One in three women has an abortion, according to Dr. Susan Wicklund, an abortion provider in Montana and author of This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor. But most people say they don’t know someone who has had an abortion. That mothers, daughters, sisters and friends have this procedure and do not talk to one another is a symptom of abortion having become more stigmatized now than ever — and changing that perception is part of the mission of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, organized by StopPatriarchy.org.
“We’re really at a tipping point where abortion has never been more difficult to access, more dangerous to provide or more stigmatized to get,” says Sunsara Taylor, an organizer for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, coordinated car-caravans from New York City and San Francisco that will visit places around the country where abortions are becoming increasingly difficult to access.
“The core message of this freedom ride is, it is really essential that people fight each new attack that’s coming down on abortion rights and abortion access. Women’s lives depend on it,” Taylor says. “But it is even more essential that we get off the defensive and that we launch a national counter-offense and that we unapologetically come out and say that fetuses are not babies, abortion is not murder and women are not incubators, and we make the demand that abortion be available on demand and without apology.”
The last few years have seen record numbers of restrictions on abortions introduced, including some 278 bills in 2012 alone, and 97 percent of rural counties have no abortion provider, while five states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Arkansas and Mississippi — have only one. Taylor calls it a state of emergency, language echoed by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, in her statement of support for the ride.
“The right for women to decide for themselves when and whether to have a child is very central to what women’s role in society will be,” Taylor says. “When women didn’t have access and the right to abortion or birth control … they had their lives foreclosed, their dreams extinguished. … If you want to have a child, if you’re ready for a child, it can be the most beautiful thing there is, it can be extraordinary. But if you do not want a child you really are being reduced to a breeder, and your whole life’s course is being determined for you.”
The situation amounts to enslavement, she says.
Caravan riders will be delivering plaques to abortion providers to acknowledge their work and the risks they take by doing it, and “bloody coat hanger awards” to the organizations and legislative leaders that have done the most to restrict access to abortions. Kick-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco on July 23 will send the riders on their way to convergence events in the Midwest. On Aug. 1, North Dakota’s one clinic will be closed when new restrictions requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital take effect. Participants in the ride aim to visit the clinic before it closes its doors, as well as the clinic in Wichita, Kan., formerly run by Dr. George Tiller, who was killed four years ago. That clinic re-opened in May.
“My biggest fear is that it’s too quiet,” says Boulder resident Miriam Schiff, who is looking to draw together a group of women to join the ride. “I am deathly afraid of the overpowering silence, that nobody is saying anything, and that women have forgotten how to take to the streets, that we’ve become complacent. … Instead of keeping up with the Kardashians, it should be keeping up with the legislature, because that’s what’s going to screw you over.”
Schiff says she may join the caravan at stops in Salt Lake City or Wichita, or fly to join a starting point if a caravan from Colorado doesn’t come together.
“I am not a militant feminist,” she says. “I’m just somebody who is scared to death that time is not marching forward, that rights aren’t being won and gained and held on to, but rights are being lost.”
She remembers what illegal abortions were like, she says, and wouldn’t want other women to have to go through that.
“We have a duty as women to make sure that it doesn’t happen anywhere else, because then we’re ensuring that it won’t happen here,” she says.
A Democratic majority in the Colorado House and Senate has meant the issue has stayed largely out of the state legislature, but that tide can turn with any election.
For more information on the local group headed to the ride, contact Miriam Schiff at email@example.com or 303-619-3744. UPDATE: Schiff says informational meetings will take place 8 p.m. July 11 and 7 p.m. July 19 at Kakes Studios, 2115 Pearl St., Boulder.