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

Post-Election News Rundown

hangers-croppedIt would be an understatement to simply say we’re all reeling from last week’s election.

Ironically, in a nation where only 1.2 percent of the population are actual “real Americans” who are natives to this country, a swath of angry, non-native voters, with the intention of “taking their country back” (from whom is still a mystery) chose to pull the proverbial lever for a self-serving, authoritarian, demagogic, misogynistic, race-baiting, ego-maniacal, predatory, pathological liar.


Thanks to the 46,000 (and counting!) folks donating to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name.


The fact that hate speech and fear-mongering triumphed is truly frightening and demoralizing.

Most disappointing to many of us is the stunning betrayal we are realizing has been perpetrated by white female voters — 53 percent of whom voted for Donald Trump. #InsertFrownyFaceEmojiHere

Sorry to shatter your dream of a sisterhood! White ladies decided not to support a woman who has a long and storied history of advocating for children, affordable health care, equal pay, family leave, and women’s health and reproductive rights. Sadly, a majority of white women proved they would rather cast a vote for an openly cruel and vindictive man who doesn’t care about consent or gender equality, and publicly assigns and strips women of their value and humanity solely based on their appearance, and bullies female journalists and other women in the public sphere for his own entertainment.

Oh, and he blatantly and outlandishly lies about abortion. A procedure that one in three women has undergone.

Fairly certainly from a statistical standpoint, many of them were Trump voters.

I guess his statement that women who have abortions should be “punished” didn’t bother them.

In other harrowing news: Continue reading

The Birmingham Clinic Bombing and the Culture of Violence Against Reproductive Freedom

After earning her nursing degree from the University of Alabama in 1977, Emily Lyons developed a suite of skills in a variety of health care settings, from in-home care to emergency services. She passed on much of her knowledge to future nurses when she taught at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and by 1998, she had taken the helm as director of nursing at the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.


The 1990s were a time of numerous murders and attempted murders of reproductive health-care providers.


Lyons remembers little from January 29 of that year, a date 15 years ago today. She woke up earlier than she wanted but pushed herself through her morning routine, knowing she could look forward to a nap after work. She also looked forward to being home again with her husband, who was back from two weeks of business travel. But when she arrived at work, a devastating act of violence would ensure that nothing that ordinary would happen to her that day.

At 7:33 a.m., just as the clinic was opening, a bomb containing dynamite and nails exploded outside, killing security guard Robert Sanderson and critically injuring Emily Lyons. Although it was one of dozens of abortion clinic bombings that had occurred since abortion was legalized in 1973, the bombing of that Birmingham clinic was the first that resulted in a fatality. The five prior murders of reproductive health-care providers had been by gunshot.

Wounded in her face and legs, Lyons’ life was changed forever. After a long recovery, she was unable to resume her nursing career, but she became a spokesperson and activist for reproductive rights, receiving, among other honors, the Margaret Sanger Woman of Valor Award from Planned Parenthood. Continue reading