In early June, Brooklyn-based writer Ashoka Jegroo documented on Twitter the chaos outside an abortion clinic in Manhattan. Anti-abortion protesters were guided through the streets by the New York City Police Department as they sought to harass and intimidate people who were coming to have abortions. In the series of videos, the police are seen shoving pro-choice protesters who were protecting patients from the mounting aggression of abortion opponents. Nearly every officer in the video has their backs to the anti-abortion marchers and their focus appears to be on monitoring the pro-choice counterprotesters and patient defenders.
I’ve seen this before. In January, police gave safe passage to Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, attending the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., organized by anti-abortion groups.
Protesters harassing patients is not new; nor is police failing to do anything about it. But what has become more clear is that Democratic leaders continue to believe the lie that police are necessary to protect abortion access—or are the sole solution in any other situation in which white supremacist violence is expected—when there’s little evidence to back up that claim. Ask any clinic escort or defender how often the police look past the obvious assaults and the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act violations on any given Saturday. Every frontline activist has a story about police officers who go join the anti-abortion protesters during their breaks or who chat them up while supposedly protecting and serving. Not to mention the fear police presence strikes in patients and clinic workers of color and undocumented people.
Coming any day now, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling will bring about the recriminalization of abortion across half of the nation. The Supreme Court ruling is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow the states to determine when abortion should be available. This will mean that in half of the states abortions won’t be available to the majority of people who need them. Where abortion is a crime, state officials will be responsible for enforcing the law, and that duty will fall primarily to the police–the very police who now support and foster anti-abortion harassment of patients.
This is no longer a hypothetical, so let me be direct: It is not possible to support people who have abortions and be pro-police. It never was. We cannot claim to support the oppressed while giving untold sums of money and power to their oppressors “in our defense.”
We saw this all too clearly during President Biden’s 2022 State of the Union address. Ahead of the event, my organization, We Testify, called on him to use the word “abortion” and to share his plan to protect access during this crisis. Rather than say what it will take to make reproductive rights real for all, he echoed a call to “fund the police.” Three times.
Police are already arresting people who self-manage their abortions on trumped-up charges of murder and child endangerment. Search “police beat pregnant person” and you’ll scroll through news stories of police officers violently assaulting pregnant—often Black and brown—people with abandon. While there are individual officers who believe in protecting abortion access and have abortions themselves, policing as a system is antithetical to reproductive justice—the achievement of universal rights that respect our dignity and humanity and allow Black, brown, Indigenous, trans, and queer people to not only survive but to thrive.
Police forces have always been used to tamp down calls for democracy or dissent from different marginalized groups. From the first slave patrols to the more recent wave of white supremacists intentionally infiltrating police departments, police forces can’t help but promote anti-Blackness, monitor communities of color, and corral people living in poverty. With the recriminalization of abortion, becoming pregnant is probable cause for suspicion and surveillance and can prompt an investigation into our bodies, families, and those who help us—especially if the pregnancy ends in anything but a “healthy” live birth. This is especially terrifying as the Supreme Court recently held that we have little recourse against Customs and Border Patrol agents who assault people, and that we may have little recourse against police who use our un-Mirandized statements against us.
Rather than meet community needs, we put police in every conceivable setting: They’re already in our schools, hospitals, and grocery stores. According to the ACLU, 14 million students attend schools with police but not one counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker. This already impacts the disproportionate number of young people who attempt to self-manage their abortions to avoid legal barriers to clinics. The presence of police in hospitals also negates their status as a medical safe haven. Some medical professionals report patients who self-manage their abortions to the police instead of providing the confidential medical services they are ethically obligated to provide. These reports lead to unjust prosecutions.
Until we demand police-free health care, we’ll never be able to fully secure abortion access for all. We won’t know what it is to truly decide if, when, and how to grow our families free from state-sanctioned violence and coercion. This vision requires that we separate abortion support from support for a policing system that is ready to incarcerate anyone who violates unjust, medically ignorant laws. We must also strongly challenge supposedly pro-choice politicians who fail to defend us against law enforcement.
In this moment, everyone has to pick a side. I’ll always choose to side with people who have abortions. I hope our communities will too.