On January 28, Jessica Valenti delivered a keynote address about anger, activism and reproductive rights to the staff and supporters of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in Houston.
I’m honored to be in a room with such incredible activists and supporters of the wonderful work PP Gulf Coast does—so thank you for having me here.
Given that there’s news on women’s reproductive rights every day (most often none of it good), when I was thinking about what to say today, I had a hard time narrowing it down.
It’s really difficult to articulate the nuance and the complexity of issues like activism, women, politics, bodily integrity. Then I was reminded of this protest sign that I saw a picture of, and I wanted to share it with you because I think it perfectly captures the sentiment of this particular moment in the fight for reproductive rights:
There’s something about it—it’s simple, it speaks to all generations. And this is actually a picture from a demonstration in Virginia when the state was trying to mandate transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions—a mandate I know you all know very well because Texas was also on its way to passing one when this protest occurred.
So I wanted to show you this picture because its funny, but I also wanted to share it because there’s a story behind it.
I had posted a picture of this sign and a few others (and maybe they had a few more curses on them)—and I got an e-mail from a young man who asked me a question that I get asked a lot: Why are you so angry?
I imagine a lot of us in the room have been asked some iteration of this question. It’s a common one when you’re a feminist. Calm down, why are you so worked up? You seem so pissed off. And it’s a stereotype, really, of feminists—that we’re all angry.
So I was thinking of how I could respond this young man…and this is what I came up with, and I wanted to share it with you.
It’s not that I’m angry. I’m exhausted. The war on reproductive health and autonomy feels absolutely never-ending. In 2011, there was a record number of anti-choice laws enacted across the states and in 2012, we saw more than forty new state laws restricting women’s access to abortion.
The restrictions ranged from TRAP laws and ultrasound mandates to waiting periods and mandatory counseling—all of which end up hurting the most marginalized women in the US by making legal medical care more costly and harder to get. So while I’m thrilled that we’re celebrating Roe’s fortieth anniversary—if women can’t access abortion, then it’s not really legal for all of us.
If the Hyde Amendment still exists, then Roe doesn’t mean anything for the woman who can’t afford care. And if one woman in Texas can’t get the care she needs, then Roe isn’t fulfilling its promise.