“The rich have always been able to access reasonably safe abortion, even before it was legal. They had (and have) the money to pay the best doctors, to travel to other countries, and to avoid serious legal issues. They can take off work, find childcare, and recover in peace. It’s the working class that suffers when abortion access is restricted. The rich have always had a choice, but do we?”
Content Note: Abortion, domestic violence, reproductive coercion, and religious trauma
Two weeks ago, members of the Milwaukee General Defense Committee saw a Facebook post from Affiliated Medical Services, the last independent abortion clinic in Wisconsin, calling for supporters to come counter-protest a group of right-wing Christians affiliated with the “40 Days For Life” campaign. We mobilized a small group nearly immediately, but the religious right was chased away by the rain before we could pull together our full group.
We saw that they had events planned every weekend in October and into November, and decided to plan for a bigger action. Typically, abortion clinics discourage significant counter-protests as the potential for escalation and confrontation is intimidating to many patients, but this group scheduled their events on Sundays, when the clinic is closed. We planned an action for Sunday, October 29th. The goals of our action were to take the space in front of the clinic, and to show support for the clinic staff and patients. Throughout sign-making, chant-planning, and story-gathering, we were intentional about avoiding trans-exclusionary or biological essentialist language. We also worked closely with clinic staff to learn about the protesters and their practices, and to figure out how to best accomplish our common goals.
The day of the action, we arrived before their scheduled event. A few of them were there even earlier, but we quickly amassed a group of about 50 people to confront them. Some of us chose to cover our faces to protect ourselves from harassment. Protesters at this particular clinic have tracked people’s license plates and shown up at their homes to harass them. Other folks fear negative consequences from employers or family members as a result of media attention, both from corporate media and local YouTubers.
We shared stories about the importance of abortion access, and chanted for about an hour and a half. We carried signs with slogans like “Working Class for Abortion Access” and “Autonomy Without Apology.” They parked their car in front of the clinic, and put anti-abortion placards over a parking sign. At the peak, they had around ten people. They were mostly white men, with several clergy members present. When one of their placards fell off the parking sign and into a gutter, we danced on it and continued chanting. They shoved crucifixes in our faces and screamed about “weapons against satan” while fanning incense smoke at our group. A priest backed his car into a GDC member while retreating, but he is thankfully uninjured. Everyone was heated. They shouted at us and laid hands on us without our consent to “pray for us”, but we drowned them out, confronted their oppressive beliefs and actions, and made them uncomfortable enough to leave the clinic.
While our action successfully took back the space in front of the clinic, they returned later with about 30 people and held a procession on the same block as the clinic. They are organized. We need to out-organize them, and make abortion access a central site of struggle in our movements.
“Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Christian fascists go away!”
The forced-birth advocates made their racism apparent when they interacted with people of color. They tried to tell black GDC members that the clinic was committing “black genocide” and accused several people of being complicit with the “demise” of their own communities. They hissed “Don’t black lives matter?” when they noticed BLM buttons, attempting to agitate black folks without catching the attention of others. When asked why they’ve never attended a Black Lives Matter event nor held vigils for victims of police and white supremacist vigilante violence, they didn’t have an answer. Additionally, a local troll with an alt-right following repeatedly attempted to provoke and intimidate GDC members and supporters, singling out people of color and femmes for his comments.
“Pro-life? That’s a lie. You don’t care if people die.”
Despite claiming to be protecting life, as usual, these folks only cared about fetuses. When questioned about their support for universal healthcare and war, they made it clear that they did not support actual children or families beyond pregnancy and birth, and that they had no moral issues with supporting pro-war politicians.
“Not the church, not the state. People must decide our fate!”
Attacks on abortion access come from the church and the state. The state curtails the rights that we have to access abortion care and impedes our ability to access it by cutting funding and passing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP laws) while the church attempts to shame us out of making our own decisions. They stand outside clinics on a daily basis to harass people attempting to get an abortion or counseling. They use medically false information to scare people away, and set up fake clinics (Crisis Pregnancy Centers) across the street from actual clinics. The CPCs lure patients in either with promises of free ultrasounds and pregnancy tests, or by blatantly lying to them and stalling until the actual clinic closes or they’ve missed their appointment. They use religion to shame patients, and count everyone they talk out of receiving counseling as a “saved life.”
When shame isn’t enough, some resort to violence. A forced-birth fanatic bombed an abortion clinic in Appleton, Wisconsin in 2012. The clinic has since closed for security reasons, leaving northern Wisconsin without an abortion provider. They’ve bombed other clinics, and have murdered abortion providers.
These shaming tactics emerge from broader issues of misogyny within many of these religious institutions that insinuate or openly state that women, or people they think are women, can’t be trusted to control our own bodies. We reject both state control and the shame tactics of the religious right.
My body, my choice. Their body, their choice.
GDC members and supporters rejected the simplistic idea of “choice” in regards to abortion. While we support every person’s right to choose to end or continue a pregnancy, the choice narrative ignores the context in which choices are made. The rich have always been able to access reasonably safe abortion, even before it was legal. They had (and have) the money to pay the best doctors, to travel to other countries, and to avoid serious legal issues. They can take off work, find childcare, and recover in peace. It’s the working class that suffers when abortion access is restricted. The rich have always had a choice, but do we?
Wisconsin only has three abortion clinics, located in Milwaukee and Madison. If a person seeking abortion lives hours away from the nearest clinic or can’t access transportation, do they really have a choice? Wisconsin also has a 24-hour waiting period between counseling and the abortion procedure. If someone has to take off work for multiple days and they lose wages or risk being fired, do they really have a choice? If someone is being forced or coerced to get pregnant and they fear violence for terminating the pregnancy, do they really have a choice? What about the minors who need parental consent or permission from a judge? Can working class folks without $500-1000 or more to pay for the procedure actually make a genuine choice?
The people stuck without the ability to choose are disproportionately from communities that have been decimated by both capitalism and racism, misogyny, transphobia, and other axes of oppression. We don’t want empty platitudes about personal choice, we want free abortion, on demand, and without apology. We’ll defend the resources and rights we have, and we’ll fight to build a world where people have true bodily autonomy, free from the constraints of capitalism and other oppressions.
Clinic defense is community defense. Abortion is a working class issue.
– Milwaukee Industrial Workers of the World, General Defense Committee Local 19
The General Defense Committee is the community self-defense arm of our labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW is a democratically-run union for all workers that believes we can use collective action to improve our working conditions and our lives. The GDC takes these principles and applies them to organizing in defense of our communities, especially in support of targeted groups such as immigrants, racial and religious minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community.