I’m Fighting Anti-Abortion Extremism in Alabama

By Carmen Rios

This week, Operation Save America (OSA) is hosting its annual “National Event” in Alabama’s capitol city, Montgomery. Several hundred of the nation’s most extreme anti-abortion extremists will be taking siege of not only Montgomery, but also Birmingham, Huntsville (where the clinic is already having a tough time), and possibly Tuscaloosa and Mobile. I’ll be there, too, fighting for access.

Being involved in the fight for reproductive justice has historically been dangerous, but it’s necessary work that we, as young feminists, must be involved with. We cannot allow organizations like OSA and politicians like Mary Sue McClurkin speak for us. We cannot be silent. Feminists and activists from across the Deep South have come together this week and join organizations like Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, the Feminist Majority Foundation Choices Campus Leadership Program, the University of Montevallo Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, and the Feminist Caucus at The University of Alabama to oppose this attack.

About two years ago I began escorting patients at the reproductive healthcare clinic in my city, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was just beginning to become involved with activism and I had only recently begun paying attention to politics, social issues, and current events. Because clinic escorting and activism was all so new to me and because I didn’t fully understand the historical implications of what I was getting into, I couldn’t appreciate the gravity of my mom urging me to “please be careful out there” every time I would talk to her about what I was doing.

I was only a baby when clinics were most at-risk for arson, bombings, and violence. Similarly, I was too young to remember the murders of Dr. David Gunn (1993), Dr. John Britton (1994), clinic escort James Barrett (1994), and clinic receptionists Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols (1994). Though I was much older, I was blissfully ignorant of the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller as well. My mom remembered all that, though, and she was afraid for me.

The fight to ensure Alabamians have access to reproductive healthcare has been especially fraught over the last few years. We’ve seen TRAP laws and fetal personhood legislation (including fetal heartbeat bills) that have had the potential to close all four of our state’s reproductive healthcare clinics and make almost all abortions illegal throughout the state. People seeking reproductive healthcare services now have to endure a 48 hour waiting period, intravaginal ultrasounds (to detect heartbeats), and coercive anti-abortion counseling before being allowed to exercise their right to an abortion, and minors have to seek parental permission before having the procedure. In Alabama, a fetus can even obtain a court appointed lawyer. Yes, a fetus.

Over the last few years in Alabama, we have had lawmakers and government officials make negative national headlines with their extremist (and unintellectual) rhetoric. Our own Mary Sue McClurkin, for instance, once claimed that a baby is “the largest organ in a body.” Because of outrageous fetal personhood measures, Alabama was featured on the “Daily Show” in a segment entitled “The Unborn Ultimatum” (referring to the ability for fetuses to obtain legal representation). Our infamous Chief Justice Roy Moore has also been the butt of some of Jon Stewart’s comedic hilarity in regards to his stance on same-sex marriage (see “Wedding Crushers”). In the wake of last week’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country, Moore’s comments likening marriage equality to the Holocaust made headlines as well.

It is important for us to recognize the ways in which gender and sexuality intersect in the fight for reproductive justice. Reproductive justice isn’t only about the right to an abortion, but more largely about the ability for us to build the families we want to build when we are ready to build them—regardless of if our partner is a different gender or what our age is or where we live geographically. That being said, when OSA comes to Montgomery next week, they will be not only be protesting abortion, but also same-sex marriage, and will be featuring speakers like Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore who ardently opposes both marriage equality and reproductive choice.

Thinking back to my mother’s words of warning, it is important to recognize that the people descending onto Alabama next week are dangerous. We know that members of OSA and affiliate organizations like Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) have been responsible for violence and harassment that has occurred at various clinics throughout the nation. However, this should not and cannot deter us from fighting back.

Today, because of legislation like the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (or FACE) Act, we have less to worry about in regards to our physical safety. Today, the danger of organizations like OSA and AHA lies in their rhetoric, which perpetuates stigma, shame, destructive ideology, and lies about the abortion procedure itself. Comparing abortion and same-sex marriage to the Holocaust is dangerous. Telling people seeking reproductive healthcare that having an abortion could cause breast cancer and/or result in hospitalization is dangerous. Calling doctors who provide reproductive healthcare “murderers” and “baby killers” is dangerous. Referring to fetuses as “unborn children” or “babies” is dangerous. The dehumanization of doctors who provide and patients who seek abortion care is dangerous. All of these things perpetuate abortion stigma and shame and that’s dangerous because it restricts people’s access (either by influencing policymaking or by influencing individuals) to choose abortion. And sometimes choosing abortion can save the life of a pregnant person.

We, as young feminists, must be involved in the fight for reproductive justice and combat the dangers of anti-choice extremists. Access to reproductive healthcare is integral to our ability to constitutional guarantees of life, liberty, and happiness. It is essential for us as young feminists to be involved, especially in states like Alabama, because the conservative supermajority that runs our state likes to claim that by restricting people’s ability to access abortion they are protecting the values of all Alabamians (I heard statements such as this during the election cycle last year). It is up to us to let them know and to physically show them that their politics do not represent us. That we exist. And that we are watching them.

Alabama lawmakers and government officials like Roy Moore want to invalidate us, and render us and (our beliefs) invisible. We can’t let them—or at least we can’t make it easy for them. Despite the dangers, we must turn out and support our reproductive healthcare clinics, doctors, and patients. Because of the dangers, our involvement is critical.

So, fellow feminists, I look forward to seeing you there, too, as we combat this siege across Alabama, and I remind you of Audre Lorde’s wise words: As we stand against oppression and injustice, we must be “deliberate and afraid of nothing.”

Support the FMF’s efforts to keep all clinics safe and open by giving today to the National Clinic Access Project. Half of your donation will go directly to protecting Montgomery, Alabama’s last standing abortion clinic.

By Carmen Rios

Carmen splits her time disparately between feminist rabble-rousing, writing, public speaking, and flower-picking. She is currently Communications Coordinator at the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Straddleverse and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle, and a writer with FORCE. Carmen is a SPARK alum and former Managing Editor of THE LINE Campaign blog. She's part of an oncoming anthology about girls' activism.

1 comment

  1. Thank you for your actions! I miss my days of clinic defense and marching at rallies.
    Audrey Lord quote on my political button “your silence will not protect you”

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