The first time I stood up for abortion rights was back in 1994 in the middle of a freezing cold North Dakota winter. As I stood in the sub-freezing wind outside that clinic, being screamed at by a hysterical mob of religious zealots, I was terrified. I had never even been out of town without my family before, had never been the object of so much passionate vitriol. But, I had been simmering with anger ever since the first abortion doctor (Dr. David Gunn) was killed in front of his clinic down in Florida.
So, even as fear coursed through my shivering body, I also felt for the first time that I was doing something that mattered more than myself. I knew that without access to safe abortions women die. They die painfully and they die unnecessarily.
Outside that clinic, and later, inside the church where Operation Rescue was holding their sermons, I debated for hours with anti-abortion protesters and their leaders.
Back then, I was still a Christian (not a militant atheist as I am now) and so I debated scripture with Flip Benham of Operation Rescue and Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life. I tried to argue that Jesus was about love and compassion, that he was against death and suffering. They told me back that it was a woman’s place to be silent and to obey their husbands and fathers. I told them how women died in the back-alleys before abortion was legal. They told me that women who have sex outside of marriage are selfish, wicked, dirty and sinful.
It hurt to hear these things. Especially from a man wearing a priest’s collar, a symbol I had grown up revering.
Looking back almost two decades later, I recognize that that weekend influenced me more than anything I ever learned in the classroom. Those men, in their Christian fascist insistence on taking every word in the Bible literally, forced me to reexamine many life-long assumptions. Fortunately for me, someone loaned me a copy of “Liberation Without Gods” by Bob Avakian which helped me sort much of this out
What I came to understand was that the anti-abortion movement really doesn’t give a rat’s ass about fetuses. Sure, they will use the fetus to play on people’s emotions, but when you get down to it the entire anti-abortion movement is driven by biblical scripture. In 1 Timothy 14-15 it explains that the only way women can redeem themselves for allegedly having caused “original sin” and the “fall of man” is by having children: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” This explains why every major anti-abortion organization is also anti-birth control.
Besides, fetuses are not babies. They have the potential to become babies, but until they are born they are a subordinate part of a woman’s body. They have no independent social or biological existence.
The anti-abortion movement really would be more accurately named the “forced-motherhood movement.”
It has now been 18 winters since the first time I stood up for abortion rights. In that time, we have seen a dynamic where yesterday’s outrage becomes today’s “compromise position” and tomorrow’s limit of what seems possible.
Today, it doesn’t take an hours-long conversation with some of the most fanatical anti-abortion activists to recognize that we are experiencing an all out war on women. Last year, 92 restrictions were passed on abortion throughout the country. That shatters the previous record of 34 restrictions in 2005, under Bush. On New Year’s morning a clinic was set on fire in Pensacola, Florida. And Barack Obama personally upheld the decision made by his head of Health and Human services to ban over-the-counter distribution of Plan B (emergency contraception).
The “abortion wars” will not just go on forever in the background. Eventually, one side is going to win. Today, we are dangerously close to – and on a deadly trajectory towards – losing this war.
Yet, we do not have to. There are millions and millions of us who do not believe women should be forced to have children against their will. It is time we stand up and make ourselves heard.
In closing, I will skip ahead to the next time I will stand up for abortion rights. And I will invite you to join me
Come to DC on January 22 and 23 to mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Every year, hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion protesters show their faces to the world. They should not be the only voice. Read and add your name to this call. Give money to this effort. And, if it is at all possible, change your schedule and get yourself there.
Women who cannot decide for themselves when and whether to have children are not free. If women are not free, then no one is.
This post is part of the Intimate Wars Blog Series appearing at Fem2.0 and On the Issues Cafe January 17-18, 2012 in celebration of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the release of Merle Hoffman’s memoirs, Intimate Wars. You can purchase a copy of her book here. To submit a post for the blog series, please contact us, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter using #intimatewars.