The Abortion Rights Freedom Ride has hit the streets of Austin, in preparation for a raucous and revealing month of resistance against the attacks on abortion. We have been talking to many people - on street corners, in theater lines, at student unions, and outdoor markets - about women, abortion, society, and the role we all can play in making history right now.
Of those who know that dozens of abortion clinics are being shut down in Texas, many are surprised to hear that this is happening all across the country: 6 states have only one abortion clinic left, and hundreds of restrictions have come down on abortion in the last three years!
To talk about abortion on a street corner or public place has been a startling thing for many people on both sides of the issue! Some people, when we ask their opinion, say, “Isn’t that a personal question?” or “Isn’t that a very touchy subject?” Some, when we ask as they pass if they know there will be only 6 abortion clinics left in all of Texas by September, stop in their tracks and come back, saying, “Really? Only six?” Part of the effects of seeing abortion as a personal or private topic, is that many people just don’t know that right now, women in southern Texas are living in conditions like the 1950s - they are attempting to self-induce through dangerous methods, or being forced to bear unwanted children. Consider this story:
One pair of women approach. One of them stops and angrily argues with one of our volunteers about how “irresponsible” and “slutty” these young girls are who just have sex, and don’t want to deal with “the consequences.” The other stands quietly and listens. The volunteer explains that there isn’t anything wrong with women having sex, and nobody should be forced into motherhood as some kind of punishment. I wonder what the silent woman is thinking, so I quietly ask her, and she says, “Women have absolutely got to have the right to decide if they’re ready to be mothers or not.” I tell her, “If they don’t, it’s like society telling them they’re just breeders, not even human.” She nods. We talk for a little while about recent Supreme Court rulings, and all the clinic closures, and where that leaves women, and then I say, “It’s really important that people like you, who have a sense of what this is going to mean for women, be part of fighting it for real. You won’t be alone.” She smiles and signs a contact list, digs around for some money and makes a donation. I tell her I am looking forward to seeing her again, and fighting by her side for what is right. Soon her friend, still shouting and gesticulating up till that point, stops frozen and stares, her jaw literally drops, at her friend signing up to be a Freedom Rider for women’s lives, and donating her money. They leave together, in intense discussion with each other: “I never knew you thought that way… But what about…”
It is striking that the anti-abortion friend was loudly throwing her opinion around, and speaking with such certitude and conviction, while the pro-choice friend who had a strong conviction as well, didn’t voice it at first, and not without prompting. Then they left together engaging each other in a level of conversation about this most crucial question - about the direction of society for half of humanity - that it was clear they had never had before. What’s more, this was not an isolated incident. This same phenomenon between friends and family has happened several times already through our conversations in the few days we have been in Austin.
Imagine this on a mass scale! Imagine all this opening up, where friends and family members laid their arguments out, deeply explored their differences and where their opinions come from and lead to, and more and more people confronted what the criminalizing of pregnancy and the robbing of abortion access actually meant for women.
Imagine if the women who had abortions felt like they could tell their daughters or their parents, emboldening them to speak out too. Imagine if the mostly silent majority of pro-choice people talked to their friends, shattered the stigma, and fought the vicious attacks that right now are taking women back in time to desperate days of stifling subordination.
A few more voices from Austin for now, and many more to come:
A teenage woman in line at a theater: “My mom got an abortion when she was seventeen. She wasn’t ready to have a child. She was not financially stable, she had no support system… I am personally so grateful she had the right to get an abortion. Right now she is a helpful, caring mother of three children, and she loves us so much! Access to abortion gives us power, gives us career options, gives us options.”
A young man on Congress and 6th: “I support women getting abortions if they want to because it’s 20 fucking 14, and quite frankly, a woman is a human being. Every bit as important, every bit as legitimate, and every bit as powerful and respectable as a man.” When asked about the anti-abortion movement, he said, “Whenever your entire point is to take the class divisions, this sex- gender orientation or racial divisions, and broaden the gaps as far as you can in hopes that it will never be closed again, it’s a disaster. It’s just pathetic.”
The father of a young woman who made a sign for the filibuster against the anti-abortion HB2 legislation in Texas in 2013 that went viral, and his family experienced a misogynist backlash, but also inspired many others to stand up for this basic right. Hear him tell his story and speak to the importance of abortion rights to women’s freedom and humanity.
Abortion rights are in a state of emergency, and it’s time to get loud about it! If you are in Texas, in the south, or anywhere else, and you are pro-choice, or you have had an abortion, you may feel isolated. You may feel alone. You may feel like the confidence and certitude of the anti-abortion voice pushes you to the margins. You have to know: you are NOT alone. And what’s more than that, you are needed now, more than ever! You are urgently needed to stand up and speak out for the sake of future generations of women who do not deserve to live in a society where these formative truths are stifled and only told in whispers, where their lives are determined for them, and where being born a woman is a condemnation to sex-shaming and state-mandated child-bearing.
It is liberating and it is also urgently needed - if you do not want abortion to be illegal or impossible - that you refuse to be drowned out or silenced. JOIN these voices from Austin and the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride: GROUND ZERO TEXAS today and through the month of August, and for as long as it takes, in whatever capacity you can.