A Response to Jezebel by Leaders of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights

In response to Emily Leibert’s June 8th commentary at Jezebel entitled, “Topless Abortion Activists Who Stormed WNBA Game Are Part of Problematic Group,” as co-initiators of the organization responsible for this protest, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, we take issue with many of her negative claims about our organization’s purpose and strategy. We cannot determine whether Ms. Leibert was unable to truly understand our mission, has not taken the time to read our many public statements, or simply refuses to see facts beyond her own veil of prejudice.

She cites so many misleading and misinformed points, it is difficult to know where to start, so we’ll start at the very bottom, where we believe the core problem emanates.

The article’s final line conveys extreme hopelessness, as reflected in its declaration that “the cards have already been played, and Roe is about to tumble.” Had we not known that this article was written by a feminist for a feminist publication, we might have thought it was written by an extreme anti-abortion activist. What is the benefit of making such a discouraging claim, unless to dampen the intentions of all pro-abortion activists, encouraging them to step back, sit down, and do nothing to try to stop The Supreme Court from overturning Roe without a fight? Is that what she really wants?

Speaking about ‘cards,’ let’s put all of our cards on the table. How did we all end up in this position where the basic right of half of society to determine their own reproduction, lives and destinies is on track to be obliterated? We got here because the Democratic Party and all too many pro-choice organizations and people continually compromised for decades when attacks were made on abortion access and anti-abortion legislation. Again and again, they minimized the tenacity and commitment of the opposition and refused to stand up in massive, disruptive protest to draw a firm line and say, “NO MORE!” This, along with the constant desire to ‘talk across the aisle,’ while throwing Black and poor women under the bus by failing to strongly, publicly and collectively oppose the Hyde Amendment, was a strong message from our side that a “little” invasion of women’s bodies and their rights were just fine.

And let us remind you, as stated in this article, that when “security ran onto the court to remove the protesters from the game, the audience cheered and led a standing ovation.” This positive outcome, in addition to the quote from Liberty guard Rebecca Allen who, in support, said, “I’m all for the message,” further reveals the truly widespread support for abortion rights. Shouldn’t this encourage us all to fight harder? Doesn’t that undermine the notion that there is nothing we can do? In fact, our disruptive nonviolent protests are precisely aimed at encouraging abortion supporters and activists to step off the sidelines and onto the streets. We are thrilled that this message was amplified in front of large audiences and major media. Everyone who cares about women’s lives and the future of LGBTQ rights and justice overall should be.

History has repeatedly shown that disruptive protests are often the only way to achieve change. Recall Alice Paul who, in 1913, led the Suffrage Movement by marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House, even while being assaulted and attacked. As a result, public outrage led to wider support for the suffrage movement.

We were very pleased, however, to see the writer backtracked and actually supported our strategies for protest, whether she meant to or not. “Why not shock attendees at last month’s National Rifle Association Conference? Or at sporting events in states with trigger laws?” she contended. Ahhh, so she really does think what we are doing is impactful, she just doesn’t like where we are doing it?! We thank her for her suggestions to continue to amplify our protests, and we already have some things in the works. Rise Up For 4 Abortion Rights is holding mass protests and vigils beginning Monday, June 13, at the steps of The Supreme Court, and regularly thereafter, to show that we would sooner bring the gears of society to a grinding halt through mass non-violent resistance than to allow our right to abortion to be taken away.

We are also inspired by how abortion access activist Guido Reichstadter was arrested earlier this week after he hopped over the barricades outside The Supreme Court and chained himself to the fence, elevating the Green Bandana of abortion rights.

As for Ms. Leibert’s accusation that we have somehow wrongly “appropriated” this powerful symbol from women in Latin American, let us quote one of the comments left by a reader of her article: “What’s wrong with using the colors from another successful pro-abortion rights group? … This isn’t Fendi selling fucking [N]ative [A]merican headdresses as fashion; its international political solidarity.” We have been tremendously strengthened by the example of, as well as the direct messages of, solidarity we have received from activists in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and other parts of the world.

But because Ms. Leibert gave us this gift, even if inadvertently, we will give her one as well. We agree that donating to abortion funds can be helpful, as asserted in her article. But to quote her own subheading, “That’s only half the story,” it is important to understand that simply sending money to abortion funds is not a long-term or comprehensive solution. Millions of women are going to need abortions if Roe is overturned, and abortion supporters are not going to be able to pay for all of them. Many very young women, women in prisons and detention, women who lack legal documents, women trapped in abuse and other dangerous situations will be beyond the reach of even the most resourceful and committed networks of support. Many trans and non-binary people who need abortions will be, too. Further, the fines for “aiding and abetting,” not to mention paying the price of potential jail terms for doing so, will only lead to paying at least double for our oppression.

Will it be easy to stop The Supreme Court from turning its draft into law? No.

But there are millions and millions of us who’s health, safety and futures will be impacted, and it would be unconscionable not to fight with all we’ve got while we’ve still got a chance. As we recently wrote in our Call to Come to DC, starting on Monday, June 13:

“Even fascist women-haters worry about losing the perceived legitimacy of their institutions and their system when they are faced with truly massive, un-ignorable and unrelenting nonviolent resistance, And, if even in the face of our determined opposition, the Court still revokes abortion rights, we will be in a far stronger position to continue the struggle for women’s freedom for having dared to RISE UP!”

To close, we will quote just one more of the dozens of people who responded to your article by dismissing many of its points: “Can you point to a protest that, in and of itself, was capable of enacting legal change, or are all protests worthless?” We will not apologize for risking our safety to stand up for women’s fundamental rights. For it is, in fact, stated in one of our most prominent slogans: Abortion On Demand And Without Apology!

Merle Hoffman, Founder and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center, author of Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room

Lori Sokol, Executive Director of Women’s eNews, author of She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World

Sunsara Taylor, co-host of Revolution Nothing Less Show, host/producer of We Only Want the World (WBAI & WPFW), co-initiator of RefuseFascism.org, leader of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride

Authors note: We submitted the above response directly to Jezebel and did not even receive an acknowledgement from their editors.

Below please find just of few of the additional readers comments that substantiate the points in our response above:

*The attention grabbing symbols they’re using at their protests aren’t nuanced enough, you say? They’re protesting in major media markets where they can more easily recruit people to show up instead of smaller ones you say? They disagree on strategy with groups you favor more but not on any goals you say? Well, to hell with those ill-behaved women, then. Undermine them as you can, that’s the most effective way to support groups that better meet Jezebel’s standards of decorum.

*Sure, if they’re not directly solving the problem, they shouldn’t be protesting. Is that the take-away here? They’re not changing the minds of the Supreme Court, so their protesting is worthless? Can you point to a protest that, in and of itself, was capable of enacting legal change, or are all protests worthless?   

*Where is the line drawn on how careful we need to be with our words in the case of someone else’s self identity? It’s getting completely ludicrous, that every statement that gets made needs to pass an ever evolving purity test. 

*Someone making a general statement about women and pregnancy doesn’t invalidate the lived experience of a trans man by saying women instead of something else currently considered to be more inclusive, that idea is patently stupid, and it’s dangerous.

*Geez, you guys make it seem like there have never been a successful sociopolitical movement that had internal conflict. I guess MLK Jr. and Malcolm X were homeboys. I guess the Federalist Papers were a work of fiction. I guess Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton didn’t side-eye each other in public.

* No, they must find a color that has not been the color scheme of any protest movement, anywhere in the world. If all the solid colors are taken, they have to find something else, maybe a pattern. But not a plaid, because that’s appropriation of the Scottish culture. Not an animal print, because of so many reasons. No polka dots because that appropriates the Polka. Maybe a nice floral pattern, as long as the flowers don’t originate from a country with any… nevermind, not a floral. Possibly some random blotches. As long as none of them could be offensively shaped in a Rorschach kind of way. Oh, fuck it. Just go with green.

* But you don’t think the Green Wave would approve of the use of their symbols for this cause? Did you contact them to ask? This point is extremely pedantic.

* They acknowledge them on their website, and have a lot of their info on the site available in Spanish, so I agree, this criticism is a hard sell for me.

* “the best way to help right now is to donate to an abortion fund and red state clinics to help people who will really need it.”

I agree with you, but what qualifies as “right now” may be a very short time period indeed. I’m sure that the red states will be quick to criminalize contributions to abortion funds. They’ll also criminalize going out of state to have an abortion; some have already, but I believe all red states will eventually. It won’t be long before a person seeking an abortion will have to leave their state and never return if they don’t want to risk prosecution.

As far as criticism of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights goes, they are willing to risk criminal charges for their activities, you can’t deny their commitment. Rather than criticizing them, a better approach would be to try and redirect them towards more effective tactics.

Merle Hoffman, Founder and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center, author of Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room Lori Sokol, Executive Director of Women’s eNews, author of She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World Sunsara Taylor, co-host of Revolution Nothing Less Show, host/producer of We Only Want the World (WBAI & WPFW), co-initiator of RefuseFascism.org, leader of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride