Abortion Rights Rally, New York, June 24, 2022 – Elvert Barnes, Photographer – Courtesy Flickr CC

Note: Full photo caption and links to related articles follow this post

Nearly two centuries passed between 1688, when a group of Pennsylvania Quakers published the first American petition against slavery, and 1862, when the abolitionist movement finally persuaded Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves. In 1848 a group of (mostly) women abolitionists met in Seneca Falls, New York, and kicked off the Suffragettes movement. Seventy-one years later (1919), the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was signed into law, guaranteeing most women’s right to vote.

In the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade, the Court gave federal protection to a woman’s fundamental “right to privacy,” in deciding whether to have an abortion. This kicked off the anti-choice movement whose 5o years of activism culminated in the Court’s 2022 decision, in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson, to reverse the Roe vs. Wade decision, leaving the regulation of abortion entirely to the individual states.

In 20XX, after XX years of pro-choice activism that followed the Dobbs decision, the U.S. adopts the 28th amendment, guaranteeing a woman’s Constitutional right to make her own medical choices.

The uncertain numbers (XX) indicate that we don’t know how long it will take to reverse the current political situation in the U.S., in which the Supreme Court and half the Congress is controlled by right-wing ideologues. But it will likely take at least one, and probably two, three or more decades.

So, the first rule of strategy for this fight is to prepare for the long haul. We must do everything we can immediately, of course, especially fighting to keep the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress in the upcoming elections.

But we must realize that progress against the anti-choice crowd’s lock on the courts and half the state governments will be incremental, with as many setbacks and disappointments as victories. We must be patient and persistent, prepared to donate to progressive candidates and causes not once, or for one election cycle, but for the foreseeable future. Prepared to make endless phone calls, write umpteen letters and march ‘til the soles of our shoes wear out.

To do what it takes to win the pro-choice fight, we must always remember that by fighting for human rights we are on the right side of history. We must keep your eyes on the prize, and support others in doing the same. Never give up.

Winning the culture wars: Keep it Peaceful

The first principle of winning the future is to commit and restrict ourselves to non-violent tactics. Violence will gain the pro-choice movement nothing but bad press.

Anti-choice people continuously commit violence, ranging from the outright murder of women’s health providers to firebombing clinics and physically attacking protesters. Now they have legalized state violence, including the surveillance and harassment of women, state-sanctioned vigilante action and so on. Let violence be their rap (as well as their karma). Let them earn the bad press. 

No matter how angry we are, we must channel that anger into peaceful activism, not use it as an excuse for setting fires in anti-choice offices or physically attacking people. Employing non-violent tactics such as sit-ins at the offices of anti-choice organizations or legislators is fine — but, keep it peaceful so we can prevail.

Wining the culture wars: Make this inclusive — it’s about everyone’s rights

We can say that the Supreme Court has abolished “a woman’s right to choose.” Or, we can say that it has attacked everyone’s fundamental right to privacy and to control our own bodies and destinies.

The second statement is more inclusive, and, ultimately more accurate. We all know the standard progressive mantras: “women’s rights are human rights”; “first they came for the socialists…”; “the poor and women of color will be disproportionately affected by this decision”; and so on. But by repeating them we are mostly preaching to the Progressive choir, not necessarily appealing to a broader swath of the public that we need to win over. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out again and again, a lot of people just don’t care about anti-democratic policies unless they believe that the discrimination is aimed at them.   

But what’s clear from its text is that Dobbs is literally an attack on all rights. It quashes the principle that rights not specifically enunciated in the Constitution in 1789 are still rights — especially if they have been established by prior Court decisions.

It’s been pointed out that, due to the court’s new approach to precedent, the right to same-sex marriage and interracial marriage are now threatened, as is the right of sexual freedom within one’s home. But again, these are rights prior Court decisions have granted to a limited number of citizens. While the Court’s role should be to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, the potential elimination of these minority rights doesn’t affect everyone – so not everyone is concerned if they are tread upon.  

But what about the right to travel whenever and wherever want within the confines of the United Sates? That right, which is not specified in our Constitution, is not enjoyed by the people of China, Russia or any number of other countries. Will women be free to travel from an anti-choice to a pro-choice state to get an abortion? Are other travel restrictions in the works? If a woman isn’t free to travel, can her husband be stopped from traveling across a state line if it is suspected he’s on his way to pick up a morning-after pill?

The point isn’t to speculate endlessly about what SCOTUS might or might not do, but to show that all rights are potentially under a attack — the radical majority on the Court feels emboldened to do whatever the hell it feel like and tell the American people “Screw you if you don’t like it.”

So, what’s the wining message we should repeat often and loudly? Everyone’s rights are threatened.

Winning the culture wars: Words matter

Put simply: Never describe the opposition as “pro-life.” Always describe them as “anti-choice.”  Never allow the media or anyone on a debate stage to use the term “pro-life” without challenging it.

Decades ago, the groups on either side of this debate defined themselves as either “pro-choice” or “anti-abortion.” Then someone in the anti-abortion crowd, probably a publicist, decided that it sounded better to be for than against something, so the phony “pro-life” label was invented and promoted. Soon the MSM, partially because it’s sloppy and partially because it’s easily intimidated by the angry Right, adopted the pro-life label, and it became the perfunctory identity of the movement. This, along with a great deal of chicanery and manipulation of the legal system, was one of the main ways the anti-choice people have come as far as they have.

Many other words and phrases in the “abortion debate” matter, but calling the opposition movement “anti-choice,” as opposed to “pro-life,” is a prime example of a winning, and losing culture war strategy. “Pro-life” is the basic identity by which the anti-choice movement deceives itself and the rest of the country by pretending it stands for righteousness, or at least a valid point of view. We know, of course, that if they were really “pro-life,” they would be pro maternity leave and child health initiatives, pro gun control and so on, but, by and large, except for some recent lip service they’ve given to these issues, the “pro-life” crowd is against anything that makes life better for the living.

So, let’s challenge the “pro-life” phrase at every public and private opportunity, and by every means at our disposal — talk shows, social media and so on. Let’s undercut the very crux of the “pro-life” movement’s identity.

Also, avoid fruitless debates about, say, whether “life begins at conception.” This is a matter of opinion, and its likely a waste of precious energy to try to change all but a very few people’s minds about it. (My own opinion is that an individual’s life, in the legal sense, begins as birth, and in any case it’s up to the pregnant woman to decide the fate of her unborn fetus.)

We must make the debate about rights of fully conscious beings to make choices, and the fact that those rights are being taken away, while simply bypassing bogus claims about the “rights” of the unborn. Don’t get sucked in. Just repeat: Choice. Choice. Choice. Such endless reiteration is how the anti-choice crowd has gotten as far as it has, and how we can hammer in the message about human rights.  

Sabotage the anti-choice laws at every opportunity

…and by every means possible, even by subterfuge.  

There are two goals here: (1) To rescue women who are victimized by these oppressive laws and to give them access to the health care and life choices they need and, (2) to bankrupt, or at least seriously deteriorate the law enforcement capabilities of the anti-choice states.

People are already coming up with numerous creative ways to sabotage the anti-choice laws. One common solution is to help women cross state lines where they can get the reproductive health services they need, including abortions. Some corporations are stepping up to the plate, saying they’ll do this for their employees. Non-profit groups and Go Fund Me sites to help indigent women are springing up everywhere. One of the more creative solutions, to date, is the proposal to have mobile health clinics in pro-choice states patrol the borders of anti-choice states and render free or low-cost services to women in need. As fast as the anti-choice authorities can find ways to clamp down on women within their jurisdictions, the pro-choice movement will find ways to defeat the enforcement of those regulations.

DIY home abortion pills quite possibly will be the straw that breaks the back of anti-choice enforcement. Access to the pills, which allow women to give themselves safe abortions in the privacy of their homes, is virtually unstoppable. In another article

Abortion Rights Rally, New York, June 24, 2022 – Elvert Barnes, Photographer – Courtesy Flickr CC

…titled How DIY abortion pills could become the “moonshine” of the 2020s, I list just a few of the many, many ways the pills can get into the hands of those who need them, frustrating all attempts to control them. Stopping access to the pills will be like trying to stop the flow of alcohol during Prohibition or drugs during the so-called drug-wars. Talk about whack-a-mole!

Also, don’t hesitate to engage in creative subterfuge. For example, it would be easy to set up the authorities or the anti-choice vigilantes from states like Texas.

Say one Mary Smith, a single woman who is not pregnant, lives in an anti-choice state. As a volunteer for the pro-choice underground, she drives across state lines and visits an abortion clinic where, coincidentally, a friend of hers works. Upon her return home, the state authorities arrest her. Then, backed by the ACLU and her pro-choice Go Fund Me group, she sues the hell out of the authorities both for harassment and for slander since they claimed that she, a virtuous woman, would either need an abortion or break the law. (It is similarly easy to set up anti-choice vigilantes.)

More chaos can be created in less expensive ways. Packages similar to those containing DIY abortion pills, but actually containing jelly beans, can be mailed to a variety of addresses. (I’ll leave the choice of addressees up to the imagination of the reader). Think of the expense to the surveillance state tracing such activities, obtaining warrants and so on would entail — not to mention the consternation to certain recipients.

Meanwhile, hypocritical anti-choice politicians and clergymen whose wives, daughters or mistresses take short trips to undisclosed locations in states where abortions remain legal can be outed on social media. And on and on.

If, to you, such tactics feel like foul play, rather than mere anti-establishment hijinks, compare them to the foul play the anti-choice movement has engaged in for decades: the harassment of women with unwanted pregnancies; the bombing of abortion clinics; the long string of murders of health care providers; the back-room lobbyist movement to rig the judiciary and supreme court; the endless lies.  

One thing we who believe in basic human rights need to get straight is that this is war, and the anti-choice fanatics will stop at nothing in their attack on the rights of women and, eventually, the rights of everyone. While the pro-choice fighters have no need to stoop to the level of the neo-fascist, theocratic anti-choice movement — while, in fact, such activities would be both morally abhorrent and counter-productive — they have to be willing to treat this like a real fight if they are to win.

Ultimately, follow the dictates of your own conscience and do battle in your own way.

Not everyone will feel comfortable with some of the suggestions here. Ultimately whether it’s through donations to the cause, marching, letter writing or running for office, each of us must engage in the battle in our own way. But if you care about the rights of women, the rights people, and the future of America — engage.

Full photo caption (for both photos) : Abortion Rights Rally in response to Supreme Court Roe vs Wade Reversal Decision at Washington Square Park along 5th Avenue at Waverly Place in NYC on Friday evening, 24 June 2022

Selected articles about pro-choice strategies:

How DIY Abortion Pills could become the moonshine of the 2020s, Philip S. Wenz

We Are Prey: Expert Advice for survival in a post-Roe world, ZawnVillenis (recommended)

Mad about Roe? Here’s what to do now, Robin Marty

Lessons from the Terrible Triumph of the Anti-Abortion Movement, Michelle Goldberg,

The dog that caught the car, Truffle 2022, (recommended)

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