Commentary Abortion

In Defense of Abortion On Demand and Without Apology

Stigma Shame and Sexuality Series

There is nothing wrong with a woman terminating her pregnancy at any point and for whatever reason she chooses. Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.

This post is by Sunsara Taylor, and is part of Tsk Tsk: Stigma, Shame, and Sexuality, a series hosted by Gender Across Borders and cross-posted with Rewire in partnership with Ipas.

Several years ago, I was approached by a young woman after giving a talk examining how patriarchy is at the core of the world’s dominant religions and calling out the Christian fascist movement to criminalize abortion. As she told me of her abortion, her demeanor suggested she was rather settled about it. But then suddenly she stopped talking, her face flashed with emotion, and she burst into tears.

I tell this story precisely because this young woman was a confident and articulate atheist. She had been raised pro-choice and still was. Her boyfriend was supportive. She received great medical care.  Extremely important: she made clear she had never felt guilty.

So, why was she sobbing?

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She explained, “Until today, I have never in my life heard anyone say that it is okay to have an abortion and even feel good about it. For two years I have gone around feeling like there must be something wrong with me because I never felt any remorse.”

Stop for a moment and think about that. She didn’t feel bad about her abortion. She felt bad about not feeling bad!

I responded very firmly that there is nothing wrong with her. There is nothing wrong with a woman terminating her pregnancy at any point and for whatever reason she chooses.  Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.

There is, however, something profoundly wrong with a society in which millions of young people have grown up never having heard abortion spoken of as something  positive and liberating. There is something deeply wrong not only with the movement which has viciously and relentlessly fought to criminalize, terrorize, and demonize those who seek – or provide – abortions, but also with the mainstream of a “pro-choice movement” which has repeatedly conciliated and compromised with this madness.

Lets be clear, the notion that women are full human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor together with men is historically an extremely new idea. It is also under extreme, and increasing, fire. The fight to not only defend, but to expand and to destigmatize abortion and birth control, must be seen as a central battle in the fight to make good on the full liberation of women.

What’s the big deal about abortion, anyway? Together with birth control, abortion enables women to not be enslaved by their biology. It enables women to delay, restrict, or forgo altogether the decision to make babies. It enables women to explore their sexuality free of the fear that an unintended pregnancy will foreclose their lives and their dreams. It opens up the possibility for women to enter fully and equally into every realm of public life and human endeavor together with men.

Of course, the possibility of full equality for women doesn’t exist merely because of the technological, or even the legal, existence of birth control and abortion. These reproductive rights would not have been won — and wouldn’t have had the earth-shaking repercussions they’ve had – without the tremendous struggles of women demanding their liberation.  Despite popular misconceptions, it was this righteous struggle, together with the broader revolt of the 1960s and 70s – not some sudden flash of enlightenment on the Court –that most influenced the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Further, the liberation of women requires more than reproductive rights and a radical shift in the culture. The need for an all-the-way revolution that goes beyond even the best of the revolutionary experience of the last century – including as pertains to challenging traditional gender and other chains that bind women – is a key element of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of revolution and communism. Explicating this more fully goes beyond the scope of this article, but interested readers can learn more by reading A Declaration for Womens Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity.

But even the specter of women’s liberation — and the important advances that were made — were too much for those who rule this country. The backlash really coalesced and gained initiative under Reagan. The reassertion of the “traditional family” became an indispensable part of not only reasserting patriarchy but also stitching back together the reactionary fabric of society that had been significantly frayed. Christian fascists — people fighting for the laws and culture to conform to a literal interpretation of the Bible, including its insistence that women bear children and obey their husbands (1 Timothy 2:11-15) – were given powerful backing by ruling class forces and unleashed to hound and harass women who sought abortions. They bombed clinics. They killed doctors. They pushed the shame and ignorance of abstinence-only education into the schools and went to war on the scientific fact of evolution.

Through this period, the most mainstream elements of the women’s movement came to be identified broadly as the only outlet for those concerned about the oppressed status of women, even as this bourgeois feminism more and more subordinated itself to the ruling class, and the Democratic Party in particular.

To quote from the above-mentioned Declaration, “This absorption of the ‘official women’s movement’ into the Democratic Party, and its utter subordination to the confines of electoral politics, has done incalculable damage. For over two decades now this ‘feminist movement’ has encouraged and influenced progressive people to accommodate to a dynamic where yesterday’s outrage becomes today’s ‘compromise position’ and tomorrow’s limit of what can be imagined. The defensiveness and cravenness of this ‘movement’ in the face of the Christian fascists in particular — its refusal to really battle them on the morality of abortion, to take one concentrated example — has contributed to the disorientation of two generations of young women, and men as well.”

What has this looked like? It looked like Hillary Clinton implying there was something wrong with abortion by insisting it be “safe, legal, and rare” and then these becoming the watchwords of a “pro-choice movement” that even removed “abortion” from its name. It looked like spokespeople for NARAL and Planned Parenthood repeatedly insisting they are the ones, not the Christian Right, who prevent the most abortions, even as women scramble nationwide to access the dwindling abortion services. It looked like a strategy focusing almost entirely on the most extreme cases — endangerment to a woman or fetus’s life, rape or incest — rather than standing up for the right of all women to abortion.

It looked like the 2006 congressional elections where the Democrats insisted that to beat the Bush-led Republicans they had to run hardline anti-abortion candidates like Bob Casey. And while many registered complaints, not a single major national pro-choice “leader” called for mass mobilizations of protest in the streets. It looked like broad “feminist” celebration of President Obama even as he, too, insisted on reducing abortions and finding “common ground” with fascists and religious fanatics. Now he has now presided over the greatest onslaught of abortion restrictions introduced at the state level since Roe v. Wade.

All this is why a new generation has, almost without exception, never heard anyone speak positively about abortion. This has led to thousands of women feeling guilty or ashamed of a procedure which is necessary for women to live full and independent lives. This has led to a situation where activists fight piecemeal at the edges of each new major assault while losing ground overall.

If we do not seize the moral high by boldly proclaiming the positive morality of abortion, if we don’t begin now to change hearts and minds among this new generation in particular, if we do not refuse to be confined by what is deemed “electable,” then not only will we fail in fighting back the restrictions, we will compound this legal defeat with an ideological and political defeat as well.

Millions and millions of women feel absolutely no remorse about their abortions; it is time for all of us to speak out boldly in support of this attitude. It’s also time we stop bending over backward to validate the feelings of guilt or shame that some women feel over their abortions. Millions of women feel guilty and ashamed after being raped, but while we acknowledge their emotions, we also struggle for them — and everyone else — to recognize they have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s time we do the same around the stigma that surrounds abortion.

It’s absolutely a great thing for women to have — and to exercise freely — their right to abortion. The doctors who provide these services should be celebrated! There is nothing “moral” about forcing women to bear children against their will, but there is something tremendously moral about enabling women to determine the course of their own lives. This is good for women and it is good for humanity as a whole.

It is time to declare boldly: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!

Sunsara Taylor is a writer for RevolutionNewspaper, a host of WBAI’s EqualTimeforFreethought, and sits on the Advisory Board of WorldCantWait. For nearly two decades she has been on the front lines of the battle against Christian fascism – from abortion clinics under siege in North Dakota to Terri Schiavo’s hospice in Florida,  from Rick Warren’s bigoted anti-gay sermons to militarized Christian youth stadium rallies.  She has written on the rise of theocracy, wars and repression in the U.S., led in building resistance to these crimes, and contributed to the movement for revolution to put an end to all this. She takes as her foundation the new synthesis on revolution and communism developed by Bob Avakian. 


Analysis Law and Policy

Normalizing Anti-Abortion Violence at the Heart of Angel Dillard Defense

Jessica Mason Pieklo

On trial for threatening Dr. Mila Means, Angel Dillard insisted she was another victim in the Obama administration's war on religious liberties and political debate.

Attorneys from the Department of Justice finished presenting their evidence to a jury Wednesday that a 2011 letter sent by anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard to Dr. Mila Means—which suggested that should Means begin performing abortions in Wichita, she’d be checking for bombs every day under her car—constituted a “true threat” to Means’ safety. After that, Dillard’s defense team had one job: Suddenly, immediately humanize their client.

But how do attorneys humanize a woman accused of threatening abortion providers, who testified that Dr. George Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, is a friend of hers, and who stated specifically that she believes abortion, no matter the context, is always wrong?

You play her up as simple housewife and hope a jury of eight Wichitans believes Dillard’s story: that an over-aggressive federal government  is stifling speech and political debate with which it disagrees.

Will it work? It’s hard to tell at this moment. As a witness, Dillard comes across as a typical small-Midwestern-town farmer—one who would rather tend to her flock of chickens and peacocks than debate abortion politics. And that was undoubtedly on purpose. Theresa Sidebotham, a Colorado Springs-based religious liberties attorney and part of Dillard’s defense team, questioned Dillard about her son with cerebral palsy, whom Dillard cared for until his death in 2001. She asked Dillard to speak about the restoration of her farm property, her Christian songwriting, her prison ministry. Dillard teared up when describing singing songs of forgiveness to women who had been in domestic violence situations prior to prison and spoke softly, specifically, and directly to Sidebotham.

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When the topic of abortion politics finally came up—which was a given, since Dillard faces civil charges for violating the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act because of that 2011 letter to Means—both Sidebotham and Dillard did everything they could to distance Dillard’s letter from the history and pattern of anti-choice violence rooted in her hometown of Wichita.

Dillard testified that she believes abortion is wrong in every context because it is a violation of “God’s law.” She also testified that while she would never condone an act of violence like the one her “friend” Roeder committed in murdering Wichita’s only abortion provider, she admired Roeder because he “was willing to give up his life” by going to prison for the larger cause of ending legal abortion. Dillard also admitted that her community supported Roeder. “Everyone I knew was thrilled we no longer had killing going on in Wichita,” Dillard said, without a hint of irony.

And as to whether or not Dillard ever intended to threaten Means by sending the letter promising thousands of people would be looking into Means’ background and potentially placing explosives under Means’ car, Dillard brushed the suggestion off.

“I know it sounded harsh, but we we’re talking about life and death,” testified Dillard. “I stood on the Bible and the First Amendment, but I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Translation: Dillard believes that the government is infringing on her religious freedom, and her right to free speech and religion, by punishing her for sending the letter to Means.

The Department of Justice, however, was having none of this image of Dillard as a Kansas homemaker being bullied by the Obama administration. Julie Abbate, a DOJ deputy chief, led the government’s cross-examination of Dillard. After moving the podium so that she was looking Dillard directly in the eyes for the entirety of her cross-examination, Abbate simply opened with, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Dillard. It’s been a while.”

From there, the niceties ended. Abbate meticulously went through Dillard’s testimony, erasing much of the image Sidebotham spent her time creating. Abbate questioned Dillard on her presence at Roeder’s trial, where she testified she first met and befriended Michael Bray, another anti-choice terrorist. She pressed Dillard on her purported prison ministry—which, Dillard admitted, was non-existent until Roeder’s conviction; for the first year of its existence, it “ministered” exclusively to Roeder. Dillard had earlier testified she was not really all that involved in the local anti-choice movement, but Abbate got Dillard to concede she would go to local abortion clinics and stand outside and pray, sometimes holding signs, and even participated in what she described as a “parade” with other activists where they sang and prayed outside a Wichita clinic.

All these activities, according to court testimony, took place prior to Dillard sending the letter to Means.

The trial proceedings finished for the day before Abbate got to conclude her cross-examination of Dillard. She will pick up with that first thing Thursday morning, and it will likely be as charged as Wednesday morning’s testimony. It is also likely the case will go to the jury then, which will begin deliberating on a verdict. Because this is a civil prosecution under FACE and not a criminal one, Dillard faces no jail time should the jury find her letter was a threat to Means and not protected free speech. Instead, she faces approximately $20,000 in damages as consequence.

“I didn’t have any plans for violence,” Dillard testified. “God lets us have the consequences of our actions as a judgment, but it doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

If the jury starts to deliberate the case on Thursday, it could return a verdict as soon as the end of the week.

News Abortion

South Dakota Law Would Mandate Weekends and Holidays Can’t Count in Abortion Waiting Period

Robin Marty

Sorry, folks, weekends and holidays don't apply.

With their mandatory crisis pregnancy center counseling bill in the courts, a 72-hour waiting period ready to go into effect, and just one clinic in the entire state, you might think that South Dakota had mostly run out of ways to cut off abortion access via the state legislature.

You would be wrong.

The South Dakota legislature will be debating two bills this session, one that will allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions, refuse to test for genetic issues with a pregnancy, and protect the medical practitioner from lawsuits as a result of either issue. The second will be yet another tinkering with the state’s waiting period.

Letting doctors lie about genetic issues is a new favorite of anti-choice legislatures who seem intent on not just stopping abortion but undermining the fabric of the doctor/patient relationship. After all, if you will never know beyond a doubt that your doctor isn’t lying to you, how can you ever be truly comfortable in believing medical information he or she provides?

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In comparison, a new waiting period before an abortion almost seems tame. On the surface it is just a revamp of the 72-hour wait already proposed as part of the mandatory counseling bill stuck in the courts, a portion which Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota already offered to let go into effect so they could continue to fight the mandatory CPC visit section of the law.

It’s once you get deeper into the details that you realize that it’s really not a 72-hour wait after all.

No surgical or medical abortion may be scheduled except by a licensed physician and only after the physician physically and personally meets with the pregnant mother, consults with her, and performs an assessment of her medical and personal circumstances. Only after the physician completes the consultation and assessment complying with the provisions of §§ 34-23A-53 to 34-23A-62, inclusive, may the physician schedule a surgical or medical abortion, but in no instance may the physician schedule such surgical or medical abortion to take place in less than seventy-two hours from the completion of such consultation and assessment except in a medical emergency as set forth in § 34-23A-10.1 and subdivision 34-23A-1(5). No Saturday, Sunday, federal holiday, or state holiday may be included or counted in the calculation of the seventy-two hour minimum time period between the initial physician consultation and assessment and the time of the scheduled abortion procedure. No physician may have the pregnant mother sign a consent for the abortion on the day of this initial consultation. [emphasis added]

First legislatures redefine science and pregnancy, now they are redefining the passage of time? Removing weekends and holidays will in essence turn the waiting period into a week long minimum, since it would be nearly impossible to schedule during weekdays. It leaves little doubt that the purpose of measure is to push women up to the timeline to where it is too late to obtain a termination, and in the process will force her to wait longer to eliminate her access to less invasive medication abortion and into a surgical procedure.

The additional “bankers hours” language is a completely new concept among waiting periods, which have never before tried to regulate which hours are allowed to be included. Utah, the only other state to enact a super-sized waiting period, leaves the issue unaddressed, and the two dozen states with a 24-hour period do as well. Elizabeth Nash, who tracks legislative bills for the Guttmacher Institute, says that no other state attempts to define the waiting period in such a direct way.

“It’s absurd that legislators are revisiting this issue,” Alisha Sedor, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota told Rewire. “This bill makes the waiting period even more egregious when its constitutionality is already unclear. South Dakota voters have twice shown that they believe this is a decision best left to a woman, her family and her medical provider. It is time for politicians to listen to their constituents and leave this issue alone.”