Notes from a women’s rights rally

Thoughts after attending a City Hall rally for abortion rights

Last Saturday, a rally was held at City Hall to protest the nationwide uptick in proposed and codified restrictions on access to abortion and contraception. The feeling shared by many women’s rights advocates is that the nationwide pro-life movement has become bolder, more extremist and, worst of all, more successful as of late. I attended the rally, one of many coordinated in cities throughout the country, and my reflections follow.

Not enough people are aware of what is happening. Not only is there a concerted effort by anti-abortion activists to end access to abortion entirely, but there is a strain of increasingly emboldened misogyny present in the national discourse. In Georgia, during debate on a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, state Representative Terry England ostensibly argued that since women were comparable to the cows and pigs on his farm, animals for whom he has had to deliver dead offspring, women should not be able to abort stillborn fetuses after 20 weeks.

And on his national radio program, Rush Limbaugh spent three days hurling slurs at law school student Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congress in support of a requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptives for women, citing the high relative cost for lower-income women. Limbaugh repeatedly called her a “slut,” a “prostitute,” and a “feminazi,” suggested her parents ought to be ashamed for having her as a daughter, and demonstrated the embarrassing ignorance of human sexuality that is so characteristic of his ilk by claiming that Fluke is “having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills.” For those unaware: birth control pills are taken daily, regardless of the frequency of sexual conduct, and have myriad benefits besides their contraceptive effect. Rush Limbaugh continues to enjoy the number one talk radio spot in the U.S. with as many as 20 million weekly listeners.

Not enough people are upset about what is happening. Although I do not know what the turnout was like at any of the other dozens of locations, at peak there were likely a paltry three hundred people gathered in front of City Hall, with perhaps five hundred coming and going throughout the day. The numbers may have been disappointing, but understandably those in Massachusetts might not feel as personally threatened as those in Mississippi or Arizona, where Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that authorizes a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill also defines the beginning of a fetus’s life as the first day of the parent’s last menstrual period. Many have already pointed out that this implies that an embryo is legally alive as many as two weeks before conception.

If you were ever in doubt that large swaths of the pro-life movement do not actually care about saving “the unborn,” I hope this will help you understand. As Amanda Marcotte said, “it’s safe to assume that they’d simply prefer a situation where all women of reproductive age are considered to be pregnant, on the grounds that they could be two weeks from now.” A popular slogan at the rally was “Politician ≠ Physician.” And while some legislators are indeed doctors, the rapid encroachment of the government into what ought to be private medical decisions made between doctors and their patients is disturbing.

Anti-choice activists — a subset of people who identify as pro-life — will say just about anything, heedless of science or logic. During one speaker’s talk, a heckler wandered throughout the audience shouting “Get your facts straight!” over and over. The speaker, a professor from Harvard, was initially somewhat fazed but then continued with her personal anecdote.

The widespread apathy is terrifying. Whether talking with students at MIT or reading and watching the statements of politicians, the sense I get is that many people do not really care about the onslaught of reductions in abortion access. Although it is difficult to distill the political feelings of MIT students from our general lack of concern for things other than p-sets and the like, it is certainly true that the Democratic party as a whole is no longer willing to be the staunch defender of women’s rights that it once was. Meanwhile, it remains the case that one in three U.S. women will obtain an abortion by age 45, that improved access to contraception lowers rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion, that nine in 10 abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, that childbirth is 10 times riskier than abortion, and that most people who obtain abortions are economically disadvantaged (69 percent), are under 30 (76 percent), are religious (73 percent), and already have children (61 percent), according to the Guttmacher Institute. And yet, Americans seem to prefer the preservation of an unthinking, unfeeling, unwanted, desireless, loveless fetus to the preservation of the health, the aspirations, and the future of real people.