Tag Archives: activism

Abortion: Three Inspiring Essays and an Activism Guide

Debbie says:

Laurie and I have written about abortion fairly frequently in the many years of this blog, so our readers know that we stand unequivocally and unconditionally with pregnant people’s right to choose. That just means that we’re among the tens of millions of Americans who are appalled by the leaked draft opinion from two weeks ago.

Just about every smart progressive thinker has written about this, and we don’t have anything important to add, so we thought we’d share a few of the fine pieces we’ve seen. The excerpts after each link are just that; the full articles are better.

Mona Eltahawy, writing at her indispensable newsletter Feminist Giant, offers “The Seven Necessary Sins for Fighting Abortion Bans.”  One of her necessary sins is “Attention.”

The few abortion narratives that are considered “acceptable” are often prefaced with trauma and pain—as if they were the price to be exacted for bodily autonomy.

It is important to share abortion stories that say simply: I did not want to be pregnant. In my case, I was not raped. I was not sick. The pregnancies did not threaten my life. I did not already have children. I just did not want to be pregnant. I did not want to have a child. I am glad I had my abortions. They gave me the freedom to live the life I have chosen.

I had an “illegal” abortion in Egypt and a “legal” abortion in the U.S. I reject the power of the State, and Supreme Court, to declare what is “legal” or “illegal” when it comes to my abortions. The State, and the Supreme Court, can fuck off with their opinions and laws about what I can and can’t do with my uterus. That control belongs to me.

Rebecca Solnit wrote “Here’s how Americans can fight back to protect abortion rights” for The Guardian:

This time around – well, as I wrote when the news broke: “First they came for the reproductive rights (Roe v Wade, 1973) and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a uterus in its ovulatory years, because then they want to come for the marriage rights of same-sex couples (Obergefell v Hodges, 2015), and then the rights of consenting adults of the same gender to have sex with each other (Lawrence v Texas, 2003), and then for the right to birth control (Griswold v Connecticut, 1965). It doesn’t really matter if they’re coming for you, because they’re coming for us.”

“Us” these days means pretty much everyone who’s not a straight white Christian man with rightwing politics. They’re building a broad constituency of opposition, and it is up to us to make that their fatal mistake.

Rafia Zakaria’s “Bodily Control and the Color Line” at African-American Policy Forum is another must-read:

… this racial dynamic is likely the deeper psychic rationale beyond Alito’s otherwise inexplicable detour, in the leaked draft opinion, into long-ago eugenicist theories of birth control as selectively racist population control; it’s hard to see this as anything other than a desperate bid to inoculate the Dobbs decision from charges of racialized policy-making from the bench as it translates on the ground into scarce, stigmatized, and prohibitively distant and expensive abortion access for a group of women who are disproportionately nonwhite and poor. And just as is the case with other deceptively packaged appeals to universal racial comity—the ritual invocation of Martin Luther King’s “content of our character” line alongside the rolling critical race theory bans across the states comes inevitably to mind—the careful deployment of superficial colorblind rhetoric ensures that the old measures of racial backlash can now proceed with a new impunity. This is clearly the disparate and unequal socio-sexual order that the high court’s new right-wing majority seeks to underwrite; it’s now up to the rest of us to stop the drift back into maniacal, death-defying control of women’s bodies at all cost.

And, finally, the Los Angeles Women’s Collective has produced a comprehensive and meticulous activism guide, from donation all the way to grassroots day-to-day work.

Don’t mourn; organize.

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Pat Maginnis: A Hero of Her Time … and Ours

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Laurie and Debbie say:

In 1928, when Pat Maginnis was born, abortion was illegal in all 50 states (and many other countries) but according to Wikipedia, the laws were “unevenly enforced, at best.” According to the marvelous Lili Loofbourow’s profile of Maginnis in Slate, at some unspecified point, Maginnis

got her first abortion in Mexico and swore to herself that she would never again leave her own country to get medical care. She spent the next decade producing a list of legitimate abortion providers outside the country while also working quietly with those within it. Despite her best efforts, she would get pregnant twice more. But she would continue to have a sex life. And the horror of having to wrestle down her own fertility forged her into the formidable antagonist to the law that she became.

In the course of profiling Maginnis, Loofbourow delves into the history of abortion, something both of us know at first hand.

She came of age long before the sexual revolution, which meant she had a particular experience of—and a particular fury about—what women had been routinely expected to tolerate. It’s hard for statistics to express just how urgent the abortion conversation was in the 1960s, or how difficult it was to even have the conversation, given the laws. 

Laurie, who was born in 1942, remembers always having money on hand in the late 1950s for an abortion if needed, even when money was hard to come by, and also always having names of “good” abortionists for people who needed them–in effect, being part of an informal abortion underground. Debbie, who was born in 1951, remembers taking a friend to an illegal abortion in a nearby city in 1969 or 1970 — with meetings on street corners, surreptitious passing of cash, and bloody follow-ups because no abortionist at the time provided anything like aftercare. So we know just how urgent and difficult the conversation was.

In the same climate where we were doing those things, Pat Maginnis was making public statements on the streets of San Francisco,

The entire concept had become untouchable, a boogeyman. “The word abortion was taboo,” she says. “And I thought: That’s crazy. People won’t talk about abortion! They’re afraid to. I’m going to talk about abortion! ABORTION!” she yelled. “Women weren’t talking about it. They were afraid to talk about it.”

Maginnis wasn’t. She relied on logistical help from two women, Lana Phelan and Rowena Gurner, who joined her to form the Society for Humane Abortion’s central trio, which came to be known as the “Army of Three.” Maginnis was the fire, Gurner the strategist and organizational genius, and Phelan the organization’s eloquent mouthpiece. Gurner, like Maginnis, also worked full time, professionalizing the organization in her spare hours. She spent many nights sleeping on SHA’s floor.

Maginnis decided, without the support of her organization, to intentionally flout the law.

“I plan to leaflet for abortion until they get sick of me and arrest me or repeal the law,” Maginnis had announced to the Berkeley Barb when she launched her campaign on June 16, 1966. Her initial plan had been to distribute a thousand leaflets. A week later, when she hadn’t been arrested, she escalated. “My minimum goal is to distribute 50,000 leaflets by July 25, telling women where they can get abortions,” she announced through the press. When she finally was arrested…, she caused the city ordinance under which she was arrested to be ruled unconstitutional. She had no intention of stopping there. “I was arrested under a local ordinance,” she told the [Berkeley] Barb in 1966. “Now it’s the state laws that need changing.” …

As Gurner put it to the Barb: “We just want to get this law on trial. … We obviously and willingly broke the law. And we did it so that no DA could weasel out because of ‘insufficient evidence.’ ” It worked. They were arrested on Feb. 20, 1967, and faced (according to the Barb) a sentence of five to seven years in state prison if found guilty. While their hearing was in progress—in a courthouse in Redwood City—an unrepentant Gurner and Maginnis advertised that they were still looking for a place in Berkeley they could rent on Thursday nights to hold more abortion classes. 

Radical acts take many forms. Maginnis and her companions chose one of the most effective and most memorable is to simply stand up (or sit down, whichever is forbidden) and speak your truth, over and over, until the state is forced to take notice of you. A great majority of important legal changes begin with illegal activism, and a refusal to listen to anyone who tells you to stop.  This is perhaps made most clear when we look at Maginnis’s relationship to Margaret Sanger:

Her admiration of Sanger, though, is genuine. “Sanger took rotten eggs and tomatoes and rotten fruit thrown at her when she went out, and I don’t think people know that today,” she says. She understood that an organization with Planned Parenthood’s institutional heft needed to keep some distance from the SHA; Maginnis’ strategy of flagrantly flouting the law had made her something of a too-hot-to-handle legend.

Loofbourow goes on to describe what the Army of Three and the SHA taught in their classes, how they organized out-of-the-country trips for women needing abortions, the SHA’s response to the vicious (by the standards of that time, mild by the standards of our time) anti-abortion bill signed by Ronald Reagan in 1967, and exactly how Maginnis (and Phelan) induced their own abortions, her reaction to Roe v. Wade, and her sense of current abortion politics.

The first time we met, I asked Maginnis what she thought women should be doing now, as the country seems poised once again to try to control our bodies. “I’ve thought about that,” she said then. “If I was going to reinvolve myself at this point, what would be the entry point? Kind of like setting out a map, looking for an entry.” She doesn’t quite have an answer. Yet. … “Keep talking about the issue,” she says. “Sure, not everyone is a brilliant speaker, but I think people have to keep talking about it.” She looks at me, her eyes bright. “Don’t you?” 

We do.