The fight for reproductive rights has been going on for centuries, but in the past 50 or so years, we’ve seen the rapid rise of reproductive rights in the United States—with advances in access to birth control, abortion, and preventative reproductive health care.
On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court’s historic Roe v. Wade ruling came down, settling the question of whether or not women have a right to abortion. Following the ruling, states’ anti-abortion laws crumbled. In the years since, anti-choice activists and legislators have taken steps to restrict access to reproductive health services without explicitly banning it.
In recent years, an increasing number of states have taken it upon themselves to make reproductive services more difficult to obtain, passing legislation designed to defund clinics, layering restrictions, requirements, and regulations on existing locations, and implementing waiting periods. Additionally, some anti-choice activists have begun to take aim at access to contraception.
Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings seen by many as a blow to the reproductive rights movement. The first came in June as the court ruled that “buffer zones”—or requirements for protesters to remain a specified distance away from clinic entrance points—were illegal as they violated protesters’ First Amendment rights. The second came last month, when the Supreme Court ruled that businesses with “closely held beliefs” are not required to provide employees with contraception as part of their employee health insurance plans.
On Friday, the Obama administration outlined a new policy that would “allow religious nonprofits and some companies to opt out of paying for birth control for female employees while still ensuring those employees have access to contraception,” according to the Associated Press.
As things continue to heat up in the fight for reproductive justice, pro-choice activists are continuing to make their voices heard. One such activist is writer and media contributor Katie Klabusich. Klabusich took time to speak with me about the current state of reproductive rights, and to offer her perspective on what it’s like to be at the front lines of clinic protests (where she frequently volunteers to escort patients from their cars to clinic doors).
Can you tell us a bit about your background and involvement in the reproductive rights movement, and what makes the present such a critical time in the movement’s history?
Katie Klabusich: I became a clinic defense escort a couple of years ago when I was living in Chicago. I was pretty dismayed to discover that clinics were picketed and patients harassed in my “safe blue” city. One day on a sidewalk and I was committed to working for a reality where everyone has access to their constitutional rights. According to Guttmacher, more than 87% of counties in the US are without an abortion provider, which makes picketing easy and healthcare nearly nonexistent for millions.
I’d started writing after a ten-year hiatus and developed relationships with some people who had media platforms—most notably Hal Sparks. My voice seemed to resonate with those who had previously shied away from the words “abortion,” “sex,” “contraception,” and “choice.” Being unapologetic, but accessible turned out to be really important right at the time when TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws were spreading through state houses like wildfire.
With people who value storytelling as a stigma-reducing tool taking the helm at national and state organizations, the reproductive rights movement is drawing in folks who would never have identified with the second wave language. They’re seeing their own rights—rights they thought their parents had won already—eroding. Traditionally pop culture outlets are picking up repro beats and telling the stories of real people; we’re reclaiming the morality of abortion access and that’s really exciting. We’re also seeing traditionally-privileged white spaces finally being receptive to reproductive justice organizers; much more needs to be done, but words like “intersectional” are appearing in mission statements alongside language that doesn’t alienate marginalized groups like LGBTQ people.
In fact, Fund Texas Women just changed their name this week to Fund Texas Choice to make their outreach and service trans-inclusive!
You’ve been one of the leading voices in pushback against a pro-choice group called Stop Patriarchy. Can you tell me a bit about them, and provide some background on why you think they’re so problematic?
KK: They have a history of co-opting any movement that includes protesting in order to disseminate the literature of their patriarch, Bob Avakian. Their insistence on trans-exclusive and Civil Rights Movement co-opting language is offensive and has no place in reproductive rights and justice work.
SP refuses to listen to or work with location organizers—which I found particularly offensive this month during their appropriately-named “Freedom Ride” through Texas because I’ve worked with activists and organizations here over the past year or so.
People should check out Texans For Reproductive Justice, where organizers here have put together a seriously comprehensive list of problematic aspects to SP. The Salon piece is my favorite I’ve done so far because it really profiles the work being done in Texas.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law. Many view this ruling as a harbinger of things to come. Why exactly are buffer zones important to patients seeking reproductive healthcare?
KK: Buffer zones provide a space around a reproductive healthcare clinic where picketers cannot harass, threaten and intimidate them. The McCullen decision—which wasn’t based on case-law of any kind and ignored all precedent—put the idea of “sidewalk counseling” into law and declared sidewalks a political place appropriate for vocal exchange of ideas. This means that you can’t scream at someone on their way to a polling place where they’ll be engaging in a political act, but you can scream at someone on their way to the doctor where they’ll be engaging in an act of accessing healthcare.
Certainly there are what I call “vigil-style” protesters—those off to the side with rosaries, praying or humming to themselves, sometimes holding a sign or a pamphlet. They don’t tend to violate the space of patients and staff and are typically already off to the side or across the street. Buffers were created because patients are routinely threatened, chased into the street, video-tapped, photographed, and shamed by aggressive picketers who think they stand for a silent majority in this country.
So far, a few buffers have been suspended, but no others have been struck down. We’ll have to see what happens next. We’ve been limiting free speech since the founding of the country by weighing public safety against discourse. Considering the thousands of acts of violence committed against clinics, staff, and volunteers over the past few decades, the need for that balance around clinics is clear.
What is one thing readers should know about the reproductive rights movement that they might not already be aware of?
KK: It’s not just about abortion! So many amazing organizations are working to provide the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare. There are abortion doulas, midwives, counselors, clinic defense escort groups, comprehensive sex educators, after-care specialists, stigma-busting organizations, and on and on. The scope of the work is at once overwhelming and inspiring!
If readers wanted to donate to a pro-choice cause, what organization would you recommend giving to?
KK: I always recommend their local abortion fund as the place where donations are guaranteed to be utilized for people in immediate need. Typically, they’re entirely volunteer run and the national network coordinates and organizes well, often rallying around an area or state in specific need/crisis. You can find the fund in your area at NNAF, and if you want further assistance, they’re super responsive on social media via @AbortionFunds. If you want to get involved, there’s a bowl-a-thon every year—a great way for people who want to help, but don’t have discretionary funding of their own to give.
Do you have any parting words for readers?
KK: Reproductive healthcare is a human right; international groups have declared it so over and over again. YOU should be able to access the care you need at the moment you need it. That’s what the reproductive rights and justice movements are working toward.
(Featured image via)