Brothers in Arms, Part 1: Racist Anti-Abortion Rhetoric from the Restell Years to Roe v. Wade

Newspaper illustration of Madame Restell in jail, February 23, 1878

This article is our first installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion, from the fears of immigration that fueled abortion prohibition in the late 1800s to the gender-based hatred rooted in today’s white nationalist resurgence.

In the battle over abortion, Kentucky was this year’s ground zero. In Louisville, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center fought to keep its doors open, as a governor, a legislature, and a base of activists — all hostile to abortion — made it their mission to shut the clinic down. For reproductive justice advocates, the stakes were high, as EMW stands as the only abortion provider in Kentucky, the last one in a state that had more than a dozen such providers in the late 1970s.


In the 19th century, opposition to abortion was fueled by racist paranoia.


The situation in Louisville was emblematic of a national phenomenon. In 2011, state legislatures entered a fever pitch, passing new restrictions on abortion, including ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, state-mandated counseling, and prohibitions against telemedicine care and abortion medications. Within a few years, more than 200 restrictions were enacted, and by early 2016, The Washington Post was reporting that 162 abortion providers had closed in their wake.

Boom Years for Abortion

When Ann Lohman first opened her abortion practice, her experience could not have stood in starker contrast to the battle of attrition against regulations and harassment that shutters many of today’s providers. If there were any challenges to keeping her doors open, it was competing with the many other providers who clamored for attention, with advertisements in newspapers, popular magazines, and even religious publications. Lohman’s own advertising budget, to stand out from the crowd, eventually reached $60,000 a year.

Lohman’s experience, like the EMW Center’s, was a sign of the times — but they were very different times.  Continue reading

Pride Month: Toward a Future Where Pride Is a Big Party

June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ community. And while it has become a celebratory thing, it is important, especially in the current social and political climate, to remember that Pride Month did not start as a march. It did not start as a party. It did not start as a celebration. Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Uprising.

In 1969, while it was illegal to be gay, there were gay clubs. One was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. The police would raid it every so often. They would arrest the patrons. They would beat the patrons. And they would look the other way if the patrons were murdered.


We are still here. You will not silence us. You haven’t been able to yet, and you never will.


One day, a group of gay people, mostly trans women and street kids, mostly people of color, said “NO MORE!” and fought back. That started six days of riots, where LGBTQ people from all over the city converged in Greenwich Village and demanded their rights. To demand their lives!

We have gotten used to Pride Month being kicked off with a Presidential Proclamation. Every year for eight years, we had President Obama issue a proclamation. As far back as 1999, when President Clinton issued the first one, we have grown accustomed to a march forward in our rights, our visibility. But we have forgotten about our origins, the roots of Pride Month, which are steeped in the struggle against homophobic, anti-LGBTQ violence. Continue reading

From Safe Spaces to the Streets: Pride on the 47th Anniversary of Stonewall

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

pride flagsEarlier this month, the nation was shocked by a mass shooting — the deadliest in our history — at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Gay bars have a long history of giving customers a safe place where they can be free from the hatred and bigotry that might surround them in their everyday lives. At least, they’re safe places until the hatred and bigotry of the outside world are visited upon them. In Orlando, that hatred and bigotry took the form of a heavily armed gunman who targeted the LGTBQ community with an assault rifle. In the wake of this tragedy, some wonder if the fight against gun violence will be reinvigorated by the LGBTQ community’s spirit of activism. It would not be the first time that major social change was born from the violation of a safe space by the forces of hatred and bigotry.


From Stonewall to Pulse, patrons of LGBTQ clubs seek a niche of acceptance and space to breathe joy.


Tuesday, June 28, marks the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — a three-day riot in New York City in 1969 that started the modern movement for LGBTQ+ equality.* The Stonewall Inn — the birthplace of the Stonewall Riots — became the first LGBT national historical monument this month. Remembering Stonewall is a way to honor our LGBTQ+ forebears and the sacrifices they made, and a way to reclaim power as a community to fight for systemic equality for all people.

The Stonewall Inn never set out to make history. If anything, the Mafia-owned bar paid off local beat cops to raid other bars that catered to a certain clientele, while leaving the Stonewall alone. But the Inn would be the site of the beginnings of a movement that started with rage, fire, and riots and found itself advocating for justice, equality, and love for all. Continue reading

The 45th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots: Still Here, Still Queer, Still Not Used to It

The Gay Liberation Front, pictured here in 1969, formed in response to the Stonewall Riots. Image: PBS

The Gay Liberation Front formed in 1969 in response to the Stonewall Riots.

In 1969, homosexuality was illegal in 49 states. It was classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and it was not unheard of for those who identified as homosexual or transgender to undergo extreme treatments such as lobotomies or castration in an attempt to “cure” their conditions. If it was discovered that you were gay, you were blacklisted. Doctors and lawyers lost their licenses. Your home address was published in major newspapers. You were dishonorably discharged from military service. Non-gender-conforming people were refused service in public establishments, found it difficult to receive health care, and were routinely arrested for indecent behavior — behavior that was often simply being transgender. Society expected that you assimilate with heteronormative ideals by presenting as the gender you were born with, marrying the opposite sex, and having children.


Saturday will be the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We have come a long way since then, but still have more work to do.


In the late 1960s, Greenwich Village was a progressive neighborhood in New York City that also served as a respite for the LGBTQ community of the time, including the poorest and most disenfranchised. The Village was also home to numerous establishments frequented by LGBTQ patrons in a time when they could not publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation or identity, lest they be arrested. These establishments — which included the Stonewall Inn (a mafia-run bar) — were often the subject of police raids.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by the New York City Police Department, just as it had been many times before. This time, Stonewall patrons did not allow themselves to be shoved into the backs of police cars. Forty-five years later, details of the riot remain conflicting and vague, but what is agreed upon is that Stormé DeLarverie — also known as King Stormé, a drag king in the drag group Jewel Box Revue — is credited with throwing the first punch in reaction to being shoved by police. With this punch, the Stonewall crowd exploded into a full-blown violent demonstration. Participants saw the violence of which they were so often the recipients suddenly being turned back on their oppressors. Continue reading

From Censorship to Insufficiency: Sex Education from the Dennett Trials to Today

In an article published the day after her trial, the New York Times described the defendant as a “gray-haired, kindly-looking matron.” When she took the stand in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, the 53-year-old grandmother introduced herself as a maker of decorative wall hangings and an occasional writer for magazines.

Maybe it was a sign of the times that such an unusual defendant could be facing an obscenity charge that spring afternoon in 1929. The decade known as the Roaring Twenties shook established conventions as metropolitan centers like Chicago and New York became the birthplaces of modern cultural movements that pushed old boundaries. Showing disdain for the conservative dress and sexual ethos of the past, women in short hair and short skirts, dubbed flappers, were sensationalized for their cavalier attitudes toward sex. Pushing limits further, homosexuals and gender nonconformists earned nods of recognition in everything from stage productions (Mae West’s The Drag) to popular music (Edgar Leslie and James Monaco’s “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”), benefiting from a level of social acceptance that anticipated the 1960s. Meanwhile, the popularity of jazz challenged racial barriers as black and white musicians collaborated on stage and in studios, and as black and white socialites mixed in lively venues like Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.


Mary Ware Dennett was a pioneer for sex education — both through her writing and the legal battle she fought.


Amid those changes, some people still weren’t ready for the controversial publication Mary Ware Dennett was in court for distributing, even if that publication had been well received by the medical community and, furthermore, had been sent to such tame and respected clients as the Bronxville school system, state public health departments, and various religious and civic organizations like the Union Theological Seminary and the YWCA. The publication was one Dennett had written 11 years earlier for her two sons, then 11 and 14 years old. She wrote it after realizing that, without it, they wouldn’t receive the sex education they needed: “When my children reached the age when I wished to supplement what had been taught verbally, I sought something for them to read.” After searching “some sixty volumes,” Dennett decided to give up and write her own material. Continue reading

Book Club: Woman Rebel – The Margaret Sanger Story

Now that comic books have become the source material for blockbuster movies, the oft-told story of the maligned and misunderstood superhero should be a familiar one, even to many who have never read a comic. Think Professor Xavier’s cohort in the X-Men movies or Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. They’re extraordinary. They’re also flawed, often unable to shake the ghosts of an uneasy past. But their powers, not their shortcomings, are the reason they’re so maligned. No matter their good intentions, they challenge what is known and established, earning them fear and distrust.


Bagge’s graphic novel is a refreshing contribution to a medium that is often a guilty pleasure at best.


Given that trope, maybe it wasn’t such an odd idea to give the comic book treatment to the life of Margaret Sanger, the reproductive rights pioneer and founder of Planned Parenthood. Writer and illustrator Peter Bagge, a veteran of alternative comics, does just that in Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013). The outcome is a graphic novel that doesn’t let exaggerated expressions, vivid colors, and terse speech bubbles derail an intelligent and sensitive retelling of Sanger’s life.

Comparing Sanger to a superhero might be hyperbole, but Sanger’s trailblazing work not only created the movement to advocate for birth control but also spurred the development of the oral contraceptive, or “the Pill.” She had the drive and the know-how to contribute to the movement as an author, editor, lecturer, and founder of a reproductive health clinic. Along the way, Sanger helped change the laws that stood in the way of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, while rubbing shoulders (and sometimes developing romances) with many luminaries of her time, from novelists to political agitators to wealthy industrialists. March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment — a theme perfect for someone of Sanger’s stature. Sanger’s visionary efforts earned her many accolades — as well as a campaign of character assassination that has called her everything from a fascist to a proponent of genocide. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • In “wanting it both ways” news, a Catholic hospital is claiming that fetuses aren’t human beings in order to help themselves win a malpractice lawsuit. So, essentially, fetuses are only human beings when someone’s trying to abort them. Otherwise — NOPE! (Jezebel)
  • President Obama is here to remind you how pro-choice and awesome he is. (YouTube)
  • Religious women love their birth control as much as the rest of us. (Guttmacher)
  • In what will be a true victory for choice, Dr. Tiller’s former clinic is gearing up to start serving patients again. (The Daily Beast)
  • Taking time away from other controversies, the Catholic bishops have announced that they will not compromise with Obama on birth control. (NBC News)
  • Proving that all schools would benefit from giving students access to contraception, NYC has seen its teen pregnancy rate plummet. (Center for Reproductive Rights)
  • In nearly every state, the total number of abortion providers has dropped since 1978. (The American Prospect)
  • Guess what, naysayers, condoms won’t prevent you from having great sex after all! (New York Daily News)
  • Dear lovely lesbians, Pap testing is super important for you guys, too! (The Advocate)