Talking to the Abortion Rights Activists in Germantown, MD

Sunsara Taylor

What happens on the front lines of Dr. Carhart's clinic for this week is extremely important – but what comes out of it is perhaps even more critical.

Check out all of Rewire‘s coverage of the 2011 Summer of Trust / Summer of Choice convergence in Germantown, MD here.

Its been interesting talking to the people who have turned out to stand with Dr. Carhart. Women who work to end domestic violence – or at least to support women who have been abused and want to get out of those relationships. Women who do work against sexual violence and rape; they know deeply the trauma of having one’s body and most intimate emotional and physical space violated. Young women who have found feminism on their college campuses. One of them told me she’d never really thought about where she stood on abortion until she got to college. Another that she used to be extremely Catholic and even was extremely active in protesting abortion (beyond the obligatory Sunday services of Catholic school trips occasionally to protest clinics). Another told me about how her older sister was raped and then needed an abortion.

Several times now the abortion-rights supporters I have spoken to have made the living connections between the violence and degradation women receive in their daily lives and the violence and degradation women receive for either being shamed and harassed for seeking abortion or prevented from accessing it at all. As well as the violence that has been meted out against the doctors and staff who serve women by providing abortions.

In short, there is a deep river of compassion for women, real understanding and feeling for the lives of women and for the traumas and humiliations and oppression that is visited upon women in this patriarchal society that runs through the abortion-rights activists out here in front of Carhart’s clinic.

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You can find this river of compassion in Dr. Carhart as well. In his many years of service to women. In the risk that he bears every single day that he practices. In his willingness to speak publicly about providing late-in-pregnancy abortions as well as his commitment to training new doctors in these life-saving procedures. In his activism – which goes beyond the call of duty of even the most committed doctor – which extends to posting a film of himself calling and inviting people to celebrate abortion rights and choice with him throughout the week that he is being targeted by Operation Rescue.

Which brings me to this. The Operation Rescue is targeting him for a week – but it is clearly much more than that. They have set their sights on him for life. And I don’t mean for the life of the fetus – I mean for HIS life. They will be on him this week, but they will continue until they shut down his clinic by whatever means it takes… or… until their movement is defeated. They are not going away. And they are eager to use any method that can advance their agenda. Lets be very clear, these people declared victory when Dr. Tiller (who they previously targeted) was assassinated.

This morning, they handed out fliers with color photos of Dr. Carhart’s face. They know better than most of the country how many fanatical, mission-from-god-warriors they attract to their rallies. They they are inciting people when they say Dr. Carhart is carrying out “murder.” They are responsible for any violence that is attempted or carried out against any of the doctors who provide abortions.

I mentioned before that many of the young abortion-rights activists have gone into the “pro-life” rallies in recent days. I did this too, back in 1994 when I first confronted Operation Rescue at an abortion clinic up in Fargo, North Dakota. I spent hours listening to their sermons, at first trying to “blend in” and then openly arguing with their congregation and even their priests and leaders.

It is interesting to listen as these young activists and feminists are processing what they witnessed. Just how open this Christian fascist movement is about the subordination of women. I recall thinking that those who protest abortion are just misguided. Perhaps they didn’t realize how many women are raped… how many need abortions for medical reasons… how many just can’t afford a child… how many will die if it is made illegal to get an abortion.

Sure, some of the protesters are misguided. But, mostly what I didn’t understand is that these protesters weren’t concerned about life or about women and just confused about how to best express that. Instead, they were NOT concerned about life or about women but only about enforcing their Biblical mandates. Those mandates include that women have to have babies to redeem ourselves for “original sin.” I am watching as people go through this process of discovery. Its important. It both reflects the freshness of many of those for whom this is their first action of this type and it is something that all too few people in this society have had to confront.

What happens on the front lines of this clinic for this week is extremely important – but what comes out of it is perhaps even more critical. It is hard to isolate any single “front line” of the abortion rights struggle. Over 500 legislative assaults on abortion rights were introduced at the state level in just the first three months of the year. More have continued. Doctors across the country have been targeted. (Just last week, down in Florida, Operation Save America protested at Dr. Pendergraft’s house(!!!) and at the home of one of the local heads of Planned Parenthood(!!!)) The other protests, threats and harassments are too many to count.

Whether people around the country start to confront the “no room for compromise” nature of this struggle the way that those on this front line are doing has a lot to do with what the future will hold.

Okay, had to run off to debate Derreck Jones of the National Right to Life Committee – I’ll have more to say about that later and post the links as well.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.