Glow for Roe: The Importance of Being Seen
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!