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Protests and guerilla tactics —the fight for abortion rights

With Roe v Wade being torn down by the supreme court, Sarah Bates investigates how pro-choice activists are stepping up the fight 
Issue 2812

An abortion rights protest in Pittsburgh (pic: Mark Dixon on Flickr )

Now the supreme court in the US has ripped up abortion rights, the fight is on to help desperate women end their pregnancies. The pro-choice organisation, The Guttmacher Institute, found that some 2,548 abortions were provided every day in 2020—the last year ­figures were available.

So what happens to those women now? As well as protests against the decision itself, a host of guerilla struggles are taking place. Many women will try to get their hands on what’s known as “medication abortion”.

Abortion pills, most commonly mifepristone and misoprostol, already account for 54 percent of abortions in the US. Most states in the US allow abortion pills to be sent out in the mail, but 19 don’t, as they require a health worker to be there. 

Many US based telehealth services won’t mail the pills to women in states with abortion bans. But some services beyond the US’s legal jurisdiction can post medication to women throughout the states.

For instance, since website Aid Access was set up in 2018, it’s shipped abortion pills to tens of thousands of people from its pharmacy in India. Activists in Mexico have long helped women from the US with abortions—and now they are ­expecting to redouble their efforts.

They’ve been transporting pills over the border in toys, jars of vitamins or sewn into the hems of clothes. For poor women, one of the ­biggest barriers to abortion access is who will pay for the procedure and associated costs such as travel, accommodation and childcare expenses.

Dozens of abortion funds operate like charities to help women pay off these bills. In the “trigger ban” states, some are still operating to help women travel further afield to get the care they need. Others shut up shop abruptly, ­fearing legal repercussions if they were to continue to operate.

Although expected for a long time, the Supreme Court’s ruling on 24 June was instant. So women who were due to receive abortions were turned away from clinic doors. It plunged health workers into a desperate scramble to find options to get women the care they need. 

A group called Elevated Access has chartered volunteer-piloted light ­aircraft to transport women to abortion appointments, sometimes from small rural airstrips. The Just The Pill organisation has bought two vans—one for medication abortions and one for surgical procedures.

“We are undaunted,” said Dr Julie Amaon, director of Just The Pill. “By moving beyond a traditional brick and mortar clinic, our mobile clinics can quickly adapt to the courts, state legislatures, and the markets, going where the need is greatest.

Some are trying legal routes to keep their doors open and keep women out of the backstreets. Mississippi’s only abortion clinic is trying to stop a state law that will make most abortions illegal on 7 July. “We’re not giving up,” said Diane Derzis, clinic owner. “Women have always had abortions, no matter what it took.” 

Democrats encourage passivity as abortion becomes illegal

The Supreme Court made the decisive blow, but blame still lies with the Democrats.  When Roe v Wade was struck down, president Joe Biden offered lukewarm words of objection. Yet he has refused to act in defence of abortion rights.

There are measures the White House could put in place to ease abortion access for women dramatically.  Biden could pass laws to open government-funded clinics along state borders.

He could ensure that telemedicine and abortion pills would be readily available to women, no matter what state they’re in. And he could give clinics permission to open on federal lands. But he hasn’t done any of these. Other reactions from top Democrats were equally pathetic.  

Democrat speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, responded to the news by reading out a poem. And Michigan congressman, Andy Levin, posted pictures of himself doing yoga. So nobody should be fooled by the Democrats’ lies that the critical issue is the 8 November midterm elections.

The Democrats have shown they will stand by as the right tears away abortion rights. It should be no surprise that a party led by a man who can barely even utter the word “abortion” acts in this way. 

The Democrats are fixated on not upsetting sections of voters. That matters more to them than defending women’s rights.

More massive protest needed

Although the anti-choice bigots are on the offensive, there is a mood to fight back for abortion rights. Big and angry mobilisations gathered just hours after the Roe announcement.

Some 20,000 people marched in New York, with many thousands taking to the streets in Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, California, and countless other cities. There were angry protests in states with some of the most restrictive laws.

For instance, thousands of people gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the state government wants a near ban on a woman’s right to choose. The visceral rage of working class people comes as a counterweight to the inaction and timidity of the NGOs and organised labour movement.

Planned Parenthood said, “The #1 thing you can do right now is help protect abortion access at state level.” That can lead people down the dead end of focusing on elections.

This is also partly why protests aren’t bigger currently. The reliance on elections and the courts often leads people to believe their rights will be protected if they vote for the right people.  The battle over abortion rights has to encompass more than just who controls the state legislature.

It’s important to fight for legal gains.  But the best way to do that is to build a large enough movement, with workers at the heart of it, that makes it impossible for the state machine to deny those demands.

Hundreds more protests are now planned, many under the “We won’t go back” slogan. They are crucial to the resistance.

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