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Why We Must Put Our Bodies on the Line to Fight Against the Right-Wing War on Women's Rights

Is it time for a reproductive rights revolution? We've done it before; the climate may be right again for occupations and actions to save our bodies from state control.

A sticker at NYC's SlutWalk.
Photo Credit: Sarah Seltzer


In case you haven’t noticed, pro-choicers are getting pissed off. 

In the halls of power, we’re not making progress.  As Sarah Jaffe discussed earlier this month, in the wake of the Plan B disaster there’s an escalating sense that all the hard work abortion-rights supporters do making donations, phone calls and signing petitions hasn’t convinced most Democratic lawmakers not to use women as a bargaining chip. 

Despite some modest gains, overall there’s a steady chipping away of abortion rights and access to contraception, no matter who’s in office or what he or she pledges to do.

In the cities and towns of America, the effects of that chipping are showing. Austerity budget cuts, the absolutely brutal legislative war on women and the further stigmatization of abortion mean that clinics are shutting their doors, costs and travel times for procedures are rising and the back-alley abortion (now more commonly done with a pill obtained over the Internet than with a coat hanger) is very much back with us. But of course since the passage of the now "accepted compromise" of Hyde Amendment banning funding for low-income women to have abortions, the truth is it never really left.

Here’s the reality that many feminists know: As the income gap in America has grown, another gap has grown along with it. Women are divided into two classes. With each small law that has been passed requiring parental consent, mandatory ultrasounds and waiting periods, with each guarantee that we will never reconsider allowing Medicaid-funded abortions, the divide between the women who will always be able to have abortions and those who are now living in a pre-Roe era keeps growing--and the number of women in the latter category expands along with it.

It may not be the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent just yet, but the class, race and privilege gap over who has reproductive rights is turning into a chasm, with a smaller and smaller number of women on the side that allows them freedom over their bodies. 

It’s been hard not to think this about new reality as I’ve watched the spunky protesters of Occupy Wall Street, through old-fashioned street-level organizing and people power, dynamically push our national economic discussion out of its tired "deficit" rut. Suddenly the poor, the homeless, the youths of color being beaten and frisked by the police, those being foreclosed upon and losing their jobs, people no one seemed to want to hear about before, are a subject of national discussion. 

While it is a travesty that it took so long to happen--and that it took relatively privileged college kids getting pepper-sprayed to accomplish it--the power of the visual images of the Occupy movement has been undeniable, as has power of activists literally occupying space that was previously verboten. The reality may not have changed much yet, but the conversation has.

As for the issue of reproductive rights, which has been stuck in its own rut with a squeamish population and an even more squeamish power structure approving every abortion restriction on the book, it’s beguiling to wonder what we could do with that power to change the conversation.

If we had the bodies on the ground, might we stake out some ideological territory that would enable those mainstream organizations to push harder? Could we spread a new message that would make our fellow citizens--who as a rule are so indifferent about the reproductive freedoms of women who aren’t themselves or their families--think twice? 

Our opponents have been beating us at this game. We hold rallies and marches while they do cruel but effective things like blocking clinic entrances and stalking and harassing women (and resorting to unspeakable violence, it should never be forgotten). This ranges from reprehensible to criminal to psychotic, but it indicates a level of moral surety and confidence that should be ours, that is ours.