choice and left-wing audiences. But we’ve had some surprises, too. At one performance, during the post-show discussion, two women got into a heated debate. One of the women described herself as being “middle ground” on the issue, and the other was a staunch abortion rights supporter who had had an illegal abortion as a teenager pre-Roe v. Wade. A third person, who I later learned was a crisis pregnancy center director and abstinence educator, stormed out in the middle of the performance.
HAS THERE been any backlash to speak of? Or are our opponents oblivious? Tell me about the whole Students for Life American wanting to be on the mailing list—ha!
YES, THE executive director of Students for Life just asked to join our e-mail list, and another higher-up in the group “likes” us on Facebook. Other than that, we’ve received a few pieces of right-wing hate mail, but not a ton.
We’re very up-front with what our political position is, so I think they’re keeping an eye on us for now. If they want to come to the show and protest it, they can go right ahead. But I imagine they’re pretty perplexed with how to respond, because everything in the show is based on real events I attended. This is their rhetoric. I’ve seen no need to exaggerate it. So if they protest, they will be protesting themselves—not a very strong tactical choice, right?
WHAT HAVE you learned about yourself—personally and politically—from this project?
THAT CREATIVE ideas don’t just happen out of nowhere. We grow up learning so much about the “great man” theory of history, where brilliant ideas supposedly just sprout effortlessly out of the heads of individuals—who, incidentally, always happen to be rich white men—but that’s not how ideas come to be.
Being an artist requires a creative practice that means a lot of work and a lot of trying and failing. And it’s never a solo pursuit. It means collaborating with other creative people who you can bounce ideas off of and who bring other skill-sets to the table.
I think there’s an idea, particularly in the U.S. where there is such a low level of federal funding for the arts, that artists should be doing what we do for free, as a hobby on top of everything else, or that it is selfish to want to be able to live comfortably as an artist—and by that, I mean be able to afford food, rent, health care and vacation. So one thing is that I’ve become more convinced that there needs to be arts funding to pay artists so they aren’t having panic attacks every month because they’re working full-time jobs on top of unpaid creative work.
HOW DO your other art-making endeavors inform your performance?
I’M A musician, in a feminist punk band called Tomboy. I’ve definitely been inspired by the fearlessness I’ve felt in the punk scene to just get up and perform and make mistakes and take your work on the road, and I’ve wanted to bring that into theater.
WHAT ARE you trying to move your audience toward? A position? Awareness? Action?
I WANT audiences to feel a sense of urgency. The right wing has a lot of momentum and they’ve gained a lot of ground in the past 40 years, particularly in rolling back reproductive rights. And I would say that they’ve won so much ground because they’ve been building a grassroots, in-your-face, unapologetic movement.
That’s what we need to build, and I think activists are starting to grapple with how to do that and learn from movements of the past. So I hope this show taps into that conversation which is already happening.
Every show will be followed by a short post-show discussion, and I hope those can be a place for people to digest the right-wing rhetoric in the show and talk about what we’re going to do to challenge it.
First published at Red Wedge.
Thirty-seven years after Congress stripped Medicaid funding from abortion care, the reproductive rights movement has a broad coalition to fight back.
… Why is the moment ripe now, when abortion access has been a too-often neglected front in the struggle for reproductive rights since Hyde was first passed?
Over the past few years, a changing political climate has presented new possibilities for the abortion funding fight. The rising electorate of people of color, young people and white unmarried women, along with the Occupy movement, has shifted the terrain and crystallized national unease with steadily deepening inequality—and brought into stark relief the disconnect between having a legal right, and having the resources to exercise it.
SO glad to see this kind of article on an abortion rights website!
The reproductive justice movement and disability rights movements are at their best, in solidarity. For example, working together to acknowledge the fact that women with disabilities face a higher rate of sexual assault, uniting the two for access to abortion care. At worst, the reproductive justice movement may be labeled as ableist by anti-choicers, claiming that abortion access encourages people to terminate fetuses who appear to have disabilities under the guise of “fetal anomalies.”
… People with disabilities face a staggering amount of barriers to reproductive care. People with disabilities are often dependent on others to help with their daily needs, and a caretaker’s opposition to an abortion may become an overwhelming obstacle. For example, if a person has a sensory disability and are deaf or sight-impaired, they may rely on someone for transportation or translating. If their daily caretaker/interpreter does not want them to have an abortion, then they may refuse. The same could be said about being coerced into an abortion. A caretaker may speak for a person with a disability, eliminating access to appropriate reproductive care.
These barriers are just a small representation of what a person with a disability may face when trying to have an abortion. Reproductive justice activists must put a lot of thought into how they organize as to not be ableist. We must also think about issues of consenting to abortion for those with developmental and intellectual disabilities and how we feel about people having abortions because they believe their fetus has a disability; These are difficult questions that must be asked in order to successfully organize around disability. This is just the tip of the iceberg on reproductive rights and disability — there are also issues of forced sterilization and other issues around access, pleasure and sex that must be dealt with.
|—||Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body|
For several decades, private agencies, including the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and the Puerto Rican government, with the support of federal funds, waged a crusade to sterilize Puerto Rican women. Women on the island were encouraged to agree to “la operación” by armies of public health workers who offered it at minimal or no cost.
The island-wide sterilization campaign was so successful that by 1968 more than one-third of the women of childbearing age in Puerto Rico had been sterilized, the highest percentage in the world at that time.
A similar effort on Indian reservations during the 1970s left more than 25 percent of Native American women infertile. In four Indian Health Service hospitals alone, doctors performed more than 3,000 sterilizations without adequate consent between 1973 and 1976. For small Indian tribes, this policy was literally genocidal. One physician reported that “[a]ll the pureblood women of the Kaw tribe of Oklahoma have now been sterilized. At the end of the generation the tribe will cease to exist.”
|—||Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body|
Women’s reproductive health isn’t just about what is covered in mainstream media.
When did so many feminists get polite on abortion? I cannot take hearing another pundit insist that only a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s work is providing abortions or that some women need birth control for “medical” reasons. Tiptoeing around the issue is exhausting, and it’s certainly not doing women any favors.
It’s time resuscitate the old rallying cry for “free abortions on demand without apology.” It may not be a popular message but it’s absolutely necessary. After all, the opposition doesn’t have nearly as many caveats. They’re fighting for earlier and earlier bans on abortions, pushing for no exceptions for rape and incest, fighting against birth control coverage—even insisting that they have the right to threaten abortion providers. The all-out strategy is working; since 2010, more than fifty abortion clinics have stopped providing services.
The anti-choice movement isn’t pulling any punches—why should we?