On “Free Abortion On Demand Without Apology”


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This is so on point right here that my entire post could just be what Sandra tweeted:



After seeing Sydette’s tweet, I went and read Valenti’s piece. Here’s part of it:

When did so many feminists get polite on abortion? I cannot take hearing another pundit insist that only a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s work is providing abortions or that some women need birth control for “medical” reasons. Tiptoeing around the issue is exhausting, and it’s certainly not doing women any favors.

It’s time resuscitate the old rallying cry for “free abortions on demand without apology.” It may not be a popular message but it’s absolutely necessary. After all, the opposition doesn’t have nearly as many caveats. They’re fighting for earlier and earlier bans on abortions, pushing for no exceptions for rape and incest, fighting against birth control coverage—even insisting that they have the right to threaten abortion providers. The all-out strategy is working; since 2010, more than fifty abortion clinics have stopped providing services.

The anti-choice movement isn’t pulling any punches—why should we?

I’m very radical when it comes to abortion rights. I would like there to be free abortion on demand without apology for whomever needs it for whatever reason they need it when they need it. That’s my ideal. In principle, I agree completely with Valenti’s idea behind this post.

But organizing this summer down at the capitol made me more realistic in what can be done, especially in a place like Texas that is historically and – more importantly for this discussion – presently very conservative.

That we weren’t chanting “free abortion on demand without apology” in the rotunda of the Texas capitol this summer does not make us “polite.” I’m not polite in my activism. We can probably all agree on that.

What we are fighting in Texas is a defensive battle of the worst kind. We almost always lose. We go into the fight KNOWING we will probably lose and yet, there we are. We are working in increments, measuring our days in 10-minute blocks, hoping for things to be just slightly better than they were before. Slightly better is a victory and it has to be because otherwise, we would never be able to sustain our energy or our movement.

That doesn’t mean the ultimate goal isn’t to be the ones on offense. But our ultimate goal? That is twenty years away, maybe if we are REALLY lucky. Asking for the right now to be “free abortion on demand without apology” in Texas is simply not feasible. We are putting tiny bandaids on gaping wounds and that’s only if we can even locate bandaids to begin with. Recognizing that reality isn’t being “polite.”

Rhetoric is important. As anyone who reads my writing already knows, language matters to me a whole lot. But actually doing change means we have to marry our rhetorical choices to the realities of the limits within which we operate.

And while I know exactly what Valenti means when she says that “tiptoeing around the issue is exhausting,” I would say in all of my practice of feminism, nothing has been more exhausting than the 7 weeks I spent this summer trying to stop the inevitable passing of HB2. I remember actually specifically saying out loud to my partner that the next time I felt tired from arguments about word choice and phrasing, I was going to try to remember how I felt at 4:00am as I crawled home after 15 hours of organizing, knowing I was going to get up in 4 hours and start all over again.

This isn’t about “ooooh, look at my activism.” What I am trying to get across is that I don’t know from my own experience here in Texas how to take what Valenti says is NECESSARY rhetoric if I actually care about getting people the abortions they need and use it on the ground here to accomplish what it is she says that rhetoric will accomplish.

I had never organized anything political until this summer. I found it wildly difficult and I was just on the periphery of most of it.

I want what Valenti wants but I don’t understand the HOW or the DO of her call to action to use the language of “free abortion on demand without apology” where I live. That’s not me being polite. That is me being genuinely concerned about the future of abortion access in my state.

11 Responses

  1. LynnHB says:

    One of the lessons of social movements is that both are necessary – the egg throwers AND the omelet makers. So the truth-telling radical wing push the agenda and make the mass movement in the middle (incremental and focus on legislation etc) look good by comparison to the folks who’s minds and hearts they are trying to change. It’s been a conscious strategy in many movements. (eg ACTUp did radical die-ins, then the folks in suits showed up to negotiate with the CDC) Maybe this is what Jessica Valenti means – not either or but both?

  2. Jessica Luther says:

    Sure. That’s a good point.

    It’s not clear from her piece that when says “When did so many feminists get polite on abortion?” does she just mean feminist “pundits”? Is she only speaking to the people who write prominent pieces online and in print, and show up on TV and push talking points?

  3. Ellen Sweets says:

    politeness has nothing to do with the issue. politics do. the strategies employed during the first and second special sessions worked for the here and now in Texas. Anti-choice factions were frequently shrill, confrontational and mean. We didn’t have to hire buses to bring people in. We didn’t tape children’s mouths. That might win friends in the ultraconservative communities from whence some of these people came, but we attracted republican women for choice and Catholics for choice because we had a big, nonthreatening tent. it’s not 1970 anymore in case no one has noticed; new times demand new strategies, and they must be appropriate for the region in which they occur.

  4. If this was still 2007-09 I could see the point. I had been thinking there needed to be some kind of “more radical than NARAL” group that would push NARAL into a more radical stance. But things are different now (so are the battles) which is why I’m not sure such a group is necessary anymore.

  5. When I said “see the point” more that I mean, I kind of get the message that it’s a slogan not a strategy, because I don’t work in organizing, only media. I’m always curious about what works in terms of communications strategy.

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  7. Jana says:

    It’s time people started making concrete strategies. Posting something on a blog isn’t going to work. Going out to the small towns, working with folks there and not turning your nose up at people in small rural Texas towns. Saving abortion access in Texas isn’t just a matter of going through the courts – if you really want to save it, it has to be a grassroots effort that leaves Austin and Houston and engages elsewhere.

  8. Jana says:

    @contrawhit – Thank heavens for people like you who are out there doing what you can do. More people need to do what you do.

    Even if it’s all band-aids in Texas, women will indeed find ways to get an abortion (see: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-11/flea-market-abortions-thrive-as-texas-may-close-clinics.html). I saw an amazing talk last week by Susan Yanow from Women on Web, where she spoke that maybe it was time women consider more radical action regarding their rights, if need be.

  9. Pingback: Plan B in Oklahoma and the never-ending cycle of bad legislation | OK4RJ: Oklahomans for Reproductive Justice

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