Speaking out for choice

February 8, 2011

OAK BROOK, Ill.--Activists from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs coordinated a demonstration to confront the annual anti-choice conference "SpeakOut Illinois" on January 29--held just one week after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision giving women the legal right to abortion.

Over 60 women and men braved the winter cold to pose an alternative to the lies propagated by anti-choicers. Even though the right-wing myth that abortion leaves women physically and emotionally scarred has been repeatedly debunked by scientific sources, conference-goers continue to express "pity" for users of abortion services and even staged a vigil for the "unborn" as part of the day's events.

Showing off our confidence in taking action to defend women's right to abortion and raising consciousness around the issue was of timely importance, given recent legislative attacks on abortion rights as well as funding cuts to needed abortion services.

Organizing for the action began in November of last year, when members of the International Socialist Organization decided to work on building a coalition of activists to plan a confrontation of the anti-choice conference. The call for the first citywide meeting brought out a small but dedicated group of activists who agreed the time was ripe to meet the anti-choice forces on their turf.

The group broadened and eventually grew to comprise members of the Chicago Abortion Fund, Feminists United, Illinois Choice Action Team, Join the Impact-Chicago, the Chicago Single-Payer Action Network, Kaleidoscope Doula Care, the National Organization of DuPage County and more.

A set of unifying principles were collectively decided for a focus: 1) that abortion is a human right and is a part of health care; 2) that we need a new movement to unapologetically defend the right of all women to access abortion; and 3) that abortion is threatened as part of a broader attack on living standards of working-class and unemployed people--particularly people of color, low-income people and immigrants.

On the day of the protest, the crowd was enthusiastic. Protesters chanted and spoke out boldly, calling out liberal Democrats for selling out abortion rights in order to pass the health care bill. Protesters also spoke about the lack of resources for low-income women and families that belies the right's claim of being "pro-life" and made connections between the struggle for women's rights in the U.S. and the struggle for economic justice in Egypt.

One speaker invoked the spirit of common struggle by recalling the 1980s, when abortion rights activists joined the ranks of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in protesting the hypocrisy and oppression of religious institutions during the AIDS crisis.

When demonstrators noticed an anti-choice conference attendee coming out and making his way toward us, our security team huddled; they had prepared for this. They instructed the group to stay close, tailed the man and eventually shouted him out of our ring. We felt safe, prepared and emboldened.

A snapshot of the anniversary week of Roe v. Wade can reveal the dynamics playing out around abortion rights. While conservative "astroturf" organizations and the religious right participate in large anti-choice mobilizations on one hand, there have been small grassroots displays in support of abortion rights on the other.

While pro-choice forces have tended to be dominated by electoral politics, the fact that in Chicago and elsewhere, a coalition of independent forces could come together and successfully organize to confront the anti-choicers shows what is possible in rebuilding the fight for women's rights.

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