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Blog Transition, or In Pursuit of the Next Abortion Gang

30 Oct

I started the abortion gang blog in March 2010. The debate over healthcare reform raged on, seemingly without end. Then-representative Bart Stupak made a snide comment about having an “abortion gang” ready to veto the proposed bill if it didn’t contain restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion. I decided that if anyone should have an abortion gang, it should be a group of young, fierce abortion rights activists, certainly not some reactionary old white guy who clearly repudiates everything that a real “abortion gang” would stand for. Around the same time, several mainstream media articles quoted feminist leaders proclaiming that young people don’t care about abortion rights. That just about put me over the edge, so I did what I knew how to do best: I took the rage to the internet and started this blog.

Over 650 posts later, we’ve blogged about everything from a to z. We’ve had 43 different bloggers and over 55 guest posts. We’ve gotten tattoos, had children, had abortions, gotten new jobs, started and finished graduate school. Many of us came to this blog as with idealistic young radicals. Most of us are still young (three years isn’t that long), but we have transitioned a lot over the past few years, and it’s time for the blog to have a fresh face and new perspectives.

You may have noticed that there haven’t been many posts over the last few months. We’ve been having offline conversations about how to move forward with the blog. We want to keep it as a space for young (millennial) activists to experiment with ideas, strategies, thoughts, experiences, and more, outside of an organizational structure.

To that end, we’re offering this space up to new writers. About half of the current writers (myself included) will cycle off. We’ll pass the passwords to the facebook, twitter, email, and website on to the new folks who want to take over this space. About half the current writers will stay on, because they are devoted to the blog and want to keep writing in this awesome space we’re created.

If you and/or your crew are interested, email us at info AT abortiongang DOT org. Let us know what direction you want to take the blog in, what you want to write about, and why. We’re hoping to hand off the blog by January 2014 at the latest. We’re not looking for essays or anything—just a commitment to documenting feminist badassery.

Until then, you may see sporadic posts here. But know that we’re doing the hard work of evaluation and transition. Any thoughts, comments, etc. can be emailed to us: info at abortiongang dot org or posted in the comments.

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We Love You, Texas

26 Jun
Texas Feminist Army! Image via.

Texas Feminist Army! Image via.

Last night, hundreds of pro-choice Texans and a badass Senator stood for over 13 hours to make sure that a terrible anti-abortion bill DIDN’T PASS the senate. AND THEY WON. They fucking won.

If this has got you feeling inspired, support the local Texas organizations working every day to make abortion access a reality:

The Lilith Fund

The Texas Equal Action Fund

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas

Whole Woman’s Health

And of course, the inimitable Senator Wendy Davis.

Remembering Dr. Tiller: Creating Safe Spaces for Abortion Providers and Patients

7 Jun

Four years ago last week, Dr. Tiller was murdered while ushering at his church in Wichita, KS. Dr. Tiller was most well known for providing abortions after 24 weeks for patients who couldn’t be seen elsewhere; his clinic was one of the only places in the country where people who needed abortions in the third trimester could go to receive safe abortion care.

What’s happened to the landscape of later abortion care since Dr. Tiller’s murder? In a political environment where some states are trying to restrict abortions at 12 weeks, it’s no surprise that there are now only two states where it’s legal to obtain an abortion after 26 weeks. Who are the clinicians providing this care? What are their stories?

The movie After Tiller attempts to answer this question by profiling four abortion providers–Dr. Leroy Carhart, Dr. Warren Hern, Dr. Shelly Sulla, and Dr. Susan Robinson–who’ve pledged to carry on Dr. Tiller’s work of providing later abortion care. The movie is beautiful both in aesthetics and in spirit. We see each provider grapple with the moral complexity that sometimes comes with providing abortion care, and yet the movie isn’t really about whether abortion is right or wrong, but rather how these clinicians treat their patients. We see them comfort and coach their patients through heart-wrenching circumstances, even providing patients with language to help explain their pregnancy loss to family and friends. We see them talk openly about their own moral struggles in performing later abortions, how they decide if they’re able to perform an abortion for someone, and what happens in the circumstances where they cannot. We see them emphasize time and again that they believe that women can struggle with complex moral and ethical issues, including a ending a pregnancy in the third trimester.

While watching the film, I kept waiting to hear more from patients. All we see of them throughout the movie is their clasped hands or messy ponytails. We hear their shaky voices, but we never see their faces. I can imagine that Martha and Lana, the film directors, probably asked patients if they wanted to be filmed head on, and they declined. They have every right to do so. When you take into consideration the risks involved in putting a public face to later abortion—possible community condemnation, judgment from friends and family, not to mention harassment from anti-abortion activists—it makes sense to keep a low profile. In a cultural context where abortion even in the first trimester is so stigmatized, it makes sense that a family pursuing an abortion in the third trimester wouldn’t want their experience or their faces to be made public.

Yet this disappearance of the full selves of patients makes me uneasy. It gives the impression that these patients were victims, and that doctors were their saviors. These wonderful, brave doctors got to have faces, full stories, moral complexity. Patients didn’t even have names. I don’t think the filmmakers intentionally created this dichotomy. Of course, with all the rampant negative stereotypes about abortion providers, “savior” may be a welcome label. Yet it doesn’t leave room for these physicians to be just that—doctors who are following their conscience and taking care of their patients.

Maybe I am asking for too much. Abortion providers, especially providers of abortion in the second and third trimester, are frequently victims themselves of vicious anti-abortion smear campaigns, not to mention under the near-constant threat of violence. This film is explicitly about showing the compassion and empathy inherent in providing abortion care, particularly later abortion care, and it does a remarkable job. Perhaps it’s not the right space to tilt the camera up and allow patients the same room to talk about empathy and compassion in ending their pregnancies. As I watched the movie I found myself wondering what other abortion providers would think. Do they think of themselves as “saving” their patients? Do these four providers in the film think of themselves as heroes? In fact, on a panel with the four profiled providers after the movie, one of them explicitly said that she doesn’t like being referred to that way.

There’s no doubt in my mind that After Tiller is a significant film. Everyone who can see it should. It lets the audience go behind the curtain of the political debate on abortion and into the realm of personal experience. I hope we can continue to explore personal experiences with later abortion care, and find ways to include the voices of people who obtain abortions, too. Dr. Tiller said that he was a “woman-educated physician.” I’d like to think that part of honoring his memory is figuring out how address the risks of sharing personal experiences with abortion so that the people who educated him can educate us, too.

Remembering Dr. Tiller: Reflections Four Years Later

31 May

May 31, 2013 marks the fourth year since Dr. Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, was brutally murdered while serving as an usher in his church. Dr. Tiller was known worldwide as a provider of compassionate, kind, respectful later abortion services that focused on preserving the dignity and integrity of his patients.

To honor his legacy, the Abortion Gang and the Provider Project asked folks to reflect on later abortions. Below is a list of posts taking on this topic and thinking about Dr. Tiller. This list will be updated as the day goes on:

Dr. Tiller Remembered
The Legacy of Dr. George Tiller
In Memory of Dr. Tiller, on the Fourth Anniversary of His Death
Dr. Tiller, Beatriz, Savita, and all the others
Remember
Remembering Dr. Tiller
Dr. Tiller was my abortion provider and he changed my life
On Anniversary Of Dr. Tiller’s Murder, Anti-Abortion Harassment Is Still Hurting Women And Doctors
Abortion Rights 2013: To Honor George Tiller’s Legacy, Give to An Abortion Fund
Late-term abortions: Remembering Dr. Tiller
I write letters

If you’ve written a post in honor of Dr. Tiller and don’t see it above, please email the URL to info@iamdrtiller.com or tweet the link to @AbortionGang.

Remembering Dr. Tiller: A Call for Collective Remembrance

29 May

This Friday, May 31, 2013 marks the 4th anniversary of Dr. George Tiller’s murder. One year ago, we at the Abortion Gang and the Provider Project hosted a collective blog call for remembrance in his honor, and we’d like to make this an annual tradition. Unfortunately, threats against abortion providers are still all too real and we are fighting an ongoing battle against abortion restrictions across the United States. This year has seen a surge particularly in laws banning abortion after certain points in pregnancy, from a 12-week ban in Arkansas to the recent proposal to ban abortion nationwide after 20 weeks. Dr. Tiller was widely known for his 2nd and 3rd trimester abortion care, and it was ultimately his unwavering commitment to providing these services that was the reason for his assassination four years ago.

In light of that, we’d like for posts this year to address the question of later abortions, specifically those performed in the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Your post could use some of the following questions as a jumping-off point:

  • Why are there so few later abortion providers in this country? How can we improve the situation so that more doctors provide this care?
  • Why is it so important that abortion remain legal past 20 weeks?
  • How would a nationwide 20-week ban affect the country, or your community? How might it affect your personal reproductive health decisions?

In your post, please link back to this blog post so that folks can come here and find links to other reflections on Dr. Tiller.

The Abortion Gang and The Provider Project will post links to pieces written answering this question, starting Friday, May 31 through the following Friday, June 7. Please feel free to forward this call for posts to anyone who you think would be interested in honoring Dr. Tiller’s legacy. Send the links to your posts to info@iamdrtiller.com and lily@theproviderproject.org, tweet them to @AbortionGang and @Provider Project, or leave them in the comments.

What do polls about abortion really tell us?

5 Feb

Wall Street Journal: 7 in 10 Americans support Roe v. Wade.
Gallup: Americans favor legal abortion, they don’t overwhelming support abortion after the first trimester.
Pew: Most millennials don’t know that Roe is about abortion, but favor the decision once they’re told what it’s about.

How do we make sense of this data? What do these polls actually mean for the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements?

Interpreting polls is not easy. We can dissect each and every poll, hoping it will get to the truth of our nation’s beliefs about abortion, but in reality, these polls are brief snapshots–they tell us part of the story, but not the whole story. The many barriers to abortion access that we fight on a daily basis–from waiting periods to forced ultrasounds to the Hyde Amendment–are the result of coordinated, well-funded anti-abortion campaigns at the national and state level. If we think about social change as happening only in legislatures, then I can see why so many people are so pessimistic  about the future of abortion rights and access in the United States. While it may look bleak from a purely legislative standpoint, I think there’s actually much to be hopeful about.

Instead of looking at our movement as scrambling to catch up to the anti-abortion movement, I would like to see us shift gears and see how abundant our resources are, and figure out how to use them to our greatest potential. We have at least a dozen well-established, well-funded national organization that a majority of the American public supports. Many of these organizations have affiliates with local activists in every state. There are dozens and dozens of smaller organizations such as COLORNational Advocates for Pregnant WomenSpark Reproductive Justice NOW,  and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, working to fight for the reproductive rights of all people, not the privileged few, and encouraging our legacy pro-choice organizations to consider the reproductive justice framework. There is a growing and vocal movement of activists, many under 40, who work outside the traditional pro-choice movement power structure and are also urging our legacy organizations to be bolder in their visions. It is limiting and shortsighted to look only at our problems; it’s also not a very good recruitment strategy. Who wants to be a part of a movement that appears to be in constant crisis?

In addition of naming all the struggles we are facing (and there are many), what if we also thought about our potential? Fighting anti-abortion bills in state and national legislatures is not enough. Are we a political movement only? Or are we also a movement for social and cultural change?

Some people are inspired by phrases like “the war on women”—it galvanizes them to participate in the struggle. Others find that kind of language exhausting and exclusive. How many times can you read the headline, “this is the WORST attack we’ve seen” without getting compassion fatigue?  In addition to taking stock of what’s going wrong, what if we also provided support and opportunities for people to re-engage with activism on their own terms? I’m thinking specifically of a new initiative called CoreAlign, which is providing people with a space to discuss the tough questions faced by the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements: Do we want the government in or out? How do we talk about gender in our movement? What kind of abortion stories do we tell to advance our goals? Evaluating where our movement’s been and where it’s going can only make us stronger. And we’ll need a strong movement to fight the legislative hurdles we’re facing.

Engaging in these exploratory, movement-focused questions is often seen as  competing with our legislative work. We can’t function on this binary. We must set gears in motion for both political and cultural change and engage everyone in the process–grassroots activists, abortion fund volunteers, people with mixed feelings about abortion, people who have and haven’t had abortions, political organizers of all stripes. Leadership requires us to go beyond public opinion polls and lead people to where we want them to be. The anti-abortion movement has been doing this for decades. It’s time we stepped up to the plate.

Happy holidays!

20 Dec

Happy Holidays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy holidays from all of us at the Abortion Gang. We’re taking a short blogging vacation and will be back in January with the same sassy and sharp reproductive justice commentary that you love. If you miss us too much, find us on twitter and facebook.

PS Thanks to the amazing and talented Megan for our holiday graphic.