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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.

 

Glow for Roe: The Importance of Being Seen

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Glow for Roe: The Importance of Being Seen

H. Bradford

1/28/17

    Visibility is important to any social movement.  For instance, Pride Festivals and parades make sexual diversity visible to the general public.  Offices, newspapers, fliers, and tables at events are ways that socialist groups make themselves visible.  The Women’s March on Washington, along with the marches elsewhere in the country, was a way to make the feminist movement visible across America.  It drew attention to demands and anger in the face of this administration, but also in response to the decades of failures and defeats in realizing gender equality in this country.  There are times when movements must strategically choose invisibility, such as when the violent repression of the state is so great that visibility risks death, injury, or imprisonment.  At this moment in time, this is not generally the case.  This is the time to be visible.  That was my reasoning for trying to organize “Glow for Roe.”  I think it is important for people who support reproductive rights to be seen.  The point of the event was to turn out for a “glowing” protest in support of reproductive rights.  It was one of several Roe v. Wade events last weekend, each of which raised the profile of reproductive rights activism in the Twin Ports.  The following is why it is important to stand up and be seen.


We are the Majority:

 

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, seven out of ten Americans want to keep abortion legal.  In a 2015 survey from the Brookings Institute, 59% of women reported that they wanted abortion to be legal in all or most cases.  It is fair to say that most Americans want abortion to remain legal.  So, this is excellent!  By participating in events like Glow for Roe, the 40 days of Choice, Planned Parenthood support pickets, or the Hotdish Militia’s party/counter protest of the Jericho March, pro-choice activists can show other pro-choice individuals that they are not alone.  Those who are engaged in social movements are always a minority of those who actually support them.  As such, activists play a role in affirming the beliefs and identities of those who may not be visibly involved in the movement.   They also play a role in visibly countering the beliefs of those who disagree.

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Abortion is stigmatized:

 

While most people support keeping abortion legal, many people also support restrictions on legal abortions.  These abortions include such things as waiting periods, parental consent, funding barriers, restrictions on how late in a pregnancy abortion can occur, mandatory ultrasounds, hospital admission rights, etc.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, 338 abortion restrictions were introduced between 2010-2016, accounting for 30% of the restrictions passed since 1973.  So, while public opinion generally supports legal abortion, in reality, legal abortion has been eroded by an onslaught of restrictions.  Restrictions make it more difficult and expensive to obtain an abortion.  At the core of these restrictions is the idea that abortion is something other than health care.  While one in three women have had abortions, it is secret and stigmatized.  In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton popularized the idea that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.  By adding “rare” to the discourse, it stigmatized abortion and framed it as a moral rather than medical issue.  There have been 1,142 restrictions on abortion passed since 1973.  According to NARAL-Pro Choice America, states have passed 835 anti-choice measures since 1995.  This means that Over 70% of the restrictions have been passed since the mid 1990s!  Stigmatizing abortion or calling for it to become rare justifies restricting it, thus further limiting access.  Being visible, on the street, protesting for choice is a way to be seen as an unapologetic supporter of abortion and the women who make that choice.  It is a way to destigmatize abortion, bringing abortion as a word, idea, and medical experience into the public sphere.

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The Other Side is Visible

Another important reason to protest in support of reproductive rights is because the pro-life movement is large, well-funded, and enjoys a lot of institutional support from churches, social movement organizations, and even the government (through politicians, tax breaks, and state funded crisis pregnancy centers).  They are visible.  Not only are they visible, they are violent.   In 1994, arson destroyed a Planned Parenthood in Brainerd, MN burned along with several neighboring businesses.  In 2002, five shots were fired into the rebuilt building, breaking a window and damaging a wall and ceiling.  The building finally closed in 2011 due to losing Title X funding.  The location did not provide abortion services.  The Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids, MN was also fired at in 2002.  Since 1993, at least 11 people have died in attacks on abortion clinics.  There are elements of the pro-life movement who seem to believe that they are at war.  Of course, even their peaceful demonstrating constitutes a war against women, but for some, there is a call to violence.  This is terrifying.  This is also a reason why visibly supporting choice is important.  Clinic staff and patrons need defenders who will visibly stand up for their right to life!  At some level, not mobilizing into a visible mass movement is irresponsible when abortion clinic workers life on the line each day they go to work.  Our visibility is the least we can do.

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Our Rights are Threatened:

It is important to be seen because our rights are threatened.  They have been threatened since 1973.  The barrage of restrictions.  The Hyde Amendment.  The Global Gag rule-again.  Here we are, forty four years after Roe v. Wade and it feels like reproductive rights are a fluke.  A set of rights that slipped past the goalie.  No one actually believes that women are human beings.  No one actually believes that women can have autonomy over their body.  No one actually believes that women should not be punished for having sex.  There are people in this society that want to see women go to jail for having an abortion.  Despite having the largest prison population in the world, this warped logic concludes the United States would be better if we imprisoned ⅓ of all women.  The only people who believe that the equality of women hinges upon their ability to control their bodies are feminists.  Like abortion, feminism has been stigmatized.  It is a bad word.  No one wants to admit to having an abortion OR being a feminist. Well, it is important to be visible as a feminist since no one else is going to advocate for women.  No one else believes abortion access is a fundamental and necessary conditions of our liberation.  We are the vanguard of all women.  Our rights are threatened.  They have barely been realized.  No one else will stand up for our rights, but ourselves.

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We Can be Visible:

 

There are places and times in history where women have not been able to be visible.  I imagine communist Romania, wherein women were forced to have pregnancy tests each month at their workplaces.  They were monitored by the state to make sure they did not have abortions.  At the same time, contraceptives were banned by the state.  Thus, women were given no choice.  Well, some chose illegal abortion, resulting in the death of over 9,000 women.  I consider death a choiceless choice.  Until last year, abortion was illegal in all cases in Chile.  This meant that an 11 year old rape victim was denied the right to abortion in a high profile case several years again.  Since many Latin American countries have very restrictive abortion laws, women at risk of Zika virus were told to abstain from sex for two years.  In Saudi Arabia, women can have an abortion only if pregnancy threatens their life, and then with parental or spousal consent.  We are fortunate that we still have some rights and that we are able to assemble and speak our minds without serious threat from the police (in most cases).  The Women’s March was criticized for its coziness with the police, but we can certainly use this to our advantage.  We should speak out while we can and because we can!

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