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Guerilla Abortion Tactics


So I had a long-held political theory that is clearly incorrect.

That theory was that if the Supreme Court did in fact overrule Roe, it would cause a massive uproar in America, with nearly unprecedented levels of protest and reaction that would transform American politics.

This is obviously not going to happen.

There are a few reasons for this. First, most liberals are going to have access to abortion and are going to be happy with that, more than they will be outraged by the banning of abortion in half of the states. Never mind the reality that the post-Roe world is going to be worse for women than the pre-Roe world. This is where a lot of liberals are at, something that has built up over the years now as blue and red states so strongly differ on everything.

Second, a lot of liberals are saying they are “tired” and “hopeless.” I’m not really sure what to do with this. I put this theory on Twitter after the oral arguments around the Mississippi case and this was the overwhelming response–it would not lead to a transformative moment in American politics and these were the reasons why people didn’t feel that it would. As for being tired and hopeless, well, OK, but I don’t see what difference it makes. Women may well be tired of being objects of conservative attack. But that’s not going to change. It’s either fight or give up. I find the “tired” claim particularly odd, largely because even during the Trump years, the daily lives of people weren’t changed that much except in one large way–the overwhelming media onslaught. And I think this is what people are ultimately talking about here–they want politics to go back to some kind of “normal.” But that’s not going to happen. The signs from 2017 that read “I’d rather be having brunch” should be taken literally. I don’t blame people for that. I would also prefer brunch to political activity. But I’m not also not making claims to being tired either–and I actually do have reasons to have those claims given how many personal right-wing hate campaigns I’ve undergone over the past 15 months, most of which I have kept out of the public eye as much as possible, including on this site.

But you can’t blame people for how they feel, which I am sure is genuine. This is one reason why I refuse to watch politics on TV–I think people doing this is an unabashed negative, including the emotional wear.

So we can say all of this while also saying….what the hell are we going to do about the decline of abortion rights in this nation, especially after the post-Roe landscape just leads to worse and worse restrictions, up to and very much including a national ban on abortion that is likely the next time Republicans have a trifecta?

This is not really a place where traditional political tactics are that effective. I am sure the DNC will use this opportunity to fundraise for Democratic candidates. And OK, that’s fine. But we know that just electing Democrats isn’t enough. Arguably, it isn’t even going to be possible given the gerrymanders and voting rights restriction bills.

I’m both surprised and not surprised that there isn’t more of a focus on protesting. Now, I don’t doubt there will be a one-off protest day in favor of Roe, but that’s obviously not going to make any difference in itself. When I said long ago that I thought all hell would break loose, I was thinking serious protests, like shutting down the country, direct action well beyond people showing up holding signs, etc. I don’t think people have the imagination for a lot of this anymore. It’s not part of the culture, a lot of people are cynical, and there’s a big theme among liberals that protests don’t really matter. The answer is that it depends on the protests, the tactics, the organizing beforehand, the building of leadership, all this stuff. And while there are amazing people working on these things, there’s not enough of them.

So my initial theory about the overturning of Roe will almost certainly be proved wrong. But I hope not.

But what we do need, no matter how we handle this, is a diversity of tactics. That’s where I think a lot of our politics falls short. We don’t have a diversity of tactics. The ridiculousness about registering people to vote as the ultimate political action is a great example of this because it rests on two assumptions–a) that registering people to vote is a good thing even if they don’t vote for our side and b) that there are masses of unregistered voters who would vote for our side if we could get them registered. One thing that has been made clear since 2016 is that you can have record number of voters but the masses are no more likely to vote for justice than those already registered to vote. Look at the numbers of the Virginia elections this fall for instance, which set easy records for participation and were disastrous for Democrats. And I don’t think that registering people to vote who are likely to not vote for justice is any kind of positive political action.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with registering people to vote, but it’s not really an effective political tactic. Voting has its place too, but it’s not enough. And neither is just protesting in one-off events. Yet these are about the limits of what we do. No wonder people feel tired and hopeless. They don’t have the tactics to feel differently.

This is a very long prelude to this article from a couple of weeks ago about what is clearly going to have to be part of the response, a sort of underground railroad of abortion activists who are putting their own personal freedom on the line to help women and defy unjust laws. These are awesome Mexican women who are ready to go all the way to help their counterparts in their terrible northern neighbor to gain access over their own bodies.

Verónica Cruz spent years defying the law in Mexico, helping thousands of women get abortions. Now that Mexico has declared that abortion is no longer a crime, Ms. Cruz and activists like her are planning to bring their mission to a country moving in the opposite direction: the United States.

Abortion restrictions have been multiplying across the United States for years, including just over Mexico’s border in Texas. Now the Supreme Court is considering a case that could diminish or completely overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion. That would likely set off new restrictions in at least 20 states.

But in much of Latin America, where access to abortion has long been severely limited, highly organized feminist groups have distributed abortion-inducing drugs for years, making it harder for governments to enforce bans on the procedure.

Ms. Cruz and other activists are planning to help shuttle Texans and other Americans seeking abortions into Mexico, and to build networks to ferry the abortion pills north of the border or send them by mail — something they’ve already started doing and now plan to expand.

“We aren’t afraid,” said Ms. Cruz. “We are willing to face criminalization, because women’s lives matter more than their law.”

This right here is the attitude we need more of. I don’t care if I go to jail because this law is unjust is real leadership that puts the pedal to the metal on forcing the hands of the oppressor. This was the attitude of the IWW members in the free speech fights of the 1900s and 1910s and the attitude of civil rights activists willing to flood jails in the 1960s. Make them jail you!

Now, a lot of this is possible because we live in a world of mailed pharmaceuticals and that can include mailed abortion inducing drugs shipped from overseas addresses. So the article goes into this in some detail. Moreover, such tactics really stick it to the fascists and they know it:

Anti-abortion groups acknowledge that criminally punishing activists who distribute the pills, especially if they are from Mexico, may prove difficult. They would have to be caught and arrested in Texas, or extradited, experts say.

“This is a really terrible, lawless attack on life,” John Seago, the legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said of the Mexican activists’ plan to help women in Texas get abortions, adding that such efforts would “make it absolutely more difficult to do it, to enforce these laws.”

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, the leader of Aid Access, an Austria-based group that provides abortion pills to women across the world, confirmed she has been prescribing the medication to women in Texas — who then receive the drugs by mail from a pharmacy in India — even after the state’s law went into effect this month.

But don’t overstate the risks these women are willing to take–because until very recently abortion was effectively banned in most of Mexico so they were already taking these risks.

In September, days after Texas began enacting a new ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that abortion could no longer be treated as a crime. Ms. Cruz and her colleagues soon hatched a plan to work with Texas reproductive groups on making it easier for women in the state to end their pregnancies at home.

Dozens of activists are meeting in January to work out the strategy. One of them, Crystal P. Lira, said she has already brought pills from Tijuana to California, and then shipped them to Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and Texas.

Ms. Cruz said the new Texas laws would not stop them from crossing the border with abortion drugs — even if it means risking jail time.

“If that’s the only way that people will become conscious that what the government is doing is a major violation of human rights,” she said, “then yes.”

These women are awesome. This is the definition of transnational solidarity networks. What absolute heroes.

So here’s a few questions to close this post. First, am I right or wrong about what will happen when Roe gets overturned? Second, what tactics should we use to fight against the oppression of women? Third, what can we learn from these Mexican badass women that we can apply to our larger struggles against oppression, both in terms of how we help those who are being oppressed and how we can fight against our own oppressions? Fourth, how do we fight against this idea of politics making us “tired” and then we just give up even as the fascists are frothing at the mouth and ready for another bite of your freedom?

I look forward to an interesting conversation in the comments over all this.

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