broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the month “October, 2019”

Always a Man

Always a Man

Always a Man

H. Bradford

10.27.19


There’s always a man


On the corner by the clinic


Telling women what’s what with their bodies.


He cries about the babies,

The babies being killed in the baby killing factory

and how the remains get made into the chicken nuggets served in public school lunches.


Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me,

Since I’m about as sentimental as an old shoe

and as nurturing as an acid oasis.

And he doesn’t speak my language.



His language is the language of old men.

The language of burning witches

and marrying off little girls to old men like him.

It is the tongue of ten thousand years of silencing.

Ten thousand years of raping.

Ten thousand years of telling what’s what with women’s bodies.



There’s always a man on the sky,

telling the man on the corner what’s what

In a conversation that other men began long ago

In a language I don’t speak,

but always translates to

power over women.

And I won’t hear of it.


 

 

 

 

 

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

Joker through the lens of Violence against women

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

H. Bradford

10/26/19


October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  This month also saw the release of Joker, a film which had a controversial release due to fears that it would incite violence.  The film is the story of how Arthur Fleck, a solitary, impoverished man with mental illness, becomes the infamous Batman villain.  Joker centers on the experiences of the titular character, whose perceptions and narrative are unreliable.  The movie focuses on the perspective of a violent male and one that the sidelines experiences of the women around him.  The violence against several female characters in the film as well as Arthur’s own experience of domestic violence warrants attention because the film, like the character, is politically neutral on this violence.  Even the concerns that the film would inspire violence were gender neutral, as the type of violence feared was mass shootings rather than the everyday violence that occurs in households and in relationships.  There was no mass panic that a film would inspire this sort of violence, as it is beyond the cognitive horizon of most people to care.  Of course, mass shootings are themselves often carried out by men with a history of domestic violence and misogynistic attitudes.  In this way, the film offers some lessons about the ways in which violence against women continues to be normal, invisible, and misunderstood, as well as its place in capitalist patriarchy.


Domestic violence includes such things as physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse, along with stalking and coercion.  The word generally applies to violence which occurs between intimate partners, but can also include violence in familial relationships, such as against children, parents, siblings, and elderly family members.  While the factors that cause this violence are complicated, a popular feminist theory is Power-Control theory, which originated with the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, Minnesota during the 1980s.  Through discussions with survivors of domestic violence, the Power and Control Wheel was developed based on patterns and themes in their experiences.  This is a widely used tool for identifying the ways that power and control are exerted by abusers.  Power-Control Theory posits that abuse is the outcome of the abuser’s desire to maintain power and control in their relationship(s).  While this began by examining the dynamics between individuals, it has been expanded to examine the ways that male power and control are maintained within patriarchy as a whole (Evolution of Theories of Violence, 2015).  Within patriarchy, men have had the lion’s share of power and control in society.  Control over women is expected and violence enforces their subservience.  Women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence because of their inequality in economic, political, and social status.  From a socialist perspective, violence against women can be understood as a means to enforce patriarchy, which historically hinged on the transmission of property from father to son and the fact that women themselves have been treated as property.  Violence enforces gender roles and a gendered division of labor.  Within capitalism, the lesser status of women and their economic dependence upon men, helps to extract their unpaid labor.  As such, prior to the efforts of the feminist movement, domestic violence was viewed as private problem within individual families rather than a social problem symptomatic of women’s place within patriarchy.  Today, one in three women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime and 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women.


The film is set in Gotham, a fictional city torn apart by class tensions, an infestation of rats, cuts to social programs, and crime.  It is against this backdrop that Arthur Fleck, a white male in his 30s, tries to eke out a living for himself and his mother, who exist on the edge of the working class.  Along the way, Arthur becomes increasingly violent and through violence, becomes self-actualized as the vengeful, confident, smiling, and dancing Joker.  Arthur Fleck is immediately depicted as having little power and control in his life.  Early in the film, he is attacked by youth while working as a clown.  His employment itself lacks control as is based on the tenuous availability of clowning gigs and as his coworkers and employer are unaccepting of him.  He lives with his mother, Penny, who is the dominant figure in his socially isolated life, and dependent upon him for income and care.  To make matters worse, the medications that Arthur uses to try to control the symptoms of his mental illness become unavailable to him after social services are cut in the city.  Rats and the amassing garbage left uncollected due to a sanitation worker strike, create an atmosphere wherein the entire city seems out of control of patriarchal capitalist power.  As a malnourished, eccentric, mentally unstable, outsider living with his mother and barely getting by, Arthur isn’t privy to much of the power and control that other white males enjoy.  After sustaining a beating, Arthur’s coworker lends him a gun, which he is at first reluctant to take, but quickly becomes the key to accessing the power he has been exiled from.


A turning point in the film is when Arthur uses his gun against a group of young, wealthy white men who attack him on the subway.  Prior to the murder, the young investors are shown talking about a woman, then go on to harass a woman who is riding alone on the subway.  When she ignores them, food is thrown at her and she is verbally accosted.  She is called a bitch when she gets up and leaves.  This is a relatable scene, as 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime (Chatterjee, 2018).  The trio of men themselves are a patriarchal trope.  They are Brock Turner, Jacob Walter Anderson, or young Brett Kavanagh.  They are the kind of guys that wear black face at Halloween parties, bullied kids in high school, rape women in college, excel at sports, and probably get called Chads by Incels.  They are smug masters of the universe.  The woman’s escape is made possible by Arthur, who has a condition which causes uncontrolled laughing.  This draws attention away from the woman, but in turn, causes him to be beaten for laughing at them and then defending himself.  He kills two of the men as they beat him, but pursues the third after he flees.


The trio of murdered men work for Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne.  Thomas Wayne represents the pinnacle of patriarchal capitalist power in the film.  He is a wealthy, robust, white, heterosexual, father who is running for mayor because only he can take control of the city.  When Wayne decries the murders of such bright, talented young men and calls the poor of the city “clowns,” his insult launches a movement of clown masked demonstrators who protest the wealth gap in the city.  Arthur becomes emboldened by the murders and the movement it sparked, but remains on his individualistic, anti-social path of violence rather than joining the movement.  This path culminates in the Joker’s live TV murder of Murray Franklin, a popular talk show host and icon of patriarchal power in the form of celebrity, self-assurance, wealth, and bullying.  Both Thomas Wayne and Murray Franklin are fallen father figures to Arthur Fleck, who lose their esteem in his mind as he loses his mind and violently take control of his life.  Along the way, several female characters are casualties in his brutal metamorphosis.


The first casualty is his mother, Penny.  Arthur’s relationship with his mother has unhealthy elements.  Although she is mobile, he baths her, and although she is capable of dancing, he cuts her food for her.  They also share the same bed.  The nature of her health needs are not specified, but the depiction of their relationship is strongly suggested to be codependent.  Penny is portrayed as incapable of meeting her own needs and those of her son’s.  She is verbally and emotionally abusive, as she shoots down Arthur’s idea of becoming a comedian by telling him that he isn’t funny and shows complete indifference to him when he says he went on a date.  His experiences and needs are secondary to her obsession with Thomas Wayne, who she believes will lift them out of poverty.  When Arthur discovers that Thomas Wayne may be his father, she fears he will kill her because she kept this secret.  He eventually kills her after discovering that he is not Thomas Wayne’s son and that she spent time at Arkham Asylum because of her role in the abuse he experienced as a child.  In searching for the truth of his parentage, Arthur learns from an asylum employee that his mother’s boyfriend chained him to radiator, beat him, and starved him when he was a child.  Upon learning this, he smothers her in her hospital bed.


Throughout the film, Arthur suffers from uncontrollable laughter, which is attributed to a brain injury.  This history of abuse is used to explain where this condition originated, as well as give insight to some of his other behaviors.  In 60-75 percent of families where a woman is battered, children are also battered.  Children are 15 times more likely than the national average to be neglected and physically abused in families experiencing domestic violence.  Exposure to domestic violence can impact children in a number of ways, including increased aggression, depression, lowered independence, social withdrawal, reduced social competence (Rakovec-Felser, 2014).  All of these are characteristics that Arthur displays throughout the movie.


When confronted with her son’s abuse, Penny says she didn’t know he was hurt.  She is charged with criminal neglect and sent to Arkham Asylum.  It is not known what happened to her abuser.  Although the film is not clearly focused on this matter, Penny is a victim of domestic violence.  The narrative focuses more on her failure as a mother to protect her son from abuse, but both characters are victims.  The blaming narrative of the film implies that Penny is at fault for failure to protect her son, which begs the question, “why did she stay?”  Why did she stay if her boyfriend was abusing her son? Why did she allow it to happen?   This blaming narrative is very real.  For instance, Ingrid Archie is a real life example of a California woman who fled domestic violence, but had her children taken away and was charged with failure to protect, even though she obtained a restraining order and went to a shelter (Albaladejo, 2019).  Arlena Lindley, was sentenced to 45 years in prison after her boyfriend killed her three year old son.  A witness testified that her boyfriend had threatened to kill her if she intervened and that when she tried to escape with her son, she was dragged back inside the home.  In another case, Robert Braxton Jr. was sentenced to two years for breaking the ribs and femur of a three month old infant.  Tondalo Hall, the infant’s mother, for whom there was no evidence that she had abused the child, was sentenced to thirty years in prison for failure to protect her baby (Banner, 2015).


There are many reasons why women remain in abusive relationships, even when their children are abused.  Fictional Gotham, like the real world, has substandard housing and a lack of social services, making it likely that if she left, she would have been homeless with her son.  The setting of the film is the late 1970s or early 1980s, which was before domestic violence shelters and community responses to domestic violence were well established.  The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim leaves, so leaving might have further endangered them both.  Statistically, women have a 75% higher chance of being killed if they leave than if they stay (Banner, 2015).  Some women fear that their abuser will report them to social services and they will lose their children, which also causes them to stay.  Since failure to protect laws have punished women who have fled domestic violence, this is not an unfounded fear.  Abusive relationships are based on power and control, she may have felt powerless to leave or incapable of living independent of her abuser.  It is possible that she was prevented from leaving.  Whatever the case, Arthur clearly blames her for the abuse, which is not an uncommon response for children to have.  The blame took on its own fatally abusive character when he murdered her.  In the arc of the story, this was done for revenge over the abuse but also as part of his letting go of his life as someone controlled by his mother’s needs.  Rather than remain the care giving, weak, traumatized, and abused son, the murder ushers him deeper into a toxic masculinity wherein he has the power to inflict abuse.


As a final observation about Penny, the character may also have been abused by Thomas Wayne while she was employed by him.  Although there is no direct evidence of abuse, he could have certainly abused his power to silence her and as her employer, would have had immense power over her very livelihood.  Her mental health struggles and dependence upon him for her livelihood renders the relationship far from equal and consensual.  Wayne denies that they had an affair, though Penny tells her son that he made her sign paperwork to cover up the truth.  Arthur discovers his adoption certificate, which seems to support Wayne’s claim that she is delusional.  But in a flashback, Penny again claims that it was drawn up by Wayne.  Both Wayne and Alfred, the butler, insist that she is mentally ill.   While all evidence seems to indicate that this is true, Arthur later discovers a photograph with a message from Wayne on it.  Although he may not have physically abused her, he is able to exert patriarchal power over her without having to resort to violence.  Penny does not need to be beaten or killed to keep quiet, she only needs to be delegitimize.  By calling her crazy, her claims to reality are called into question.  It is an attempt to gaslight her memories and beliefs about the relationship, even though she retains the claim that they were together.  It is clear in the film that she experiences mental illness, but this could be either an outcome of abuse she experienced, a factor that made her more vulnerable to abuse, or both.  Women who experience domestic violence are three times more likely to develop serious mental illness.  Survivors of domestic violence are also three times as likely to have a history of mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (Dyson, 2019).


The second victim of domestic violence is Sophie Dumond, Arthur’s neighbor and imagined love interest.  Even before he murders anyone, Arthur begins stalking Sophie and imagines that they are in a relationship.  In this imagined relationship, he has perfect control over her, as she laughs at his jokes, is never threatened by his eccentricities, supports the murders of the men on the subway, and offers comfort when his mother is hospitalized.  After the murders on the subway, he kisses her, as his sexual confidence was bolstered by violence.  The kiss never happened, along with the many other scenes.  This is revealed when he enters her apartment, begins touching her belongings, and sits on her sofa.  She is terrified that he has entered the apartment.  The outcome of this encounter is never depicted on screen, but her character is never seen or mentioned again.  It is easy to read this omission as she was murdered or sexually assaulted.  Certainly, by stalking her, entering her apartment, handling her belongings, and creating a fictional romance with her, Arthur behaves in a way that shows entitlement to her personal space, privacy, safety, and body.  Glimpses at his journal reveal disembodied and altered images of naked women and sexual scenes.  Again, this points to an unhealthy, sexual, and violent imagining of women.


Another woman in the film who is murdered by Arthur is an unnamed therapist.  At the end of the film, he is seen walking out of her office with blood on his shoes.  The fate of both Black characters is left up to the imagination, but statistically, Black women experience a higher risk of sexual assault and domestic violence.  In the United States, 20% of Black women have been raped and 40% have experienced domestic violence.  Black women are also two and a half times more likely than white women to be murdered by a man and 9 out 10 victims knew their murderer (Green, 2017).  It is also important to point out the racial dynamics of a white male perpetrator murdering at least one Black woman and perhaps murdering or sexually assaulting another.  Arthur attempts to exert control over Black women several times in the film, such as when he tries to verbally defend himself against a Black mother when he talks to her child, when he chides his Black social worker for not listening to him, through his imagined romance with Sophie, and through the murder of his therapist.  Angela Davis argued that violence by white men, especially sexual violence, was used to control Black women during slavery.  Their bodies and sexuality were the property of white men.  Sexual assault was used by the KKK as a weapon of terror against Black women. During the Civil Rights movement, white police officers raped Black activists they had arrested (Davis, 1990).  Black women are killed at higher rates than any other group of women.  Yet, Black women are seldom viewed as victims. Violence against Black women continues to be ignored and Black women blamed because they are viewed as violent, sexual, less innocent, their lives less valuable, or somehow deserving of their victimization.   When they defend themselves against violence, they find themselves punished by the criminal justice system, such as CeCe McDonald, Cyntonia Brown, and Alexis Martin (Finoh and Sankofa, 2019).


The violence inflicted upon women in the film goes without police or community response, though police response is often met with blaming, disbelief, or threats of violence and incarceration from the state itself.   Police themselves are often abusers, as 40% of police families report domestic violence, which is four times more than the general population (Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, n.d.).  Two incidents of violence against women occur off screen, whereas violence against men in the film is used to shock the viewer and drive the narrative.  As a whole, women are ancillary to the film.  They are not prominently depicted among the protestors, the violence against them goes unnoticed, several of their roles are unnamed characters, one role primarily exists in Arthur’s mind, and none of them are shown making it out of the movie alive.  Violence against women is canon, as in other iterations of the Joker, the character has raped Barbara Gordon and has an abusive relationship with Harley Quinn (Dockterman, 2019).  Gotham is a world of men and Joker is story of a beaten down male, beating down powerful men.  But, it is also a story of violence against Black women, domestic violence, narratives that blame mothers for their abuser’s actions, the intersections of mental health and victimization, and the continued normalcy of violent masculinity.


The universe of Batman is always a story about capitalism.  The hero, Bruce Wayne, is a capitalist who fights bad guys in the form of villains with mental illness.  He does this with the help of the militarized Gotham police force.  To side with the hero is to side with the ruling class and its enforcers against the dangerous elements of the lumpenproletariat.  Joker takes place before the advent of the central hero or the militarization of the police. If there is a central message of the film, it is that capitalism creates villains. If there is an argument, it is that austerity and trauma begets violence. Through the narrative of the film, Arthur Fleck’s violence can be attributed to childhood trauma, unmet mental health needs, social instability, isolation, and unchallenged misogyny.  But, the film says little about how this impacts women.  This part of the narrative is truncated. Capitalism may indeed create some villains, but it also creates its own grave diggers.  The power of workers and social movements against capitalism is depicted in the form of a sanitation strike and masked protest movement.  These mobilizations must ultimately fail for Batman to rise as the capitalist vigilante who keeps the order of capitalism and patriarchy.  As for the women in the movie, they too fade into Gotham’s eternal night. The dark city swallows their stories. In this way, art mirrors the life of many women.  If there is a feminist message to be drawn from the film, it is the need to Take Back the Night.  Rising above the erasure of capitalists, vigilantes, police, and misogynist villains means doing things that these female characters were unable to do: uniting together, being heard and seen, demanding social provisioning, fighting oppressive narratives of abuse, holding abusers accountable, and creating safety that doesn’t rely on punishing the mentally ill.


Sources:


Albaladejo, A. (2019, October 18). Child Law Penalizes Moms for Abusive Partners. Retrieved from https://capitalandmain.com/child-law-penalizes-moms-for-abusive-partners-10-16?fbclid=IwAR2MyXXcyUclO4IW_NFztLOtUSx8uK2MdjueEbd8jvhx0hIcYmPKfK4RzFk.

Banner, A. (2015, February 3). ‘Failure to Protect’ Laws Punish Victims of Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/do-failure-to-protect-law_b_6237346.

Chatterjee, R. (2018, February 22). A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment.

Davis, A. Y. (1990). Women, culture & politics. Vintage.

Dockterman, E. (2019, October 8). The History of Joker Movies and Character’s Origin Story. Retrieved from https://time.com/5694280/joker-movies-history-origin-story/.

Dyson, T. (2019, June 7). Women suffering domestic abuse have triple the risk of mental illness, study says. Retrieved from https://www.upi.com/Health_News/2019/06/07/Women-suffering-domestic-abuse-have-triple-the-risk-of-mental-illness-study-says/8981559918365/.

Evolution of Theories of Violence. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.stopvaw.org/evolution_of_theories_of_violence.

Finoh, M., & Sankofa, J. (2019, August 22). The Legal System Has Failed Black Girls, Women, and Non-Binary Survivors of Violence. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/legal-system-has-failed-black-girls-women-and-non.

Green, S. (2018, August 7). Violence Against Black Women – Many Types, Far-reaching Effects. Retrieved from https://iwpr.org/violence-black-women-many-types-far-reaching-effects/.

Police Family Violence Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://womenandpolicing.com/violencefs.asp.

 

Rakovec-Felser Z. (2014). Domestic Violence and Abuse in Intimate Relationship from Public Health Perspective. Health psychology research, 2(3), 1821. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1821

 

The Struggle Against the 40 Days for Life

The Struggle Against the 40 Days for Life

A version of this article appears on Socialist Resurgence: https://socialistresurgence.org/2019/10/23/the-struggle-against-the-40-days-for-life/

The Struggle Against the 40 Days for Life

Heather Bradford

10/21/19


While some people prefer to spend the fall season carving pumpkins, thousands of anti-choice activists across the United States prefer to spend it trying to carve away reproductive rights.  In over 500 cities, from Marietta, Georgia to Bismarck, North Dakota, anti-choice protesters have once again mobilized for the annual fall campaign 40 Days for Life. Beginning September 25th and ending November 3rd, reproductive health clinics are again inundated with demonstrators from dawn until dusk during the 40 day vigil.  In the wake of aggressive abortion restrictions passed last spring and summer and over forty years of attacks on abortion rights, it is critical that pro-choice activists take action against this campaign.        


What is the 40 Days for Life?

For those unfamiliar with these events, the 40 Days for Life is an international campaign which urges participants to use prayer, fasting, education, and vigils to stop abortion.  On the surface, these may sound benign compared to arson, murder, acid attacks, or other less kindly tactics used by the anti-choice movement in the past. Participants must even sign an agreement that they will obey the law and conduct themselves with non-violence.  Nevertheless, these tactics constitute harassment of patients who utilize reproductive health services. If it was truly a matter of religious fasting and prayer, this could be done in the privacy of home or in churches, rather than at hundreds of reproductive health clinics across the country.  While the actions are framed as vigils, these “vigils” are held outside of clinics, sometimes for over twelve hours a day, for the entire forty days. Participants carry signs which say “Pray to End Abortion” and “witness” or engage with staff, patients, and pedestrians. The religious language of vigil obscures the reality that it is a picket and “witnessing” often amounts to harassment.  For instance, at the WE Health Clinic in Duluth, Minnesota a few of these picketers have prayed loudly, played religious music, skirted the property, and entered the physical space of patients and counter protesters. Indeed, it is a movement to end abortion not through the imagined power of the spiritual realm, but in the very real public arena through picketing and marshaling anti-choice activists into action.  While there may be some praying involved, appearing at clinics amounts to preying upon patients.          


The 40 Days for Life initially grew out of anti-choice activism in Texas.  David Bereit, the founder of the group and former pharmaceutical sales representative for Bristol-Myers Squibb, began his activist career organizing against the 1998 expansion of a Planned Parenthood in College Station, Texas.  The Planned Parenthood had operated in College Station for 24 years, but sought to build a stand alone facility to provide abortions. In response to this, Bereit founded the Coalition for Life, which protested the Planned Parenthood on abortion days.  Over the years, he saw decreased engagement in this organizing. Looking for fresh tactics, he envisioned the 40 Days for Life as a shorter, more targeted campaign. Held in the fall of 2004, the first 40 Days for Life recruited 1000 volunteers to picket in the public right away of the College Station Planned Parenthood.  The campaign drew support from local churches and Knights of Columbus, who covered daily shifts from 7 am to 3 pm. The following year, a second 40 Days for Life was launched in Dallas, Texas to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and quickly expanded to Seattle, Houston, and Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Owing to the swift success of the campaign, Bereit went on to work for the American Life League, a national organization opposed to euthanasia, abortion, stem cell research, and all forms of contraceptives.  The first nationally coordinated 40 days for Life began in 2007 in 89 cities and 33 states (Bereit, Carney, and Lambert, 2017). The campaign has since spread to 61 countries, has amassed 1 million participants, is supported to 19,000 churches, and claims to have closed over 104 abortion clinics (Saving lives and ending abortion, 2019)


It is a certainly a bold claim to say they have closed 104 abortion clinics.  But, there has been a precipitous decline in the number of clinics across the country.  For instance, in 1992 Kentucky had eight abortion facilities, but as of 2018 had one. In 1992, Louisiana had 17 abortion facilities and as of 2018 had three.  In Missouri, there were 12 abortion facilities, but in 2018, it was down to one. Many of these closures are due to TRAP laws, or Targeted Regulations of Abortion Facilities.  TRAP laws are among the 1,100 restrictions enacted since Roe v. Wade and target clinics by forcing them to comply with unnecessary regulations such as admitting privileges, minimum room and doorway sizes, and meeting the requirements of ambulatory surgical centers. The Supreme Court struck down TRAP laws in Texas in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (Arons, n.d.).  However, the decision came too late for many clinics.  In 2013, prior to the passage of TRAP Laws under House Bill 2, there were over 40 abortion clinics in Texas. This number was halved by the time the Supreme Court decision was made in 2016 and it is unlikely that many of the clinics will reopen (Ura, Murphy, Daniel, and Carbonell, 2016).  The 40 Days for Life is not specifically related to TRAP laws, but it is part of a continuum of tactics used by the anti-choice movement. With fewer clinics operating across the country, it is easier for anti-choice forces to concentrate their protests on what few remain. The Planned Parenthood that served College Station, where the 40 Days for Life began, itself closed in 2013.  The clinic, along with three other Planned Parenthood clinics, closed their doors the same day Texas governor Rick Perry announced the passage of House Bill 2. However, the clinic cited that loss of funding after the 2011 legislative session was the reason for the closure (Brown, 2013). The closure of the clinic was made more appalling by the fact that the facility subsequently went on to become a crisis pregnancy center called Hope Pregnancy Center and a headquarters for the 40 Days for Life (CCM News, 2015).  Crisis Pregnancy Centers are yet another tactic used by the anti-choice movement. These fake clinics have proliferated across the United States, using the guise of reproductive health care to spread false information and lure abortion seekers away from actual clinics. 


 

The 40 Days for Life Campaign Today


This year in Minnesota, there are seven registered 40 Days for Life campaigns.  The number of campaigns outnumber the actual number abortion clinics in the state, which is five.  According to UnRestrict MN, three of five of these clinics are located within the Minneapolis and St. Paul area (2019).  Wisconsin is hosting seven 40 Days for Life vigils this year, but only has three abortion clinics in the state. Many of these pickets are located at Planned Parenthood clinics, which often do not provide abortions.  For instance, Planned Parenthoods in Mankato, MN and St. Cloud, MN are not abortion providers, but are locations for the 40 Days for Life campaign. The campaign therefore target cancer screening, STI tests, birth control, transgender health services, and other health care.  Make no mistake, they want to end Planned Parenthood. Even communities without reproductive health providers are hosting campaigns. Although Walker, Minnesota has a population less than 1000 and is two hours away from the nearest abortion clinics in either direction, it is home to a 40 Days for Life campaign.  The remote town was even visited by Dr. Haywood Robinson, the director of campaign’s medical affairs and education. Robinson was once an abortion provider, who now describes abortion as genocide and was a founding member of the 40 Days for Life when it first launched in Texas (40 Days For Life’ speaker comes to Walker, 2019).   


The passage of restrictive abortion laws this past year has only increased the numbers of anti-choice protesters at clinics this fall.  The Red River Clinic of Fargo, North Dakota, the only abortion clinic in the state, reported a larger than usual number of protesters during this year’s 40 Days for Life.  Earlier this year, North Dakota passed a law which would require doctors to provide inaccurate information that drug induced abortion can be reversed. A lawsuit against the restriction has been filed by the Red River Clinic and American Medical Association and the law was recently blocked by a federal judge (Hyatt, 2019).  In Alabama, where the Human Life Protection Act was passed in May, protesters have reportedly increased in numbers in the subsequent months. The ban, which sought to make abortion a felony offense for doctors and outlawed abortion even in cases of rape and incest, is being legally challenged by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.  Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery Alabama, one of three clinics in the state, has braced itself for more demonstrators, who have purchased a nearby parking lot for their operations. Their activities include a mobile ultrasound machine called “Life on Wheels,” which offers ultrasounds to abortion seekers in an attempt to sway their decision.  A local pro-choice organization called Power House, provides housing for abortion seekers and escorts them to their appointment by shielding them with an umbrella and navigating the crowds of harassers (Crain, 2019). As a whole, there has been a substantial uptick in anti-choice activities at abortion clinics over the last several years. The number of protesters outside of clinics was 21, 175 in 2015 and by 2018 had risen to 99,409.  Incidents of obstruction at clinics has also increased, from 242 instances in 2015 to 3,038 instances in 2018. One example is Red Rose Rescue, wherein anti-choice activists trespass into health clinics to harass patients under the guise of giving them a red rose. Abortion clinics reported 15,773 instances of internet harassment and hate mail in 2017, which increases to 21, 252 in 2018. Instances of hate mail and phone harassment increased by 1000 since 2015 (National Abortion Federation, 2018).  This increased activity has many causes and no doubt, the election of Donald Trump has emboldened many reactionary elements of society. Further, anti-choice activists may be on the move because their movement has been given new life by their many successes passing abortion restrictions, expanding crisis pregnancy centers, and limiting funding to reproductive health services (such as Planned Parenthood’s loss of Title X funding).     


The Need for a 40 Days for Choice


There are modest, but valiant efforts across the country to counter the 40 Days for Life.  In 2014, the Feminist Justice League in Duluth, Minnesota began counter protesting the 40 Days for Life and have continued this effort each fall, picketing once a week.  The group has also organized “Chalk for Choice” once a week. This event entails creating positive messages and images on the plaza of the Building for Women. The Building for Women is home to the WE Health Clinic, one of the five abortion clinics in Minnesota.  The clinic plays an important role in providing abortion to the northern and central parts of the state as well as Northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Locally, the 40 Days for Choice has grown, as Feminist Action Collective, founded after the election of Donald Trump, has also sponsored a once a week counter protest during the 40 Days for Life.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H. (Hands of the Decision, It’s Healthcare) Militia, an abortion fund also located in Duluth, has also joined the 40 Days for Choice, and last year hosted one night a week of protest and also organizes an abortion fundraiser during the 40 Days. Other Duluth events for the 40 Days for Choice this year included an educational presentation on the constitutional history of reproductive rights, a launch party for the 40 Days for Choice, and an upcoming poetry night that celebrates body autonomy.  University of Minnesota Duluth’s Student Advocates for Choice have also collaborated on community events for the 40 Days for Choice, including participation in the H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia abortion fundraiser and hosting their own protests of the Women’s Care Center, a crisis pregnancy center located across the street from the WE Health Clinic. The statewide UnRestrict Minnesota campaign has sponsored some of these events and sought to involve AFSCME in reproductive rights organizing. The collaboration of multiple groups for the 40 Days for Choice offers an organizing template of what might be possible elsewhere in the country.


Other events are also being organized.  Since 2015, the Guild of Silly Heathens in Missouri has hosted a variety of pro-choice events for a 40 Days for Choice at Planned Parenthood in Columbia, Mo.  Like many Planned Parenthood clinics, the Columbia location does not provide abortions but is still a hot spot for anti-choice protest. The sole abortion provider in Missouri is in St. Louis (Woods, 2018).   Missouri is one of six states with only one abortion clinic, a clinic which was almost closed this past summer in the wake of new restrictions. The Movement for Abortion Defense in Cincinnati, Ohio has also counter protested the 40 Days for Life last spring.  Madison Wisconsin Abortion Defense held a counter protest against the 40 Days for Life last March. Unfortunately, there is no nationally coordinated effort to organize the 40 Days for Life, so these actions are taken by individual groups or small networks of groups in collaboration.


Abortion does not have to be a controversial issue.  It is healthcare that should be available free, readily, safely, on demand, and without stigma.  Beyond healthcare, it is vital to the equality, inclusion and empowerment of women and abortion seekers who are trans and non-binary.   Forced pregnancy is degrading, inhumane, and dangerous. There is a lot of work to be done to fight back against the onslaught of restrictions and barriers that have been passed since Roe v. Wade.  One piece of this work should be a nationally organized campaign against the 40 Days for Life as part of renewed engagement in clinic defense and mass action.  The anti-choice movement is coming out in force and all defenders of reproductive justice rise to the occasion in a time when abortion rights are already barely existent in large swaths of the country.  While this is a movement that has sworn to non-violence tactics, the consequence of illegal abortion is anything but. In a society with widespread sexual assault, domestic violence, economic deprivation, mass incarceration, and marginalization of the oppressed, body autonomy is the leading front in the battleground for liberation.  prochoice


Sources:

Arons, J. (n.d.). The Last Clinics Standing. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://www.aclu.org/issues/reproductive-freedom/abortion/last-clinics-standing.

Bereit, D., Carney, S., & Lambert, C. (2017). 40 Days for life: discover what God has done … imagine what He can do. Nashville, TN: Cappella Books. 

Brown, B. (2013, July 19). Planned Parenthood announces closure of Bryan clinic, two others in Texas. Retrieved from https://www.theeagle.com/news/local/planned-parenthood-announces-closure-of-bryan-clinic-two-others-in/article_f5ded327-fe5a-5694-b5e3-35a759a33ef2.html.

CM News. (2015, November 10). Planned Parenthood Facility Repurposed In Bryan, Texas. Retrieved from https://www.ccmmagazine.com/news/planned-parenthood-facility-repurposed-in-bryan-texas/.

Crain, A. (2019, September 25). 40 Days for Life means more protesters outside Alabama abortion clinic. Retrieved from https://www.al.com/news/2019/09/40-days-for-life-means-more-protesters-outside-alabama-abortion-clinic.html.

How many abortion clinics are there in Minnesota? (2019). Retrieved from https://unrestrictmn.org/faq/abortion-facilities-in-minnesota/.

Hyatt, K. (2019, September 25). Protesters gather outside Fargo abortion clinic on start of 40-day campaign. Retrieved from https://www.westfargopioneer.com/news/4678872-Protesters-gather-outside-Fargo-abortion-clinic-on-start-of-40-day-campaign.

National Abortion Federation. (2018). 2018 Anti-Abortion Violence and Disruption Statistics. (pp. 1–10). Retrieved from https://prochoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2018-Anti-Abortion-Violence-and-Disruption.pdf

Saving lives & ending abortion. (2019). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://www.40daysforlife.com/about-results.aspx. 

Ura, A., Murphy, R., Daniel, A., & Carbonell, L. (2016, June 28). Here Are the Texas Abortion Clinics That Have Closed Since 2013. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2016/06/28/texas-abortion-clinics-have-closed-hb2-passed-2013/.

Woods, E. (2018, January 3). 40 Days for Life: Protesting the Protesters. Retrieved from https://reproaction.org/40-days-for-life-protesting-the-protesters/.

’40 Days For Life’ speaker comes to Walker, (2019, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.bluemountaineagle.com/life/national/days-for-life-speaker-comes-to-walker/article_16d52b8a-84c2-567b-b1d9-4815c43db3f8.html.

 

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