Author’s note: During the summer of 2009, I talked to
dozens of young pro-choice activists and doctors about what motivated
their work for reproductive justice, what concerns them most about the
current state of abortion rights, and what they think the future holds
for legal abortion in the U.S. In the following three interviews, four
young activists – a law student, an attorney, and the creators of a
pro-choice website – discuss these issues and also share their thoughts
about why it’s so important for their peers to not take legalization
for granted. The interviews will appear in my forthcoming book,
Generation Roe. Sarah Erdreich
In the second of three interviews to be published on Rewire, Sarah Erdreich talks to Noah
Schabacker, Attorney and Clinic Escort
Noah Schabacker: It wasn’t until I came to law school that I specifically
applied the label “feminist” to myself, despite the fact that I had been
involved in some pro-choice work in college. [It was] mostly ad hoc: supporting
Take Back the Night marches, helping campus NARAL when anti-choice protestors
would come to demonstrate. I “organized” a counter-protest when Operation Save
America came to harass abortion providers in Boulder. I say “organize” because
the turnout ended up being … me and my mom. Nobody else wanted to come out, and
the various state NARAL/NOW/etc. chapters hadn’t wanted to organize anything
because of their concerns about a “hot” media environment.
Applying that label, and thinking about my role as a male feminist,
caused me to worry about how much of a leadership role I would be willing to
take on in feminist work inside and outside law school. I feel fairly strongly
that feminism is a women’s movement, and that male feminists have an obligation
not to replicate patriarchal leadership structures in that movement. In
practice, that means that I see my role as someone who takes direction, rather
than providing direction. It’s not my place to set goals for a feminist group I
may be a part of, but instead to implement the goals set by the feminist group
(maybe with my input, maybe not – depends on the decision-making structure, the
leadership roles, etc.).
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Escorting at an abortion clinic fits well with this. I
escort in Metro-accessible suburban Maryland, where there’s a need for more
escorts. I help to make sure that the anti-choice protestors obey the law – stay
off clinic property, don’t obstruct patients’ access, don’t come back and
harass clinic staff.
The experience itself is mainly one of making small talk
with our fellow escorts (there are four escorts there every weekend, two for
each parking lot entrance) while keeping an eye on the anti-choicers who cluster
at the driveway entrances. We’re lucky to be working at a clinic in the
suburbs, because it means that the clinic is on a fairly large commercial property
with a large parking lot. The anti-choice protesters aren’t allowed to come
onto that property, so we mainly have to stop them from blocking the driveway
when they try to talk to people in cars that are pulling into or out of the
We know the names of most of the anti-choice protestors, and
they are pretty uniformly Catholic. Some of them are nasty (being very
aggressive and mean when they need to deal with us), and others are calm and
nice. They have the misleading gory signs that purport to show what an aborted fetus
looks like (lots of blood, lots of recognizable body parts), as well as more
pleasant signs that advertise for crisis pregnancy centers, or starkly claim
that “It’s a child, not a choice!” or that “Abortion stops a beating heart.” We
chuckle when the wind picks up one of those signs and blows it into the street.
The hardest part of the experience is dressing appropriately for the seasons: It
can be bitterly cold in the winter, standing in one place for two hours
starting at 8:00 am, and it can be beastly hot during the summer.
[Escorting] demands a non-confrontational approach – no
patient wants to be in the middle of two ideological opponents screaming at
each other – and instead focusing on what the patient needs, which is to be
bothered as little as possible by liars brandishing misleading or downright
false information about a medical procedure that is a marker for a number of
important feminist milestones in society (women controlling their own
reproduction, women making decisions about their own health, healthcare access
– these are all realized imperfectly in American society, but it is meaningful
that women can access them at all).
Anti-choice legislators and judges have been very successful
in limiting access to abortion in ways that doesn’t formally outlaw it, but
makes it practically impossible to access for non-white/non-urban/non-middle-class-and-above
women. Waiting periods, forbidding the government to pay for abortion through
Medicaid, placing onerous restrictions on clinics and doctors, requiring
parental consent: all of these make it more difficult for women who do not have
job-guaranteed leave, or the money to travel to a faraway clinic, or who cannot
afford two visits to the doctor, or who cannot tell their parents about their
need for an abortion. My fear is that we will see abortion remain a legal in a
formal sense, but completely inaccessible in a practical sense.
I really feel that we’re
continually fighting a rearguard here. Obama has maintained the status quo
(probably) on the Supreme Court. I don’t see a Freedom of Choice Act passing
anytime soon. The anti-choicers are out to stop contraception generally, not
just abortion, because pregnancy is supposed to be God’s for "easy women." Combined with Dr. Tiller’s
murder and the generally lukewarm response, along with the lack of training for
new doctors in abortion care, I worry that we’re going to be seeing a further
decline in availability for quite some time.
With respect to the current state of the law, I think that Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), is the most important case in
terms of setting the terms of how judicial battles over abortion unfold. Casey affirmed
"Roe’s central holding," that women are entitled to a
choice on abortion. However, Casey also extended an open-ended
invitation to anti-choice extremists to attempt to constrain and limit choice
in significant ways, to the extent that women are formally allowed to choose,
while in practice only affluent, white, mobile/urban women are able to choose.