Coco Das reads the statement from Rise Up for Abortion Rights on the 50th anniversary of Roe. Follow Coco on Twitter at @Coco_Das and connect with Rise Up for Abortion Rights on all platforms at riseup4abortionrights.org.
Then, Sam interviews Julie F. Kay, human rights lawyer for gender equality & religious freedom and architect of the Irish abortion lawsuit ABC v. Ireland, co-author with Kathryn Kolbert of Controlling Women: What We Must Do Now to Save Reproductive Freedom. Follow her on Twitter @Msjuliekay and visit her website www.juliefkay.com.
Also! check out Walter Masterson trolling anti-abortion protesters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oG7s2idrgQ
Links to reports/articles mentioned in the show:
Jessica Valenti: Abortion, Every Day
The Gender Equity Project Institute The State of Reproductive Health in The United States
Refuse Fascism is more than a podcast! You can get involved at RefuseFascism.org. We’re still on Twitter (@RefuseFascism) and other social platforms including the newest addition: mastodon.world/@refusefascism
Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown
Refuse Fascism Episode 142
On the 50th Anniversary of Roe v Wade
Sun, Jan 22, 2023 4:26PM • 57:56
Julie F. Kay 00:00
This isn’t about some great philosophical question of when life begins. This is about control. We tend to have this view of American exceptionalism, that we have such a great democracy and so much liberty and freedom that we don’t need human rights. We need to really de-stigmatize the conversation around abortion and recognize it as a human right. When you get people pouring into the streets, it’s energizing, it’s uplifting, it reminds me that we’re there in community, that there are other people. I think it brings people together in a way that nothing else does. In any good protest, there’s always an edge to it that it could demand more than the establishment want. More people believe more strongly than we think and then we know and that’s part of creating the change we need.
Sam Goldman 01:02
Welcome to Episode 142 of the Refuse Fascism podcast, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers, and host of the show. Refuse Fascism exposes analyzes, and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in the United States. In today’s episode, Coco Das shares Rise Up 4 Abortion Right’s statement on the 50th anniversary of Roe v Wade. Then we share an interview with human rights attorney and author Julie F. Kay.
But first, if you appreciate the show, and want to help us reach more people who want to refuse fascism, be a gem and go write a review and drop five stars wherever you listen to your pods. Here’s one review we received earlier this month from 120983446, who gave it five stars and titled the review “excellent show with equally excellent guests.” They wrote: “If accurate, in-depth examinations of current political events with a strong mix of historical perspective is your bailiwick, then Refuse Fascism will not disappoint. Always on target and no mincing of words in informing us all about the many aspects of the far right. Be they fascists, ultra-nationalists, sociopaths or outright criminals? Here Be Dragons slayed.”
Well, thank you. We do try. Note that those ultra-nationalist sociopaths and criminals are also fascists. We got this email from John: “It was a great conversation on the findings of the January 6th committee. This is my fourth or fifth episode of listening to Refuse Fascism. Each one is as good as the previous one or better. Sam, you’re good at keeping the conversation moving, while at the same time expressing your thoughts — whether they may or may not align with theirs. You’re honest. I have since donated and received my caps.”
Keep listening, man, and keep sending your thoughts. So glad to have you in this community. Thanks for donating and glad you got your caps. Love to see some pics of you rocking them. And for those of you listening, if you didn’t catch that episode that he’s talking about, it’s our last episode. Give it a listen. After today’s show, please tell the people out there in podcast land why you listen and why they should too. Subscribe/follow so you never miss an episode, and, of course, continue all that sharing and commenting on social media.
You may have noticed I am even more congested than usual. I’m recovering from COVID and I really hope that I am not too painful on your ears. So apologies in advance. Today should mark half a century of Roe v Wade as law of the land, but thanks to the illegitimate, Trump-packed, fascist Supreme Court, the legal right to abortion was overturned on June 24. 44 million women and girls live in states that ban or restrict abortion and reproductive health care. The war on abortion waged by women-hating theocratic Christian fascists for decades has been the linchpin of a vicious American fascist movement built on white supremacy, misogyny and xenophobia. Their aim is nothing less than the consolidation of fascist rule — one that violently reasserts the domination of white male supremacy over all of society and government.
Unsure of this? Just listen to Steve Scalise, Majority Leader of the House of Representatives speaking on Friday to the March for Life, making clear that for these Christian fascists Roe was just the beginning of the battle.
Steve Scalise 05:07
We’re in a battle. It’s important to keep your focus on what the mission is, but every step of the way, it’s also critical that we celebrate victories along the way. And boy did we get a huge victory just a few months ago when Roe was overturned [crowd cheers]. But as you all know, that’s only the end of the first phase of this battle. The next phase now begins and that’s what this year’s March is all about: the next steps in a post-Roe era.
Sam Goldman 10:05
Shout out to those who took this message to the streets today. For more visit RiseUp4AbortionRights.org. I wanted to share an excerpt of a piece Sunsara Taylor, co-initiator and leader of RiseUp4AbortionRights, and co-host of the Revolution, Nothing Less show wrote from her personal perspective on the 50th anniversary of Roe. I encourage folks to consider her piece in full.
“Have you let yourself think critically about the ‘strategy’ you are being fed and too often embracing by the Democrats and the so-called leaders of the so-called pro-choice movement. They straight-up refused to mobilize any serious fight in the streets against the overturning of Roe. Some of them even attacked the one group, RiseUp4AbortionRights, that did lead tens of thousands to wage this fight. Now, these so-called leaders are pushing a state by state strategy aimed at protecting abortion rights in a few places. Never mind the millions of women left behind. Never mind that any state protections could be reversed in a heartbeat by the fascist Supreme Court. Never mind that this state by state strategy accepts and legitimizes the outrageous illegitimate notion that women’s rights are not fundamental and should be left up to each area as just a matter of taste.
Will you continue to go along with this? The fury of millions of women and everyone who cares about justice, your fury, needs to be unleashed now in the streets in mass struggle to demand legal abortion on demand and without apology — nationwide. Draw inspiration from the brave women and the people of Iran, a society that enslaves women should not be allowed to function as ‘normal.‘”
If you want some comedic relief, check out our friend Walter Masterson’s epic trolling of anti abortion Christian fascists in NYC. See the link in the show notes. In my interview with Julie, I grossly under-counted the amount of women girls and others that would be forced to give birth against their will if we allow the lack of federal protection of abortion rights to continue for decades, those who advocate for 40 years struggle are accepting millions of women and girls to have children against their will. Already approximately 100,000 women and girls have been forced to give birth against their will since the fall of Roe. Now here’s my interview recorded earlier this month with Julie Kay.
I am really honored to get a chance to talk to you our next guest. Julie F. Kay is an internationally recognized human rights lawyer and co-author of Controlling Women: What We Must Do Now to Restore Reproductive Freedom. She successfully argued against Ireland’s ban on abortion before the European Court of Human Rights. Welcome, Julie, thanks for joining us.
Julie F. Kay 17:17
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Sam Goldman 17:19
I wanted to start with the title of your book Controlling Women. What does control have to do with abortion rights? Because isn’t it just healthcare? I say it sarcastically, but I feel like it’s important.
Julie F. Kay 17:36
The title is a bit tongue in cheek because this is about controlling sexuality and controlling childbearing and some of the most intimate human rights that we have. The title, Controlling Women, is really sort of a nod to where we think the opposition is coming from; that it’s about really deciding who has children with whom, when and how. It’s also about sexuality, abortion and contraception allow people and women in particular to have sex without consequences. Some of the consequences traditionally have been forced marriage; have been forced pregnancy; have been derailing education.
All these other kinds of societal effects that happen when you can’t control your own body, your own autonomy, your health and your decision, whether when and with whom to have a child or not. So the book is really about why abortion matters. It really does matter to so many for so many diverse and different reasons. But it’s really to say: This isn’t a religious debate. This isn’t about some great philosophical question of when life begins. This is about control.
Sam Goldman 18:46
I think that is really helpful. When I was thinking about your book and thinking about the difference that it makes when we understand what is driving this assault, that actually matters, I think that if we limit abortion and the conversation of reproductive rights broadly, only in the realm of healthcare — which it is — and not as a human right, we limit our avenues to fight for it. We also limit our own understanding of how vital this right is to the lives and well being of women.
Yeah, we’ve — I’m saying ‘we’ really broadly, as people living in this country have — accepted the terms of the debate by those who seek to limit women’s freedom and be the deciders of the destinies of others. Your insight around how we frame it, and what we’re looking at, about what this battle is over is important.
Julie F. Kay 19:26
I mean, make no mistake, it is healthcare. It is basic healthcare. It is healthcare that one in four women in their lives will seek. But I come at this as the quintessential gender-equity issue. There’s also a lot of implications for race equity because of how this debate and how access to abortion and to safe motherhood has played out in our society and in our culture. If a person can’t control their basic bodily autonomy, their independence, those decisions about having say over what happens to you medically, what happens to you physically, there’s the immediate implications of that for your health.
There’s also the greater implication of what does it say about women and people who can become pregnant in our society when we see them only as caregivers, and primarily as child-bearers, and that we’re saying, yes, you may be anything in the world, the sky’s the limit. But the minute you’re in that kind of situation of being able to get pregnant or getting pregnant, that’s what comes first and you have no ability to determine the timing or the partnership or any of those kinds of things.
When we talk about abortion as a human right, we also have to recognize it’s about the decision whether to have an abortion or not, and the reproductive justice movement in this country, which was started in the late 80s and early 90s, by women of color, and specifically by Black women in the South who were really recognizing that abortion isn’t all there is to it, it’s the ability to really decide that you are going to be able to have children safely — our maternal mortality rate in this country is horrific. We have to do better for women and people who are pregnant and making sure that they are able to safely continue pregnancy if they choose to do so. But also to raise children with food security, with access to education, with housing security, with a clean environment, all those pieces that play into an individual decision about whether or not you want to or even can continue a pregnancy, are really human rights issues, are really about equity, are about gender equity, are about race equity.
So we do have to start thinking about this as a human rights issue and talking about it more. Many people are and have been, but politically, the conversation in this sort of mainstream debate has been limited, I think, to choice and access, and also about — God help us — religion and battling religious beliefs and these deep philosophical questions about when life begins that are so individualized that it has really derailed any kind of debate about what’s really at stake here for people who become pregnant and for women.
When you look at what’s happened globally around this issue, when you’ve looked at the trends towards liberalizing access to abortion, which has been predominantly the trend, other than the US; if you look at Latin America, South America, Ireland, other places that have gone from near complete bans on abortion to legal access to abortion, it really was when people stood up women and their allies said, “This is a human right” and made those demands. It’s part of this green wave that started in Ireland and legalized abortion in Argentina, Mexico, and more recently, in 2022, in Columbia had that kind of reframing of it. As we come upon Roe vs. Wade, it would be its 50th anniversary, or truncated, or non existent 50th anniversary, when we turn back to look at what Roe vs. Wade was, it was never the be-all and end-all. It worked for us. It was vitally important as a decision. But when you look at the legal framing of it, it was not what was going to take us where we needed to go, and indeed, it never did.
Sam Goldman 23:51
I wanted to talk more about that. Both the global, what’s happened elsewhere that hasn’t happened here, and the lessons that we could learn, and also the mechanism for which we can enact change. I am a little struck by some people — not people like yourself who’ve been warning about this for decades and have been talking and writing and struggling for abortion rights, but others — who have suddenly said: Well, Roe was never enough. I feel like yes, and, when you don’t have a floor, you can’t talk about the ceiling. I feel like there’s too many who are saying: Well, it was never enough anyway. In a way it’s kind of pissing on the rights of the 22 million women who right now don’t have access to abortion in their state. I know that that’s not where you’re coming from.
Julie F. Kay 24:51
I can say that the house I’m living in needs some work. That doesn’t mean let’s smash it down and live on the streets while we spend 20 years building a new one. I mean, absolutely, I did not mean that we should have or that I wanted to see Roe go. It’s been devastating for everybody, but particularly for women and people who are seeking access who have none. It’s putting tens of thousands of lives at risk every month because pregnancy is dangerous and lack of access to abortion is dangerous. So, in no way minimizing or saying: Well it’s okay, we’re gonna get rid of that anyways.
I think it’s important to recognize, though, as we move into this new stage — and if you’ll indulge me a very brief and boring legal lecture — Roe vs. Wade came about at a time of tremendous change in this country, but it was in no way the Supreme Court taking the lead. It was in no way some all of a sudden progressive court saying: You know, we need this. It was the Supreme Court doing what it does, which is kind of taking the temperature of the country when they had just decriminalized contraceptives for unmarried people the year before Roe vs. Wade, in 1972, which is sort of shocking to think about. In 1965, they had decriminalized contraception for married people.
So we were at a sort of time where there was a nascent Women’s Liberation Movement, so called. There were also states that had legalized abortion. I think this is really important that in New York, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, others, were starting to have access to abortion. In fact, New York, if you could get to New York, you could get an abortion. So again, if you have mobility, if you have funds, if you have access, if you have resources. The Supreme Court, I think, wanted to expand the right, but they also wanted to make sure that doctors — white men in white coats — were kind of holding the hands of women who are making these decisions. They didn’t want to see the kind of harm to women’s health and fertility and lives that they had been seeing during the time kind of illegal abortion.
There’s a film out about the Jane Collective out of Chicago that really talks about how that [SG: Highly recommended] — excellent, and it’s now on HBO, which is lovely to see that kind of mass reach. But that was the exception, where there were mission-driven health care providers who were willing to take a risk to make sure that abortion was safe, it wasn’t sleazy, it wasn’t exploitative, all those kinds of things. There was a setting for that, that Roe vs. Wade was a 7-2 decision, so it had justices who were appointed by both Democrats and Republicans — we were in a very different place then — but it was really founded on the right to privacy. It was one of these kinds of unenumerated rights in the Constitution. This was a decision whether or not to have an abortion.
There’s two sides of this coin: It’s the right to make that decision, and they set up the trimester system to sort of have a reasonable approach that within the first trimester abortion access was unfettered, in the second trimester, the states could put some limits on it, but there had to be preservation of the woman or pregnant person’s life or health. In the third trimester, after the point of viability, it was banned except to preserve the person’s life. It was a system that worked.
Very soon after Roe became the law of the land, anti -abortion opponents started chipping away, and they started with the most vulnerable. They started with poor women, cutting off federal Medicaid funding through the Hyde Amendment, which continues to be in play and to deny all federal funding for abortion and has spawned a bunch of copycats. The Hyde Amendment is just about Medicaid, but there’s no funding for abortion if you’re in the Peace Corps, if you’re in the Veterans Administration, all these kinds of really targeting quite deliberately; let’s get the most vulnerable people first.
From there has been sort of a 50-year plan by the far right to get us to where we are today. It’s really important for us to recognize that they were laser focused on getting Republican control in the states. There’s a reason that when Roe v. Wade was decimated at the federal level, and it went back to the states, that was a disaster for abortion rights. It doesn’t have to be. It’s always better to have federal constitutional protection, but we need to really up our game at the state level. As we looked at the Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision, which came about in 1992, that all of a sudden said, “Well, you could create a burden on the people who are seeking abortion access, you could set up hurdles for a woman to overcome on our way to access abortion services, but they couldn’t be unduly burdensome.”
At that point, and for the past few years, we’ve seen more and more of these kind of red states, anti-abortion states, really emboldened to trying new and unprecedented kinds of legislation knowing that at some point they would get up to the Supreme Court. Once the Republican Party saw that they could win a lot with this wedge issue of abortion, they could get people who were single issue voters who would ignore Donald Trump’s indiscretions — but sort of a whole range of other policies; that evangelicals and far right groups would join on supporting the Republican Party simply because of the abortion issue — they just went more and more. There was no reason not to pass a law that would have been blatantly unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade. And that’s exactly what they did.
That’s how we ended up with this Mississippi law. It wouldn’t have been on a first year law exam under a question of the existing law, but in Mississippi, as in many, many other states, they were racing towards that Supreme Court. Then, once Donald Trump appointed justice Amy Coney Barrett, they have the votes to do exactly what they did. That was why they were appointed. There’s no surprise ending in what happened here. The game’s not over yet. I think the surprise will be that we’ll get to a better place. But the second piece of it is when we look at sort of the US in this constitutional model, and this right to privacy, and this right to individual decision making, it is very much in the US constitutional framework of the “Don’t tread on me,” the right to be left alone. That is very different from the global more human rights model that we’re seeing.
We all know that US is very far behind in adopting human rights norms. We tend to have this view of American exceptionalism that we don’t need it, we have such a great democracy and so much liberty and freedom that we don’t need human rights. Those are for people with black helicopters and blue helmets over there. But the reality is that we don’t have that kind of floor that human rights models offer where it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure that its citizens and others within its borders have access to kind of basic human rights that allow them to live with liberty and dignity and security.
Sam Goldman 31:50
I really appreciate the breakdown that you provided and the contrast between how a right is protected and globally, what we’re seeing versus what we’re seeing here. I agree that it is a false notion that we can’t look to models elsewhere. This is a global issue and there’s solutions that can be learned and flow freely in terms of ideas from country to country. I did want to step back before we talk a little bit more about what you were noting about Ireland and the green wave was about national protection. One of the things that other guests have shared is the challenge of getting a law back on the books and how much easier it is to keep something on the books than it is to re-win it.
I was personally very struck by a phenomenon here of a lack of fight amongst many — the majority — that cares about abortion rights, and the idea that we could get it back later. So easily. This notion that there was some loophole that people were going to just get it back if they got more Democrats or something like that isn’t really how rights are won. People thinking about national protection for human rights, I would like your thoughts on that and the relationship between state and national.
One of the things that I am noticing, and I’m sure you’re noticing, too, is that many states have now taken away the right, now that there isn’t the national protection, and there are some states that have expanded the right or protected it. My understanding, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that the states that have expanded the right, that is to only so far as to what the Supreme Court would allow. They could get sued or whatever, and it would be taken away — or not?
Julie F. Kay 33:52
Right now, we’re in a place where there is no federal precedent of constitutional rights protecting abortion rights. It is all completely with the states. If we had a functional Congress, we could codify Roe, we could pass the Women’s Health Protection Act which point create a statute that would require abortion rights — not as strong as the constitutional protection, but still, it would be a huge step forward. That’s not going to happen with this Congress. The states obviously can pass what they want; they can pass as much as they want. I don’t think anybody’s going to looking to go past the Roe framework. 70% of Americans support the Roe framework; it made sense.
There are a lot of states that have access to abortion, but it still has a lot of limitations. There are others that have completely banned it. I think as far as legislatively what’s next, the ultimate goal for us has to be a gender equity amendment to the Constitution. This Constitution was written by our so-called Founding Fathers. They by no means had the interest of women in mind or of folks of color. If they were thinking about either group at all, it was not in a very positive or helpful way. So when we get a Supreme Court — whether it’s the atrocious one we have now or even a more moderate one — they’re looking at that Constitution and what enabled these justices to go very far out and say, “well, there’s nothing in the Constitution about abortion. I don’t see it here.”
Roe was a privacy decision that was on these unenumerated rights. They weren’t spelled out in the Constitution the way other rights are. So we need to write them into the Constitution. I mean, we need to make sure that instead of putting our rights together with sticky tape and string to say, “Oh, well, Title Seven prohibits employment discrimination and Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits pregnancy discrimination,” we need to really bolster those rights by having an amendment to the Constitution. That is a big long term goal, because we need political power in the states and/or political power at the federal level. That’s going to take us a decade plus. In the states, abortion has been the punching bag of the far right for a long time. We have anti-abortion legislatures who are in these red states putting forward laws and restrictions that don’t align with what voters want.
What we’ve seen through the productive use of referendum in certain states, Kansas being the one that kind of came first and was the most wonderfully shocking, Michigan, other places, is that when voters are given the chance to vote, thumbs up or thumbs down on access to abortion rights, it’s a big thumbs up in red states and blue states. It’s important to say here that the alignment of Democratic Party politics is not always hand in glove with abortion rights? We’re popular, abortion rights are popular with them in the last election because it was winning. But for a long time, Hyde Amendment, other kinds of attempts to liberalize abortion law at the state and federal level were kind of seen as the third rail.
It was the ‘shmishmortion’ issue, as we called it, nobody actually really wants to come out and say abortion — never mind. The midterms have proven otherwise, and I think going forward, yes, we need to elect candidates who really are going to support abortion rights, and we need to hold their feet to the fire that we want to see them produce for us. This is not something that’s just they can tick the box and say, “Well, I wish we could do better.” But we also need to think about referendums and how we can use those to carve out abortion rights in red states.
One of the big pieces of legislation that’s coming around now is telehealth across state lines. They passed one in Massachusetts, and there’s a good chance of one coming out of New York. That would allow medical providers ,clinicians in states where abortion is legal to provide telehealth to people in states where abortion is severely restricted or banned. You do a telehealth consult to the provider in the legal state and they mail you a medication abortion. That could be game-changing. Some of the FDA regulations remain in place and kind of hinder access to medication abortion, but the recent change by the Biden administration through the FDA to allow pharmacies to provide medication abortion could be a real step forward both for people in states where abortion is legal, because they can do a telehealth consult and not have to drive hours and hours — this just really opens up more options for people — but also for people in red states needing abortion or in places where it’s banned or limited because it allows medication abortion.
There’s kind of the big long term goal of amending the Constitution, there’s the immediate political power, and then there really is the kind of movement-based and the more direct action of increasing access for women and pregnant people to get medication abortion. Medication abortion is what separates us from the Janes, so to speak. It is a real improvement in abortion access. Abortion procedures — surgical abortion — is very safe, it’s much preferred by a lot of people for many good reasons, but medication abortion has been game-changing, particularly now in a post-Dobbs world. It’s a two pill regimen that is very safe and effective up to 11 weeks and possibly later in pregnancy. It allows the person who’s taking the medication to self induce, to have control over where and how they start the abortion procedure.
Sam Goldman 39:38
Yeah, in many ways the abortion medication has been an absolute game-changer, and it is not available for all women and people who seek it, nor can it be used later in pregnancy. We need all options on the table for as many people as possible. It is also on a target — those who seek to ban abortion don’t just seek to ban surgical abortion. The majority are abolitionist. They don’t want any abortion…
Julie F. Kay 40:10
…or contraception, or same sex relationships, or… right. I mean, when goes back to this control issue of world view.
Sam Goldman 40:19
I just say that because we can increase access, but then if they go for the abortion ban, they ban medication abortions, or if we’re leaving it just to the goodwill of pharmacies and they feel like the antis are more vocal than we are, then they’re gonna go with not offering it.
Julie F. Kay 40:37
This is why I would say don’t put all your ovum in one basket. The reality is that the genie is out of the bottle and that there are ways of accessing pills either through Aid Access, which is an international group that provides pills through mail with a physician. There are community groups where people are driving to Tijuana and coming back with minivans full and distributing them through the community. We have particularly women of color who have been assaulted by the medical system for decades and faced structural racism and are used to doing what needs to get done. So I think we need to support those really grassroots — arguably legal, maybe, maybe not — kind of efforts, as well as trying to pass laws as well as trying to get telehealth from registered clinicians. We need to be in many different places at once for exactly what you’re saying, because it’s a moving target.
But we have the majority of people. This has traditionally been something or historically been something of a women’s rights issue. In many ways it should be led by women and by women of color, but we need allies as we’ve seen through Black Lives Matter, we’ve seen through marriage equality, that these issues need allies in government, we need corporate allies, we need religious allies and community allies, we need to really de-stigmatize the conversation around abortion and recognize it as a human right. I think we’re already talking much more boldly and differently about it, which has been a nice part to see post-Dobbs, or even since the draft opinion leaked. I think we’ve seen much more mainstream, so to speak, conversation about abortion, which I think helps normalize it and is way, way overdue.
Sam Goldman 42:18
You had mentioned this being the punching bag for Republicans, and you’re also talking about Democrats sometimes are out of line with abortion rights, that they don’t always go in hand. I think that that is a very fair assessment, because how many approved Hyde? Roe could have been codified for 50 years? How long was the motto: safe, legal and rare? For how long did we go by words like choice, and not use the word abortion? Or, for how long when abortion was at stake, including by this administration, the White House not use the word abortion? These are conversations that are important to have, so that as the people we compel action.
While it is totally true that people need to do everything and all things to increase abortion rights, and I very much appreciate your point that we cannot wait forever, that this cannot be a 40 year battle — you were talking about this, I think before we even record it, when we talk about it as a 40 year battle, we not only are accepting the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands that would be forced to give birth against their will, and a whole culture that would then have normalized women and those who can become pregnant as second class citizens — but the likelihood that then you’d be in a position to win it back is not true if you aren’t making wins before that.
Julie F. Kay 43:46
We’re in a different place. I often hear second wave feminists say that the younger generation, they took it for granted, they took these rights for granted. It’s like, well, they didn’t take these rights for granted, they’re human rights, they should be taken for granted. I’m not gonna give gratitude for the fresh air I breathe, I should have fresh air all the time. I think we’re in a different place now, that we’re having a different conversation. We’ve seen more. Yes we’ve lost the substantive rights — I don’t want to minimize those in any ways — but we know it in a way, we just need to take back the political power.
In every country in the world that has been through this — I did a lot of work in Ireland [SG: Yeah, I was hoping you would…] it was a Catholic country. I’m like: Countries are not Catholic, tables are not Catholic. People are Catholic and political power may be dominated by a certain religion or not. It’s taking that power, that disproportionate power that religion has in this country. We’ve seen it play out in a lot of different ways. We’ve seen this Supreme Court do exactly what it’s designed to do; it reinforces the status quo, it reinforces power. There have been some examples where they’ve granted rights when they’ve kind of had to. By the time they granted marriage equality, there were already many states that same sex marriage was completely legal. The court didn’t want to face a world in which what happened to my marriage when I crossed state lines, or your marriage when you did so or not.
We have to be realistic about the power structures that are behind it. It goes back to: everybody can do something, and you have to pick what fits best. For some people that will be in the state legislatures, and some it’ll be in DC within the beltway, for others, it will be mass movements in the streets and really demanding our human rights. That’s something we haven’t talked about yet. But is such an effective tool. I mean, that was fundamental to the green wave.
Sam Goldman 45:40
I was hoping you could kind of talk a little bit more about that. Why is that decisive in many ways?
Julie F. Kay 45:46
I think mass movements are decisive for the moment that they are in that when you get people pouring into the streets it’s energizing. It’s never been my first love of sort of getting out there and marching, and every time I do it, it’s up-lifting. It reminds me that we’re there in community, that there are other people. It’s three dimensional, it’s tactile, it’s visual. I think it brings people together in a way that nothing else does. It shows those in power that there is a real demand. In any good protest, there’s always sort of an edge to it, that it could demand more than the establishment wants to even. I think the images stay.
For every person who marches there are many at home who are watching and there in spirit. I think it is a really important and powerful tool, frankly. And for some, it’s a tool of privilege, because to be able to go somewhere and march and take time and not have children or elder care or anything else, or jobs and that kind of thing. So I think for those of us who can march, it’s imperative that we do, because not everyone can. I think it’s vital to energizing, its messaging. There’s nothing more powerful than sort of an image of a handwritten human rights sign. I saw that a lot in Ireland: If you just get your messaging out there in a way that doesn’t happen through the kind of staid conversations on the nightly news and things otherwise.
Sam Goldman 45:46
One thing that strikes me about both Ireland and all over Latin America, where so many places have decriminalized abortion, as you were alluding to earlier, these are deeply Catholic-dominated countries. These are deeply patriarchal societies and the women — and I’m saying women, because this is mainly who was involved in these struggles — who took to the streets in both situations in Ireland and then throughout Latin America, they did so at great risk. That is worth noting. These were situations where it wasn’t your — and I do not mean any disrespect when I say this — wasn’t your staid Saturday protest?
Julie F. Kay 47:56
Well, and I would add Poland to that, too. [Sam: Yes, exactly.} In the fascist-dominated countries there is real physical risk and retribution and things and government misconduct. What’s interesting is that many times these protests are spurred by the horrific tragic death of women who are seeking abortion services, often for miscarriage management. For better or for worse, it ends up being kind of something as horrific as the death Savita Halpenivar in Ireland in 2008. That was a wanted pregnancy, a family that spoke out. We had two cases in Poland this year, if I’m not mixing up my horrific regimes. That’s I think, what causes part of it.
In Argentina, the protests actually started in response to violence against women that was not specifically around abortion, but I think people… very quickly the narrative kind of shifted to say, you know, this is really state harm and state sanctioned harm against women and sort of being against the Catholic Church. There are a lot of people who have deep faith and are part of the Catholic Church, but don’t agree with everything that the male hierarchy says. So you see this in Catholic countries that people don’t agree with the Church’s stance on contraception or on abortion and throughout different religions. All fundamentalist religions kind of end up in the same place I think, except for Judaism.
Sam Goldman 49:23
Even in Judaism, I hate to say. Chabad and others are not pro-abortion.
Julie F. Kay 49:28
Right, well, there’s a little more wiggle room if the life of the mother is at stake. It’s where and how individuals feel. You know, even when you ask somebody their religious affiliation, that doesn’t mean that they fall lockstep with all that. What we saw in Ireland was after marriage equality, after the death of Savita Halipanivar, after we had a victory at the European Court of Human Rights, the conversation had been changing. It was changing in Parliament as there were more women and people with lived experience around abortion who were being elected, but it was also changing in the pubs and the conversations around kitchen tables. People were feeling better about coming out and saying, “What does this mean to me personally?”
Whether or not somebody has had an abortion, what does it say to live in a country that so devalues women and people who can become pregnant, and that so enforces this gender binary and traditional gender roles around childbearing and child rearing that they’re going to completely ban a necessary and safe and widely used medical procedure? So you’re making that leap from the sort of vast human rights arguments to really people understanding individually. I think, in this country that’s happening too. We understand the right to privacy, but we’re demanding a lot more than that in this day and age. That’s really important, and we’re seeing the connections between controlling abortion, controlling sexuality, controlling gender identity, and even controlling who has access to health care because of their immigration status, or because of structural inequalities and racism.
I feel positive that we’re in a much better place as far as recognition and willingness to act. I still feel like we have to just keep on struggling in the political sphere, we have to keep making sure that people who need access to abortion, get it, whether through funds that will help them travel if they want to need to, or through getting them direct access to medication, abortion. In the long term, really changing this country to recognize the kind of human rights that we need, and to realize that our Constitution has done us well, in many ways, but it was always meant to be a living, breathing document and it really needs to come into the this century, if not this millennium.
Sam Goldman 51:39
Taking a page from our sisters in Latin America, in Ireland, and being relentless in raising our demand; really compelling the powers that be to confront in a living way, that we are people that refuse to live in a country that deems women less than full human beings and that we won’t relent until abortion is a codified right, I think really does make a difference.
One of the lessons that I always take whenever I hear people talk about the green wave is people being decisive in changing what was seen as possible through their actions. It was so unheard of so off the pale, out of possibility that it would be decriminalized. They did it not by restricting themselves to only the official channels, but to seeing their own power. I’m not saying don’t vote, I’m not saying any of those things. What I am saying is that the rights that we’ve won have never been won through voting alone [JFK: Right] including the right for women to vote. So I think that there’s the centrality and the decisiveness that our action plays and to not forget the power that we do have.
Julie F. Kay 52:54
And to be brave about it. There’s been a lot of chest thumping and threatening by anti-abortion, politicians: We’re going to arrest you, if you travel. We’re going to arrest you, if you fund other people to travel. We’re going to arrest you if you do this and that and the other. Well, we’re more than six months in and that hasn’t been happening. And when it does, we’ll deal with it, but if we start showing restraint or self-censoring or being too risk averse, the only people who we’re harming are the people who we need to help the most, and those in the margins and women and people who are seeking abortion who don’t have the resource and the access. I couldn’t agree more.
I think it’s time to be brave. Everybody has different levels of risk they can take and should take, but we’re starting to normalize the conversation, we’re starting to de-stigmatize abortion, we’ve made I think, tremendous progress since the Dobbs axe fell, but we got to keep it up and we’ve got to keep testing the waters of how far we can go to help individuals and to keep bringing the mass movement that we need to see, and to put this issue of abortion within issues of control, and sexuality and discrimination and most of all gender and race equity.
Sam Goldman 52:54
I want to thank you, I could talk to you forever, Julie, but I want to be sensitive to your time. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise, your insights, your perspective, your time with us. We will put in a link to your Twitter handle and your website and all of that in the show notes. I wanted to just give you a chance. If there’s anything that you wanted to add on.
Julie F. Kay 54:27
I want to thank you and to people who are listening, because I think the first thing is to educate ourselves and activate and motivate others. There are people who will listen to me, but there are a lot more people who will listen to people they know. So take our conversation and I so appreciate you having this discussion in this forum. I hope everybody will take it and head to somebody that I know and have a kind of brave conversation and just start talking about this because more people believe more strongly than we think and then we know and that’s part of creating the change we need.
Sam Goldman 54:59
Thanks so much, Julie.
Julie F. Kay 55:01
Thank you, Sam. It’s great to talk to you.
Sam Goldman 55:03
In further reflecting on this conversation, I think it’s important to think about how we’re viewing these world-shaping events. Look at the fact that Ireland, Argentina and Colombia and Mexico, decriminalized abortion, while in the US we lost the right, or that some states have criminalized it while others have secured it. Within electoral politics and among the legal community, it’s almost impossible to avoid the thinking that this is some horse race, where sometimes we’re winning, and sometimes they are. But in the bigger picture, we have to recognize what’s driving all this, the compulsions and crises in the world that are shaping things, how fascism is building and consolidating power. This struggle will reshape everything — everything — in either a radically liberating way, or a radically reactionary way. It’s something we’ll continue to return to in future episodes.
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