Sidewalk standoff in South LA over abortion

By Jerome Campbell

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

imageAnti-abortion protesters outside the Her Medical Clinic at Figueroa and West Adams.

Thirty-six inches. This is the distance between pro-life and pro-choice on Figueroa Street.

On one side, a group of people kneel on a broken sidewalk, sliding rosary beads through their fingers as they call for divine action. And across the sidewalk, another group stands silently; dressed in bright orange vests and black sunglasses. They escort patients into the clinic. Both sides stay on their sides without budging an inch, unless someone tests the boundaries.

“On the good days it’s really boring and we just get to hang out and some of us have become friends. On the not so good days, protesters can become aggressive and on those days we have to call the police,” said Mary-Beth Blakey. She says the anti-abortion group members can be even more aggressive with patients. Following patients out of the clinic and even trying to get into their cars.

“I have seen patients become visibly upset. I have seen patients become so upset that they have rescheduled their appointment,” she said.

And their tactics become more aggressive during Christmas.

imageEscorts for patients at the clinic.

“They try to enter the doors and rush the clinic, singing Christmas carols and delivering gifts to patients; but the gifts are filled with very shaming and misleading anti-abortion literature and baby gifts like booties and baby bottles,” she said.

But according to Dennis Rudmin who prays on the sidewalk, this tension is a two-way street. He says that the group has to come in large numbers to stand any chance on the sidewalk.

“They just try to harass us. They come over and stand in front of you or take your place to lead the rosary, or they follow after you and say things like ‘I’m stalking you,’” Rudmin said.

The close quarters of the sidewalk definitely makes the experience unpleasant. Yet, they continue to deal with the same people every week, sometimes more than their own friends.

“I think I’ve seen mark more than I’ve seen my best friend in the past three years. More than my family,” said Blakey.

And over time, both sides have grown to understand each other.

image“I think some of them are very well intentioned and have their very own personal, spiritual reasons for thinking that for them praying here will have some positive impact. I have no problem with that,” said Blakey.

“We’re not there to get into any type of confrontation. We’re there to pray for these children. And pray for the clinic people too, the pro-abortion people. The people who are harassing us,” Rudmin said.

One woman, who would have walked into the clinic years ago has crossed the sidewalk to pray on the curb. Maria Garanza has had not just one abortion, and then, several more after.

“I’ve had five abortions.” And she regrets her choice every day. “I feel like I killed my babies, I killed five babies. I killed my babies and I think Maria killed her own babies,” said Garanza.

Garanza had her last abortion in 2001 and the distress almost led her to take her life.

“I screamed very loud to myself and I said to Jesus forgive and I know that I killed my baby but I want to save babies. I promise if you forgive. I’ll promise that I’ll go everywhere to save babies,” Garanza said.

A promise that has led her to praying in front of this clinic. Garanza says she has already saved three babies but she wants to save more.

“I’m happy I’m here because I’m doing something,” Garanza said. “I want to see five babies because I killed five babies.”

And so Garanza and her group continue to kneel on the sidewalk and the clinic group waits for the next patient. Neither side knows if they are changing any minds, but they know they will be out next weekend.

OPINION: Dangerous Distortions: Anti-Abortion Fascists and Third World Allies

By Sikivu Hutchinson and Diane Arellano

imageOn a recent Los Angeles talk radio show Louisiana state legislator John LaBruzzo lamented the “massacre” of millions of “baby women” by abortion. In this fascist’s warped mind abortion infringes on the civil rights of fetuses. LaBruzzo is the author of a bill that would abolish abortion on the grounds that denying fetuses civil rights is akin to the violent denial of black civil rights under slavery. According to male anti-abortion fascists like LaBruzzo, poor single women get abortions because they are forced to by predatory deadbeat dad boyfriends in training or by fathers who have committed incest. Hence, overturning Roe vs. Wade is consistent with gender equity and social justice.

As the national hijacking of women’s rights continues, the Right has become more and more skillful at manipulating pro-death anti-choice messages designed to make women believe that their interests are being served by powerful white conservative foundations and their “third world” allies. In Los Angeles, conservative Latino groups are now targeting Latino communities with a new wave of anti-abortion billboards similar to those aimed at African American women. The Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles is the architect of this latest assault on reproductive justice for women of color. As with the abortion-as-black-genocide billboards unleashed by the far right Radiance Foundation, the Latino billboards evoke reductive hyper-religious narratives of sinning promiscuous bad women and “breeder” good women.

The billboards claim that “the most dangerous place” for a Latino child is in the womb. Yet the reality of Latina fertility rates—three children are the national average for Latinas in their childbearing years—would seem to belie the need for this campaign. But of course reality in fascist propaganda is an oxymoron. Crafted as they are at the height of the recession, the economic subtext of these moral panic narratives must be exposed. The subtext of the campaign is that any form of access to abortion threatens the stability of patriarchal Latino families. Like black women, Latinas’ bodies are territory to be manipulated, controlled, and strictly policed vis-à-vis the regime of authentic Latino gender identities based on Catholic piety and female submission. As the most underrepresented and lowest paid group in the American economy, Latinas are especially vulnerable to socio-cultural narratives mandating that they stay barefoot, pregnant, and underemployed.

In the Latino community, the assault on women’s right to self-determination is also being spearheaded by former Latin American telenovela stars ready to lend their “expert” opinions on what Latinas in the US should and should not do with their bodies. The most vociferous of these is former boy band member and telenovela heartthrob Eduardo Verastegui. In 2008, Verastegui vied for the heart of the Religious Right with media appearances encouraging Spanish speaking Latino voters to vote yes on Proposition 8, California’s anti-same sex marriage initiative. He has returned to the spotlight as a founding member of Manto de Guadalupe, a nonprofit focused on “defending life from conception to natural death.”

On June 12th, Manto de Guadalupe sponsored a fundraising event in support of the development of the largest “pro-life” women’s clinic in the United States. This facility is slated to be built in South Los Angeles, which has one of the highest poverty rates in L.A. County. At the event, legendary Mexican telenovela star Veronica Castro introduced Texas governor and rumored presidential hopeful Rick Perry. Just a few days before the fundraiser, Perry introduced SB 9—sweeping legislation which would ban “sanctuary cities” or non-existent safe havens for undocumented immigrants—into the Texas Senate. SB 9 would further criminalize Texas Latinos by allowing law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of those arrested or legally detained. Still, at the fundraiser, the predominantly Spanish speaking immigrant crowd cheered wildly for Perry.

The connection between the right’s anti-immigrant and anti-choice agenda is no coincidence. Criminalizing choice and undocumented immigrants is part of a larger scheme in which big government eliminates the rights of the underclass and expands “social welfare” for corporations, the wealthy, and the military industrial complex. Thus, right wing propaganda in black and brown communities must be met head on. Access to safe and legal safe abortions is not only paramount to women’s health but to economic and social justice. Pro-choice politicians like President Obama who waffle on the morality and necessity of abortion (talking only of the need to “reduce” the number of abortions), further distort the connection between unrestricted access to abortion and human rights. Indeed, the Left’s marginal response to far right anti-abortion fascism has enabled a climate in which Planned Parenthood has now been defunded in three states. If the war on safe and legal access to abortion does not shift to a national movement centered on how family planning and abortion are a fundamental human right, then the lives of black and brown women will continue to be expendable. And if the right wing of all hues continues to be allowed to define the terms of human rights and “social justice” women of color will be on the frontlines reliving the horror of the back alley.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars. Diane Arellano is a photo documentarian and youth advocacy educator based in Los Angeles. Her work examines sociocultural instability and flexibility, the intersections of marginalized communities, race, class, and gender roles. Sikivu and Diane run the Women’s Leadership Project, A South L.A.-based feminist mentoring program.

OPINION: Defending ‘Our Mother’s Gardens’

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a senior fellow with the Institute for Humanist Studies. Become a fan of Blackfemlens on Facebook.

imageIn her landmark work In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker wrote: “What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s time? Our great-grandmothers’ day? Did you have a genius of a great-great-grandmother who died under some ignorant and depraved white overseer’s lash? Or was her body broken and forced to bear children (who were more often than not sold away from her)—eight, ten, fifteen, twenty children—when her one joy was the thought of modeling heroic figures of rebellion?”

Many of my students do not know who Walker is. But as they listen to me read her words during a discussion of Women’s History Month they are quiet as death, contemplative, and, perhaps, newly enflamed. As students of female sacrifice, many of them know the savage politics behind her canvas. They are intimately aware of the blood price women of color must pay to be free in this so-called post-feminist society in which white male lawmakers trivialize sexual assault with dangerous tautologies like “forcible rape.”

Recently the mainstream media buzzed with news reports that a Libyan woman had reported being gang-raped to a group of foreign correspondents. A MSNBC reporter described the victim as middle aged, well-spoken and respectable (the victim was actually estimated to be in her 20s or 30s), implying that her credibility was beyond reproach.

As a “respectable,” upstanding woman, her rape would surely be an affront to her community. Preemptive reference to rape victims’ social station is a now familiar device in the rape reporting game.
Over the past few weeks, the gang rape of an 11 year old Latina girl also made headlines, eliciting controversy over the girl’s portrayal in both mainstream media and in the community where the assault occurred.

Whenever a rape case becomes high profile, the inevitable questions about the victim’s reputation, race, whereabouts, and alleged complicity in the assault are trotted out. Yet seldom is there any analysis of the sociopolitical conditions that legitimize rape and the connect- the-dots rape reporting game. And seldom is there any analysis of what gives men license to violently occupy women’s bodies. There is never any connection made between this kind of sexual terrorism and state power. Hence, these connections are especially urgent now given the unrelenting wave of anti-choice anti-abortion legislation that has swept the nation since the midterm elections.

South Dakota recently passed a law requiring pregnant women to wait three days before they made a decision about terminating their pregnancies. Under the new mandate, championed by the state’s governor, women must receive counseling from a doctor before they have an abortion. It is the only state in the nation to impose such a requirement. Other pending legislation includes requiring that women receive ultrasounds before they make a decision to terminate. Health care reform foes have also spearheaded legislation that restricts private insurers who participate in new government mandated health exchanges from providing abortion coverage.

One of the most pernicious civil liberties’ rollbacks is HR.3, the House-sponsored legislation that would give the I.R.S. the right to question women who had abortions about whether they became pregnant by rape or incest. The bill has been dubbed “Stupak on Steroids,” after Democratic Congressman Bark Stupak, who crusaded against abortion coverage under health care reform.

According to Mother Jones magazine, the bill “extends the reach of the Hyde Amendment—which bans federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake—into many parts of the federal tax code. In some cases, the law would forbid using tax benefits—like credits or deductions—to pay for abortions or health insurance that covers abortion.” Women who are audited could be forced to reveal why and how they had an abortion, further ensuring Big Brother’s reign over their bodies and destinies.

There is a connection between this kind of state-sponsored terrorism and the brutal occupation of women’s bodies through rape. Yet in the U.S., the term terrorism is only used when dark-skinned racial others are the perpetrators of “strategic” geopolitical violence. Violence against women can be isolated to aberrant male predators, not the predatory terroristic human rights violations of the state.

Recently a student in my Women’s Leadership Project group expressed her vehement opposition to abortion. She argued that a woman who has sex should be prepared to accept the potential consequence of an unplanned pregnancy. Like most young women she was taught that going through with an unplanned unwanted pregnancy is a supremely moral decision.

After all, self-sacrifice under inhumane conditions is what is expected and required of women. Validation through a baby that one cannot take care of is ok, while validation through sex is not. In this regime, the consequence of pregnancy for women is a biologically determined life sentence, one that males cannot and will not be forced to serve. Women who don’t agree to this life sentence are immoral, rather than the society that does not provide for every child regardless of class or race.

Some of the most vitriolic responses I’ve ever gotten to my writing were from anti-abortion foes, primarily men, who see a white supremacist plot behind black women’s support for abortion. But it is not white supremacy that dictates black women’s allegiance to the legacy of female ancestors who could not control their own destinies.

And this is perhaps the profound power of Walker’s work, who, in search of her mother’s garden “found (her) own.” Honoring the great grandmothers whose artistry and personhood were denied symbolizes the revolutionary right of women to control their own destinies, tend their own gardens, to ensure that terrorism cannot continue to disguise itself as legitimacy and law.

Read more stories from Sikivu Hutchinson:
OPINION: Planned Parenthood and the Rape of American Women
OPINION: Heretics, Humanism, and ‘the Hood’
OPINION: American terror and the dehumanization of gay youth

Photo courtesy of Nerves Strengthened by Tea

OPINION: Planned Parenthood and the Rape of American Women

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a senior fellow with the Institute for Humanist Studies. Become a fan of Blackfemlens on Facebook.

imageLately, the sound of galloping hooves and rustling white sheets has risen in a deafening squall from the Capitol. Like their Klan ancestors, elite white males in Congress’ political lynch mob are once again savaging communities of color. The House’s vote to gut Planned Parenthood is a criminal act against poor and working class women and their families. In many rural and urban neighborhoods there are few affordable alternatives to the health care provided by Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights service providers. These clinics are the frontline of preventive care in poor working class white communities and communities of color, providing pregnancy and STD testing, contraception, pap smears, abortions, and counseling for families with little to no health coverage.

Ever since its midterm elections’ sweep, the far right has ramped up its unrelenting drive to theocracy, using reproductive rights as its battleground. Drawing on the sabotage of ACORN, Speaker John Boehner and a host of other GOP and so-called Blue Dog Democrat fascists are bound and determined to take down Planned Parenthood. Extending Hyde Amendment restrictions on federal funding for abortions to private providers is central to their agenda. Too spineless to criminalize women who seek abortions outright, Religious Right politicians instead choose to pillage health care provisions that keep women from falling deeper into poverty, illness, and economic dependence. Hiding behind Orwellian claims of being pro-life, far right politicians exercise draconian control over the bodies of poor women and their families in the name of God, guns, and bloody fetuses. Why not just jail ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out?

It should be no revelation that when poor women are denied access to decent affordable reproductive care—including access to safe abortions—families and communities suffer. While federal and state governments dismantle education and health care funding, the American military regime goes untouched. Because black and Latino communities are on the frontlines of imperialist military recruitment and educational inequity, few people of color would argue that government handouts to the military industrial complex should trump education funding. However, reproductive justice just doesn’t have the same political cache or urgency amongst progressives of color. Consequently, conservative reactionary forces within the African American community have successfully allied with the Religious Right in a revived anti-abortion billboard campaign targeting black women. This propaganda has cropped up recently in black and Latino Southern California neighborhoods. By implying that aborting black babies makes them an “endangered species,” these billboards evoke plantation era regimes of social control.

In essence, bad “genocidal” black women don’t know their place, don’t know that they were put here to be God’s sacrificial vessels and don’t seem to grasp that only evil promiscuous misguided Jezebels get knocked up. They also haven’t gotten Sarah Palin’s “telegram” that women who are forced to have unwanted children will earn more, achieve higher education levels, and have a markedly better quality of life than women who aren’t. These ignorant bad black women destroy black communities with their arrogant self-absorption and unchecked sexual license. After all, black women who exercise control over their own bodies and destinies commit race betrayal and gender sacrilege.

How do we know these gospel truths? Powerful white male legislators, black preachers, and Christian soldiers like MLK’s anti-abortion activist niece Alveda King tell us so. They tell us that abortion is the greatest civil rights threat of our era. Like their Islamic fundamentalist comrades in the Middle East, these pro-death marauders know all too well that female sexuality is a dangerous commodity which only the jackboot of big government can control. Complicit with black hyper-religiosity and black nationalist delusions, silent progressives of color give them this license.

Read more stories from Sikivu Hutchinson:
OPINION: Heretics, Humanism, and “the Hood”
OPINION: American terror and the dehumanization of gay youth
OPINION: The Prosperity Gospel according to Eddie Long

Photo courtesy of Political Junkies