From Stop Patriarchy

“The more people I spoke to the more confident I became”

Notes from an Abortion Rights Freedom Rider, Rio Grande


August 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Brownsville, TX

Monday, August 18, Rio Grande. Before heading to Brownsville I confided in a fellow freedom rider that I was nervous about going down with such a small crew and my lack of experience. I told her I was nervous about speaking to people about abortion and really taking initiative down in Brownsville. Her response is something that I think speaks volumes about the richness of today’s outreach; she said to me that one, everything was going to work out and not to worry, and two, and more importantly, that talking about abortion is easy or at least gets easier in time. Another freedom rider echoed this sentiment by emphasizing the strength in our varying degrees of experience and knowledge, and that bolstered my confidence.

Under some awesome leadership, our crew set up camp in a stall at a weekly flea market in Brownsville. After setting up our table with flyers, pins, and stickers, and quite ironically hung up the “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology” sign with coat hangers, we got to talking with the folks passing by. At first I was shaky and watched as other freedom riders spoke to people, attentive to their confidence and the language they used to illustrate how serious this abortion rights emergency is. We would stop to chat and ask each other about how people were responding and what we could say to strengthen our responses.

Early in the morning we had the opportunity to talk with four young women who were really interested in getting involved. One young woman said she was interested in stopping to talk with us because both her mom and her sister have had abortions, and she has worked on a project about abortion. There were two younger women who were with her and they were pretty quiet, and as we spoke seemed to agree but were also shocked by what we were saying (something that seemed to be a continued response throughout the day). The fourth woman was a bit wary, but still was open to listening. When asked about why she was hesitant she told us about how she used to not be religious and how her parents are now forcing her to attend mass, and telling her that abortion is a sin; that it is killing a life. We explained that a fetus is a life-form and has the potential to be an independent life and baby once it is born, but that this fetus is entirely dependent upon a woman’s body to progress to a point where it will be delivered.

We also pointed out that if we valued this fetus, this clump of cells, over a woman’s life it means that women are seen as nothing more than incubators. We asked her if she thought it was wrong to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term and deliver a baby she did not want. We asked her what she thought that child’s life would be like, along with the woman’s. Her disposition suddenly changed. She became more curious. When conversation was dying down, a fellow freedom rider did an incredible thing. She asked these four women to take flyers and walk around the flea market to talk with people about what we had just discussed and why they thought abortion rights are important. We asked that when they were through to come back to our booth and tell us about their findings. During the time between when they left and returned we did share some conversations with other folks. When they returned they shared with us the responses of people and their incredible energy. The young woman who was the most wary at first came back saying that she wanted more flyers and that she wanted to head out to the mall to talk to more people about why this is important. She even said to me, “We got a lot of rejection and mostly because of religion. They’d put their hands on their forehead, chest and shoulders and wave goodbye, but I’d say this is not about religion, we are talking about abortion!” DAMN! It was inspiring to listen to her transformation and watch her turn from a timid young woman into an empowered one. We are hoping to do outreach with her and her friends tomorrow and continue to cultivate this new relationship.

Between rest breaks and nommin’ on some delicious, homemade food, the traffic in front of our both increased and we began to speak to more and more people, and the more people I spoke to the more confident I became. What the crew noticed, though, in our conversations, were a lot of people responding to the question “Are you for or against abortion?”, in three different ways: 1) saying that they didn’t care, 2) saying that they were pro-choice but only in cases of rape, and 3) that it was really a complicated issue and that people had varying opinions about each side, and that neither side was either wrong or right. I also found that men who found themselves pro-choice were unsure of how to act, or felt that they did not know where they fit into a “women’s movement.”

In regards to the above freedom rider’s point that abortion becomes easier and easier to speak about was becoming more and more evident in the way our crew argued against these three points.

There is a lot of overlap on how I responded to these three points but I think it’s be important to briefly touch upon the specifics of each counter-argument I made to the points listed above. To people who said that they didn’t care I’d say, “It’s time to care or you should care because Governor Rick Perry and pro-life politicians are shaping policy and legislation that are having an effect on women this very moment.” I’d explain about what’s happening with HB2 and that by September 1st the majority of clinics will close UNLESS we fight against it. I emphasized the people’s hearings, the protest, and even threw in about the week of defiance. I told folks about how an estimated 5,000 women died per year before Roe V. Wade and that restrictions like the ones already in effect in Texas are making it nearly impossible for women to have safe access, forcing women to have children, or forcing them to take matters into their own hands and self-inducing or asking partners or friends to brutalize them so that they are no longer pregnant. I then asked people, “If we are forcing women to have children, what does this say about what society thinks about women?” Their eyes would grow wide, and some people began to nod, or say “yeah, this is true, what does this mean for women” and that was incredible. It was incredible to see a shift in people after a struggle or to see their faces light up when they saw that other people were for Abortion on Demand and Without Apology. It was incredible to see that with a little bit of elbow grease, courage, like that young women we had met earlier that day, and some fucking truth people became emboldened and wanted to act.

When people said that that they were only in favor of abortion in cases of rape and that if abortion was accessible women would continue to get abortions out of convenience. To that I would talk about the many reasons women would need access to abortion and use some of the stories from the people’s hearings to bring the conversation to life/make this real to people. In response to the idea that women would get abortion after abortion I’d say that abortion was a very important decision and that the pro-life movement is actually not in favor of birth control or sex education, and that those two things in conjunction with abortion would lessen the amount of unwanted pregnancies.

Finally, my response to people saying that abortion is a really complicated issue, was something i learned from a discussion we all had about “identity politics” and the problem of thinking that everything comes down to each individual’s perspective. A fellow freedom rider was saying to me that there are opinions but then there are facts; there is reality. The reality and truth of the situation is that, again, politicians like Rick Perry are shaping legislation. I shared this with people who expressed this idea. And continued the conversation much like the conversation I’d have when responding to people who said that they didn’t care about what’s happening in regards to abortion.

A lot of people responded positively when we stopped to talk to them. Some walked away and many were pro-life, but I was surprised by how many people were interested in talking about this, especially because many people did not know the extent of this emergency. A fellow freedom rider did point out however, that aside from talking about the emergency, we need to make the connection between working in Brownsville and the week of defiance clearer. It is something I look forward to strengthening over the next few days.

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