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

After Charlottesville: The Role of Gender-Based Hatred in White Nationalism

Memorial at the site of Heather Heyer’s death. Photo courtesy of Tristan Williams Photography, Charlottesville.

Like many people, I spent the weekend of August 12 and 13 glued to the news coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists had descended with torches and swastikas for a Unite the Right rally, prompted by the community’s moves to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. At home I watched photos and articles fill my Facebook feed. At the recreation center where I work out, I watched network news on the wall-mounted TV.


The synergy between race- and gender-based hatred has deep roots in the United States.


Hostility toward racial diversity was the driving force behind the rally — and it showed in the racial makeup of the crowds of people chanting Nazi slogans like “Sieg heil” and “blood and soil” — but I also noticed a serious lack of gender diversity as photos and videos circulated. Women were few and far between. However much I kept seeing it, though, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I grew up half Asian in a very white community, so seeing the dynamics of race has always come easily to me — and they were taking obvious form in Charlottesville. Having grown up cis-male, though, I don’t always catch the dynamics of gender on the first pass.

Then Monday came, and I was reminded, once again, of how gender played out at the Unite the Right rally. I read news that a white nationalist website, the Daily Stormer, was losing its domain host due to comments it published about the violence in Charlottesville. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Let’s start this week’s rundown on a ridiculous note. Apparently a bunch of weirdos think a sticker on the head of a penis is an alternative to a condom. #FacePalm (Slate)
  • 45’s administration defunding evidence-based sex ed in favor of abstinence-only propaganda will not make America great. (Tucson Weekly)
  • Rep. Ben Ray Luján — the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — became the latest to suggest that 2018 Democratic candidates don’t have to be pro-choice. While he didn’t clarify this comment, what I’m hoping he means is that Democratic candidates can be personally pro-life, as long as they are active in protecting the LEGAL RIGHT women have to abortions. If this isn’t what he meant, he’s sadly misguided and has no business representing or leading the party. (NY Mag)
  • More on that? This Atlantic article about the Democratic Party’s “abortion dilemma” is also concerning. It worries me that we continue to hear about “pro-life” Democrats and whether or not they should be “welcomed” by members the party and supported when they run for office. First of all, pro-choice people are also pro-life. We value the lives of all people. We value and respect the choices of women who wish to bring life into the world and women who do not. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a Democrat not to embrace abortion personally. What is not acceptable is to legislate in a manner that disempowers women from making choices regarding their wombs. It would be a GRAVE mistake for Democrats to support candidates who would cruelly force women to endure unwanted pregnancies. Reproductive rights are human rights. This should not represent a “dilemma” to a party that purports to care about human rights. (The Atlantic)
  • Virginia, why is there a need for you to go down the forced vaginal ultrasound path other than to humiliate and violate women? (Rewire)
  • Texas, why is it easier to buy a gun that has the potential to kill scores of people than to access abortion in your state? What a shame we live in a society that so clearly values punishing women for their sexual behavior over protecting living, breathing people. (Houston Chronicle)
  • Other wretched news out of Texas? They’re looking to restrict insurers from covering abortion. What other safe, legal medical procedure would they dare try this on? Can’t think of any? Me neither. (Texas Tribune)
  • Renee Bracey Sherman wrote a great piece for The New York Times about the concern anti-abortion activists claim to have for “black lives” terminated by abortion, but not via police killings. She states, “Far too often, compassion for black lives doesn’t extend beyond the womb or to the black women carrying that womb.” (NYT)
  • Jessica Valenti of The Guardian reminds us all that pregnancy has the potential to be lethal and that no one should be forced to give birth against their will. (The Guardian)
  • A nonprofit in the U.S. is helping throw women in El Salvador in prison for having abortions. Disgusting. (Slate)

Looking Back at Loving v. Virginia: The 50th Anniversary of a Landmark Case

Richard and Mildred Loving

Bettmann/Corbis via New York Times

When Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving started dating in the early 1950s, the idea that their relationship could change history could not have seemed more remote. When they decided to marry, Richard knew plenty of other people in Central Point, Virginia, had skirted the same legal barriers that stood in their way. Those Central Pointers had always been able to resume their lives afterward with no controversy or consequence. He and Mildred expected the same for themselves.


Loving v. Virginia upset one of the last strongholds of segregation.


Instead, Mildred and Richard would become the subject of numerous books and articles, a made-for-TV movie, a documentary, and a feature film, as well as the plaintiffs in a landmark Supreme Court case that turns 50 today. Their reluctance and modesty, even as their legal battle took on national significance, were captured in what Richard told LIFE Magazine in 1966: “[We] are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”

An Illegal Marriage

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter met in 1950, seven miles from Central Point, at a farmhouse where the seven-member Jeter Brothers were staging a bluegrass show. Richard loved listening to bluegrass. That night, however, it was not the performers, but their younger sister, Mildred, who captured his attention. Mildred was a few years his junior and known for being shy and soft-spoken. She thought Richard seemed arrogant at first, but her impression changed as she got to know the kindness he possessed. The two dated for several years, often spending time together at the racetrack, where Richard and two close friends won numerous trophies with a race car they maintained together.

What would have otherwise been a familiar story of romance in rural, 1950s America was complicated by race, at a time when segregation was deeply entrenched. Richard Loving was white, of Irish and English descent, and Mildred Jeter was black, as well as part Cherokee and Rappahannock. For Richard and Mildred, though, Central Point provided an unusually safe space, one that stalled the expectation that their relationship could invite legal troubles. Continue reading

Brookline Clinic Shootings: December 30, 1994

BROOKLINE, MASS., DEC. 30 — A gunman dressed in black opened fire with a rifle at two abortion clinics here this morning, killing two female staff workers and wounding at least five other people.

This matter-of-fact sentence was the opening of a Washington Post story on December 31, 1994. Today marks the 20th anniversary of these shootings at the Planned Parenthood and Preterm Health Services clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.

Planned Parenthood buffer zone in Vermont. Photo: Adam Fagen

The Brookline shootings are generally considered the third in a series of assassinations by anti-abortion activists and followers, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida, in March 1993. A history of acts of violence compiled by NARAL frames Dr. Gunn’s killing as a turning point, while recognizing that violent acts were happening all through the 20 years since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

I was living in Massachusetts in 1994; my life, however, was such that I did not have much time or energy for the news. I have a friend who lived in Brookline at the time; I asked for her memories of the shooting. She sent me this:

 My 7-year-old daughter and I were coming home to our apartment in Brookline on the trolley to Cleveland Circle when we saw the police swarmed around the brownstone that the [Planned Parenthood] clinic was in. I had a friend who worked there part time, so I was very worried. I wanted to join the crowd of people behind the police line to find out what happened, but my daughter’s safety was first on my mind. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • silhouetteA judge in Nebraska’s Supreme Court ruled that a 16-year-old foster child was not “mature enough” to have an abortion. She is, apparently, mature enough to:
    • endure nine months of a potentially difficult pregnancy
    • endure childbirth (which is much more dangerous than abortion)
    • have a child to take care of financially and emotionally for something like … I don’t know, 20 years
    • be a teen parent totally alone in this world with no close relatives to support her and her child

    Welcome to the perfectly logical world of anti-choicers. (Jezebel)

  • Contraception: good for women and good for society. (Raw Story)
  • Expanding the availability of abortions — California, you’re doin’ it right. (NYT)
  • Not interfering with a woman’s legal right to abortion — Ohio, you’re doin’ it wrong. (NYT)
  • Although World Contraception Day was two weeks ago, it’s still important that you know these five things about birth control. (ThinkProgress)
  • Not so fast, Virginia, your abortion restrictions will not go unchallenged!! (WaPo)
  • A thoughtful mother wants safe, legal abortion access available for her daughter and everyone else’s. (The Daily Beast)
  • Another religious “institution” doing whatever possible to restrict their female employees’ access to abortion. (LA Times)
  • If you’re a GOP legislator, why would you focus on resolving the silly government shutdown when you can instead propose more legislation around abortion? (RH Reality Check)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • In case you hadn’t heard, Arizona’s new abortion law is horrendous. (RH Reality Check)
  • Arizona has also passed a craptacular contraception bill that would allow employers with “religious objections to birth control” to opt out of the state’s requirement that health plans cover contraception. (ABC15)
  • Since we’re on such a roll discussing how much things suck in Arizona — it should also be noted that we have some surly, rude, wildly unprofessional lawmakers in this state. (NARAL)
  • Surprisingly, Arizona did not make Jezebel’s list of the 10 scariest places to have ladyparts in the United States. (Jezebel)
  • FYI: Childbirth = WAY more dangerous than abortion by pill. (Minn Post)
  • How the War on Women Became Mainstream (TruthOut)
  • Provocative new research might help explain why black women are so much more likely than whites to develop and die from cervical cancer: They seem to have more trouble clearing HPV, the virus that causes the disease. (MSNBC)
  • A teen wellness clinic inside a Virginia high school distributes birth control and emergency contraception — and something crazy happened — pregnancy rates have dropped! (USA Today)
  • Why Are 17-Year-Olds Being Denied the Morning After Pill? (Fox Charlotte)
  • A handy guide to Mitt Romney’s flip-flop on abortion. (Slate)
  • A pill that could prevent the transmission of HIV? Let the testing begin! (Boston Herald)