Abortion-rights activist and National Organization for Women (NOW) member Erin Matson, right, and others, holds up a signs as anti-abortion demonstrators march towards the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, January 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Groups of abortion rights activists plan to gather in New York City and San Francisco tomorrow to kick off the bicoastal Abortion Rights Freedom Ride (July 24–August 21), a tour that will take the women’s rights protesters to some of the most vehemently anti-abortion areas of the country.
Caravans will travel from both coasts with plans to rally and gather support along the way, arriving in North Dakota before August 1 when new laws are set to shut down the last abortion clinic in the state. SB 2305, which Governor Dalrymple rushed to sign, places unnecessary conditions on providers of safe abortion care in a blatant effort to close the Red River Women’s Clinic, the last remaining provider in the state.
Then the group will travel to Wichita to support the re-opened clinic of Dr. George Tiller following his assassination during a Sunday morning mass by an anti-abortion gunman. Last winter, “wanted”-style fliers appeared in Wichita, listing the home address of the woman who opened the first abortion clinic since her mentor, Dr. Tiller, was killed. Then a pastor purportedly pointed a sign at the woman’s house that read, “Where’s your church?”
Next, the caravans will visit Jackson, Mississippi, where a temporary court injunction is the only provision keeping the last remaining clinic in the state open. In January, clinic officials painted the clinic pink to symbolize women for a variety of reasons, including breast cancer awareness and in support of survivors of domestic abuse.
The group, End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org), states it plans to “protest and confront the anti-abortion woman-haters, erect visual displays that tell the truth about abortion and birth control, collect and amplify women’s abortion stories in order to break the silence, defend the clinics and providers most under attack, and meet with people to build lasting organization to DEFEAT the whole war on women.”
Sunsara Taylor, an initiator of End Pornography and Patriarchy and a writer for Revolution newspaper, doesn’t think calling anti-abortion legislation a “war on women” is hyperbolic.
“Abortion rights have been in an increasing state of emergency over recent years,” says Taylor. “In reality, for at least two decades now we have been in a holding pattern where ‘yesterday’s outrage’ becomes today’s ‘compromise position’ and tomorrow’s limit of what can be imagined. Who would have thought even a few years ago that we would be having a national debate over women’s use of birth control?”
Taylor says the group increased mobilization efforts following a slew of abortion restrictions and an increase in the number of states that have only one remaining abortion clinic.
“We planned this several months ago recognizing the utter state of emergency confronting reproductive rights. However, the closer we get to actually launching this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, the more acute and the more apparent and the more extreme this emergency becomes,” she says.
Taylor cites Texas’s SB5 restriction that could close as many as thirty-seven of the forty-two clinics in the state, legislation introduced in North Carolina that would close four out of five clinics, a new budget in Ohio that could cause multiple clinic closings and the proposed legislation in North Dakota.
“And I could go on for a while about further restrictions,” says Taylor. “The point being, the situation really is escalating and while there are very encouraging and heroic growing signs of mass opposition to this, it is still not on the level that is required.”
Taylor says about twenty people will be on all or major parts of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, and there are many people who are stepping forward to join in each local area.
“We anticipate, and have begun hearing from numerous people both around the country and in Canada, and are encouraging people to join with the freedom ride and caravan along in their own vehicles or to join with us at the main stops. Especially in Jackson at the very end, we are building for regional caravans to join us there and have heard from people in parts of Texas and Georgia who are working to build caravans there,” says Taylor.
Taylor views the war against women’s reproductive health as a war against women’s autonomy.
“The fight over abortion has never been about babies, it has always been about the attempt to control women and enslave women to their reproduction. This is revealed, in part, by the fact that none of the major anti-abortion organizations support birth control,” she says, adding that the goal of the ride is to show people there are only two sides in this debate: “Either you think women should be enslaved to their ability to have children, or you recognize that women are full human beings who must have control over their own lives, their own destinies, and their own reproductive decisions. Abortion is not tragic because fetuses are not babies and abortion is not murder,” she says.
A volunteer named K.T. will also be participating in the ride and authored an article entitled “Why I’m Going” for the group:
I was 11 years old the first time I heard the word “abortion.” Ruth, a young woman very close to me, had found out she was pregnant while trapped in an abusive relationship, working two jobs, and taking a full course load at a community college. She stayed with a friend because she did not have a place of her own to live in. This woman got an abortion and it seemed to be the end of the world for everybody but her. People tried to explain to me that Ruth made a “terrible mistake.” My heart raced with fear when they told me what to expect upon seeing her again. “She might die,” they warned, reminding me that she would be eternally distraught and especially prone to suicide. “Could you imagine killing your own child?” they prodded. When I finally gathered the courage to see what I expected to be an emotionally drained and unrecogniwzable woman on her death bed, I was greeted by the same Ruth I had known for so long, smiling with a book positioned close to her face, like always. She explained why she chose to get an abortion and it made a lot of sense to me. At 11 years old the only part about this situation that confused me was why people were treating her with such disdain.
K.T. writes that she is participating in the ride because “the women of North Dakota and South Dakota have heartbeats that matter, the women in Mississippi and Arkansas and Kansas have futures they deserve a say in, and the future of women all across this nation depend on what all of us do to counter these attacks before it is too late. Denying women the right to abortion takes away their right to life.”
Taylor co-authored an article with David Gunn Jr., son of David Gunn Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated in the United States, in which Taylor and Gunn claim the country is in a “state of emergency” concerning the right to abortion.
“If we do not reverse this trajectory now, we will condemn future generations of women and girls to forced motherhood, to lives of open enslavement, terror, and life-crushing shame,” Taylor and Gunn write.
The authors say their echo of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides is “intentional and fitting.”
“Women who cannot decide for themselves if and when they have children are not free,” they write.
Critics have raised concerns that the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride will be too confrontational, too vociferous and may turn off people to the cause. Critics also worry the caraven activists will be viewed as invading outsiders by local areas, that mass political protest distracts from important court cases and that it’s better to rely on officials channels of politics.
Taylor and Gunn write that they view it as a moral obligation to assist women in states where their reproductive rights are under attack.
“It is delusional to think that what happens in states like Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Kansas will not come soon to a theater near you. Our futures are bound together and we all share the responsibility to take this on and turn the tide where the attacks are the most severe,” they write.
The authors cite the direct action strategies implemented by the LGBT community as a way to affectively, and aggressively, educate the masses about their political message:
History has proven that directly confronting oppressive social norms can be disruptive and scary; yet, it is a necessary and uplifting part of making any significant positive change. Many argued that it was wiser for LGBT people to stay closeted until society was more accepting; others counseled against the Civil Rights Freedom Rides out of fear that it would only rile up the opposition, but it was only when people took that risk and got ‘in your face’ that broader public opinion and actions began to change.
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