Abortion Rights Freedom Ride: Filling a Great Need

Sunsara Taylor | July 23, 2013

“I am a volunteer clinic escort at Jackson Women’s Health Org., the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. The undue burden that women must endure to travel hours to our only clinic is heartbreaking. Yet they are so grateful to have this ‘last resort’ to turn to when making one of the most crucial decisions in their lives. If it takes fighting to my last breath, THIS CLINIC STAYS OPEN!”

—D.H., signer of the "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology" statement and donor to the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride

"The near-daily laws restricting women's right to abortion, the chorus of Republicans belittling rape and shaming women, and the whole future they are aggressively fighting for are terrifying and an attempt to push us back to the dark ages. It is a state of emergency. Forced motherhood is a form of violence.

"But we must not be paralyzed by fear or sleepwalk in denial. WE MUST RISE.

"I am proud of throngs rising in Texas. I am proud of the women and men who will be traveling from both coasts and down the middle of the country in this summer's Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. I urge all to follow their daring and rise with them to reclaim our lives, our bodies, our own reproductive decisions, and our futures. There is no time to waste."

—Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues and founder of VDay

Freedom Ride

With under three weeks to go until the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride is sent off in two major rallies on July 23 in San Francisco and New York City and then hits the road for a month (traveling all the way to North Dakota and then winding south to culminate in Jackson, Mississippi), it is important that revolutionaries and others who do not want to see women enslaved to their reproduction recognize and act on the great need this freedom ride is filling.

It is no exaggeration to make the analogy between this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride taking on the fight against female enslavement and the original Freedom Rides which challenged the brutal regime of the Jim Crow South. Forced motherhood IS female enslavement.

Already, right now as we read, in whole swaths of the country women—especially the most poor, oppressed and youngest women—do not have any meaningful access to abortion and often even birth control. Already, women are being trapped in abusive relationships, forced to drop out of school, driven into poverty (or deeper into poverty), being ostracized by fundamentalist families, and taking desperate and dangerous measures to self-induce abortions when faced with unwanted pregnancies.

As I write, courageous providers of abortions are being hunted, terrorized, stalked and threatened. To give just two examples: Julie Burkhart, the woman who courageously re-opened Dr. Tiller’s clinic after he was assassinated in his church four years ago, has had fanatical protesters show up at her home carrying signs that read, “Where do you go to church?” One of the courageous young doctors who has begun flying into the clinic there in Wichita to provide abortions has had her identity revealed and has become the target of threats and hate-filled protests at her home practice in progressive Oak Park, Chicago! Many, many, many more examples could be given!

Nearly every week new laws are proposed and enacted which concretely close down clinics, put providers out of work, and remove abortion access to many thousands more women! Just this past week we have seen Texas legislators move to enact laws which will shut down 37 out of 42 clinics which provide abortions in the state! In Ohio, the new state budget which goes into effect on July 8 strips funds for Planned Parenthood and imposes new restrictions on providers such that several clinics are expected to close.

This is a state of emergency. It is urgent that people across the country be confronted with this, the stakes of this emergency, and be mobilized to ACT!

The recent massive outpourings of anger and in defense of abortion rights in Texas and the smaller but still very significant outpourings in Ohio reveal just a taste of the tremendous reservoir which can and must be tapped into to defeat this whole woman-enslaving offensive. But, much, much more is needed!

The Abortion Rights Freedom Ride is filling a great need.

This Abortion Rights Freedom Ride Is:

1. Mobilizing people on a national scale—it is connecting up the hundreds of local showdowns at clinics and in courthouses and counties across this country into a national effort to turn the tide.

2. Mobilizing people to go on the political and moral offensive—to not merely respond to each new egregious attack, but to raise our heads to fight for Abortion on Demand and Without Apology—For Every Woman in Every State!

3. Telling the truth: this war on women will only be defeated through massive independent political action taken by thousands, hundreds of thousands and before long millions of people! And this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride is giving people a way to act right now—relying on ourselves, changing the political terms, and connecting up the many streams of resistance into a national fight to turn the tide and defeat the war on women.

The success of this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride is something that everyone who cares about women’s future has a stake in. Everyone must find the ways to support this effort and everyone reading this and everyone they know can do something to strengthen this impact.

Where Is It Going and When Will It Be There?

The Abortion Rights Freedom Ride is traversing the entire country—from both coasts all the way to North Dakota and then all the way south to Jackson, Mississippi and then back home to both coasts. It will be stopping in Salt Lake City, Utah; Jackson, Wyoming; Bozeman, Montana; Bismarck, North Dakota; Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Fargo, North Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Bellevue, Nebraska; Wichita, Kansas; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Jackson, Mississippi.

Within this there are four main focuses of the ride:

Tuesday, July 23:
Major send-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco

July 31 — August 4:
North Dakota, main day Saturday, August 3 in Fargo

August 8 — 11:
Wichita, Kansas, main day Saturday, August 10

August 14 — 17:
Jackson, Miss., main day Saturday, August 17

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  1. BE PART OF AND SPREAD THE WORD OF THE FOUR FOCUSES LISTED ABOVE. More will be said below about each of these stops, but for now I will say that it is critical that people in these areas become involved in the plans of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. If you are in one of these areas or if you know people in these areas, go to the website and fill out the form at StopPatriarchy.org/join. Get involved in organizing and building for the major rallies, the smaller outings, and the logistical support (such as meals, housing, and legal support) needed at each of these stops.

    If you are not from these places, organize caravans to meet up with this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride when they are in those main places. Let StopPatriarchy know your plans:

    Help build for the Kick-Off Rallies by contacting:
    In NYC: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    In Bay Area: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  2. DONATE!
    At least $22,000 is needed by Sunday, July 21 to get the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride on the road. Once it is underway, many thousands more will be needed to keep it on the road.

    Visit the IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign currently underway to raise this money at: IndieGoGo.com/projects/abortion-rights-freedom-ride
    (Or go to StopPatriarchy.org and click on the fundraising thermometer.)

    Watch the video which features some of the young volunteers who will be on this Freedom Ride. Check out the great perks you will get as thank yous for your donation. And then give very generously!

    After you do, spread the word through FB, Twitter, and other social media. But also: PICK UP THE PHONE and actually call a few people you know and ask them to give as well. Right now many can see the urgent need for a serious fight against the anti-abortion steamroller. These people must be reached and involved in this critical effort.

    NODAL POINT: This Sunday, July 7 is a day for national phone-banking to raise at least $3,000. Contact your local StopPatriarchy chapter to hook up with them to make phone calls, or do this on your own. Send folks to the IndieGoGo/projects/abortion-rights-freedom-ride page to learn more and to donate.
  3. SIGN and spread the Abortion On Demand and Without Apology! Statement.
                You can find this here:
                StopPatriarchy.org/AbortionOnDemandStatement

    Get this statement to others you know, especially prominent individuals. This statement must be signed by thousands of people declaring their determination to fight this war on women and their support of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride.

  4. SPREAD THE WORD ON SOCIAL MEDIA
    You can follow and spread Stop Patriarchy and Sunsara Taylor on Twitter:
    @StopPatriarchy        @SunsaraTaylor

    “Like” and spread the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride on Facebook:
    Facebook.com/AbortionRightsFreedomRide

    Spread word of this using the hashtag:
    #AbortionRightsFR 

Finally, a bit more information on all the main stops along the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride:

Tuesday, July 23—Kick-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco

In New York City, gather at the north end of Union Square at 4:30 pm
In San Francisco, gather at Potrero Del Sol Park, 4:30 pm — 6:00 pm

These rallies aim to draw together thousands of people to show their visible support for Abortion on Demand and Without Apology. With a spirit of joy and defiance, they will rally support for and send off the Abortion Rights Freedom Riders—making clear that those getting in the vans have the backing of many, many more throughout society. Bringing together abortion doctors, women to speak openly about their abortions, bands and performances and statements from prominent individuals and fighters for liberation, these rallies will call forth those who refuse to sit silently as women’s rights are stripped away.

People must not be complacent because they live in major cities where it seems that abortion rights are secured. It is immoral to abandon women in the rest of the country, and it is delusional to think that what is hitting women hard in places like Texas, Ohio, North Dakota, Arkansas, Arizona, Mississippi and beyond won’t make its way to the coasts and major cities if it is not stopped and reversed! Now is the time to wake people up, pull them into the streets, and use this to shine a national spotlight on this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, its courageous Freedom Riders, and the places across the country they will be traveling to.

Great need:

All out in NYC and SF and surrounding areas for a powerful rally and send off for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride!

July 31 - August 4—North Dakota
This time will be split between Bismarck (capital) and Fargo (where the last clinic in the state is)

Main date:

August 3 in Fargo

Background:

On August 1 in North Dakota several new laws are scheduled to go into effect: one will criminalize abortion after six weeks of pregnancy (before most women know they are pregnant) and one which would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. North Dakota has only one clinic left in the state (in Fargo) and all the doctors there fly in from out of state. Two of the nearby hospitals are either Catholic and refuse to grant admitting privileges or require that doctors admit at least five patients a year in order to maintain admitting privileges which none of the doctors will do—precisely because abortion is such a routine and safe procedure! (In the 15 years the Red River Women’s Clinic has been open they have only ever had to admit one patient to a hospital.)

This would mean that the last abortion clinic in North Dakota will be forced to close!

Legal challenges to these laws have been filed and injunctions are expected to be in place by August 1. In other words, there is every expectation that this clinic will stay open. But, the fact that these laws have been passed and the fact that there is only one clinic left in the state makes this an essential stop on the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride.

Also, when these laws were first passed, some 300 people came out to protest at the state’s capital—an incredible outpouring in a sparsely populated state. These women and men must not be left to fight this alone.

Great need:

People in the Midwest and northern states should caravan and join the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride while it is in North Dakota and join with it when it steps out to protest these fascist laws on August 1 and when it celebrates and honors the providers and others on the front lines in Fargo on August 3.

Aug 8 - 11:      Wichita, Kansas

Main date:

Saturday, August 10—Forced Motherhood Award
On this day, the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride and others locally will hold a protest at which they will present the Forced Motherhood Is Female Enslavement Award in the form of a big bloody coat-hanger to Troy Newman, the President of Operation Rescue. While many participated in creating a climate where Dr. George Tiller and other abortion doctors have been assassinated, no one can claim more responsibility for demonizing Dr. Tiller and whipping up hatred against him than Troy Newman. In 2002, he moved the headquarters of Operation Rescue to Wichita specifically to target and isolate Dr. Tiller and he continued to spearhead this campaign of hatred and demonization up to and beyond Dr. Tiller’s murder. Today his organization continues to hound and target abortion providers across the country.

Background:

Wichita is where Dr. Tiller performed abortions for decades, despite being the target of frequent protests and threats. In 1986, his clinic was fire-bombed and in 1993 he was shot in both arms. Still, he continued to serve women by providing abortions. His slogan was “Trust Women,” and his clinic walls were filled with letters from women who had visited his clinic from around the country, thanking him for giving them their lives back. He was one of only a few doctors in the country who provided later term abortions. In 2009, he was assassinated as he served as an usher in his church. Over 1,000 people came out to his funeral. He was a tremendous hero whose absence is sorely felt every day by women across the country and his colleagues who relied on his courage, example, and medical expertise.

Julie Burkhart worked alongside Dr. Tiller for eight years. In April 2013, she opened a new abortion clinic in Wichita. For this she has faced death threats, harassment, and legal attempts to shut down her clinic and drive her out of town.

David Leach, of the group Army of God, has written:

“If someone would shoot the new abortionist like Scott shot George Tiller back in the Operation Rescue days, people called him Tiller the killer, hardly anyone would appreciate it but the babies. It will be a blessing to the babies, everyone else will panic. Of all places to open up a killing office, to reopen the one office in the United States more notorious for decades than any other is an act of defiance against God and the last remaining remnants of reverence for human life... It is a reckless act. It is not the act of someone who values their own safety. It is a gauntlet thrown down, by someone who wants a fight. Of course, I don’t know if anyone will pick up the gauntlet. I didn’t know Scott would act, before he did.”

Scott Roeder, currently in prison for assassinating Dr. George Tiller, told David Leach (in response to Leach’s above statement):

“It is a little death-defying for someone to walk back in there. For Julie ‘Darkheart’ to walk back in there and reopen a murder mill where a man was stopped. It’s almost like putting a target on your back, saying, ‘Well, let’s see if you can shoot ME!’ I have to go back to what Pastor Mike Bray said: If 100 abortionists were shot, they [surviving abortionists] would probably go out of business. I think eight have been shot, so we’ve got 92 to go. Maybe she’ll be number nine. I don’t know, but she’s kind of painting a target on her.”

It is in this atmosphere that Troy Newman of Operation Rescue and Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League hunted down and exposed who one of the new doctors is and have begun targeting her in her hometown and home office in Oak Park Chicago.

Great need:

It is essential that those conducting these attacks be exposed and opposed through massive resistance and that those who are on the front lines be given tremendous support and backing. It is difficult to think of any more courageous than those on the front lines who have opened this new clinic and are keeping it open. Their example must be followed, they must be defended, and the clinic and staff must stay open and safe! What happens in Wichita will affect the entire country.

People should caravan from the region (and beyond) to meet up with the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride while it is in Wichita!

Aug 14 - 17:   Jackson, Mississippi

Main day:

Saturday, August 17

Background:

There is only one clinic left in the state of Mississippi!

In 2012 a law was passed in Mississippi which required all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Because most of the doctors fly in from out of state and because of the hostile surroundings, the clinic has not been able to comply with this medically unnecessary requirement. Instead, it has filed a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the law and a judge has issued a temporary injunction on the enforcement of this law while this legal challenge works its way through the courts.

Anti-abortion protesters come from as far away as Colorado and Nevada and pray outside the bright pink clinic several times a week.

The clinic is owned by the same woman, Diane Derzis, who owned the clinic in Birmingham, Alabama which was bombed in 1998, killing security guard Robert Sanderson and critically injuring nurse Emily Lyons. Derzis has courageously fought to continue providing abortion services to women in the Deep South, including to a concentration of poor Black women who have no other place to turn, at great risk to herself and alongside extremely courageous doctors and staff.

There is a dedicated staff and community of escorts and support for the clinic. We received the following message, along with a donation, from a Jackson, Mississippi clinic escort who heard about the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride:

“I am a volunteer clinic escort at Jackson Women’s Health Org., the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. The undue burden that women must endure to travel hours to our only clinic is heartbreaking. Yet they are so grateful to have this ‘last resort’ to turn to when making one of the most crucial decisions in their lives. If it takes fighting to my last breath, THIS CLINIC STAYS OPEN!”

Great need:

Caravans from all over the South to join the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride while it is in Jackson, Mississippi to rally support for the last clinic in the state!

This article originally appeared on revcom.us on July 4, 2013.

Main Reproductive Rights Abortion Rights Freedom Ride: Filling a Great Need

About

World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.