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The fight to defend abortion rights (continued…)

Reports from the front

Tempest follows up on our previous roundup of reports from the front, which covered protests around the country in response to the leaked draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Those reports can be found here and here.

Boston, MA

Report by Bill Keach

A noon rally Saturday, May 14 on the Boston Common sponsored by the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, Reproductive Equity Now, and the ACLS of Massachusetts drew “thousands,” according to the Boston Globe. The main focus was to push elected leaders for expanded reproductive services. Speakers included Senator Ed Markey and State Attorney General Maura Healey, who is currently running for governor. Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, told the crowd: “When you have an attack on abortion access, that is an attack on Black women’s autonomy.”

At 2 p.m., a second rally took place in Copley Square, less than a ten-minute walk from the Common. This protest was organized by the New England chapter of “Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights.” Ryan Hendricks, one of the rally organizers, was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying: “This is the moment to act up for abortion rights and oppose this whole program, which includes ‘Don’t say gay,’ the attacks on trans children, all of this.” “We’re talking about millions of people in the streets,” she added, “to the point where the government is actually too nervous to go ahead with [the leaked U.S. Supreme Court majority ruling] because they feel that the country might become ungovernable if they do.”

In 2020, the state’s legislature overcame Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s veto and passed the ROE Act, codifying and expanding abortion rights in the state. Planned Parenthood and associated organizations are calling for pressure on the state legislature to pass a “full-spectrum pregnancy care” act that would include insurance coverage for abortion and for prenatal and postpartum care. The bill is now before the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee. A second bill would require that abortion pills be dispensed at the state’s public universities. Yet another bill is being drafted that would protect Massachusetts residents and abortion providers from prosecution under the recent Texas law SB8 that in part deputizes private citizens to sue any individual or provider who helps anyone get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Montpelier, VT

Report by Paul Fleckenstein

Planned Parenthood Action Fund and 500 protesters in front of the Vermont State Capitol called for protecting abortion rights at Saturday’s Bans Off Our Bodies rally. The main slogans were “Reproductive Rights For All!“ and “Abortion is Health Care!”

Bernie Sanders was the first speaker and expressed determination to pass the federal Women’s Health Protection Act (after its defeat this week in the Democratic-controlled Senate). Sanders also criticized Republicans for numerous failures to protect women’s rights and well-being, recounting the history of women once being denied the vote or lacking property rights in marriage. Sanders closed his remarks by exhorting that “we are not going back, we will defeat this.” This rally skewed older and more liberal (and Democratic Party friendly) than some other recent rallies in the state. At the national level, there was no direction for what to do besides the implicit call to vote for Democrats. Other speakers championed the Vermont Reproductive Liberty Amendment (RLA) which would codify the rights to abortion and contraception into the Vermont Constitution through a referendum this fall. Planned Parenthood is organizing and training volunteers for this campaign. Many or most people had left the rally by the time the last speaker went on.

DSA also had a table at the rally. Through its Socialist Feminist Working Group, the Central Vermont chapter is beginning to organize in support of the RLA. That effort may take on a wider scope of actions as well, such as organizing against Crisis Pregnancy Centers, the deceptive storefronts that antis use to persuade and pressure people away from abortions. This would be a positive development that could connect more radical activists into democratic organizing spaces to advance more militant strategies.

Photo by Paul Fleckenstein.
Photo by Paul Fleckenstein.

Portland, OR

Report by Max Carey

On May 14, over a thousand protestors packed Chapman Square in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland to rally for abortion rights. A slate of almost entirely Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ speakers together made an unapologetic demand for unrestricted abortion access and bodily autonomy for all. They pointed out that abortion access is already severely restricted for many, even under Roe, and pushed for rejecting the status quo and expanding reproductive rights, with the rallying cry “Roe is the floor, not the ceiling!”

The speakers criticized elected officials who claim to be pro-choice but refuse to provide real support for abortion rights, even being afraid to say the word “abortion” in the state legislature. They talked openly and unapologetically about the need for unrestricted abortion access as a basic human right. Several of them shared painful personal stories of unexpected pregnancies and how they would not be there speaking if they had not had access to abortion. One got pregnant after being raped in the military; another’s birth control failed and she didn’t find out she was pregnant until almost 27 weeks in; another was a trans man with medical issues that made the birth of his first child extremely painful and difficult.

Despite the speakers’ radical demands and insistence on including people like trans men, who are usually excluded from discussions about abortion, their calls for action were more conventional: donate to abortion funds and providers, call and “annoy the shit out of your representatives,” and “vote like your lives depend on it” (for real pro-choice candidates, of course). Unlike the DSA-sponsored rally I attended on May 3, there was no mention of class warfare or even capitalism.

The rally ended with a march through the streets of downtown Portland. Black-clad anarchists and anti-fascists blocked traffic for the procession as onlookers gathered outside shops and motorists honked in support, despite being trapped in bumper-to-bumper gridlock. The crowd’s energy was overwhelming as they chanted in unison, “Our bodies! Our choice!” and “What do we want? Abortion rights! When do we want it? NOW!”

Photo by Max Carey.
Photo by Max Carey.

Madison, WI

Report by Ben Ratliffe

TW: This report contains references to rape and other forms of violence.

On Sunday, May 15, about 150 people–some coming from as far as four hours away–gathered for a rally at the Wisconsin statehouse in Madison. The rally was organized on Facebook by a group called Pro-Choice with a Heart, but at the time of this writing, no one knows why the organizers never showed up. What occurred instead was an impromptu speak-out that showcased a rich diversity of experiences, fears, and aspirations by women, non-binary folks, and allies, lasting over an hour and a half with a promise to return in greater numbers the following week.

After an awkward moment, as more people arrived and no one seemed to know who was in charge, members of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) took the initiative and started an open mic that turned the whole thing around.

Long-time reproductive rights organizer Kim Gasper kicked it off by sharing her story, explaining that the best day of her life was when she adopted her now 19-year-old son, Thomas. Her second-best day was when she had an abortion. She told the crowd—which at that point probably numbered less than fifty—that no one was coming to save us and that we needed to organize. She then asked others to share their own stories.

It started as a hesitant trickle. One by one, speakers mounted the steps, with pauses in between that gave the impression the event might be short-lived. After four or five speakers, though, they came on more steadily until, all told, more than twenty people spoke.

A nurse-midwife, ordained Presbyterian deacon, and former Planned Parenthood worker shared her experience working with countless women over the years, including 15-year-olds being pressured by their families to carry a pregnancy to term and a mother of five children who simply did not want another. “My God, who I love, gave me free will to make my own choices and as a provider, I’m going to fight to provide accurate information as long as I can.”

A future nurse practitioner warned that if Roe falls, contraception and HIPAA privacy rights will be next. “I want to look forward to my career as a women’s health practitioner.”

A person identifying as a man with a uterus explained that it cost over $230 thousand dollars to raise a child for 18 years. They said, “I don’t want to have kids because… well, I don’t” and the crowd responded with shouts of, “That’s all the reason you need!”

Another speaker, who said she’d never been to a rally before, was the mother of a son with a uterus, assigned female at birth. She is terrified her son might be the victim of a hate crime, especially if he were to become pregnant and was forced to carry to term. She said she would “not stop fighting until her son got the [reproductive health services] he needed.”

One person had a mom with frequent ectopic pregnancies when she was trying to conceive. The speaker explained that had her mother not been allowed to abort those pregnancies, she would never have been born.

One woman had a daughter via in vitro fertilization–which cost over $40 thousand – and explained that under some of these new forced-birth laws, she could have been charged with murder for each fertilized embryo that did not survive.

More speakers shared moving and tragic life stories; testimonies to the urgency of this moment as much as to the speakers’ own resilience and bravery.

“I had a doctor refuse me an IUD. I have a disorder which means I’m highly at risk of dying from a pregnancy.”

“In our high school, our sex education was abstinence-only. There were many teen pregnancies and they’re given almost no resources to raise these children.”

“At age 13, I was raped by a 29-year-old man. At that age, my grandmother made the choice for me and I had to be pregnant. I didn’t have a choice. EVERYONE deserves a choice!”

After an hour and a half, Kim Gasper got back on the mic to lead chants and remind folks that this fight is about more than abortion, but all reproductive rights, including the right to HAVE a family and to live in an environment that doesn’t poison them. “We have to fight for free childcare, free healthcare and decent schools, housing, and the clean air and water that so many people lack due to [environmental] racism and capitalism. That’s why we have to fight for abortion and for reproductive justice.”

James, from IMT, spoke about all the rights that have been under attack from the GOP but asked what the Democrats have done. “The Democratic Party cares about abortion from the primaries through the general [election] and that’s it.” He called for a full bill of rights and said we should have no faith in the Supreme Court, no faith in the Constitution. “We’ve got to fight for ourselves.” At one point, he called for an independent workers’ party and the crowd went wild!

Several people pointed out the importance of maintaining the momentum of this movement. However, there were no sign-up sheets or definite plans for another rally, so, in the spirit of improvisation that characterized the entire event, folks were asked to return next Sunday at the same time, in larger numbers. It seemed there was general and deeply felt agreement.

A couple of times during the speak-out, ad hoc MC Dillon from IMT captured the whole scene perfectly. He checked in with the crowd to see if the original organizers had arrived yet and when there was no reply, Dillan said, “well, I guess we’re all the organizers now.” It was inspiring to see so many people act on that.

Another element of this gathering that truly shined was the support given to speakers as they shared their stories, sometimes stumbling over what to say next, noticeably anxious, and often their first time on a megaphone before a crowd. Every nervous apology, each tear choked back was met with shout-outs of love and encouragement. On Sunday in Madison, this random crowd from all over Wisconsin became a community.

We hope the original organizers of the event are ok and we get to meet them soon. I think they’d be happy to know that their plan to pull off a rally that was “Pro-Choice with a Heart” is exactly what happened.

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