Taking On the Anti-Abortion Siege in Albuquerque, New Mexico

September 15, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Audio Sunsara Taylor on Joy of Resistance show on WBAI Pacifica station, NYC, July 17, talking about the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. The audio includes an interview and exchange with Terry O'Neil of NOW.

Albuquerque, New Mexico has become a national focal point in the struggle over abortion rights in this country because it is the city where two out of the four doctors left in the country who perform later abortions practice. As described in the piece below, this city was targeted for threatening and woman-hating protest by the fascist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue during mid-August and it will remain the focus of the anti-abortion movement as they work to close these abortion providers down. Albuquerque was also one of the final stops on the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, a month-long caravan that traveled from both coasts and down the middle of the country to stand up for abortion rights this past summer. The following was written by a member of a Revolution Club and Abortion Rights Freedom Rider.


From Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian (2003): "A world of rape and sexual assault"

The Abortion Rights Freedom Ride was happy to be invited to a rally on August 20 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to denounce the anti-abortion organization "Operation Rescue" as terrorists. The organizers put this rally together in six days, after Operation Rescue descended on their town: circulating "Wanted Poster"-style postcards complete with abortion doctors' faces and home addresses, terrorizing the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum and demanding they install an exhibit on the "abortion holocaust," hanging baby dolls from lampposts, and screaming "murderer!" outside the clinic, the homes of providers, and other local pro-choice medical facilities. This nightmare week was part of a push led by Operation Rescue to pass a bill to ban abortion in Albuquerque after a woman reaches 20 weeks of pregnancy. Albuquerque is the only city in the state with abortion clinics, and is home to two of the four doctors in the whole nation who openly provide late-term abortions to women who need them.

Here is some important history about Operation Rescue, and their murderous intentions when it comes to the targeting of late-term abortion providers. In 2006, Troy Newman, leader of Operation Rescue, said about their focus on passing restrictions in Kansas, "We also want to give the women driving up from Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma about 2½ hours to think about what they're doing, and maybe change their minds." Then, in 2009, the murder of Dr. George Tiller in his church in Wichita, Kansas sent a clear and chilling message to abortion providers that provide women with the opportunity to end their pregnancy at any point (a.k.a. "late term" abortion). Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion gunman who murdered Dr. Tiller, had gotten Tiller's home address as well as the address of his church from Cheryl Sullenger, the Senior Policy Advisor for Operation Rescue. Sullenger served two years in prison for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic!

From the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride Rally in Fargo, North Dakota

The anti-abortion siege on Albuquerque, and the targeting of late-term abortion providers, is part of a long-term and nationwide strategy for Operation Rescue to create "States of Refuge," meaning states with absolutely no access to abortion: where no woman can decide when and whether she becomes a mother, without great cost, traveling long distances, being subjected to threats and harassment and stigma, or resorting to dangerous illegal methods. This is nothing short of a misogynist, fascist, and patriarchal program. This returns women to where they were for thousands of years, until only very recently: in a subordinate position, enslaved to their reproductive organs, and locked into subhuman status, as incubators who don't even dare to dream or aspire to be the leaders, fighters, or thinkers they could be if they lived in a society that upheld and reinforced their full humanity.

Many of the organizers of the protest against Operation Rescue were thrilled to hear we were coming and asked us to bring all our "Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!" signs. But when we arrived, there were other ideas from different pro-choice forces about what could and should be said out loud.

Kick-off rally in San Francisco, July 23


Kick-off rally in New York City, July 23

At the protest, we were immediately met by two women wearing purple shirts that said, "Pro-child, Pro-family, Pro-choice." They told us sternly that we needed to take down the beautiful and bold banner which read "Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!" because it was not "on message." They explained to us, with a rigid condescension, that they had conducted polls, and done research, and concluded that the people of Albuquerque were "not ready" to hear "Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!" These women insisted instead that the message "Respect Albuquerque Women" was most likely to get people to vote against the 20-week ban on abortion. They invited us to hold signs that said, "Pro-family, Pro-child, Pro-choice" explaining that many voters did not believe in abortion, so they were focusing on Operation Rescue's tactics instead of their goals, calling them "outsider extremists" (instead of, for example, Christian fascists or woman-haters), and leaving the word "abortion" out of the picture!

We asked them bluntly: "If you don't agree with 'Abortion On Demand and Without Apology', then which women do you feel should be denied abortions and forced to have children against their will and which women do you think should be made to feel ashamed for their abortions?" They insisted they personally agreed with the slogan, but were sure that nobody else in Albuquerque would.

This is wrong on many levels, as we explained on the spot.

First, it is wrong to refuse to say out loud, stand behind, and fight for a just demand.

Second, people are always wrong when they start talking about what "everybody but them" is able to understand. Many people have not even heard this argument, and need to. And yes, many will think—as these women did—that this is "too extreme," but it is not too extreme. There really are two choices, forced motherhood or women's liberation which requires abortion on demand, and de-stigmatized. What is actually needed to win this fight is to change backward and defensive thinking, not accommodate to it. If you want abortion to be de-stigmatized, you have to stop stigmatizing it yourself! It is not "murder" as the anti-abortion movement says, it is not "a tragic choice" as the Clintons insisted, it is not a dirty word. So let's say it out loud!

Third, this is not just something that is needed in Albuquerque, but across the nation.

Compare and contrast with "Pro-child, Pro-family, Pro-choice." That slogan actually accepts the terms of the anti-abortion movement, accepting that somehow this fight is about babies and that we have to prove that we love babies and we love families. In reality, this has never been about babies, it has always been about control over women and this slogan leaves the woman out of it. Abortion rights are essential because without them women cannot act as full human beings with control over their bodies and their destinies. This is why this right is under attack and this is why we must defend it. But the slogan "Pro-child, Pro-family, Pro-choice" actively reinforces the same horrible notion that women and women's rights should be valued only in order to benefit children and families—once again keeping women's worth and value locked within, and subjugated to, their role as breeders and domestics. Having children and being part of a family—if that family is forged on the basis of mutual respect and equality, which in this society requires continuous struggle and active desire on all parts—can be wonderful parts of being fully human, which women and men should both be able to experience and have responsibility for fostering. However, being stripped of the rest of your humanity and reduced to these roles (or having your rights defended only to the degree that they strengthen these roles) is enslaving and dehumanizing to women. It's not that everyone who raises this "Pro-child, Pro-family, Pro-choice" slogan feels this way, but this is the logic of the slogan and as such it does not set the needed terms for people to understand what this fight is all about, and it doesn't challenge or change decades of wrong thinking in such a way that people can take conscious initiative in fighting for these rights.

But, after we explained these arguments, these two women responded in a way that has happened far too often, and is very revealing: rather than either making an argument as to why they disagreed with putting this message out and challenging people's thinking, or coming around to uphold this—these two women changed the subject to something that is completely irrelevant, and actually totally contrary to what is needed. In other words, they fell back on petty localism: "WE are the ones that live here," they said. "WE are the ones that will be affected by this 20-week ban, WE know what the locals want, and YOU are outsiders too," implying that we are like Operation Rescue! We told them sharply, "Operation Rescue is about the enslavement of women, and we are about the liberation of women, what are you about?" Further, we posed the stark reality that the reason Albuquerque was being targeted by Operation Rescue in the first place is because the anti-abortion movement is working on a national strategy. When the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride visited Operation Rescue's national office in Wichita, they had a map of the whole country, and had pinpointed clinics and providers who they were focusing their attacks on. They targeted this city in order to shut down 50 percent of the late term abortion providers that women all over the country have to rely on. Even on that level—this is definitely NOT of only local concern!

Furthermore, what kind of logic says that women in Albuquerque are incapable of or are not "ready" for liberation? Arguing to shelter your town from the truth, to hide the full humanity of women from your town, and to cover over the fact that abortion is moral, responsible, and the ability to get one is essential, in fear of shaking things up too much? There are modes of thinking and being that desperately need to be shaken up, and actually the oppression of women needs to be shattered to its core. Don't tell women anywhere that's "not for you"!

The truth is, there is a real need for everyone who cares about the liberation of women to throw off these watered down slogans and these apologetic approaches. The anti-abortion movement is a national movement with a national strategy. What happens on the national stage, who is on the political and moral offensive and who is on the defensive nationally as a movement, affects what happens in your town, too. Not only do these organizational leaders have an obligation to confront this reality—really grapple with what it will take to end the attacks on abortion, and to stop leading people into a dead end with their losing strategies—but actually, the responsibility is on every single one of us, whether this or that leader casts off these wrong approaches or not. We all must resist the pulls to "lay low" and wait for these horrendous attacks to "blow over," or be satisfied with "small victories."

A Declaration:  For Women’s Liberation And The Emancipation Of All Humanity.

We all must confront reality: abortion rights are at a crossroads, right now. Down one path is forced motherhood and female enslavement, and down the other, is abortion on demand and without apology. It is possible to wage a fierce struggle and win this whole battle, but if we do nothing, the future is clear. The wrong side is winning. The anti-abortion movement is uncompromising, unapologetic, and they claim the moral high ground. All of us who are fighting for reproductive rights are the ones who stand for women's lives, women's futures, and women's liberation. We are the ones that have right on our side—and we must reclaim the moral high ground!

The response of these "pro-choice organizers," who we were later told were with Planned Parenthood locally, was that they plan to set a legal precedent nationally, that if the pro-choice community in Albuquerque stays "on message" (because directly talking about abortion was "distracting") it will set a precedent and make it impossible for Operation Rescue to do this anywhere else. We called bullshit! We responded, you know they did this in Wichita, right? They moved their missionaries and their national office out there, held their "Summers of Mercy," terrorized the town, circulated home addresses of providers, isolated and threatened and demonized the clinic, until Dr. Tiller was murdered!

Beating back this one restriction is important, but doing it on such a morally flimsy basis is going to do absolutely nothing on the national level! If you cede the moral high ground, you basically concede to the very untrue notion that this is a debate about babies, that childbearing is the most important and essential aspect of a woman's existence; by refusing to even use the word "abortion," you bury the whole issue deeper into the stigma that has been laid on top of it! We need to rip that stigma off like a dirty old Band-Aid that is holding in a festering infection.

The anti-abortion movement has spent a lot of time, energy, and money setting the terms in this way: Operation Rescue and others wrongly claim that women who decide not to be mothers are irresponsible. As if a woman's mandated duty and highest aspiration in life should be to bear and raise children. Ultimately, this reduces women to objects, denying the possibility of women being multi-dimensional, complex, and capable—the way men are perceived and represented. In this framework, "male" is human (if you are the right nationality and religion, that is), and "woman" is incubator and housekeeper: slave. Rejecting this whole anti-abortion and ultimately anti-woman framework is necessary if we are going to get to another kind of society, where women are actually liberated, or even to defeat the attacks on abortion rights!

Perhaps in the short term it is true that Planned Parenthood and the rest of the pro-choicers in Albuquerque can defeat this initiative and get people "to the polls" without mentioning abortion... and then where do you end up? In Wichita they recently re-opened Dr. Tiller's clinic, but the decades of Operation Rescue's propaganda campaign has taken the option of abortion off the table in the hearts and minds of many. When the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride was in Wichita, we learned about pregnant teens throwing themselves down flights of stairs, or looking to get into a fistfight in the hopes that this would make them miscarry—that is how big the stigma and guilt associated with abortion already is! If people have become convinced that abortion is murder (which it just isn't), then many who do not want to identify as murderers won't even consider it. If those are the terms on which women are "choosing," then "pro-choice" is a very confusing thing to be, and impossible to fight for unapologetically till victory. While opening the new abortion clinic there is tremendously important, there is still no voice that is loudly telling the whole truth about abortion: fetuses are not babies, women are not incubators, and abortion is not murder. What does the absence of that basic truth do for millions of women?

Take as another example of a political move that fails to set different, honest, and liberating terms, or a moral precedent, nation-wide: the situation in Virginia last year with the ultrasound laws. First, a bill was going to be passed that required women considering abortion to go through a mandatory, invasive vaginal ultrasound (nothing short of state-mandated rape), saying that women have the "right to know" what the fetus looks like. Any kind of forced ultrasound under the title "right to know"—this is like saying you have the "right to move" out of your residence, but actually that means you are evicted. After a national uproar, the bill was modified so that the ultra-sound would still happen but not inside the woman's vagina. This new bill passed. This is still horrible—women should not be required to go through an ultrasound if they don't want to! But changing the method by which they are now required to look at the fetus (while whoever is administering the ultrasound is free to narrate and embellish however they please), was considered by many pro-choice people as a great victory precedent! How low are our standards? This is indeed a national precedent, but it is one of shaving off the edge of the latest assault as the bulk of that assault gets hammered into place, and we are all further demobilized as the next even more powerful assault comes... then pro-choice organizations step back and call it progress or victory!

Returning to the rally in Albuquerque: In the end, and still without a solid argument against it, these Planned Parenthood reps took down our banner that said "Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!," hiding this message from the people at the rally and the cameras that projected this rally out to people who weren't there. This action and those like it actually disarm people, in all the ways spoken to already, and contribute to the shame and confusion and defensiveness and passivity of the very broad sections of people that are needed urgently, right now, to have clarity, certitude, and be stirred and organized into the political fight!

The reason why this interaction in Albuquerque is so important to expose and dissect, is that this exact same dynamic, and the pull of the wrong approach, exists in every single area in the nation that is the most under siege. We encountered it all along the route of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, and it is the daily reality for people across the nation who are waking up to the larger situation we are in.

Abortion rights are in an utter state of emergency.

  1. In 2012 alone, 43 abortion restrictions were enacted in 19 states.
  2. In 2013, almost 300 new "TRAP" (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws have flooded the legislatures.
  3. Unnecessary ultrasounds, medically unnecessary waiting periods, dangerous parental consent and notification requirements, insurance bans, and state-required biased counseling mandates continue to be advocated for and passed state by state.
  4. A growing movement for "Personhood" (giving a zygote—the cell that is formed from a fertilized egg—full constitutional rights) would dehumanize women on the constitutional level and ban abortion federally.
  5. 97 percent of rural counties have no abortion provider, and vast stretches of this country are saturated in anti-abortion propaganda, where the question of the woman's life has been completely erased, and three-story high pictures of babies loom on billboards.
  6. Right now, five states have only one abortion clinic in the entire state. That is not including some states with more than one provider but only one that offers a payment plan, or states like New Mexico with more than one provider, that are all located in the same city.

This is the reality, and most people have no idea this is even going on. Among those who support the right to abortion, there is a huge amount of defensiveness about it, and this has contributed enormously to people being passive, and often not even recognizing the significance of the many attacks that are coming right now. Among those who are outraged and who have clarity, there is a tremendous amount of isolation and suffocation—people told the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride over and over again that they are really with us but "could never say so" to their friends, family, or co-workers. And then, among those who do have more of the national picture, there is the repeated and widespread desire to duck from the full scope of this, to lay low, to find linguistic or other "common ground" with the opposition, to think only in the short term, to accept the terms that have been set by the likes of Operation Rescue as well as very powerful forces within the halls of power, and to actively suppress—as happened here in Albuquerque—the message and voices of those who will get out there and fight unapologetically for abortion on demand and rally forth a nation-wide movement to rely on ourselves through mass, independent, political resistance.

This whole situation is one we must take the responsibility to change. Every person reading this article—whether you have been an active part of carrying out the wrong approach, whether you have felt stifled and impatient with the kinds of wrong approaches described but haven't seen a way to forge another path that can win, or whether you've been tuned out of this struggle completely until now...

Right now, if you consider yourself a person who stands for what is right, for the rights and lives of women in a world where they are systemically used and abused, it is time to take a stand. It is time to declare boldly to the world that women must have Abortion On Demand and Without Apology and that Forced Motherhood Is Female Enslavement. And it is time to fight for others to come to see this as well, and to act on it through massive resistance in many different ways. Take a stand at your job, at your school, at the clinics, and in the streets. Argue it out with anyone and everyone. Refuse to cede the moral high ground to a movement that promotes slavery in its oldest form, and refuse to follow along even as some remain paralyzed and willing to look the other way as we return to the times when 8,000 women died every year of illegal abortions, and many more didn't ever dream of themselves as anything other than a house slave. Everyone has a responsibility to deal with reality and act accordingly. Otherwise, are we who we say we are? You are not alone, and together we can win. Reach out to StopPatriarchy.org with your stories, ideas, and questions. If we who know or have a hunch that laying low is leading nowhere—and that right now, as you read this, women are being slammed backwards into a codified position of subjugation—do nothing, we will soon awake to a world that is defined by the likes of Operation Rescue and the Old Testament. That is unacceptable, and what's more, it is totally unnecessary! The future is unwritten. Which one we get is up to us.

Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!


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