Same As It Ever Was: The incremental denial of abortion access in Texas

11 Nov

A guest post from Sarah Tuttle, Lilith Fund Board Member. 

The recent HB2 decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has meant a busy week in abortion access circles in Texas.  Many of us on the ground were unprepared for such swift action.  We were just adjusting to the 20 week ban which had come into effect, and were working to prepare for whatever came next.

Both the summer of action at the Capitol, and the swift motion of the court case, has awoken many people to the cause. We made jokes over the summer about taking a ship to international waters off the Gulf of Mexico where we’d have a doctor available to perform abortions. Joking was one of the only ways to shake the feeling that we were traveling back in time in an unexpectedly cruel way. It has been fantastic to see so many people rally, realizing a right we thought was secured by the Supreme Court was in such a vulnerable position.  For many people it was the first time they stopped to think about the effects that could ripple through the lives of Texans.

I serve on the Lilith Fund board and run our hotline committee. I’ve been with Lilith for a year and a half. And I’m here to remind you of something that I feel is lost, even when we talk with our allies.  Our clients are people. This isn’t just a cause. These are people’s lives, people’s families. Our clients are not just patients, stories, plantiffs, witnesses or data.

Passionate, well-meaning people from all over the country are calling and emailing Lilith to help, to donate,  and we are beyond grateful.  But when we get suggestions that we should start an “Abortion Underground Railroad,” we cringe.  This is not slavery.  This is not the time to appropriate the pain and suffering of generations of African Americans to try and comprehend our own.  Many of our clients our Latina and African American. We refuse to add insult to injury.

People are calling the Lilith Fund to offer rooms and rides to support abortion access.  We’re not the right people to talk to. There are practical support networks slowly growing around Texas to pool these resources.  These networks will be critical in the next few months, especially with the danger of the “Ambulatory Surgical Center” requirements looming in September. We could be down to a handful of clinics, and travel will become an even larger problem.

But the scope of the issue, of people being denied abortion because of lack of resources, this is not new. It is exacerbated by HB2, not created.  In just the last three years, we have been able to raise over $100,000 per year. Last year we provided over $80,000 in direct assistance to people who needed abortions. We do not come even close to meeting the state-wide need for financial assistance.

Even before HB2, Lilith was unable to meet the need of all our callers. We serve a portion of Texas (the rest is served by the Texas Equal Access fund).  Our hotline is open 3 half days a week. Each shift we get between 15-30 calls. We can usually fund less than half of them.  Our funds only cover a fraction of their abortion. For those who are earlier in pregnancy, perhaps we can cover a third of their procedure. For those further along we might only be able to cover a fifth, or a tenth. Our clients mostly get referred to us by clinics. We never even see those unable to reach a clinic.

The Lilith Fund has operated for over a decade. We work with our data to try and best meet our clients needs. We recently saw a dip in our redemption rate (how many clients actually redeemed their financial aid vouchers).  Data analysis revealed what you might have guessed: higher voucher amounts lead to higher redemption rates. Giving higher vouchers means helping fewer people. But obviously an unredeemed voucher implies no help at all.  We raised our voucher amounts.

Even this year, which has been an incredibly good fundraising year (for deeply frustrating reasons), we have nowhere near enough resources to meet the growing need for abortion funding. We talk to our clients to assess what their situation is, what other pressing needs they have. They may have a long way to travel.  They may have children that need looking after.  They may be struggling to get enough hours at work. There is not enough money to cover all their needs. When they call us they are already borrowing from friends, already pawning prized possessions. They are postponing their procedure a few more days till they get that next check, or taking from grocery money for a few weeks running.

When I give clients financial assistance vouchers, I am also giving practical support. My voucher frees up money for other things – maybe it is gas, or childcare. Maybe it is to pay rent.  When I give a client funding for an abortion, I am trusting her to decide what she needs. I am respecting her. As a person.

I understand the urge to give things, to share resources. But I think it is crucial to examine our motivations, especially when we reach out to those in need. One of the biggest indignities of poverty is the loss of choice. Not being able to choose the food you feed your family, not being able to choose the gifts you give your children at Christmas.  When I fund abortion, I hope that one of the things I’m giving is agency.  I respect you to look at your available resources and do what is best.

Our clients are people. They are not just stories, or placeholders, or ways for us to channel our activism. They are people who deserve respect, kindness, agency, and support while they live their lives. This isn’t just a cause, or something they can walk away from or take a break from. This is their life. In this moment, I hope we can provide the support they need.

Texas: A love letter

4 Nov

Dear Texas:

Like many of us, I was appalled and devastated to hear that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a lower federal court’s injunction that will force many of your abortion providers to close their doors. As of Friday, the Texas Tribune reported that at least nine abortion providers have been forced to stop providing services.

In the midst of all of this, your activists, providers, legislators, reporters, and others have worked tirelessly to make change and bring your fight into the national spotlight. Texas: your courage, determination, and mobilization has changed the way that I think about restrictive legislation, and has given the rest of the country hope that we can turn the tide.

Yet, when the bad news about HB 2 came out this week, I was appalled by the responses on my Twitter feed that I should give up on you, that I should have expected this to happen. Some said that Texans who care about reproductive health access should just move somewhere else. These folks were quick to judge you, Texas, but I imagine that they were singing a different tune during Wendy Davis’s game-changing filibuster and when they watched the sea of thousands in orange shirts united and committed to the fight. Are these people who are urging me to just give up on you the same folks who have donated to Wendy Davis’s campaign for Governor?

Texas: Don’t let these people get you down. (Not that you would, because you don’t take any shit.) Let the haters hate, and know that you have changed and reinvigorated all of us. You are facing extreme difficulties in an increasingly oppressive climate, but each time someone tries to knock you down you come back stronger.

Reasons for my love include but are not limited to:

The reasons go on and on, and I wish I could write a love note to each one of you who are fighting day in and day out. What I want you to know is that I care about you, no matter how many people want me to abandon you. I might not be able to be there in person, and I will never understand the huge barriers that you face. But I believe in you.

With all my love,

Megan

Blog Transition, or In Pursuit of the Next Abortion Gang

30 Oct

I started the abortion gang blog in March 2010. The debate over healthcare reform raged on, seemingly without end. Then-representative Bart Stupak made a snide comment about having an “abortion gang” ready to veto the proposed bill if it didn’t contain restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion. I decided that if anyone should have an abortion gang, it should be a group of young, fierce abortion rights activists, certainly not some reactionary old white guy who clearly repudiates everything that a real “abortion gang” would stand for. Around the same time, several mainstream media articles quoted feminist leaders proclaiming that young people don’t care about abortion rights. That just about put me over the edge, so I did what I knew how to do best: I took the rage to the internet and started this blog.

Over 650 posts later, we’ve blogged about everything from a to z. We’ve had 43 different bloggers and over 55 guest posts. We’ve gotten tattoos, had children, had abortions, gotten new jobs, started and finished graduate school. Many of us came to this blog as with idealistic young radicals. Most of us are still young (three years isn’t that long), but we have transitioned a lot over the past few years, and it’s time for the blog to have a fresh face and new perspectives.

You may have noticed that there haven’t been many posts over the last few months. We’ve been having offline conversations about how to move forward with the blog. We want to keep it as a space for young (millennial) activists to experiment with ideas, strategies, thoughts, experiences, and more, outside of an organizational structure.

To that end, we’re offering this space up to new writers. About half of the current writers (myself included) will cycle off. We’ll pass the passwords to the facebook, twitter, email, and website on to the new folks who want to take over this space. About half the current writers will stay on, because they are devoted to the blog and want to keep writing in this awesome space we’re created.

If you and/or your crew are interested, email us at info AT abortiongang DOT org. Let us know what direction you want to take the blog in, what you want to write about, and why. We’re hoping to hand off the blog by January 2014 at the latest. We’re not looking for essays or anything—just a commitment to documenting feminist badassery.

Until then, you may see sporadic posts here. But know that we’re doing the hard work of evaluation and transition. Any thoughts, comments, etc. can be emailed to us: info at abortiongang dot org or posted in the comments.

On Women’s Equality Day, Which Women Do We Mean?

26 Aug

Crossposted with permission.

Today is Women’s Equality Day in the United States, celebrated yearly since 1971 on August 26th to mark the certification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution that extended the right to vote to women.

While this is an occasion to celebrate, there are a few myths, lies, and blatant rewrites of history that pop up every year that should be addressed. This is by no means an exhaustive list or a full, intersectional history of the battle for suffrage, but rather an attempt to muddy the conversation about which women we’re really talking about when we speak of “women’s equality.”

Myth: The 19th Amendment “gave” women the right to vote.

Fact: No one “gave” or “granted” women anything. Suffrage is a right one is born with in a free democracy, a right that was denied to women by the founders of our nation who did not see white women and all folks of color as human enough to deserve it. Organizers endured heckling, ostracization, beatings, force feedings and, in some cases, even death to get the 19th amendment passed — it was a fight for justice too long denied, not a polite request finally granted.

Lie: The 19th Amendment extended the right to vote to women.

Truth: This is only true if your definition of “women” is “white, cisgender, documented women.” Women and men of color, especially in the South, continued to face barriers to voting in the form of literacy tests, “grandfather” clauses, and Jim Crow laws until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965. The Voting Rights Act was recently gutted by the Supreme Court, which means that many folks of color will again be disenfranchised under the same ideology that assumes elected white people get to decide who “deserves” the right of suffrage. (See:North Carolina and Texas.) Additionally, undocumented women and men, who contribute to the nation as a whole and their communities specifically, are still denied the right to vote on the policies that impact their lives and those of their families. Women who have been convicted of felonies are also barred from voting. Voter ID laws, which require the gender one was assigned at birth to match the gender one actually is, prohibit many trans* folks from accessing the polls as well.

Historical Rewrite: White women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul thought up, led, and won the battle for suffrage.

Historical Truth: While those names are the ones most often mentioned in history books, those same texts both fail to recognize the women and men of color who fought for suffrage and cover up the fact that many of the white women leaders of the suffrage movement were pretty damn racist. They also fail to mention that early white suffragists like Stanton and Anthony were radicalizedby interacting with Iroquois women, who were voting members on tribal councils and had the final say on the appointment of village chiefs. The suffragists who actually credited Native women’s influence on their organizing did so only to position indigenous cultures as “savage” in order shame white men into being more “enlightened” than Native peoples. The same white women who were spurred to action by Native women’s roles later aligned themselves with organizations that fought for the disenfranchisement of “blanketed Indians.”

Many of the staunchest advocates for universal suffrage were abolitionists. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Mary Church Terrell, Margaretta Forten, Harriet Forten Purvis, and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, all Black women, were leaders in the suffrage movement who faced discrimination from their white “sisters” in the fight. The National Women’s Suffrage Association’s official position was that suffrage for white women should come first, at the expense of voting rights for women and men of color. During the famed 1913 march, Alice Paul ordered Black women to march at the back in order to avoid offending racist white Southern women — Ida B. Wells refused and slipped out of the line to take her rightful place in the Illinois delegation at the front of the parade. Susan B. Anthony, in just one of her many racist oppressions, was instrumental in the exclusion of ardent women’s rights supporter Frederick Douglass from a suffrage conference in Atlanta.

Myth, Lie, and Historical Rewrite: “Women’s Equality” and the continued fight for women’s rights in 2013 is inclusive of all women.

Sad but important truth: It’s not.

The “mainstream” feminist movement of today — meaning the writing, organizing, and other work that gets the most attention, resources, and privilege — remains centered on the rights, lives, and experiences of white, non-Native, cisgender, documented, straight, able-bodied women. Women whose identities match these privilege sets, women like me, actively appropriate the work of women whose do not, erase their histories, assail their identities and set up fiscal, political, social, and cultural barriers in order to interrupt and negate the organizing of women of color, trans* folks, disabled people, undocumented people, and those who live their lives at the intersections of those identities. Just check out #solidarityisforwhitewomen, started by Mikki Kendall and explainedhere, and #dearcispeople. Google Cece McDonald and #girlslikeus. See women’s groups that claim to be fighting for all women who endorse candidates who voted for Stop and Frisk and refuse to support comprehensive immigration reform or go to the mat for Native women’s inclusion in the Violence Against Women Act. The list goes on and on.

Women’s Equality Day has a noble goal: uplift the history of the struggle for women’s rights and highlight the continued work toward gender justice. But if we aren’t committed to problematizing the history we’ve been taught, to centering the work of marginalized folks and learning the histories that have been erased from textbooks, and to coming to terms with the fact that when many feminists say they work for women’s equality but really just mean some women, then we’re just celebrating and continuing oppression.

I don’t have the answer to ending that continued oppression but I do know that it’s not the feminist movement that I want or that anyone needs. As a counterpoint to the unexamined celebratory links going around today, I’ve begun to compile a list of resources that celebrate the heroines who’ve been erased from history and examine the history of oppression within the suffrage movement that continues today. If you have other links, please put them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Woman Suffrage at the Turn of the Century: The Rising Influence of Racism — Angela Davis

How Racism Tainted Women’s Fight to Vote — Monée Fields-White

How Native Americans Influenced the Women’s Suffrage Movement — Jessica Diemer-Eaton

Not All Women Won the Right to Vote Today — Renee Martin

Homespun Heroines And Other Women of Distinction — compiled and edited by Hallie Quinn

African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965 — (book) Cynthia Neverdon-Morton (Author), Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Author), Martha Prescod Norman (Author), Bettina Aptheker (Author), Ann D. Gordon (Editor), Bettye Collier-Thomas (Editor)

African American Women In The Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920 — (book) Rosalyn Terborg-Penn

Building a Racial Justice Movement

20 Aug

By Rinku Sen. Crossposted with permission from Colorlines.

This week, the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with events in Washington, D.C., and many other cities. A hot summer of race news—Moral Mondays to preserve voting rights in North Carolina, the efforts of the Dream 9 to expose the vagaries of our immigration policy, and those of the Dream Defenders to undo Florida’s Stand Your Ground law—have led many to speculate on whether we are at the start of a new civil rights movement.

We are definitely at the brink of something. I hope that it is a racial justice movement, one that builds on the legacy of civil rights while bringing crucial new elements to our political and social lives. We have a chance to explore fundamental questions like the nature of racism, what to do with the variety of racial hierarchies across the country, and how to craft a vision big enough to hold together communities who are constantly pitted against one another.

Using the racial justice frame allows us to fight off the seductive, corrupt appeal of colorblindness, which currently makes it difficult to talk about even racial diversity, much less the real prize of racial equity. Such language also allows us to move beyond the current limitations in civil rights law to imagine a host of new policies and practices in public and private spaces, while we also upgrade existing civil rights laws at all levels of government. Finally, the modern movement has to be fully multiracial, as multiracial as the country itself. The number and variety of communities of color will continue to grow. If allof our communities stake out ground on race, rather than on a set of proxies, we will more likely be able to stick together when any one of us is accused of race baiting.

The Need for Plain Speech

We cannot solve a problem that no one is willing to name, and the biggest obstacle facing Americans today is that, in the main, we don’t want to talk about race, much less about racism. Our societal silence makes room for inventive new forms of discrimination, while it blocks our efforts to change rules that disadvantage people of color. Unless we say what we mean, we cannot redefine how racism works or drive the debate toward equity.

Americans define racism as individual, overt and intentional. But modern forms of racial discrimination are often unintentional, systemic and hidden. The tropes and images of the civil rights era reinforce the old definition. People taking on new forms constantly look for our own Bull Connor to make the case. We can find these kinds of figures. But there’s inevitably debate about whether they truly hit the Bull Connor standard, as we can see in popular defenses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Rick Scott. Politicians, employers and public administrators have all learned to use codes for the groups they target.

The notion that all racism is intentional and overt is a fundamental building block of the false solution of colorblindness.

The obsession with examining the intentions of individual actors in order to legitimize the existence of racism undermines efforts to achieve justice. This is because the discussion of racism in the U.S. is devoid of any mention of history, power or policy. The person who notices racial disparities in health care, for example, is vilified for so-called race baiting, while someone like Rep. Steve King is virtually unchallenged when he puts up a sign referring to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program as “Socialized, Clintonesque, Hillary Care for Illegals and Their Children.” Hey, he didn’t say Latino illegals, so that’s not racist.

Fifteen years of brain research have revealed that ignoring racial difference is impossible, and that most human beings are unconscious of their biases. Thus getting people to acknowledge and change their biases voluntarily is often very difficult, and if it does happen, is insufficient to address the institutional problem.

Even people who don’t dismiss the need for race talk entirely often have the wrong end goal in mind. They encourage respect for diversity, or multiculturalism. Those are both good things. But neither one is the same thing as justice. It is entirely possible to have a diverse community, city or workplace that is marked by inequity. In restaurants I’ve worked in and observed, the white workers in the dining room get along perfectly well with black and Latino workers confined to the kitchen and dishroom, but they are not in an equitable situation. In being explicit about working on racial justice, our modern movement has a chance to push past the diversity goal and define justice.

Continue reading

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen Tweets and Posts to Help You Shut Up and Listen

16 Aug

The big news in online feminism this week is the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag, created by Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia), by which the frustrations and righteous anger of women of color is being directed, with a side of (justified) snark, at Big White Feminism. The catalyst for this eruption may have been the latest Hugo Schwyzer flounce off the internet and subsequent fallout, but the wounds go much deeper, as 65,000+ tweets will attest.

Here at Abortion Gang we – white folks and people of color alike – are struggling to put words to our varied reactions. In the interest of being allies we wish to amplify the voices of women of color who have spoken out through this hashtag by highlighting some of their work on these topics in the past. Here are some #solidarityisforwhitewomen tweets with links to relevant writing on race and feminism by the tweeter:

Sydette @Blackamazon / My Machete Never Faltered

BlackAmazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk / An Open Letter to Eve Ensler
Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace @graceishuman / 10 thoughts…on mental illness, abuse, and survivors

Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flavia Dzodan @redlightvoices / Yes, this is about race

Flavia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rania Khalek @RaniaKhalek / 40% Of White Americans Have Zero Non-White Friends

Rania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aura Bogado @aurabogado / A tale of two best friends

Aura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angry Black Fangirl @TheAngryFangirl / On Hugo Schwyzer’s defenders

ABF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shanelle Matthews @freedom_writer / On #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen; Feminism Is Not Black And White

Shanelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child of Zora @EvetteDionne  / The Burdens of Black Motherhood

COZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ayesha A. Siddiqi @pushinghoops / You, Me, & Chris Brown

Ayesha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feminista Jones @FeministaJones / While My Sisters Gently Weep

Feminista Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For brief background on the hashtag and on the history of racism in the feminist movement, see this great HuffPost Live segment with Mikki Kendall & Tara Conley. For more on the history of racism within online feminism, see brownfemipower’s tumblr.

Whose body is it?: On the intersection between eating disorders and reproductive rights

15 Aug

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

Monday morning around 10 am, I walked home from work sick as hell. Nauseous and a fierce case of chills wracked my body, so once home I collapsed on the couch and slept until 4 pm.

I hadn’t eaten in a day and a half.

Before getting up for food, I went to the bathroom. I stepped on the scale and a familiar sense of disgust washed over me. What is the healthiest, least fatty, meal I could consume? And will I be able to keep it down? I need to eat; that was my rational brain talking. An irrational, less coherent feeling told me that my body is disgusting and needs adjustments.
—-
Last month, heroic activists worked tirelessly to stop or at least mitigate anti-abortion legislation that worked its way through state legislatures across the country.

Legislators in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas  attempted to restrict a person’s right to terminate a pregnancy and attached bills anywhere in any way and shoved ‘em through. In North Carolina, a motorcycle bill had an abortion law added to it. Another bill (in perhaps the most ironic action ever) banning sharia law had abortion restrictions added to it. And in Texas, the legislature passed laws creating such expensive and unnecessary rules for clinics providing abortion that only 4 will remain in that state- all others are being forced to shut down.

State by state the message is clear: your body is not your own.

I often think of abortion as less of a medical right and more of a human right. Without access to full reproductive choice and justice, one does not have full access to economic equality or bodily autonomy . We can think of this in terms of unequal pay in the work place, discrimination against trans* people within the legal system, and the lack of educational information about contraceptive choices across the country.

In this way I believe that those who attempt to pass laws, over, and over, and over again, each time restricting more and more of our rights, are doing so as an act of violence and control.

They want to control our bodies and they want to control us.

After a binge or a spell of over exercising and under eating I find myself no more in control of my own body than before.

Years ago a school counselor said that girls develop eating disorders because of the overwhelming number of inaccurate depictions of women in magazines. The models are “not natural,” he said. And I think his words follow common wisdom and data on what can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.

What I think is missing though is what is happening with the introduction and passing of these anti-choice bills, that the message of  “you don’t control your body” is being systematically worked into our consciousness.

How damaging is that message? How damaging is it for people to live in a place that allows a majority of cisgender male legislators to control (through restriction of reproductive access) their constituents’ bodies?

I haven’t read any empirical new data on this, and I’m not sure there actually is any at this point. In the coming years, whether these laws are overturned in court or stand pat, the campaigning, the commercials in favor of anti-choice legislation, and all of the negative messages, will likely prove to have had a negative and damaging impact on how we view and love ourselves.