Talking to the Abortion Rights Activists in Germantown, MD

What happens on the front lines of Dr. Carhart's clinic for this week is extremely important – but what comes out of it is perhaps even more critical.

Check out all of Rewire‘s coverage of the 2011 Summer of Trust / Summer of Choice convergence in Germantown, MD here.

Its been interesting talking to the people who have turned out to stand with Dr. Carhart. Women who work to end domestic violence – or at least to support women who have been abused and want to get out of those relationships. Women who do work against sexual violence and rape; they know deeply the trauma of having one’s body and most intimate emotional and physical space violated. Young women who have found feminism on their college campuses. One of them told me she’d never really thought about where she stood on abortion until she got to college. Another that she used to be extremely Catholic and even was extremely active in protesting abortion (beyond the obligatory Sunday services of Catholic school trips occasionally to protest clinics). Another told me about how her older sister was raped and then needed an abortion.

Several times now the abortion-rights supporters I have spoken to have made the living connections between the violence and degradation women receive in their daily lives and the violence and degradation women receive for either being shamed and harassed for seeking abortion or prevented from accessing it at all. As well as the violence that has been meted out against the doctors and staff who serve women by providing abortions.

In short, there is a deep river of compassion for women, real understanding and feeling for the lives of women and for the traumas and humiliations and oppression that is visited upon women in this patriarchal society that runs through the abortion-rights activists out here in front of Carhart’s clinic.

You can find this river of compassion in Dr. Carhart as well. In his many years of service to women. In the risk that he bears every single day that he practices. In his willingness to speak publicly about providing late-in-pregnancy abortions as well as his commitment to training new doctors in these life-saving procedures. In his activism – which goes beyond the call of duty of even the most committed doctor – which extends to posting a film of himself calling and inviting people to celebrate abortion rights and choice with him throughout the week that he is being targeted by Operation Rescue.

Which brings me to this. The Operation Rescue is targeting him for a week – but it is clearly much more than that. They have set their sights on him for life. And I don’t mean for the life of the fetus – I mean for HIS life. They will be on him this week, but they will continue until they shut down his clinic by whatever means it takes… or… until their movement is defeated. They are not going away. And they are eager to use any method that can advance their agenda. Lets be very clear, these people declared victory when Dr. Tiller (who they previously targeted) was assassinated.

This morning, they handed out fliers with color photos of Dr. Carhart’s face. They know better than most of the country how many fanatical, mission-from-god-warriors they attract to their rallies. They they are inciting people when they say Dr. Carhart is carrying out “murder.” They are responsible for any violence that is attempted or carried out against any of the doctors who provide abortions.

I mentioned before that many of the young abortion-rights activists have gone into the “pro-life” rallies in recent days. I did this too, back in 1994 when I first confronted Operation Rescue at an abortion clinic up in Fargo, North Dakota. I spent hours listening to their sermons, at first trying to “blend in” and then openly arguing with their congregation and even their priests and leaders.

It is interesting to listen as these young activists and feminists are processing what they witnessed. Just how open this Christian fascist movement is about the subordination of women. I recall thinking that those who protest abortion are just misguided. Perhaps they didn’t realize how many women are raped… how many need abortions for medical reasons… how many just can’t afford a child… how many will die if it is made illegal to get an abortion.

Sure, some of the protesters are misguided. But, mostly what I didn’t understand is that these protesters weren’t concerned about life or about women and just confused about how to best express that. Instead, they were NOT concerned about life or about women but only about enforcing their Biblical mandates. Those mandates include that women have to have babies to redeem ourselves for “original sin.” I am watching as people go through this process of discovery. Its important. It both reflects the freshness of many of those for whom this is their first action of this type and it is something that all too few people in this society have had to confront.

What happens on the front lines of this clinic for this week is extremely important – but what comes out of it is perhaps even more critical. It is hard to isolate any single “front line” of the abortion rights struggle. Over 500 legislative assaults on abortion rights were introduced at the state level in just the first three months of the year. More have continued. Doctors across the country have been targeted. (Just last week, down in Florida, Operation Save America protested at Dr. Pendergraft’s house(!!!) and at the home of one of the local heads of Planned Parenthood(!!!)) The other protests, threats and harassments are too many to count.

Whether people around the country start to confront the “no room for compromise” nature of this struggle the way that those on this front line are doing has a lot to do with what the future will hold.

Okay, had to run off to debate Derreck Jones of the National Right to Life Committee – I’ll have more to say about that later and post the links as well.