Despair Is Premature And Rage Is Insufficient

When the country that considers itself the definition of freedom takes away the most basic freedom of more than half its people, the only response is to resist until the end.

Despair Is Premature And Rage Is Insufficient
Demonstrators march on Washington on Nov. 20, 1970 to protest the prosecution of Shirley Wheeler under Fla. anti-abortion laws. Leif Skoogfors, via Getty.

Edited by Spencer Ackerman

THE BASTARDS DID IT, like they always said they would.

I was naïve. I thought they would keep Roe around forever as a culture war issue. Sure, they would shoot and bomb abortion doctors. Sure, they would kill the clinics in the red states through a thousand bureaucratic cuts. Sure, they would try and lock up women like Purvi Patel and Brittney Poolaw for the crime of having miscarried while poor and brown. But even as the abortion bans passed in Texas and friends started traveling over the border to stock up on misoprostol, I did not think that the Christian right would touch Roe itself, if only for the purpose of having it remain their favored magnet for the wrath of their constituents, their ideal distraction from all the ways they had failed to deliver anyone a better life.

My mother disagreed. She is old enough to remember the teenage girls sent off to some “aunt out west” to deliver babies that were immediately scooped up by wealthier couples. Of course the fundies would take away Roe, she always said, if they had the opportunity. She was right.

I called my mother two nights ago, after some heroic clerk leaked Samuel Alito’s draft decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. Words on paper would automatically trigger abortion bans in twenty six states. Alito's attack on decades of jurisprudence hinging on a Court-recognized right of privacy opens the door to overturning gay marriage and the recriminalization of queer life. “I can’t believe I’m 74 and we haven’t settled this shit,” my mother said.

Like a quarter of American women, I have had an abortion. I was twenty years old, a broke art student, and though the experience was miserable, I have no regrets. I could not have been a mother. I could not have continued the pregnancy one more day. If there had not been that Planned Parenthood clinic for me to go to, I would have drunk pennyroyal tea or shoved a knitting needle into my cervix or done any of the other things women did in previous generations, to reclaim control of their bodies and their fates. The law would not have mattered. No law has ever stopped women from aborting their pregnancies. Laws can only make sure women die in the process.

That’s the point though, isn’t it, of the Christian Right’s obsession with banning not just abortion, but most means of reproductive control? Women should not control our bodies, because if we control our bodies, we control our fates. Abortions—if we can get them at all—should be a punishment. Criminal. Excruciating. Potentially deadly. If a woman ends up in the hospital, she should proceed directly to a jail cell, as did Lizelle Herrera, when a nurse she turned to for help snitched her out. Sluts like us had it coming.

For the Christian Right, women have specific functions. We should produce the next generation of workers, to clean the floors and pick the strawberries at salaries comparable to those of undocumented immigrants, so as to make their closed border financially sustainable. White women should replenish a white majority with white children and thus assuage generations of ginned-up racist demographic panic. Women should obey their husbands and their fathers. Women should carry the pregnancy to term, even if their fetuses die inside them and poison their blood. That happened to Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died of sepsis in Ireland. Although the fetus was nearly dead, the doctor detected a heartbeat, and so would not abort it. He instead told Halappanavar and her husband—both Hindu—that “this is a Catholic country.” After several days of agony, the fetus was dead, and so was Savita. Women bear children. Women bear everything. That’s what we are for.

There are exceptions, of course. Rich women have always been able to get abortions, no matter how conservative their professed politics might be. And many clinic workers have reported seeing the women who protest their workplace turn up later as patients, then return to the picket line, apparently immune to pinpricks of hypocrisy.

Here we are, with a Democratic Congress, a Democratic president, but a Supreme Court chock full of Christian fundamentalists, thanks in large part to the Democratic penchants for civility, rule-worship and spineless bipartisanship, and Roe vs. Wade is probably about to fall. Yesterday, many of my friends gathered in Foley Square in downtown New York for an impromptu rally that was preemptively fenced in by the police. They found their incandescent rage drowned out by the amplified assurances of local politicians who promised that here we were safe. Here in a blue state, not an uncivilized red one—as if a state, composed of millions of people, could ever be reduced to the colors on an electoral map that lazy journalists use as shorthand. How robust is this safety, I wonder.

My mother asked me about programs like the Haven Coalition. For years, women from states that ban second trimester abortion have come to New York to get the procedure. Haven volunteers give them spare bedrooms and accompany them to their appointments. How will politicians protect Haven, and its volunteers, when they are under sustained legal attack for helping women break abortion bans in other states? Will they protect them at all?

Rallies are necessary because their absence shows weakness. But they are utterly insufficient in a town like New York, where abortion is, for now at least, a settled issue. More urgently, we need organization. In states where abortion will remain legal after the fall of Roe, everyone should support programs like Haven, abortion funds, clinic escorts, clinic defense and more because more women than ever will be coming to our states to get abortions. But even if abortion funds had enough cash to pay their expenses, most women in states where abortion is banned won’t be able to travel. For some time, networks of activists have been preparing to provide abortions in a post-Roe world. Yes, this is illegal. Yes, this is morally blemishless. Abortion pills are available online and in advance—depending on one’s state. Pill abortions are safe, but also long, bloody and painful for most women. Anyone going through one should have a caring person with them.

As I look at the likely death of Roe vs. Wade, I can’t help but blame our own side a bit. How much ground did we cede to the fundamentalists when we sought to highlight their extremism by saying “they would ban abortion even in the case of rape and incest!”—as if abortion was only justified if the woman didn’t come. How many times did we blame abortions on the lack of sex ed—as if women just get pregnant because they don’t know how babies are made? We should have called abortion what it was: a medical procedure accessed by all sorts of women, for all sorts of reasons, whose existence is essential in guaranteeing us lives as equal, independent, free human beings. No apologies. No excuses. No equivocations. The women who had these abortions should talk about them. The men who caused these abortions should talk about them too.

In a civilized country, abortion would be apolitical. There would be no more need to speak about it than to speak about any other surgery. In the America we have, silence allowed abortion doctors to be demonized and murdered; and the women who do talk about their abortions to be slandered as childlike victims, heartless career bitches, or amoral sluts. Every type of woman has abortions, even the good Christian ones who are cheering Alito’s memo, but not nearly enough women admit it.

I remember when I was twenty and in that Planned Parenthood. I had just come out from the anesthesia. Because clinics are terrorist targets, my boyfriend could not accompany me, and so I sat alone, chewing on a cookie they provided to get my blood sugar up. I started talking to the young woman next to me. She was a mother of two children she worked hard to provide for. She could not afford a third. She had an abortion because she wanted to do right by her kids. We were still woozy, in pain and barely upright, but the chit-chat let us feel like people again.

Though we did not speak about politics, these moments in the clinic had an indelible effect on my own political life. It was the first time I felt in my guts that there were people in power who wanted to kill us. Powerful people would force us to give birth, and if we tried to escape that would have had us die in pain and shame, and believe themselves to be righteous, even holy. Against them, we had only each other and the flawed, stubborn institution where we then sat. Generations of people had risked their lives and freedom to win the right to abortion, and their efforts had saved me. I owed them a debt.

If the draft decision becomes law, perhaps half the women of America will have lost this basic right. Despair is premature. Rage is insufficient. The only way we save ourselves is by organizing, in defiance of the bastards’ laws, to give each other the means to control our bodies. We belong to ourselves. We will never go back.