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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NOW IS THE TIME: A Statement of Support for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride: Ground Zero Texas

[Re-post from]

by Carol Downer

I totally support the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride that will take place through Texas this August and possibly through September, and I hope that everyone who values women’s reproductive freedom will support this beginning of a new chapter of the Battle for Women’s Reproductive Rights.

I was there in the mid-1960’s, when abortion was still illegal in much of the United States and women were forced to travel to states and cities where abortion, legal or illegal, was available, or to subject themselves to procedures done by unknown abortionists. I was one of them. I had taken no action to stand up for my reproductive rights, and I didn’t know anyone else who had.

We’re in that same position today. There is a splash of newspaper coverage when one more defeat of the so-called “pro-choice” movement takes place in the courts or the legislatures, or when clinics in Texas close, but mostly life goes on as though nothing significant is happening. Perhaps we send in a few dollars to Planned Parenthood, which has positioned itself as the champion of women’s rights, although that championing is strictly limited to lady-like tactics, not grass-roots organizing.

But, something significant is happening.

Suddenly, ridiculous regulations that have been proposed in State legislatures for the last 40 years and quickly quashed, have now gained traction. The Supreme Court has even refused to stay the Texas law that requires a clinic to have a doctor on staff at a hospital within 30 miles. In general, hospitals have not wanted to touch abortion with a 10-foot pole, ever. That’s why abortions are provided in clinics. There are extremely few complications from abortion that require hospitalization, and when they do, hospitals have staffs who are equipped to deal with them and are already required by law to do so. Forty years of providing legal abortion shows that this regulation is bogus, but it is being treated as legitimate by legislators and jurists.

If the U.S. Supreme Court finds that these regulations are constitutional, it is just a matter of months or a couple of years, for State legislators around the country to emulate Texas and Mississippi. Clinics will scramble to somehow get a doctor on staff if they can. Perhaps those abortion doctors who presently have staff privileges will lose them. Clinics will close. We will find ourselves in a patchwork situation of abortion access similar to pre-Roe v. Wade.

You may think, “Well, that’s when women will wake up. We’ll take to the streets.” Or, you may think, “Well, thousands of abortion clinic workers know how to perform abortions safely. Clandestine clinics will come into existence.” Or, you may think, “Well, there will be an underground supply of abortion pills.” If you’re really dreaming, you’ll think, “Heck, women did it themselves before Roe v. Wade. They’ll do it again, and the law will collapse of its own weight.”

None of these solutions is going to occur, at least without the dedication and organization of those activists who will make them occur.

Why? Because, history shows that Richard Wright, who wrote “Native Son” was right when he said, “Oppression oppresses.” As the new status quo is established, people will be even less optimistic, less willing to take a chance.

Most people in the late 60’s and early 70’s took no active interest in abortion, beyond inviting a NOW speaker to come talk about abortion. Public opinion polls showed, as they consistently show today, that a small percentage of people are very concerned about the issue, either pro or con. The majority of people are in the middle. Most of these people are uncomfortable with abortion. Many believe it to be immoral, and would never have an abortion or want their loved one to have one. And, many believe that abortion should be regulated or limited in some fashion. However, all but those at the extreme anti-abortion end of the continuum, do not want abortion to be illegal.

I believe that the Freedom Ride will awaken those at our end of the continuum who care passionately about women having reproductive freedom. It will form networks, draw attention, support abortion providers, raise consciousness, inspire the future Lana Clarke Phelans and Pat Maginnises. It will be raucous but non-violent; it will be confrontational and enlightening.

Social change in regards to women’s reproductive rights is not measured by the changes in the law. For example, the Comstock Law, which forbade the mailing of information on birth control, stayed on the books until the 70’s, but it was not enforced. The Freedom Ride will build on the fact that most people are with us. “Abortion should not be illegal!” will resonate with almost everyone. “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!” will thrill some and start many others thinking about this in a new way. Openly talking about it will keep the dialogue going and reduce the shame. These changes cannot be accomplished on the internet. The internet can coordinate activities and make us aware of each other; the websites where women can talk about their abortions or those that raise money to help women get abortions perform a valuable service, but daughters talking to their moms, and speakouts and demonstrations is what’s going to change the climate around abortion. Social change is not going to come by getting on or watching the Anderson Cooper 360 or Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room. These programs follow the changes in public opinion; they articulate them.

No one can predict how far-reaching the impact from the Freedom Ride will be. For sure, it will break down isolation and it will bring grass-roots voices to the debate. It certainly will nourish the spirits of those who go on the ride and those who benefit from its actions and programs. It may inspire other projects, other Rides. It could even awaken the potential leaders of mass movements, or even it may itself lead a mass movement.


Carol Downer is a feminist, lawyer, and co-founder of the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Los Angeles which started providing abortions in 1971