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Abortion and COVID-19

 

a version of this article can be found here: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/06/politicians-use-covid-crisis-to-restrict-womens-abortion-rights/

Abortion and Covid-19

Abortion and COVID-19

H. Bradford

written 04/04/20

Posted 04/06/20

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, so does the suffering of the oppressed. The oppression of women has worsened during the crisis as they are confined to their homes with their abusers. Within the home, women shoulder the burden of unpaid labor cooking, cleaning, and caring for children who are no longer in school or at day care. As waged workers, women are on the front line of the crisis, as according to CNN, 70% of healthcare and social service workers are women. As women face increased violence, as well as hazardous and exhausting work, reproductive rights are also under attack.      

 

Around the country, the COVID-19 has been used to legitimate restrictions on abortion access. The first states to ban abortion during the crisis were Texas and Ohio. Ohio Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson announced that abortions were non-essential medical procedures which should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott ordered a suspension of non-essential medical procedures, which included abortions. Both abortion bans, as well as those which followed, were opportunistically framed as measures to preserve scarce medical resources. Abortion providers which failed to comply with the Texas order were threatened with a $1000 fine or 180 days of jail time. According to the New York Times the ban included both medical and surgical abortions. As a result, Whole Women’s Health in Texas had to cancel 150 appointments on Monday, March 23rd at their three locations. Some patients had already completed ultrasounds before the order went into effect, but could not have an abortion because of Texas’ mandatory 24 hour waiting period. 


Texas patients were referred to Oklahoma for abortions, but on Friday, March 27th, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced that abortions were included in his executive order banning all elective surgeries and minor medical procedures. Also on March 27th, the office of Iowa Governor, Kim Reynolds, announced that abortion was among the states’ suspended elective medical procedures. Elsewhere in the U.S. and also on March 27th, Kentucky attorney General Daniel Cameron called upon governor Andy Beshear to restrict abortion. Cameron pressed the state’s Cabinet for Health and Human Services to certify that abortion providers within Kentucky were in violation of the emergency ban on elective medical procedures. EMW Women’s Surgical Center is the only abortion provider in the state. The clinic continued providing abortions last week, as the governor’s order to halt non-emergency medical procedures did not specifically include abortions. Kentucky’s general assembly is currently considering legislation to expand the powers of the attorney general over abortion laws. The legislature is still open and currently pursuing eight abortion restrictions. Alabama also banned abortions on March 27th under the guise of pandemic response. As in Texas, patients had to be notified that their appointments were canceled. Finally, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves threatened action against the single abortion provider in the state if they did not follow the health department directive to halt abortions as elective procedures. While the pandemic grinds much of society to a halt, there is no end to the assault on abortion rights.


In response to the restrictions, on Monday, March 30th, federal judges blocked Texas, Alabama, and Ohio enforcing abortion bans. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU filed emergency lawsuits against the orders, arguing that they were unconstitutional. Lawsuits have also been filed in Iowa and Oklahoma. Yet, just a day after U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yankel had granted a temporary restraining order on the Texas abortion ban, conservative judges in the US Court of Appeals ruled that the ban on abortion would be reinstated. Once again, patients were informed that they would be unable to obtain an abortion and referred to other states. As other states move to ban abortions as medically unnecessary, these measures will continue to be challenged in courts. Even if the bans are successfully forestalled by court orders, they create barriers for patients who face uncertainty, confusion, and canceled appointments. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement that abortion should be considered an essential service. The statement asserted that a person’s life, health, and well being can be profoundly impacted by inability to access abortion and because abortion is time sensitive, suspension of services means that it can become riskier or unavailable due to legal restrictions. In addition to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, on Monday March 31, Xavier Beccara, California’s attorney general, sent a letter signed by 21 attorney generals to the US Department of Health calling for expanded telemedicine during the COVID-19 crisis. The letter demanded that the abortion medication mifepristone could be dispensed at pharmacies rather than requiring that clinics give the medication directly to patients.


Even without the efforts of anti-choice politicians to exploit the pandemic to limit abortion, the COVID-19 pandemic presents obstacles to reproductive rights. Economists at the Federal Reserve estimate that the pandemic could result in a 32% unemployment rate. With millions of Americans already out of work, many people seeking abortions will be unable to afford the the procedure. Because employer based health insurances may not cover the cost of abortions and increased unemployment will result both in loss of health insurance and the financial means to afford an abortion, many people may be unable to afford the procedure. As of 2018, eleven states banned private insurance from covering abortions and twenty two states ban insurance coverage of abortions for public employees. Due to the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used to cover the cost of abortions in circumstances other than rape, incest, or life endangerment. Thus, only sixteen states provide coverage for abortion through state Medicaid programs. The cost of an abortion already poses an enormous barrier. Now, more than ever, the Hyde Amendment must be repealed.      


Abortion funds are one way that activists and advocates for choice have sought to overcome the financial bariers to obtaining an abortion. However, these funds are already feeling the financial strain of the economic crisis. Alabama’s Yellowhammer fund reported increased need for funds due to job loss. Yellowhammer has begun sending gift cards to patients to reduce barriers to food access and transportation. Fund Texas Choice, another abortion fund, reported that because of canceled appointments, some patients must travel further to find an abortion provider. With fewer flights, bus tickets, and available hotel rooms, patients who must travel to get an abortion face increased financial costs of travel and a lack of ability to travel. Northwest Abortion Access Fund relied upon volunteers to house and transport patients, but now must rely on hotels and ride share companies. These funds are adjusting to the conditions, but the safety measures will certainly increase the financial strain on the organizations. Because the funds rely on donors, who themselves may be financially pinched, donations will likely diminish as the economy crashes. Finally, many abortion funds rely on fundraising through social events, such as the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) annual Bowl-a-thon. The NNAF Bowl-a-Thon, or Fund-a-Thon, is a national fundraising effort which occurs each spring between February and April. Around seventy funds have participated in the Fund-a-Thon, but this year many have had to suspend their fundraising efforts due to social distancing measures and economic uncertainty.    


Aside from funding, travel restrictions make it harder for patients to access abortion. Many parts of the country are abortion deserts, or areas which are not served by abortion clinics. For instance, patients living in remote or rural areas of Montana, Texas, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota must travel over 300 miles to the nearest abortion clinic. Half of women living in Alaska are over 750 miles from the nearest clinic. Banning abortion as part of the response to COVID-19 will only increase these travel distances during a time when it is unsafe to travel due to potential viral exposure and the resources to travel are more limited. Already, patients in Texas must look to clinics in New Mexico and Colorado to get an abortion. In addition to the barrier of travel, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 27 states require patients to wait a specific period of time between counseling and their abortion procedure. This generally ranges from 24 to 72 hours. Waiting periods, which are medically unnecessary and often require in person counseling, increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure and prolongs travel time. 


Travel restrictions also impact abortion providers because many rely on traveling doctors. Doctors may provide services to multiple clinics. For instance, Whole Women’s Health, which provides abortions in Austin, McAllen, and Fort Worth relies upon traveling physicians. The McAllen clinic is the only abortion provider for hundreds of miles. Flattening the curve of COVID-19 requires social distancing and restrictions travel, which is why it is essential that laws restricting telemedicine, mandating in person counseling, and requiring waiting periods be suspended. This protects patients, clinic staff, and physicians while ensuring abortion access. Texas Governor Abbott loosened telemedicine restrictions on other health care, but this did not include abortion. Texas is one of the states that requires a physical visit to a clinic. Ohio’s senate passed a telemedicine ban on March 4th, which is awaiting a House vote. Abortion is an essential service and should be available by telemedicine. An accompanying demand is expanded access to medical abortions. In an article in the New York Times, Dr. Daniel Grossman, a gynecology professor from the University of California argued that the need for personal protective equipment could be reduced by providing medical abortions up to 11 weeks, ending the requirement that doctors must meet with patients physically, and if physicians could send abortion medications via the mail. Currently, 18 states require that doctors be physically present when abortion medication is taken. Expanding who can legally prescribe mifepristone would also ensure abortion access during the crisis.  


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased reports of domestic violence as women are made to stay home due to state mandates, social distancing measures, unemployment, and the need to care for children who are no longer in school. Women are at increased risk of sexual and domestic violence during the crisis. Although the exact number of abortions due to domestic violence is unknown, an article in Re.Wire suggested a range between 6-22%. Denying reproductive autonomy is one way that abusers control victims. Domestic violence often escalates during a pregnancy and according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20% of women have experienced violence during a pregnancy. It is barbaric to restrict abortion during a time when women are at greater risk of violence, isolation, and control. It is inhumane to restrict abortion any time, as abortion is an essential service that is necessary for the health, well being, autonomy, and equality of women. While patient safety, the safety of health workers, preserving medical supplies, and preventing the spread of COVID-19 are vital concerns, there are many ways to maintain and even expand abortion access during the crisis. Telemedicine, removing barriers to funding, expanding the means of dispensing mifepristone, overturning medically unnecessary restrictions such as waiting periods and in clinic visits, and expanding the social production of medical supplies are a few ways to improve access during the pandemic. Public safety should not be pitted against reproductive rights. There are ways to secure both. Arguments to the contrary exploit the crisis to deepen the oppression of women.   

COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

Covid 19 and Domestic Violence

a version of this article can be found here: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/03/26/covid-19-and-domestic-violence/

COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

H. Bradford

Posted 04/04/20

Written: 03/26/20


Twenty one states have enacted stay at home orders which will take effect by Friday, March 27 th. By the end of the week, half of the population of  the United States will be ordered to stay at home. Even without state directives, everyone should stay at home to slow the spread of Covid 19. Unfortunately, this critical public health measure will exacerbate the problem of domestic violence as victims are confined at home with their abusers and face fewer resources to ensure their safety. Domestic violence is itself an epidemic, as according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, ten million people are abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. each year. One in four women and one in nine men have experienced either severe intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or stalking. In the face of this crisis, the needs of survivors will go unmet as Covid-19 continues to lay bare capitalism’s deadly failure to provide for human needs.


In response to the pandemic, The National Domestic Violence Hotline has created a fact sheet on how Covid-19 impacts survivors of domestic violence. The fact sheet warns that abusers may use the crisis to exert power and control in their relations. This could be done a number of ways, such as withholding items like sanitizer and disinfectants. Abusers may cancel insurance, hide insurance cards, or prevent a survivor from accessing medical attention. They may share misinformation to control a victim through fear and deception. Beyond the behaviors of abusers, services to survivors may be increasingly limited and survivors may fear seeking shelter because it is a communal living space. Travel restrictions make it harder for survivors to escape. In addition to the information outlined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abusers may feign illness to garner sympathy and lure victims back to them. The economic prospects of increased unemployment and limited housing due to the crisis will make it harder for victims to leave. The cancelation of schools and closure of daycare centers creates a barrier for victims trying to leave with their children, who are at home with both them and their abuser.         


The impact of Covid-19 on domestic violence has already been felt in China. According to the New York Times, China has reported more domestic violence during the COVID-19 outbreak. Chinese anti-violence advocate Wan Fei noted that reports of domestic violence doubled during the lockdown. Under Blue Sky, an anti-domestic violence non-profit in Lijiang Province disclosed that reports of domestic violence had tripled during the month of February. In January, a woman from Guangdong province in China was told by authorities that she could not leave her village after she had sustained life threatening injuries in a domestic violence incident.She disobeyed their orders, walking for hours on foot with her children until she reached safety with family members. In another incident, a 42 year old Chinese woman committed suicide by jumping out of the 11th floor of her apartment building while quaratined with her abusive husband in Shanxi province. To counter domestic violence, some women have posted signs in their community urging others not to be bystanders. The hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic on the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo has also been an online initiative to raise awareness about the issue.


Across the United States, there are already widespread accounts of increased instances of domestic violence. Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center (DVCAC) in Cleveland, OH reported to News 5 Cleveland that calls to their hotline were recently up 30%. Melissa Graves, the CEO of DVCAC, reported that these calls often happened during the day while abusers are at work, but with expanded layoffs and stay at home orders, victims will not have the privacy necessary to seek help. Emmy Ritter, the director of Raphael House in Portland, OR reported to KGW8 News that there was increased call volume and more calls from survivors seeking hygiene products and food. These basic items are necessary to survivors who are struggling to rebuild their lives after fleeing violence. Salt Lake City police reported increased domestic violence calls over the last two weeks. Likewise, Transitions Family Violence Services in Hampton, VA reported an increased number of calls in the last two weeks. Tasha Menacker of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual Violence expressed to the Phoenex New Times that her agency had seen increased call volume, but that other agencies in Arizona had experienced a decrease in calls. She attributed this disparity to the increased difficulty that some survivors might have finding the privacy to make calls. To reach out to domestic violence services, survivors must be able to text, email, or call for help. Shelter in place orders, social distancing practices, quarantines, and increased unemployment curtail the privacy necessary to escape abusive situations and cut victims off from social networks that may be able to assist them or intervene on their behalf. Thus, victims are likely to be at home with their abuser for longer periods of time and are at the same time more isolated from the help they need.


The problem of domestic violence is deepened by the atomization of communities into individual households during stay at home orders. Anti-carceral feminists have sought to develop community responses to domestic violence which do not involve police and prisons, such as creating support networks, staying with victims in their home, providing housing and mutual aid, and self-defense strategies. Orders to shelter in place make it harder to connect with victims as neighbors, friends, family members, and activists. This isolation leaves survivors with fewer options outside of police responses, which can be violent and abusive towards racial minorities, chronically homeless, people with disabilities, and the poor. Because of the risk of Covid-19 in prisons, police response to domestic violence punish perpetrators with the prospect of death and illness. Anti-carceral feminists are challenged with the task of developing ways to connect with and offer alternatives to policing in the face of social distancing. Posters and social media, like the efforts made in China, are one solution, but more is needed.    


While the private sphere becomes increasingly atomized, domestic violence shelters are generally considered essential services. This means that in the event of stay at home orders or a lockdown, shelters remain open. It is vital that shelters remain open, as they are one of the few resources that survivors and victims have during this crisis. However, like other essential services, this puts shelter staff at risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19. Shelters are often communal spaces where diseases are easily spread due to cramped conditions, the challenges of maintaining sanitary conditions, and lowered immunity from stress. Shelters must remain open, but shelter staff should receive hazard pay for their work. Shelter staff should also have access to the protective equipment necessary for cleaning the shelter and assisting sick residents. Gloves, thermometers, masks, and cleaning supplies are in short supply due to the needs of medical institutions. Other necessary supplies include tylenol, diapers, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, food, and other items, some of which have become scarce as they are hoarded by fearful shoppers. A social response to fighting Covid-19 should include making certain that these necessary supplies are distributed to shelters. Shelters themselves should be expanded by making use of empty hotels, dormitories, or empty houses, so that conditions are not as crowded, sick residents can be properly quarantined, and the increased demand for shelter space can be met.  


Whereas shelters are essential services, many other services provided by domestic violence agencies are not considered essential. Visitation centers, legal assistance, support groups, and educational programs may not be deemed essential nor safe. Workers in these areas face job loss and clients who need these services are cut off. By expanding the capacity of shelters through the opening of additional facilities, some of these workers may be able to continue their work. The need for safe staffing levels at existing shelters as staff become ill also creates a need for more workers. This potentially increases the number of workers who are exposed to Covid-19, but required to ensure necessary services. At the same time, funding is required to make certain that shelters, hotlines, and other services can continue to operate. Domestic violence resources rely on a variety of funding sources, including grants and private donations. Services which rely on fundraisers and donations may lose funding due to cancelled events. In Dane County, WI, the county government gave Domestic Abuse Intervention Services $58,000 so they could continue to operate during the Covid-19 crisis after they had to cancel a fundraiser. That amount was only enough for the Dane County shelter to operate for two more months. Fundraisers themselves may become less able to support domestic violence services as donors face financial strain in a spiraling economy. Rather than bailing out corporations, public services which have been shuttled away from government provisions to the non-profit and private sector should be fully funded.


Survivors need safe places such as shelters to meet their immediate needs, but they also need the means to rebuild their lives. The mass unemployment arising from the outbreak will make jobs scarce. Landlords may be reluctant to take on new tenants if they know that rent and evictions are suspended. Survivors need the means to rebuild their lives, which means expanding social programs and public housing. Financial abuse is one of the many ways that abusers exert power and control in their relationship. Survivors may not have access to money, their own bank account, or control over financial decisions. The overall economic inequality of women makes it harder for them to leave in the first place, as their abusive relationship may provide them with economic security.  Paid maternity leave, free and safe abortion on demand, guaranteed housing, universal health care, free and extensive day care, free education from pre-school to Ph.d, are necessary to empower women. Extending these rights to women will go a long way to mitigate the power and control abusers have over them, but also the power and control that capitalist society has over them.


Covid-19 presents an unprecedented challenge to activists and advocates against domestic violence. In the interest of public health, billions of people around the world are relegated to their individual households. For those who are homeless or incarcerated, this creates enormous barriers as they lack a safe place to physically distance themselves. For victims of domestic violence who find themselves locked down with an abuser, it can be a death sentence. Response to the pandemic has relied upon the social arrangement of private households, but this is not a safe place for many nor a place that is accessible to all. It is a sphere wherein women have been tasked with the unpaid reproductive labor of capitalism. Domestic violence has historically been viewed as a private matter to be resolved within families or between couples, rather than a social problem. As such, individual households have been and continue to be the hidden arena for all manner of horrors against women. The inequality of women and the violence against them enforces their economic role in the household to sustain capitalism. Considering that the Covid-19 pandemic may last for months, come in waves, and is unlikely to be the last pandemic wrought and exacerbated by capitalism, the question of how to keep people safe during a pandemic without worsening the oppression of women requires deep consideration. For now, keeping shelters open and safe, providing for staff and survivors alike, developing alternatives to policing, building communities in the face of social distancing, and putting demands on the state for increased social provisioning are some of the things that can be done to tackle the epidemic of domestic violence in the context of a pandemic.                     

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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