Voices of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride

Updated July 22, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


These statements are from Abortion Rights Freedom Riders at Ground Zero: Texas and elsewhere.


Off the Sidelines... Because I Do Not Like to Be Controlled

From a Texas woman

Watching the filibuster of the Texas legislature, and the subsequent outpouring of dissent last summer, I felt a number of emotions. Shock that this was actually happening. Excited that Texas women were standing up for our rights. And jealousy that I wasn't there with them! I was hopeful that this was a tide that was turning. That society was shifting in a way that was favorable towards women's rights, specifically, the right to a safe and accessible abortion.

I was wrong.

More and more TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws are being passed around the country. Texas is the latest example of how the legislatures can use the courts to ban abortions. But Texas must also be an example of how to create visible resistance to any restrictions to women's liberation.

Part of the jealousy that I talked about earlier was due to the fact that I was sitting on the sidelines, living life, not getting involved with political matters. I think a lot of people do that and it's understandable. As women, we have jobs and families that keep us occupied. But in my opinion, banning abortion is one of the tools that reactionary forces in our society are using to control women, keeping us subjugated. And I do not like to be controlled.

That is why I am supporting the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride as it makes its way through Texas. If the courts, reactionary politicians, and misinformation are allowed to reduce the number of abortion clinics in Texas to 6, in a state with 26 million people, and I did nothing, then I would be beyond jealous. I'd be pissed.


"Not the Time to be Ladylike and Follow Rules Doled Out by the Establishment"

From Mary Lou Singleton, licensed Midwife and Family Nurse Practitioner, as well as Founder of Personhood for Women

Like most women who believe they deserve full human rights and dignity, I am furious. Actually, I alternate between feelings of total despair and full-bodied rage as I watch the rights of women in the United States, like those of women all over the world, erode to the point where we are considered nothing more than public breeding stock. I live in a country that has failed for close to 100 years to give women full constitutional rights in the form of the Equal Rights Amendment, but now recognizes constitutional and human rights for capitalist corporations. Worse yet, constitutional rights and protections are being legally conferred to fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. The lack of a ratified ERA combined with codification of fetal personhood together relegate women in the US to the legal status of state-regulated incubators.

I am a life-long women’s rights activist and have been a practicing midwife for over 20 years. Midwives carry the privelege and burden of knowing and witnessing the most private details of women’s lives. From this knowledge, I am fully aware that the majority of the women I have served have made the decision to abort a pregnancy at some point in their reproductive lives. From conversations with other midwives, I believe the often quoted statistic that one in three women will have an abortion is an understatement. Very rarely do I encounter a woman who regrets her decision to have an abortion. More frequently I hear the tearful confession of a woman who is having post-partum depression or difficulty bonding or alienation from older children telling me that she never wanted to have children in the first place but felt she had no choice. Sadly, as I watch the erosion of abortion rights in our country, I expect to hear more and more of these confessions.

I support the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride because no other organization in the country is speaking the full truth about abortion rights. Forced motherhood absolutely is female enslavement. Without the right to abortion on demand, women are not free. There is no greater human rights abuse than forcing a woman to endure the threats to her emotional and physical health that are inherent in pregnancy and childbirth against her will. There is no more misogynist statement than the odious, “Adoption, not abortion.” Forcing women to gestate and give birth is barbaric and criminal.

I support the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride because under the guidance of the Democratic Party and mainstream pro-choice organizations, the right to abortion has basically disappeared in large swaths of our country. I no longer believe that following the instructions of the non-profit industrial complex and the Democratic Party will do anything to stop the erosion of women’s rights, let alone lead to an expansion of abortion rights in the US.

This is not the time to be nice and ladylike and follow the rules doled out by the same establishment that has failed to protect us from having our rights ripped away. This is an emergency.

The majority of American women already cannot access safe, legal, affordable abortion. Women are already being forced to give birth to children that they do not want. Hundreds of women are already in jail for crimes against fetuses. Pregnancy has become a nine-month suspension of our civil liberties. And as far as I can see, things are getting worse and worse and worse.

Stop Patriarchy is right to call for a mass mobilization to defend women’s rights. Stop Partriarchy is absolutely right that we need to change the terms of the conversation and expose the attacks on abortion and the expansion of fetal personhood legislation for what they are: a so-far successful strategy to destroy women’s bodily autonomy and personhood. We need to confront the forces of religious fascism and expose them with all of the power we can muster.

If, like me, you are angry, I ask you to unleash your fury and fight like hell for the rights of women. I ask you to sign the Abortion on Demand and Without Apology statement. I ask you to stop making apologetic statements about abortion and come out loud and proud as a supporter of abortion on demand for all women. I ask you to contemplate the strategies being proposed by mainstream, professional pro-choice groups and decide for yourself whether or not donating more money to Democratic candidates is going to expand women’s rights when the Democratic Party has done nothing so far to stem the tide of anti-abortion legislation. Ask yourself how it will be of use to women to donate to abortion access funds when there are no legal abortion clinics to access. In this critical moment where abortion rights have already been lost for the majority of women and are hanging by a thread for the rest of us, I ask you to donate to the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride and help change the terms of this war on women.

Mary Lou Singleton
Licensed Midwife and Family Nurse Practitioner
Founder of Personhood for Women, personhoodforwomen.org

Mark Ruffalo: If u trust women...

Mark Ruffalo's tweet


This is a Freedom Ride Moment & I am Ready to Ride for Female Freedom

from a college student

I am 18 years old. Last summer I graduated from high school and my commencement speaker droned a lofty speech about “my generation.” I just finished my first year of college, and I cannot tell you how many times I heard about “hope” for my generation. With all this talk of millennials being incredibly progressive, the terrible truth is that a backwards women-hating ideology and program is winning at the expense of every inch of progress made towards women’s liberation in the past. I am coming of age in a day where all of this progress is being stolen. We need young people to fight to not only maintain, but to actually ensure and expand the rights that women have already demanded. We need all generations working together to ensure the safety and freedom to dream in the futures of every little girl, no matter where she lives.

Last summer, I joined the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride with activists from all over this nation. We rode through fifteen states, including the five that only had one abortion clinic left. We learned from each other and from people on the ground in the places where abortion is the most difficult to access. We thanked heroic providers and spoke in defense of abortion on demand and without apology for every women in every state. It was educational, liberating, and inspiring. It was just the beginning.

We are living through the violent backlash from a system that hates how abortion and birth control let women determine their own destinies.

Doctors have been murdered. Clinics have been bombed. Funding has been cut. Access has been restricted. Stigma has been accepted.

This is a freedom ride moment.

In 2011 there were 46 abortion clinics in Texas. 21 clinics have already closed. Unless HB2 is overturned in the district court before September 1, only 6 clinics will remain open. Closing clinics is a hate crime against female bodies. Women’s lives are at stake, but so is the extent of what we are allowed to dream. When you are taught the fatal lesson that your body is not your own, you quickly forget how to dream in the first place.

This is a freedom ride moment.

Women’s hopes, dreams, and futures are at stake. Even our lives are at stake as our heartbeats are legislatively subordinated to blastocysts, embryos, and fetuses. Zip codes and state lines should not determine the worth of anybody’s future because a woman’s dreams must have more rights to her body than any state does to foreclose them. I am ready to throw some shorts and a toothbrush in a duffel bag and travel to Texas to lead a fight that can and must win.

This is a freedom ride moment.

You need to come down to Texas as early and for as long as you can. Donate and be part of raising the funds needed to make this happen. Mobilize your friends in Texas or wherever you are: host freedom riders in your home, host viewing parties of the webcasts. Send your story to be read at a People's Hearing. Tweet and share so that our impact does not stop in Texas. Our impact cannot stop in Texas. We are going to Texas because the women of Texas cannot be abandoned by the national movement, but it would be naive to assume that the anti's are stopping there. In fact, take a second to zoom out: from the midwest to the deep south and the rural corners of any community, abortion access is being stolen from women. This is a critical juncture in the struggle for female autonomy and basic humanity. If you cannot join me in Texas, throw in to make sure that I can buy my ticket. Throw in to make sure that every person willing to put things on the line for women’s lives can get to Texas and that this ride can be commensurate with what's needed to defeat these laws in Texas and the entire war on women.

Why I Want to Join the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride

From a 17-year-old high school student

If I got the opportunity to Travel with Abortion Rights Freedom Ride I would be extremely grateful.

If women’s abortion rights were taken, women would feel as if they don’t have a voice. As women we have honorable rights to do what we want with our bodies so not being able to turn to abortion when needed, would make one feel as if she has no control over her life. Abortions help women of all ages make an important decision about their life, while also making the woman understand that she is more than just a holder for the fetus. Being a part of something this special will let women know all over the world that they are not alone when it comes to fighting for our rights for abortions.

From second hand experience I know that abortion saves a lot of teens/young adults from feeling as if they cannot succeed in life. No one in life is perfect; nothing is guaranteed one hundred percent effective, and everyone learns from mistakes. I have never been pregnant myself but I have close friends that have. Some of them never had a good role model in their lives to tell them the importance of not getting pregnant at a young age, while others just simply made mistakes. One of my friends stressed herself out so much about her pregnancy, she decided to drop out of school and run away from home because she wanted to save herself from embarrassment. I was extremely sad to hear that my friend who was such an honorable student, felt as if she had no choice in life because of a simple mistake. Since my friend was extremely scared to tell her mother and abusive father I encouraged her to talk to a teacher who I felt would provide wise information about an abortion. Weeks later after the abortion, I was ecstatic to see my close friend back at school focused more than ever.

Abortion clinics offer young teens a choice to live again. There are so many teens unable to take care of a child mentally as well as financially. Why should one be forced into motherhood if they know that they are not able to provide a stable safe environment for their child? In Texas, I would be happy to fight for what is right, there is nothing worse than feeling alone and held down.


NOW IS THE TIME: A Statement of Support for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride: Ground Zero Texas

from Carol Downer, feminist, lawyer, and co-founder of the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Los Angeles which started providing abortions in 1971

I totally support the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride that will take place through Texas this August and possibly through September, and I hope that everyone who values women’s reproductive freedom will support this beginning of a new chapter of the Battle for Women’s Reproductive Rights.

I was there in the mid-1960’s, when abortion was still illegal in much of the United States and women were forced to travel to states and cities where abortion, legal or illegal, was available, or to subject themselves to procedures done by unknown abortionists. I was one of them. I had taken no action to stand up for my reproductive rights, and I didn’t know anyone else who had.

We’re in that same position today. There is a splash of newspaper coverage when one more defeat of the so-called “pro-choice” movement takes place in the courts or the legislatures, or when clinics in Texas close, but mostly life goes on as though nothing significant is happening. Perhaps we send in a few dollars to Planned Parenthood, which has positioned itself as the champion of women’s rights, although that championing is strictly limited to lady-like tactics, not grass-roots organizing.

But, something significant is happening.

Suddenly, ridiculous regulations that have been proposed in State legislatures for the last 40 years and quickly quashed, have now gained traction. The Supreme Court has even refused to stay the Texas law that requires a clinic to have a doctor on staff at a hospital within 30 miles. In general, hospitals have not wanted to touch abortion with a 10-foot pole, ever. That’s why abortions are provided in clinics. There are extremely few complications from abortion that require hospitalization, and when they do, hospitals have staffs who are equipped to deal with them and are already required by law to do so. Forty years of providing legal abortion shows that this regulation is bogus, but it is being treated as legitimate by legislators and jurists.

If the U.S. Supreme Court finds that these regulations are constitutional, it is just a matter of months or a couple of years, for State legislators around the country to emulate Texas and Mississippi. Clinics will scramble to somehow get a doctor on staff if they can. Perhaps those abortion doctors who presently have staff privileges will lose them. Clinics will close. We will find ourselves in a patchwork situation of abortion access similar to pre-Roe v. Wade.

You may think, “Well, that’s when women will wake up. We’ll take to the streets.” Or, you may think, “Well, thousands of abortion clinic workers know how to perform abortions safely. Clandestine clinics will come into existence.” Or, you may think, “Well, there will be an underground supply of abortion pills.” If you’re really dreaming, you’ll think, “Heck, women did it themselves before Roe v. Wade. They’ll do it again, and the law will collapse of its own weight.”

None of these solutions is going to occur, at least without the dedication and organization of those activists who will make them occur.

Why? Because, history shows that Richard Wright, who wrote “Native Son” was right when he said, “Oppression oppresses.” As the new status quo is established, people will be even less optimistic, less willing to take a chance.

Most people in the late 60’s and early 70’s took no active interest in abortion, beyond inviting a NOW speaker to come talk about abortion. Public opinion polls showed, as they consistently show today, that a small percentage of people are very concerned about the issue, either pro or con. The majority of people are in the middle. Most of these people are uncomfortable with abortion. Many believe it to be immoral, and would never have an abortion or want their loved one to have one. And, many believe that abortion should be regulated or limited in some fashion. However, all but those at the extreme anti-abortion end of the continuum, do not want abortion to be illegal.

I believe that the Freedom Ride will awaken those at our end of the continuum who care passionately about women having reproductive freedom. It will form networks, draw attention, support abortion providers, raise consciousness, inspire the future Lana Clarke Phelans and Pat Maginnises. It will be raucous but non-violent; it will be confrontational and enlightening.

Social change in regards to women’s reproductive rights is not measured by the changes in the law. For example, the Comstock Law, which forbade the mailing of information on birth control, stayed on the books until the 70’s, but it was not enforced. The Freedom Ride will build on the fact that most people are with us. “Abortion should not be illegal!” will resonate with almost everyone. “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!” will thrill some and start many others thinking about this in a new way. Openly talking about it will keep the dialogue going and reduce the shame. These changes cannot be accomplished on the internet. The internet can coordinate activities and make us aware of each other; the websites where women can talk about their abortions or those that raise money to help women get abortions perform a valuable service, but daughters talking to their moms, and speakouts and demonstrations is what’s going to change the climate around abortion. Social change is not going to come by getting on or watching the Anderson Cooper 360 or Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room. These programs follow the changes in public opinion; they articulate them.

No one can predict how far-reaching the impact from the Freedom Ride will be. For sure, it will break down isolation and it will bring grass-roots voices to the debate. It certainly will nourish the spirits of those who go on the ride and those who benefit from its actions and programs. It may inspire other projects, other Rides. It could even awaken the potential leaders of mass movements, or even it may itself lead a mass movement.



What does it say that this country cares more about these cells inside a woman’s body than about families torn apart by wars in which the United States is constantly meddling?

From a college student

I will be a third year college undergrad in the fall, studying history and women and gender studies. I feel very strongly about issues that enforce a system of inequality and oppression among all kinds of people around the world. And one of the largest groups that is constantly put down, degraded and controlled is undeniably women; one half of the world’s population.

I want to go to Texas.

I am shocked, stunned and furious at what is happening not only worldwide, not only closer to us, but right in front of our faces. Between the years 2001-2010 189 restrictions on abortion were passed in the United States. In the years 2011-2013 another 205 were passed, more than in the previous ten years combined. But that also means that that’s a total of 394. Three hundred and ninety four restrictions passed. Almost 8 per state.
In Texas, 32 out of the 46 abortion clinics there used to be were forced to close. It is possible that in September, 8 of the remaining 14 will close as well. That would leave 6 clinics in the entire state.

This is the situation allowed by this “liberal” government we now have presiding over the White House… And it’s just getting worse. So-called pro-lifers will not stop at anything: they blatantly do not care that abortion is legal, as long as not a single woman has access to it. Women die when they don’t have access to abortion—and there are plenty of reasons to get one, too.

What does it mean to live in a country, in a society, in a culture, that values the life of an unborn potential (an important word here) human MORE than that of a woman? A woman with a life, dreams, hopes, aspirations…? What does it mean that we care more about what a woman does or does not do with her own body than we care about the millions of starving children all around the world? That we care more about these cells inside a woman’s body than about families torn apart by war in which the United States is constantly meddling?

I am horrified and outraged, and you should be, too. I am going to Texas in August, because nothing will change if we sit back and watch the news as these atrocities keep happening. And because I think it is a matter of utmost importance, I am asking you—and by you I mean you, your family, your friends, your acquaintances, your work relations, etc.—to help out. Help in any way you can: donate; spread the word; get engaged with this issue, this war on women that’s not happening far away, but right here.

I am going to Texas because I see this as an incredibly important battle to fight, and I am going also in the name of everybody who is just as outraged. However, the rest of the people going and I really, really need funds to go. We need much more than one plane ticket—we need material, and transportation and everything else. Every little bit counts, so please check out the Indiegogo campaign and the StopPatriarchy website.

Thank you!


Between a Rock and a Free Place

From an Abortion Rights Freedom Rider in the Midwest

What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a rock. Even now, almost fifty years later, I remember the clarity of that decision.

No, I did not want to be a solid mass of mineral material, I wanted to be the kind of rock that Paul Simon sang about it in 1966. I was a brooding, alienated kid who thought the world was screwed up and adults were squares. Inside my head I screamed about the outrageous injustices and judged everyone who couldn't read my mind and agree with me. I pulled my mattress into my too small closet and set up my cheap little record player. I lay in the dark for hours listening to the theme song of my life. "I am a rock, I am an island. I have my books and my poetry to protect me. I am shielded by my armor." I sat in that dark little closet, no fresh air, crowded by bell-bottom pants and paisley print blouses and took comfort in the lyrics of isolation.

Of course Simon was talking about lost love. If he never loved he never would have cried. I did not get that part, or maybe I didn't care. I was a rock because I was alone. Nobody understood me or took seriously the righteous concerns of my twelve-year-old mind. I saw a country that discriminated against blacks, treated women unfairly and made war not love. I felt condemned to be a loner who saw the horrors of oppression and the stupidity of those who went about their lives as if nothing bad was happening.

It was also Paul Simon who introduced me to the Freedom Riders. His song "He Was My Brother" was dedicated to Andrew Goodman, who was murdered in the Freedom Summer of 1964. Goodman "hated what was wrong" so "Mississippi would be his burying place." I didn't understand the full extent of events but the anger and passion of the song told me it was important. And here was my problem: people WERE aware of the injustice. Some people were putting their lives on the line to make a better world. How could I be a rock when others were joining together in a fight for freedom?

I would like to say that I truly wrestled with that contradiction but I did not. I considered it briefly but then moved on to other teenage horrors like acne and mandatory pep rallies. In recent years, however, I think about it a lot. I am surrounded by the Golden Oldies. I hear Paul Simon and I am immediately transported back to the dark closet. I still see discrimination, sexism, a culture of hate and crippling poverty. And I still ask myself the same question: do I live as a rock or as a Freedom Rider?

What is a Freedom Rider? In the early 1960s riders were activists who rode buses into the segregated south to challenge acts of discrimination. Rather than working individually they harnessed the energy of the collective group, connected with locals along the way and fought not just for what was legally right (freedom and equality on interstate travel) but what was morally right: equality as human beings.

In 2013 Freedom Riders were activists who traveled across the country fighting for women's reproductive rights. In the spirit of the original Riders they worked collectively to call for state and federal governments to respect the Roe v. Wade decision that guarantees women the right to control their own bodies. Even more importantly these Riders fought for women's rights as equal citizens of the world. Women must have the ability to decide when and if they have children; only then will they be free to fulfill the true potential of their lives. That means access to birth control and to abortion. No compromise, no qualifying it. Each woman has the right to choose for herself. Being a Freedom Rider in the 21st century is to honor those riders who sacrificed, who put their lives on the line in 1961 and 1964, fighting for what was right. Being a Freedom Rider now is to harness the energy of the past, work collectively with people in the present, and set an example for young people of the future who may not know how to come out of their solitary suffering and band together for change.

I traveled with the Abortion Rights Freedom Riders in 2013. For three weeks I shared their energy and their passion. I leaned on them and learned from them and I hope I gave something back to the cause. We met abortion providers and clinic workers who put up with abuse and threats to their lives but showed up every day to make their services available to women in need. We met women, young and old, who told us their personal abortion stories, pre- and post- the Roe v. Wade decision. We met men and women who whispered their thanks to us but said they were afraid to speak out. We gathered crowds everywhere we went as we spoke out against the petty, manipulative laws that seek to drive women back to the dark ages. Small towns and big towns, on both coasts, in the midwest and in the south, each area had it own unique set of circumstances but the battles were all the same.

In 2014 I will again be part of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, this time as we travel to Texas. This is truly "ground zero" in the current threat to women's rights. With court cases looming that might shut down more clinics and women forced to travel farther than ever and jump through meaningless hoops and red tape, Texas is at the epicenter of a massive earthquake that is about to break apart the ground beneath us. Along with others who come to Texas and live in Texas, I must join the fight before it is too late.

I still enjoy being a rock; it is very important to me. I need time alone to read, listen to music, think and ponder my place in this world. But I am also a Freedom Rider. Alone in my darkness I can only see the problems. Together with others I can make a change. Be together somehow. Add your voice, sign your name, make a donation, share a video, write a song, do something that brings you together with others. In the spirit of all who have fought for equality, be a 21st-century Freedom Rider.


When we look back at this moment in history, will we be able to say we did everything we could?

From a young man

I'm in Texas right now for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride and I want to share why it matters that we are building this. Last year, I was a part of the summer trip caravanning across the country as part of movement initiated by Stop Patriarchy to particularly the five states that only have one abortion provider. Today, there are SIX states which only have one abortion provider. The numbers continue to grow. We need to stand up and say we won't be pushed back to a time when women's bodies are not their own, when women's basic rights to abortion and birth control are taken away, when women's lives do not matter. WOMEN ARE FULL HUMAN BEINGS and should not be regarded as any less than that.

Please donate whatever you can: your time to call people you know to alert them about the state of emergency of abortion rights (as well as the recent attacks on birth control and the urgency to act), your money so volunteers such as myself and others and yourself can contribute in huge ways on the ground in Texas. We are not out here to merely stem the tide of violent assaults on women's bodies and abortion providers' lives. We are set to reset the terms and turn back the tide that has stigmatized abortion and broken women's hearts by foreclosing their lives and futures. There is an ever growing theocratic assault that is closing abortion clinics and sweeping up fanatical violence in states across the country. What has been happening around the country and what is happening in Texas will determine whether women are human beings capable of determining whether or when they will become mothers or if the patriarchal agenda of forced motherhood and female enslavement will persevere and rule in this country.

In the future, when we look back at this moment in history, will we be able to say "Yes! I was a part of that movement to drive back the war on women for the liberation of women that exists today" or will we be forced to say "We should have done more to stop those attacks that have left women to resort back to illegal and dangerous abortions, and we should have stopped the ongoing move to render us voiceless today"?

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