This event is a microcosm of the national struggle for abortion rights – a movement that is ready for militant action, and a Democratic body that not only insists on leading this movement, but coopting its most promising strategies by insisting that cooperating with the police and the courts is the best way to defend bodily autonomy. Meanwhile, clinic defenders and other abortion rights activists across the country are operating in defiance of the police. NYC For Abortion Rights has carried out demonstrations against right-wing anti-choice groups and clinic defenses without police permits for several years. When we say, “we are having abortions forever”, we are calling for a confrontational resistance to whatever the courts decide and however the police will enforce it. And this confrontational resistance is both absolutely necessary and absolutely impossible when limiting struggle to actions permitted by the police.
Turning to the police to protect abortion patients is misguided to say the least. It is the threat of imprisonment that keeps abortion seekers isolated, afraid, and unaware of the resources that do exist to help people safely self-manage abortions as well as travel to obtain them. If we are afraid of clinic closures and a return to dangerous back-alley abortions which will kill pregnant people, we need to remember that it is the police who make self-managed abortions so dangerous. Self-managed abortions can absolutely be done safely, especially with the advent of the abortion pill. Self-managed abortions are safer than, for instance, home births. Though of course we cannot blithely accept the closure of clinics as a foregone conclusion, they must not only be defended, but expanded to meet unmet demand. Surgical abortion in clinics remains an essential demand, and one that ought to be a center piece for struggle ahead.
However, the criminalization of “aiding and abetting abortion” will ensure that safe self-managed abortions become dangerous and traumatic, that information and resources to perform them safely will remain inaccessible, and that abortion seekers will have no one to turn to and no one to help them, except for the most brazen and unscrupulous of opportunists.
The Struggle Ahead
In the wake of the leaked memo, police brutalized protestors in LA. We can expect this to continue as long as direct actions to protect abortion rights continues to gain momentum into what must become a hot summer. And as the right-wing Supreme Court continues to expand the powers of the police to surveil populations, abortion patients and pregnant people will be in even greater danger.
There are already tech companies invested in selling data about pregnant people to law enforcement, using period tracking apps and geolocation. Policing is perhaps the most valuable tool the state has in dismantling bodily autonomy, and in conjunction with new technologies of surveillance and a general turn to the right, those seeking abortion are directly in the cross-hairs.
The far right is aware of the connections between mobilization and the legal and penal powers of the state. They have been riling up their base against the morning-after pill, hormonal birth control, and the copper IUD as abortifacients. Alito’s draft, whatever he may claim, clearly leaves room to dismantle access to contraception too. Around the world the police, particularly in the US, are allies of the far-right. They are the ones who escort the New York Archdiocese’s march to harass abortion patients. And while uniformed cops do not participate in clinic harassment campaigns, we do have reason to believe the police work with clinic invaders behind the scenes. The draft ruling can be seen as part of the far right’s ever-tightening of the connections between their own militant mobilization, the state’s legal apparatus, and the penal powers bridging the two.
New York City for Abortion Rights (NYCFAR) was formed five years ago to be part of an important left response to this coordinated strategy on the right. It was formed to counter-protest the Archdiocese of New York’s monthly march to harass patients at the Planned Parenthood on Bleecker Street. Clinic defenders gather and picket outside St. Patrick’s Basilica on Mulberry Street, which hosts the clinic harassers. NYCFAR members form a blockade on the street to delay these antis’ (anti abortion demonstrators) arrival to the clinic. As other anti-abortion groups set their sights on New York, NYCFAR expanded their strategy to counter those groups as well (more on that here). This past summer, as the threat to Roe became more apparent, the Archdiocese expanded their campaign to every borough in New York. NYCFAR was successful at shutting their efforts down in Brooklyn after a campaign of militant clinic defense and raising community awareness, particularly in tying the Archdiocese’s actions to the then-recent passage of SB8 in Texas.
Of course, the police are always a sizable presence at these demonstrations – neither to help escort patients safely into the clinic, nor to enforce the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances act by keeping antis away from the clinic door, but to defend this far-right procession as they march to the clinic. NYCFAR activists have often witnessed the cops and the antis talking and joking amicably. This past summer, after several pieces were published in the National Review about NYCFAR’s clinic defenses, SRG arrived at a clinic defense in Brooklyn and arrested two NYCFAR members in the middle of the street for “blocking pedestrian traffic.” None of the antis were arrested.
On May 7th, following the Roe leak, NYCFAR and abortion supporters in New York City had a tremendous and unprecedented victory at our clinic defense, which had been announced before the leak. Normally, there are at most twenty of us. This time, there were at least a hundred people outside St. Patrick’s ready to defend abortion rights, in the early morning, in the rain. Picketers chanted, “Thank God For Abortion,” “Not the Church, Not the State, the People Must Decide Their Fate,” “Abortion is Healthcare, Healthcare is a Right.” Ninety minutes later, we learned that, for the first time in five years, the antis had decided not to march – because the police wouldn’t escort them. This was entirely due to our numbers and militancy. It also directly spells out the tactics necessary to defend abortion.
Not just in New York City, but around the U.S., we have a daunting struggle ahead of us. This situation is barbaric and appalling beyond words. But if we are to prevail, we must not fall to despair or nihilism, and we certainly do not need to reinvent the wheel. We can look to successful campaigns which have not only defended, but won reproductive rights.
Before Roe, there was the Jane Collective, an underground network of abortion providers that conducted safe abortions, and transported people as needed to perform them. Abortion funds exist today to do this. We must publicly proclaim that we will keep having abortions, and that we will keep “aiding and abetting” abortions, no matter what the Supreme Court decides. Feminist movements across the globe have won abortion rights through mass social protest and direct action.
We can and should take inspiration from their struggles. In Ireland, in Argentina, in Poland, and Chile, the abortion struggle has been fought on the streets, through direct action and unapologetic claiming of abortion as an inalienable right – not by electing politicians who will defend “the right to choose.” It is this militant action that we will need in the United States if we want to win.
If, however, you cannot participate in militant struggle, one of the most important and simple things to do is donate to abortion funds such as: https://abortionfunds.org/funds, https://www.ineedana.com/. Unlike a donation to Planned Parenthood, a donation to these organizations goes directly to helping someone access abortion; for instance, if they need to travel out of state. You can also support an organization like https://www.plancpills.org/, which provides abortion pills to people who can’t travel to a clinic as well as resources about self-managed abortion. You can even buy abortion pills here: https://aidaccess.org/ before you’re pregnant.