Fighting the attack on abortion rights
Natalia Tylim: Hey, I want to welcome everyone to today’s event fighting the attack on abortion rights. I’m Natalia, I’m a member of the Tempest collective. We pulled together this meeting alongside some really important activists who’ve been on the ground.
Tempest is a national organization of revolutionaries. We share a strategy that insists that struggle is the primary vehicle through which we win our demands and how we transform the world within that strategy. We’re open to any and all tactics and anybody, as long as they advance the organization of the fighting capacity of the oppressed and exploited.
You should check out our recent articles. There have been a number of reports from protests on the ground and analyses about the attacks on abortion. You can also find out more about joining the Tempest Collective on our homepage. There’s obviously an extremely urgent conversation to be had about defending abortion rights in this country, which is already out of reach for a large majority, a large number of people.
And in addition to that, it could now be criminalized with the new Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. Abortion rights activists have organized every single day since Roe was handed down to expand and defend the legally codified abortion under Roe v. Wade. But the dominant strategy, especially in the last thirty or forty years, has been to downplay the importance of abortion itself and to defer to Democratic Party politicians who tell us repeatedly that we have to be patient, as we’ve been losing our rights piece by piece.
There’s an effective statement that I think we’re all feeling pretty acutely right now: There’s nobody else that’s coming to save us. We’re going to have to figure out how to do this for ourselves. I think that’s been made really plain and clear. It’s time. We need to bring back the militant, unapologetic, abortion rights movement that won abortion in the first place in this country, especially as we’re facing a mounting tip of the balance of forces that’ll have an impact on everyone trying to access bodily autonomy of all kinds, and that will always disproportionately affect the most oppressed among us with extremely dire consequences. I also think this situation is a moment when large numbers of people are feeling the limitations of appealing to the existing state to fix this situation. People are willing to take action to do things to stop this full-frontal assault. There’s a widespread urgency and yet a dearth of spaces where we can actually have these strategy discussions with the people who are doing the activism on the ground.
So this panel is a modest attempt to bring some of those most involved in this movement into conversation and to bring new people into the movement, into the conversation about where we go from here as we face what’s going to be certainly a national emergency. So I’m very, very excited about our panelists today.
I’m just going to run through who they are. It’s going to be a fantastic panel. So first we’re going to hear from Camila Valle. She’s an editor, translator, writer, and member of New York City for Abortion Rights, Sheila Bates, a member of Black Lives Matter Grassroots, Linda Lowe, a founding member of Chicago for Abortion Rights and a longstanding union activist and socialist, and Haley Pessin, who’s a socialist activist based in New York and a member of the Tempest collective. So I’m extremely excited to pass it over to Cami for the very beginning of our panel.
Thank you so much. It’s great to have so many people here interested in talking about this question that I know has been at the forefront of my mind lately, and I’m sure many of you as well. I guess I just want to go over some kind of broad strokes and then get into more detail about what I do here in New York with the group I’m part of, New York City for Abortion Rights.
It is important to contextualize this impending loss of Roe within a kind of larger program of social and political control and a lack of social services in this country and in society, this kind of lack of care, this crisis of care. It’s part of the white nationalist agenda of violence, including these waves of legislation against trans people and gay people, the police, the way that this pandemic has been handled, and the sweeps against homeless people. I know we’ve been thinking about that a lot in New York and just the general state of things. This is just another element of that kind of broader picture that we’re living in crisis.
And it’s been rapidly worsening for decades, but I think it’s really come to a turning point with the official kind of withdrawal of our constitutional right to abortion. And I kind of wanted to take that despair and turn it into a more hopeful approach to this, which is that grassroots reproductive justice organizations and groups focused on abortion and networks of kind of reproductive health care have been making sure that people get abortions for decades.
We had abortions before Roe and we will continue to have abortions after Roe. And I think it’s time to really focus on what’s been built and how to push that further. The opening and the maintaining of independent abortion clinics and other healthcare facilities and independent abortion funds have been at the front lines of material support for people seeking abortions.
Also on the front lines against criminalization, the Frontera Fund in Texas, for example, helped mobilize the kind of grassroots movement that helped get Lizelle Herrera’s charges dropped in Texas for having a self-induced abortion. It got her out of jail and paid her bail and lawyers’ fees. We are developing strategies around fighting the right and dealing with clinic invasions with clinic escorts and clinic defenders.
There’s been a mass movement of self-managed abortion trainings, raising public awareness around abortion pills and at-home abortions, even in states with bans, and defending, as I said, people prosecuted for ending their pregnancies. There’s a lot happening, and it is kind of locally specific because different laws right now look different from place to place.
There’s a plurality of approaches and of activities that I think constitutes a much more comprehensive challenge to the power of the anti-abortion right and the state. There is the kind of establishment strategy that we may be hearing from Planned Parenthood in the past couple of weeks, which will continue in the months to come, of simply telling people to vote and to donate to Planned Parenthood and other NGOs that don’t actually provide most of the care.
I think it’s also important to contextualize this within the crisis of public health and the healthcare system in this fucking country. People will die from unsafe abortions. Absolutely. But they will also die from pregnancy and giving birth. The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is one of the highest in the “industrialized” world, especially for people of color, especially for Black women. The rates of things like preeclampsia, postpartum hemorrhages, and pulmonary embolisms, all these things are skyrocketing, and we don’t have socialized healthcare.
You are much likelier to die from giving birth than from having an abortion. I think also the question of criminalization is going to come to the fore. More and more people will be criminalized and go to prison. Most people who seek abortions are parents already, leaving homes and communities obviously devastated. This will really amplify all of the crises that we’re already facing.
Now I want to go to New York City for Abortion Rights and what we do. We are focused on education a lot, and we are also focused on responding to the anti-abortion right in New York City.
What we mostly focus on is targeting the anti-abortion programs of the New York City Catholic Church, which is the largest real estate owner in the city. It’s also tied to things like gentrification, the anti-homeless sweeps we’re seeing, along with the cost of living, rent, and literally everything in the city.
I want to talk about two brief victories, and maybe we can get more into it in the discussion. Last month, a couple of days after the leaked memo came out, we were able to stop the anti-abortion religious procession that usually comes out of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, if you’re familiar with them. They come out of the church and they do the religious procession to the Planned Parenthood a couple of streets down and they harass patients there, impersonate Planned Parenthood escorts, impersonate Planned Parenthood employees, give people false information, and harass people. And we were able to get the community together and actually keep them inside the church, and they didn’t do the procession at all.
They never made it to the clinic. And it’s been a developing strategy around the Catholic Church and the anti-abortion bases in the city that are also ground for white nationalists. There have been a lot of crossovers. It’s like a wretched little ecosystem that we can talk about in more detail if people are interested.
Last summer, when they tried to expand into Brooklyn, we actually got the community together there and pressured the church that was starting to host this program to do the procession and then go to the other Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn. We were able to pressure the church to stop hosting them.
So that was a big victory, and they did not expand to Brooklyn. We do a lot of other stuff as well, but I think that I have gone on long enough. I’m looking forward to discussion. Thank you.
Natalia Tylim: Thank you so much, Cami. Next, we’re going to hear from Sheila from Black Lives Matter Grassroots.
Sheila Bates: Hello, hi ya’ll. I’m actually joining y’all from Buffalo. And so I just want to, if we could really quickly, just take a moment of silence to honor those ten individuals who were killed here in Buffalo. I would greatly appreciate it before I move into my comments.
[Ten seconds of silence]
Thank you for honoring that request. Before going into some of the work that we’re doing, it’s really important for me to frame this issue from our perspective, so that our approach makes a little bit more sense. I agree with what people have said: The leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision is really a renewed call to action.
It is a reminder to double down on our organizing and our advocacy. It is a reminder that our struggles are united and to continue to stand in solidarity with our global family.
The majority of people are on our side, and there are steps we can take to enshrine our rights. Many of us heard stories about our mothers and grandmothers fighting for abortion access to secure their own bodily autonomy. And we are ready and willing to fight again, but we will do it differently this time, because make no mistake, this is about a lot more than just abortion access.
This is a broader issue of reproductive justice, and it is not strictly a women’s issue. It is also an issue for girls, trans men, trans boys, and our gender non-conforming siblings. We cannot leave them out. TERFs and white feminism are being left in the past where they belong. This is our approach to the work.
We use a broader framework of reproductive justice. Abortion access is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right. This is about so much more than it appears on the surface. Abortion access is reproductive justice. It’s an issue of racial justice, disability justice, educational justice, housing justice, and health justice. Abortion access needs to be framed in a broader context of reproductive justice, which is about privacy, full bodily autonomy, self-determination, and healthcare. Reproductive justice demands free universal, comprehensive healthcare and wellness, as well as birth and infant mortality equity.
Reproductive justice is about ensuring that when a baby is born, they have full rights, even if they are an immigrant seeking asylum, if they’re Black or they’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Reproductive justice is a call for self-determination that allows individuals to freely decide if, when, and how to start a family and the right to keep that family together as they see fit. It demands an end to forced hysterectomy in jails and other forms of sterilization forced upon Black bodies. We need comprehensive health care and other forms of access, which include access to infertility treatment.
Forced family separation is also an issue of reproductive justice. We see families torn apart by the carceral system. Pregnant people in jails and prisons were forcibly ripped apart from their infants, and families are separated at our borders. Reproductive justice is re-imagining child safety and making sure that families are not unnecessarily ripped apart by the family welfare system. It’s about making sure that families have access to resources to thrive. Reproductive justice is about addressing social determinants of health that are also known as “preexisting conditions” that lead to startling health inequities that Camila already mentioned.
Black people are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white people. Black infants die at a rate of 2.3 times the rate of white infants. This is also what we need to be talking about. Black families have a disproportionate number of children in foster care, and this is not because there is something wrong with Black families, but something deeply wrong with the system.
Reproductive justice is about keeping children and their parents safe from state-sanctioned violence, including what happened right here in Buffalo. It’s making sure that families and individuals are safe from police brutality, murder, and terror. Reproductive justice is defunding the police, re-imagining public safety, getting cops off campus, and building systems of care.
Reproductive justice is economic justice, equal pay, and access to resources so birthing people are able to make choices and know that if they choose to have a child, their children will have access to healthy food, housing, clothing, support, childcare, preschool, and health care.
We know that rich white women will always have access to abortion. Those who will be left without care and forced to have children or die from backroom abortions are poor people. Those who are more likely to be criminalized are Black people. Because we know just like every other issue Black people are erased, yet we are the most impacted, and we cannot allow this. We will not allow this.
Black women and Black people have never had full rights to our bodies or our babies, especially in this country. This has been true since the day my ancestors were stolen from Africa and remains true to this day. Reproductive justice must be intersectional and sustainable so future generations can thrive, flourish, and have bodily autonomy and self-determination that extends to every part of our lives.
All of this, as much as it is, is the work of Black Lives Matter Grassroots. We do this work every day, and it is this on-the-ground work that we do with organizational partners across our region of Los Angeles and in the country and around the world. Specifically, in regard to the issue of abortion, Black Lives Matter Long Beach, which is a chapter I’m a part of, works closely with doulas and the broader Los Angeles county.
We also support the work of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles as we partner with Black Women for Wellness, which does amazing work organizing for full wellness for Black women from the same broader perspective and framework of reproductive justice. This same work is occurring across our network, in numerous states, and at the federal level. Black Lives Matter Grassroots is an on-the-ground organization that has been doing this broader work since the murder of Trayvon Martin. It is doing policy research and advocacy to support bills that serve us and beat back the bills that are seeking to take our rights.
We are also continuing the work on legislation at every governmental level to create and transform infrastructure. One such piece of legislation is the “Breathe Act,” a large omnibus bill that radically transforms institutions to dismantle systems of harm and create systems of care.
We are literally using every tool in our tool belt to radically and fundamentally transform the world we live in, one that is worthy of us, one that is rooted in care. This includes community building, supporting families, organizing, protesting, and engaging in the political process even when we don’t want to. Legislation, political education, healing justice, legal strategies, and doing the work by any and every means necessary.
Here in the United States, we are demanding and continuing the work to achieve the following: to fully codify abortion access as law so that this issue is taken out of the Supreme Court. We also are working to abolish the filibuster so that we can end the white-supremacist patriarchal Christian control of the government, which not only infringes on issues of bodily autonomy, such as abortion access, but also voting rights and so much more.
We also are demanding that we overturn the Hyde amendment, because abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right. The government and Medicare should cover abortion costs. We also are working to address the fact that nine people with lifetime appointments have so much control. The Supreme court and the issues within it also need to be addressed.
We must continue to show up for each other and challenge ourselves and each other to do the work and continue to show up, even when we don’t have skin in the game. This is how we continue to do the work, to transform the world into something that is fitting for us.
Natalia Tylim: Sheila, thank you so much. That was extremely powerful. And it’s really meaningful to have you here from Buffalo. You spelled it out extremely well, the intersection between reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, racism, and how completely top-to-bottom fucked up this country is. Thank you so much for being here.
Next, I’m going to pass it over to Linda Lowe from Chicago for Abortion Rights.
Linda Loew: Thanks Natalia, and many thanks to Sheila and Cami. Those were powerful remarks. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen thousands of mostly young people, mothers, daughters, trans people, and people of color, still not enough, but growing, union members, pour into the streets with homemade signs demanding bodily autonomy and control over our reproductive lives.
The recent leak of the Supreme Court draft was a wake-up call about how dire things are. The absence of a genuine mass movement contributed to a sense of disbelief that fifty years of legal precedent could be washed away with total disregard and disdain for the overwhelming majority of Americans who support legal abortion.
This barbaric attack on our rights has been barreling down on us with the speed and ferocity of a runaway train. In Texas, Florida, Kentucky, and now Oklahoma, there is a total ban on abortion. As others have said, these attacks on our rights are a full-throttle assault on all democratic, economic, and social rights of all working people, especially of people of color. The increased polarization and heinous crimes of the profit-driven capitalism tightening its grip over decades have led more people in this country to see at least the connection between attacks on our right to control our bodies and attacks on voting rights, the school curriculum, labor, as well as increased violence by white-supremacist groups and ideology from Charlottesville to Buffalo. We recognize the tremendous outpouring against the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Adam Toledo, and many others.
The outrage over Texas last September was palpable on October 2, with over 100 thousand in more than 600 cities, but fell far short of the outpouring in January of 2017 when millions across the U.S. and the globe filled the streets to protest the clearly misogynist, racist, and xenophobic Trump.
Last December during oral arguments in the Mississippi case that seeks to overturn Roe, Justice Barrett made her outrageous declaration of liberated women now having it all—career and motherhood—so that national laws are not needed to protect people from unwanted pregnancies, denying the horrific realities of infant and maternal mortality throughout the American South, especially suffered by poor, uninsured women of color as Cami and Sheila powerfully laid out before me. These deserved millions out in the streets. But so far that hasn’t happened in sufficient numbers. Protests remained small and by January, emboldened by the well-funded right-wing, the anti-abortion forces dominated the narrative of the Supreme Court at the 49th anniversary of Roe.
Roe was never enough. But it did save millions of lives and it could have laid the basis for fighting for more. Remember, it came from the Nixon-appointed, largely Republican Court. And while it’s true that an emerging and powerful second-wave feminist movement played a role, it was not yet as massive in the way that the movement against U.S involvement in Vietnam and the civil rights movement had already become.
It was this overall atmosphere of people in motion against an unpopular war and the threat of even more women joining the struggle that had an impact. And even though it was a victory in some ways, those events demobilized the movement, and a welcoming Democratic Party was there to help maintain the quiescence after.
Chipping away at Roe began from day one, as restrictions and bans have grown exponentially and become more horrifying. Reliance on pro-choice elected officials has not prevented the worst from happening. Even the well-intentioned ones have sold us out, making deals and compromises on things like the Hyde Amendment and failing to mobilize us.
The feminists across Latin America, back in 1973, looked to the U.S. for inspiration on how to fight for legal abortion. And now they’ve noted the turning tables and the absolute need for them to inspire us. Across Latin America, as well as Ireland, activists have embraced changing the narrative, removing the stigma on the idea of abortion, taking it to the streets and keeping it in the streets, and uniting across broad sectors of the oppressed, labor unions, women, LGBTQ (specifically trans), and indigenous populations.
Chicago for Abortion Rights is a relatively small group with no mailing address, no budget, all volunteer, but dedicated and driven by an understanding of unity in action and relying on the power of women and allies, focused on street actions, tapping into the lessons of international solidarity and non-reliance on politicians.
We have built a reputation and a set of relationships that span several mainstream reproductive rights groups, healthcare justice groups, the beloved Chicago Abortion Fund, the Women’s Rights Committee, and the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and at least a few of the most active socialist groups, including the DSA.
A year ago this month, we co-hosted an online panel, “The Global Fight for Abortion Rights.” We had Claire Daley, a member of Parliament from Ireland, and Cami right here on this panel today, both inspiring us with a vision of what is possible with the lessons of Ireland and Argentina. We organized contingents in broader protests, including Chicago’s non-corporate Pride Without Prejudice.
We had an international solidarity contingent last October 2nd, injecting the Green Wave with our group shirts, bandanas, and our “No Abortion Bans” green banner. And we created an abortion-rights contingent at the recent May Day rally and march for labor and immigrant rights. In March, we partnered with Gay Liberation Network on a first-of-its-type International Women’s Day Rally and March beginning in the LGBTQ community, featuring gay and trans leaders for abortion rights, and ending at DePaul University, where students evenly pointed out that the population of the officially Catholic school was overwhelmingly pro-choice. Our broadly co-sponsored actions and our growing relationship with the media have all won us respect, even with groups with whom we sometimes diverge in strategy and tactics.
The major point I’m trying to make here is the political necessity, but also challenge, of working within coalitions. May 7 is the best example. With us just one coalition partner in Planned Parenthood’s day of decision meetings initially called to plan a convoluted formula of actions to be held two Saturdays after the actual Supreme Court ruling comes down, the leak happened, and people just poured into the streets of Chicago and around the country. While Planned Parenthood took days to consult with their national apparatus to finally call the May 14 rally, there was a groundswell of pressure to act sooner. We proposed that we go ahead with May 7, which was a couple of days away, and use it to build two consecutive Saturdays.
Planned Parenthood declined to participate on May 7th, but several groups, including She Votes Illinois, The Court Matters Illinois, SEIU Healthcare, the DSA, our clinic escort allies, healthcare allies, and Chicago Now, all agreed with us. We forged ahead to organize a kick-ass program, which eventually included speakers from four major unions, National Nurses United, SEIU, AFSCME, and Chicago Teachers’ Union. Three were black; all were powerful. Also speaking from the platform were socialists from the DSA, as well as the Party of Socialism and Liberation, and the governor and lieutenant governor. There was a big discussion around this decision to allow politicians to speak.
I can relay that if people want, but I think in this case, we made the right decision. Most agree that it was a much more exciting event than May 14, though comparable in size. Our next planned mobilization will be the actual day of decision. Thousands of flyers have already been distributed to bring people back out into Federal Plaza at 5:30 on that day, whether it’s tomorrow, whether it’s next month, whenever that decision happens.
I believe we’re in a different place than before Roe. With more knowledge about our bodies, the abortion pill, the other methods under discussion, the fight to keep abortion accessible, and to fund those who need to travel. While it’s not the same dark ages, we mustn’t paint too rosy a picture, with 26-plus states poised to immediately make abortion illegal and a national ban being sought by the right-wing.
We know that suffering will increase and women and others will die. Families will be impacted and lives will be upended. We cannot underestimate the blow of illegality in half of the United States. This is unacceptable and requires a national movement to fight back. How can we capture the energy and build on the momentum of the last few weeks?
We cannot let it be channeled, co-opted, or tamed into the electoral process. What can we do to keep it in the streets and make it increasingly independent of reliance on the two parties of derailment and betrayal? How do we involve those layers of society, which is truly the power to shut things down, not just as a chant, but to actually shut it down?
Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers’ Union (now president-elect) spoke powerful words at a press conference back in September. In part, she said, “My uterus is mine. The decisions about my uterus belong to me. The enemy of labor, the enemy of working people, the enemy of Black people, the enemy of our ability to live in this country with justice and equity are the same people who believe they can legislate my uterus.” There is no distinction between those who believe that Black lives don’t matter and that your uterus belongs to them. The fight is everyone’s fight, labor’s fight. This is a Black women’s fight. A few weeks ago, the CTU House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution to put those words into action through education and are taking to the street with that fight. In closing, I believe our main goal is to keep these new and mostly young people involved, active, educated, to actively build skills and develop new leaders to build on an entire menu of tactics yet to be debated and discussed. Those of us who were active before Roe, along with young people newly active today, can and must unite around the slogan, “We won’t go back” and for full reproductive justice for all.
Natalia Tylim: Thank you so much, Linda.
So our last panelist before we move on to the discussion is going to be Haley from the Tempest collective.
Haley Pessin: Thank you so much to all of the previous speakers. It’s really wonderful that even with so much overlap in what we’ve said, there’s also a lot of important nuance that you’ve all brought, whether it’s the specific tactics and an actual victory that Cami’s spoken to, or the framework that I think we need to bring that Sheila spoke about, or the immediate tasks that Linda’s spoken to in this really dire context.
So where I’m actually going to start is with a story that was covered by the New York Times podcast The Daily earlier this week. Maybe some of you heard it, but if you didn’t, you should really check it out. There was an episode interviewing Veronica Cruz, who’s an activist with the group Las Libres in Mexico, which decriminalized abortion last year, just as this country has started its own rollback of abortion rights.
And she described how people there seeking what were now legal abortions still came up against barriers to actually accessing them, partly because the stigma around abortion is even greater there in some ways than it is in the U.S. and also because licensed doctors continued to spread misinformation about abortion, despite the fact that both the procedure as a surgical procedure and the abortion pill are extremely safe, especially as compared to childbirth.
While abortion was officially the law of the land, people couldn’t actually use the institutions that existed to make that law reality in people’s lives. What people had to rely on instead, were these massive grassroots networks that were developed in the period when abortion was still illegal, who actually were able to provide accurate information about abortion, who were able to support people through their abortions as they had them and advise them over the phone if they were having an abortion with the abortion pills, and who empowered people to take the decision to end an unwanted pregnancy into their own hands.
As women and people who can become pregnant accessed these networks, they also became part of them. They became the people who could then bring more people and give that information to even wider layers of people and have an investment in those networks in a way that I think there’s just no parallel to in the institutions that exist here in the U.S. It was these networks, not the courts, that made that decision a reality.
So, this is to me is one of many lessons we can take from the other countries around the world that folks have mentioned, whether it’s Argentina or Columbia, or Ireland, where mass militant movements have recently won major abortion-rights victories. This happened, is happening at the same time as the U.S. is appearing to roll back these rights or is poised to roll back these rights.
And as bleak as things look today, perhaps the biggest advantage that we have is what Sheila said, which is that we actually are the majority in this country, as much as the media likes to present this as a divisive issue and something that we have to always show both sides.
I was at the abortion rights protests in New York on May 14. I was so mad. There were a small group of maybe 10 antis. And I just thought, couldn’t the thousands of us just run them off the street if we wanted? We were actually prevented from confronting them. I think we could have scared them, frankly, as many numbers as we had. But this is not a controversial decision in the U.S. to the extent that it’s portrayed.
We actually have the numbers on our side. And so the question is, with this much support, why is our side still on the defensive? Why don’t we already have the kind of expansive grassroots networks of women’s and labor strikes and militant mass action that we’ve seen in other countries where abortion rights are being expanded?
After all, the fight isn’t new. Perhaps in states that have laws that will protect Roe or will protect abortion rights even if Roe is overturned, there may be some complacency, but it’s hard for anybody to really feel complacency in a country where we lack universal coverage for any healthcare procedure and where, as folks have mentioned, the federal government bars abortion funding for poor and working-class people.
This is always a struggle, even in a context where we have this protection and that’s not before we even mentioned the slew of laws that Republicans have been passing across the country to limit abortion access or ban abortion outright. I know Linda mentioned a few of these, but I just wanted folks to recognize the way that the right has been particularly emboldened by this pending Supreme Court decision. Just this year alone, that is since the start of 2022, 42 states have introduced nearly 550 abortion restrictions. That’s this year alone.
There are certainly many more laws that have been passed and rendered abortion nearly inaccessible in states all over the South and the West well prior to this, so the point is not that these laws will all stick in a post-Roe world, but how far the right is willing to go to criminalize and render safe and legal abortion inaccessible. People are right to fear that Roe’s being overturned could lead to attacks on other protections by an emboldened extreme-right, whether that’s contraception or gay marriage or any number of things, we should have no illusions that this is a fight that is deeply interconnected with a broader agenda, which is being increasingly fueled by the far-right and extreme-right.
Democratic candidates, on the other hand, have spent the last 50 years warning us not to take Roe for granted, using the threat that a conservative Supreme Court would do exactly what we’re seeing now and saying that voting for them was the only thing that would stop them. A big part of understanding why the majority who support abortion rights are so unprepared for this moment actually requires taking a sober look at the mainstream liberal strategies that have dominated over the last decades.
In reality, they have demobilized the kind of mass movement that we need and the mass activity that we need to put that mass support into action and really make the right afraid to do what it’s actually emboldened to do right now. So the Democratic Party and large NGOs, whose orientation is entirely focused on turning the most recent outpouring of outrage and anger into an electoral opportunity, have actually spent the last decades retreating on abortion rights, using the phrase “safe, legal, and rare,” whereas the demands of the women’s liberation movement was “free abortion on demand without apology.” We sure as fuck need to bring that back.
The Party has also been actually blaming abortion rights for the failure of the Democrats to win more elections. As recently as 2017, in assessing why Trump had won in 2016 and why the Democrats were failing to advance, Nancy Pelosi said that the Democrats had focused too much on abortion rights, which there’s very little evidence of. And again, it’s not a divisive issue in the way that they’re saying.
So, what if we actually had a party that was willing to go on the offensive on these rights? What if we had a party that actually mobilized people around these questions? Instead, what we’ve had is an entirely legalistic strategy. And I mentioned not being able to confront the anti-abortion bigots at the last rally. I think there’s a real issue that while the Republicans have clearly had a legislative strategy, they’ve also had an on-the-ground strategy. They have a kind of grassroots action in mobilizing people outside of clinics, directly at the sites where abortions are happening. They make people feel ashamed and afraid that violence could be enacted on them, and has been, for seeking basic abortion care and the basic right to their bodies.
Meanwhile, there has been no such similar offensive taken by the Left. These critiques have existed on our side for a long time. To inject some hope into the moment we’re in, it is important that we’re not the only ones who recognize the limits of these strategies. None other than the establishment’s paper, Time Magazine, ran a piece recognizing the failures of the strategy.
It’s titled, “Telling Abortion Rights Supporters to Vote Isn’t Enough“. And it’s worth reading for really excoriating the Democrats for not taking the last fifty years to do anything really, to enshrine abortion rights into law despite knowing that these rights were always imperiled. Even liberals who say, we need to vote, seem to know we need to do much more than that.
Even by the logic that the Democrats have wielded to get people to the polls, not only have they not done much to actually use their power to protect people’s rights, but those strategies have simply failed. I think what’s also really important is that more people recognize the importance of racial justice, disability justice, and trans justice to these fights beyond the radical Left.
I’d argue that this shift has everything to do with the Black Lives Matter movement and the gains as well as attacks on trans rights that we’ve seen over the last two years. So the ability of people to make those connections, I think, is much greater. That’s not to say we don’t need to argue for them in every space that we’re in, in terms of what the connections we need to make will be. But on the question of strategy, I do think we have a real challenge ahead, which is that only a minority on the Left have been oriented on channeling the mass anger and energy that we’ve seen into long-term organizing.
That to me is crucial, because we have an opening that exists and a window that I think is possibly going to close to some extent as we get closer to the midterms. The fear that Republicans are going to roll back our rights even further is a real fear, but we need to argue with people about that history, about how we got to this moment, and how people have actually won in other places. What’s really crucial, I think, is that we use this moment to create as many openings for the people who are now coming into activity and who are now galvanized around this struggle to come to places where we can actually develop a grassroots alternative across the country and link up some of the networks that Cami was talking about that exist locally where we can share strategy and tactics, where we can strengthen our ability. And frankly, we are people who are going to have to take illegal action, who are going to have to go beyond the bounds of what laws currently exist on the books in order for people to access their rights, feel that they are being bolstered by a larger movement and that they will not just be acting alone when they attempt to access abortion rights. I will end there, but I think there is a lot to discuss in terms of what that will look like and what we can do right now given those openings.
Natalia Tylim: Thank you so much to our panel. At this point, we’re going to stop the live stream, but I want to encourage people to jump on the Zoom with us. I feel like that was the basis of a really extremely rich and important conversation that we’re about to have, and everybody’s welcome. We’re just not going to have it publicly.
And I just want to thank Cami and Sheila and Linda and Haley again for such powerful and incredible talks. And I want to encourage everyone to check out Black Lives Matter Grassroots, New York City for Abortion Rights, Chicago for Abortion Rights, the Tempest Collective, and all kinds of other networks that exist that you can find or create to get together with other people.
Let something grow out of this moment where we’re drawing some pretty important conclusions from what’s happened over the last several decades and what continues to happen today.
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