Interview with Sunsara Taylor

"The right to abortion is hanging by a thread"

April 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Going into the April 11-12 Emergency Actions for Abortion Rights, Revolution had the opportunity to interview Sunsara Taylor about the attacks on the right to abortion and the need to fight to turn the situation around. The following is an excerpt from that interview.


Revolution: Sunsara, can you describe briefly the situation right now around the right to abortion and the attacks on that right.

Sunsara Taylor: Right now in this country, it is no exaggeration to say that the right to abortion is hanging by a thread. In many places it’s out of the reach of women’s ability to access safely or affordably or at all. And the momentum and the trajectory of the restrictions, of the stigma, of the laws that have been passed are such that the closure of clinics, the closure of access, the terror against abortion providers is escalating. And the future for all women’s ability to access abortion is really being determined right now, it’s really at stake.  In the last three years there have been 203 restrictions on abortion, and it’s actually such a big number that I think people hear it and they get a little numb. Because it’s almost every week you hear about a new restriction. But think about it—203 laws have been passed, they’ve been introduced to the state congresses and legislatures, they’ve been voted on, and they’ve been given the official weight of law behind them. This has caused dozens of clinic closures in Arizona, in Texas, in Alabama, in Ohio, in Michigan, in Virginia, and really all across the country. And what this means is that women are not able to... they find out that they’re pregnant...they’re young, or they’re whatever age... they find out that they’re pregnant, if they don’t want to have a child they’re faced with a really, really difficult situation. Many of these women, they can’t afford to travel.

If you’re living in the Rio Grande region of Texas where they just closed down all the last abortion clinics, this is a very impoverished region. About half a million people live in las colonias, right along the border. These are places without running water, without electricity—people cannot afford to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest abortion clinic. And many of them have no legal papers, so they can’t travel anyhow because there are checkpoints. So we’re in a situation where you find out that you’re pregnant down there... a lot of these women are already risking their lives to self-induce abortions. We’ve heard stories of women asking their boyfriends to beat them up, of ingesting drugs they don’t know what they’ll do to their bodies or their health. We’ve seen stories of women using sharp objects to try to self-induce abortions. This was already happening when the clinics were there because of the levels of poverty and stigma. But now those clinics are gone. And frankly it’s the future for women across this country if there is not a massive, massive outpouring of resistance and fighting this in many different ways and stopping this attack and reversing this attack. So I think it would be very, very hard to overstate the level of the emergency right now.

Revolution: What you’re describing is also a state of terror that’s being imposed on women. I don’t know if you want to speak some about that— when people are doing those kinds of things to their bodies so that they don’t have to become a mother against their will.

Sunsara Taylor: You know, I recently spoke with Marge Piercy, who is a great novelist and poet, and she shared in a video message, which we’ll be playing in the upcoming days of action for abortion rights, what it was like to live and grow up as a young woman before Roe v. Wade. And she talked about when she was 18 and got pregnant and didn’t have a way to get a safe abortion and self-induced an abortion and almost bled to death. She told me about her best friend who died when she was 24 from an illegal abortion. And she said—it was very, very chilling and very true—those days were a living hell for women. It was a time when falling in love could kill you. And I think, you know, we look out at the world, and in this country people sometimes they look at a country like Afghanistan where a young girl who falls in love with somebody from the wrong tribe if it’s not approved by her parents will be arrested, will be stoned to death if she’s not a virgin. All of this stuff that goes on, the honor killings— and think: “Oh, how horrific, those young girls, they don’t even have the ability... besides all the enslavement and the shrouding of women and the imprisonment of women, all the different forms of violence, they don’t even have the ability to do something as innocent and beautiful as falling in love.” And it’s no different, what’s happening already right here with young women in these rural areas, and in the inner cities too. We’ve heard these stories from Detroit.

And I think people have to put themselves there. Another thing that Marge Piercy described is she said, you know—and I think she was right—she said that the attacks on abortion and reproductive rights and the forces driving them really are fighting for women to be turned back into slaves. And I think that people have to understand that when women don’t have the ability to decide for themselves when and whether they’re going to have a child, they don’t have the ability to make that decision freely, then they really are... their lives are foreclosed, their lives are enslaved. The idea that becoming pregnant—your whole life could be ended for you—either because you lose your life trying to self-abort or because literally you’re forced and saddled to have a child you don’t want, you’re not able to care for, or you just have other plans in life. The idea that women’s lives and women’s contributions to society, women’s personal preferences of what they do with their lives don’t matter because really what matters is that they are vessels for child-bearing. That’s the future that’s being hammered into place. And that’s, I think, the terror that you’re describing, that you’re asking about. I think that’s very real, the idea that every single month, if your period is late you see your life flash before your eyes.  That’s the situation already for far too many women and that’s a situation that, I think, a lot of older women remember and a lot of younger women don’t have any idea about. And that’s gotta change. Because that’s the future if there’s not a major, major fight right now to turn this around.

Revolution: So, what is the state of the fight around this? Can you tell us about that?

Sunsara Taylor: I think most people in this country, including millions and millions of people who actually don’t want to see women forced back into the back alleys or forced to have children against their will—I think most people are profoundly ignorant of how extreme the situation is. I think most people don’t know.  And correspondingly, most people are not acting in the way that is commensurate with this situation.  There was a clinic that was destroyed in Montana on March 3rd—it was broken into and destroyed from top to bottom, every piece of medical equipment, every piece of plumbing, pictures on the walls, pictures of the family of the clinic owner, the patients’ files— everything was utterly destroyed and the clinic was put out of business indefinitely. And Susan Cahill who’s been running the clinic—she’s been firebombed, she had a law passed to stop her from providing abortions, her life has been in danger, and they bought her out of her last clinic to try to shut her down—she had just opened a new one and then they destroyed it. This is the equivalent of a church, a Black church being bombed in the Civil Rights era or even more recently. It’s an act of hate and terror against... as the clinic owner, Susan Cahill rightly put it, this was an attack on her, but this was an attack on all women. And this really has to be seen, and an atmosphere has been created and it’s been given a green light frankly by the fact that it’s not been covered in the media, that politicians haven’t been denouncing this, that other forces have not been mobilizing massive outpourings of support and outrage against this. It’s giving a green light to this kind of terror and an atmosphere where people are set up to be killed and driven out of business and where women’s lives are then foreclosed for lack of access to abortion.  So I just wanted to add that to the situation that we face.

And so this is just one example of how people have been kept ignorant about the situation, how extreme the situation is. And so I think most people have no idea and many, many of those—even if they don’t understand the full extremes of this, they have some sense... even among those who are very, very alarmed, and I think there are tens of thousands... actually I think there are millions of people who are very alarmed, even if they don’t have the full sense of the scope of the attacks. I think there are millions who are deeply alarmed and deeply disturbed and really worried about this. Among them, I think there is a lot of paralysis and a lot of fear and not having a clear sense of how to fight this.  That’s something that we in the movement for revolution and people involved with us in Stop Patriarchy are fighting to actually provide a vehicle for people to act. We’ve actually had a situation where most people are ignorant, among those who are aware and are alarmed; they are largely still acting in a way that is not going to stop this direction. And so that’s something that has begun to change in some beginning ways. I mean I have to say that there have been some very important efforts—last summer, Stop Patriarchy did the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Hundreds and hundreds of people across the country supported this, joined in this, held rallies, where people took it upon themselves... and the message that we’ve been sending is that we have to rely on ourselves.

If we want to stop this we actually have to fight this. We have to go out into the streets, we have to tell the truth, we have to talk about women’s right to abortion, we have tell the truth of the stakes of women’s lives. And we have to not just do it because we’re calibrating based on how we think this would help support this or that bill or this or that restriction getting defeated, but actually going and changing the terms throughout society and calling forth millions of people to fight. Because there are very entrenched forces in this country determined to take away this right, very entrenched forces, and the dynamics of capitalism in this country at this time are actually favoring that trajectory at this time.  It’s going to take a big fight for people to turn that around.  And so it was very important that people stepped out with this Freedom Ride last summer. And there’ve been other ways that people have begun to... there’s been more people seeing the need to tell the stories about abortion and to challenge the stigma that’s sitting on abortion. But still there’s not enough understanding of the need and not enough of people stepping out and acting in mass public resistance that really relies on ourselves and calls forward thousands and millions of other people... and actually goes and fights And this is another thing that’s not been happening: a fight to change people’s minds around abortion and to change their understanding of what this fight is about.  Because most people still think that this is a fight about babies. They still think that abortion... they frankly mostly think that it’s easy to access, it’s maybe too easy to access, and that it’s really a bad thing. They don’t have any idea of this point that I’ve made before, but that I was citing from Marge Piercy: that this is actually about the enslavement of women.  People don’t know that and that’s something we have to fight to change people’s understanding of.


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