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The fight continues: Local activists protest national oppression of women's rights

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Photo courtesy of Refuse Fascism
Photo courtesy of Refuse Fascism

On April 9, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights and Refuse Fascism came together for their monthly protest of anti-abortion legislation, an action that has gained traction in many red states. As the events have inspired more activists to march in the streets, especially youth activists, they have also drawn attention from counterprotesters, who were known to get violent in the past.

Despite threats of protests from religious and alt-right organizations, activist Margo Heights has tirelessly worked to ensure that the marches will go on. She says the protesters indicate that the country is moving toward a more conservative future and demonstrate just how important reproductive rights activism is right now.

"The counterprotesters are a sign of how the Christian fascist movement is anticipating the overturning of Roe v. Wade and having 'won' in the red states, so now they're turning their attention to the blue states," Heights said. "This movement has a history of laying siege to abortion clinics and creating a climate that led to anti-abortion forces bombing clinics and assassinating doctors. There are no safe spaces, and there are no safe states. These fascists will not stop until abortion is illegal everywhere."

Heights believes there is strength in numbers, and if Saturday's rally is any indicator, the numbers, at least in Seattle, still seem to be on the side of abortion rights. Many of the attendees were youth, with some as young as 14 making their way to the front of the action.

"Historically, youth have been at the forefront of every successful radical social movement," Heights said. "They have the potential to fight for a future worth living in, and they haven't yet been ground down into accepting things that are unacceptable."

Thanks to the dedication of youth activists and senior organizers, like Heights and Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, the event was a success. Protesters got the attention of bystanders with physical demonstrations like the "rise up" and catchy chants while they moved from Capitol Hill to downtown Seattle.

Photo courtesy of Refuse Fascism  

Next steps
While the event was successful, Heights says they're not done, yet. "Our next steps are a National Week of Action to Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights on May 8—15. We're having an all-hands-on-deck organizing summit on Zoom on Saturday, April 16. Everything we're doing needs to grow quickly into a massive 'green wave,' like what happened in Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico just recently," Heights said.

The "green wave" Heights calls for echoes the advocacy of Central and South American countries that successfully decriminalized abortion after years of protests and calls for action. There, the color green was chosen to represent the cause; those who stand in solidarity, like Rise Up 4 Abortion, have also been spotted wearing green bandanas to protests.

"After decades of advocacy, women in these countries could no longer tolerate being imprisoned for miscarriages or watching their friends and family members dying from illegal, botched abortions," Heights said of "the green wave." "So, they started taking to the streets: marching, protesting, and wearing green. They did this over and over again, coming back stronger each time, hundreds growing into thousands and eventually a million people. It was nonviolent, yet so disruptive and so undeniable as being the will of the people, that those in power were forced to meet their demand."

Despite modeling their activism after "the green wave," Heights recognizes that Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights is fighting an entirely different battle. "It is much easier to keep a constitutional right than it is to get back a constitutional right that's been lost," she said. Right now, advocates are hoping to influence those in power to prevent Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, from being overturned.

Heights says the clock is quickly running out. The court is expected to decide on abortion rights as early as June.

"Those in power and all political institutions are influenced by public opinion — especially when it's being expressed in the streets in massive protests day after day. Taking away a woman's right to abortion would be a cataclysmic change. We have to let them know they can't get away with it," Heights said.

"If we don't rise up en masse, if we're passive during the next couple months, the Supreme Court will almost certainly gut or overturn Roe v. Wade, and at least 20 more states will be without abortion virtually overnight."

Photo courtesy of Refuse Fascism  

New bans; impacts on marginalized communities
Heights says forced pregnancy is the equivalent of female enslavement, as it makes a woman a prisoner of her own body. "When people don't have 'abortion on demand,' then it doesn't matter what your plans or dreams are. It doesn't matter if you're in poverty or in an abusive relationship. You will be forced by the state to have a child against your will. That is female enslavement, and that is the future if we don't stop it," she said.

Heights minced no words when she informed her followers that we are in the midst of a women's rights crisis. "Most people have no idea that there have been 529 abortion restrictions and 82 abortion bans introduced or enacted just in 2022. This is across 48 states. There are also restrictions and bans on the abortion pill, mailing the abortion pill, and preventing women from traveling to access abortion in another state," Heights said.

She's not wrong. On Tuesday, April 12, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Sitt signed Senate Bill 612 into law, which creates a total ban on abortion with the only exception being if a woman's life is in danger. "No exceptions for rape or incest," Heights said. "It's modeled after the Texas abortion ban and empowers any 'family member' of the fetus to sue anyone who performs an abortion for $20,000. People have pointed out that this allows a woman's rapist or his family to claim a $20,000 bounty for forcing his victim to have the rapist's child."

New abortion bans have a disproportionate impact on BIPOC people and those living in poverty. "Women of color and poor women are hit the hardest by abortion rights restrictions, especially Black women," Heights explained. "They are more likely to live in an area that has less access to basic healthcare. They are more likely to have lower-paying jobs that make it difficult to support their families, and find that they need to access abortion services more frequently. Then when they do, they have to spend more money to travel longer distances to get to a clinic, often out of state.

"And now all of those doors are closing."

Rise of the Christian right
Conservatives who are anti-abortion are also quick to use caustic rhetoric to target and blame people of color for seeking an abortion.

"What makes me angry is how the anti-abortion groups will then accuse Black women of committing genocide on Black babies," Heights said.
"These are the same people who support the real genocide of Black people and Black children by mass incarceration and murder by police."

These politicians are all cut from the same cloth, Heights said. "There's a Christian-fascist movement in this country that's driving the attacks on abortion. They want no separation between church and state. They want the Bible taken literally to be the law of the land. They truly believe that the only way for women to atone for the 'original sin' when Eve bit the apple is by having children. They view motherhood and obeying and serving the husband as women's reason for being," she said.

Heights believes the main reason conservatives oppose abortion rights is not that they are "pro-life" but because they are resentful of social progress that granted women greater autonomy, making them less reliant on men in their lives.

"[Conservatives] hate the fact changes in the economy and radical and revolutionary movements of the late '60s and early '70s liberated women in many ways — got women out of the house and into the workforce, that women were finally able to control their own lives by using birth control or accessing abortion when they wanted to limit, time, or not have children. They want to punish women for daring to play a full role in society as human beings," she said.

Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights and Refuse Fascism also want to clarify that abortion is a Queer issue. In a study out of Rutgers University, scientists found that unintended pregnancies occur in up to 30% of Trans men. The impacts of a pregnancy on a Trans man's mental health can be devastating. The study found that Trans people also receive far less quality care from gynecologists who are not as prepared to handle a male pregnancy.

"Our bodies are our own. Being forced to give birth against our will is an act of violence no different from rape. This is the case for ALL people who can become pregnant," Heights said. "The attacks on abortion are part of a whole fascist program being implemented before our eyes. These same forces are coming for marriage equality and birth control, attacking Trans rights and Trans kids, and criminalizing their families. Unity and standing together to fight this are not just a matter of supporting each other. It's the only way we can defeat these attacks and bring a better world into being."

Refuse Fascism and Rise Up 4 Abortion are getting down to the wire as they plan their next steps in hopes of catching national attention before it's too late. If you are interested in getting involved as a volunteer or coming down to the next march in May, visit https://riseup4abortionrights.org/ for more information.