Melissa Harris-Perry: It's Melissa Harris-Perry and this is The Takeaway. Let's get started.
On Tuesday afternoon, 17 members of Congress were arrested by the Capitol Police for taking part in a demonstration protesting last month's Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization. All the arrested members are Democrats. Most are women, and indeed, most are women of color. The participants at the rally wore green bandanas declaring, "Vote back down." Their public defiance was just one of many public demonstrations, large and small, organized in the wake of the Supreme Court reversing Roe v Wade.
The battle to retain reproductive rights is not just happening in the streets. Following Dobbs, abortion rights advocates swiftly implemented a legal strategy to block the implementation of state-level abortion bans. As of Tuesday, eight states had banned abortion, but courts in multiple states have actually blocked lawmakers from their efforts to institute state-wide bans, at least temporarily.
Female Reporter 1: Abortions can resume in Louisiana at least for the time being.
Female Reporter 2: At least right now and today, a judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking Louisiana from enforcing its abortion ban.
Female Reporter 3: Today, a judge temporarily blocking Kentucky's abortion ban.
Male Reporter: A judge continues to block Utah's abortion trigger law from going into effect.
Melissa: And so we are now firmly in the post-Roe world that many reproductive justice advocates long warned was imminent. While advocates had been preparing, many ordinary Americans have been left wondering, "What can we do?" On Sunday, comedian, writer, media mogul and activist, Lizz Winstead and her organization, the Abortion Access Front responded to that question. Along with 60 partner organizations, they brought together two dozen speakers from reproductive health rights and justice movements for Operation Save Abortion.
Lizz Winstead: You are one of the 10,000 people who decided to make a difference today and I am so eternally grateful.
Melissa: For the 10,000 participants who registered and attended virtually, it was a day to learn, to strategize, to raise resources, and to raise a little hell.
Lizz: The day is here. You have made it. It is Operation Save Abortion.
Melissa: The Takeaway was granted reporting access to this event, and our producer Shanta Covington spent the day observing and recording as Operation Safe Abortion live-streamed to thousands of concerned citizens. Shanta also had the opportunity to speak in depth with some of the participants.
Dr. Yashica Robinson: Hello, I'm Dr. Yashica Robinson. I'm the medical director of Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, Alabama.
Melissa: During the past decade, states have enacted hundreds of restrictions limiting access to abortion. In 2019, Alabama passed what was considered at the time to be the strictest law in the country, but it was blocked by a court injunction, but the recent Dobbs' decision allowed the ban to take effect.
Dr. Robinson: In the state of Alabama, we have a total ban on abortion. What that means is once Roe vs. Wade was overturned, the citizens in Alabama and those from the surrounding states that were traveling to Alabama to access services, no longer have those supports in Alabama. Our center was the only center in Alabama that provided care up to 20 weeks gestational age. We cared for patients that were coming from Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida. They would come to our center for care.
Right now, those citizens are having to travel much further to access the care or many people are about to be forced to give birth and not have access to any abortion care at all.
Melissa: We asked Dr. Robinson about the very real implications for both maternal and child mortality rates due to the abortion ban.
Dr. Robinson: We do expect that those rates are going to rise even more because when you're talking to patients about pregnancy options and you're managing pregnancies, especially complicated pregnancies, it is very important that as a physician and as a patient, that you have access to every option available, and sometimes that best option is terminating the pregnancy. Unfortunately, with bans on abortion, you're going to have physicians who are going to be more reluctant to talk to patients about this option.
You're going to have patients that won't be offered the care that they need or patients who-- because we're stigmatizing it so much may not exercise that option even if it is something that is offered to them.
Melissa: Earlier this month, the Indianapolis Star reported the story of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio, who traveled to Indiana to obtain an abortion because her pregnancy had progressed three days beyond Ohio's strict six-week limit. Now, until the alleged assailant was arrested and arraigned in Ohio court last week, several media outlets and conservative lawmakers cast doubt on the story. With Indiana's Attorney General Todd Rokita, specifically targeting the doctor who performed the procedure. During an interview with Fox News, Indiana's Attorney General suggested the physician failed to report the abuse of the 10-year-old.
Todd Rokita: We're going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure. If she failed to report in Indiana, it's a crime to intentionally not report.
Melissa: Another attorney, representing the doctor has served the Indian AG with a cease and desist order, but this high stakes, public wrangling between a doctor and a lawmaker over the medical care of a traumatized child is emblematic of what Dr. Robinson told us this week.
Dr. Robinson: You're going to have physicians that are going to be more reluctant to move because they're concerned about their own freedom, and they're concerned about having to defend the medical decisions that they've made. Because even when they are very defensible, it is still very costly to do that.
That means when you have to choose between your own freedom and your family and choosing between the patient and fighting a system that has not centered the patient and centered the people who have been entrusted with caring for those patients, you're going to be less likely to err on the side of just taking care of the patient in the way we've done it in the past and the way it should be done.
Melissa: The treacherous landscape for providers lays over a system where access to care is already unequal.
Kwajelyn Jackson: In Atlanta, at the clinic where I'm the executive director, the majority of the people that we see are Black people.
Melissa: Kwajelyn Jackson is executive director of Feminist Women's Health Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Kwajelyn: The majority of the people we see are also under-employed, uninsured, living low-income, and sometimes in significant poverty. All of those complexities of their lives are coming in with them at the clinic. When we think about reproductive justice, we want to make sure that both people have the ability to get abortion care when they need it, but also that they have all of the other things that they need to have healthy and safe lives.
Melissa: Making sure people have what they need for healthy lives, requires resources. In the wake of Dobbs, many who were outraged by the courts reversal of Roe v Wade took to the streets, and many took out their wallet. The progressive small-dollar donor platform, ActBlue, collected nearly $6 million within just hours of the Dobbs' decision, adding to the $12 million that poured in after the draft of that decision was leaked in May. Jackson says these dollars don't always make it to the places where they're most urgently needed to provide care.
Kwajelyn: I'm hopeful that there'll be more opportunities for visibility of independent providers that are providing, frankly, the majority of abortion care in this country, who are the most at risk of closure in the face of the overturning of Roe, some of whom are taxable entities and some of whom are non-profits, that are trying to make ends meet, and trying to keep serving their communities. I hope that people will think about what exists where they live, and how they can plug in there.
Melissa: Even as a southern state with a Republican Governor, Georgia does continue to provide abortion care up to 22 weeks, at least for now.
Kwajelyn: We know that there is a six-week abortion ban that is imminent, but in the meantime, we are continuing to provide care for people who live in Georgia, and people who live in surrounding states where access has been eliminated completely.
Melissa: For both Dr. Robinson from Alabama and Kwajelyn Jackson from Georgia, Operation Save Abortion requires key attention to abortion providers. A concern consistent with the court's 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade, which rested as much on the rights of a physician to provide counsel and perform procedures as on the rights of individuals to terminate pregnancies but other participants at the event turned their focus onto the strategic concerns about ensuring access for people who are now gonna bear more costly burdens as they navigate the abortion patchwork of the post-Roe world. Mariely Rodriguez is director of client services for The Brigid Alliance.
Mariely Rodriguez: There is a lot associated with actually getting to an appointment, now especially after Roe. The average person that we support has to travel 1,000 miles or more to get to their appointment. The cost of abortion care after 24 or 25 weeks of gestation can range between $5,000 to $10,000, even more dollars. For people to think about, I'm covering the cost, not just of the procedure, but also of travel and everything else with their lives, especially for people who may be in jobs that don't have benefits and where people don't have PTO or Paid Time Off.
It can be super stressful. Our job is just to be as client-centered as possible and to support people as much as we can so that people can just get to their appointment, focus on their healthcare, and then come home and back to their kids, back to their families, and back to their lives. Healthcare should not be a life-breaking decision, having to choose between your healthcare and your children at home should not cost you your apartment or your job.
Melissa: Rodriguez says that supporting those who are seeking termination services is not only about finances, it's also about emotional and personal support.
Mariely: It's important for people as they're thinking about these things and how they can be of support and of use to their peers, to their family members, to their friends, to other people in their communities to think about how it is that they're approaching that support because in times of desperation, people will say and do things that may not be as supportive as they think they are and may actually be harmful.
Melissa: Legal security for providers supportive wraparound care for patients throughout the event. These measures were highlighted as critical for surviving in a fundamentally altered policy landscape but neither reverses the legal effects of Dobbs.
Arpita Appannagari: Hi, I'm Arpita Appannagari. I am the policy and partnerships manager at the National Institute for Reproductive Health.
Melissa: Appannagari suggested a public policy strategy that, in many ways, mirrors are steps taken by the anti-choice movement during the past several decades. Start local.
Arpita: I totally understand how it can feel disempowering to live in a state, where your voting rights are in question, where you've been gerrymandered out of really feeling like your voice is heard. That's why I think it's even more important to remember that you can just go to your City Council Member's office. You can knock on a door, you can show up to a City Council meeting and claim your time. It's critical to remember that elected officials at all levels work for you. Doing your job includes kind of forcing them to do their job.
Melissa: What Appannagari is describing is organizing. It's an important lesson in how power operates in a democracy. Now, we teach school children. Democracy means the majority rules, and that's a valuable lesson for electoral participation to be sure but scratch the surface of American politics and you'll find a more enduring reality. Well-organized voices get heard. Indeed, it's local first organizing through community building, moving into local elections, and then finally, state laws and presidential politics that help the movement to end abortion to reverse Roe v Wade. Appannagari suggests something similar for the operation to save abortion.
Arpita: See if you can get a critical mass of people to show up to a City Council meeting, make a shirt online, show up, look the same, talk the same, make your points heard. I can't emphasize how much that matters, especially in red states and especially in states where you feel like you know your vote for the federal election or even your vote for your state legislature, it doesn't matter. Cities can be really nimble. They can be really reactive and responsive. There's a huge opportunity there.
Rockie Gonzalez: We need all hands on deck and we need criminal justice, labor justice, environmental justice, immigrant justice, and all of the movements to come together and to help with this fight and to take it on.
Melissa: That was Rockie Gonzalez, founder of Frontera Fund and deputy director of the Austin Justice Coalition. Gonzalez highlights enthusiasm as a crucial resource for sustaining a movement to restore and expand reproductive rights.
Rockie: It's exciting to think that while it's horrible, that we are where we are, to know that at least there are at least 10,000 people out there who decided that they wanted to spend their day learning about the state of abortion is just so invigorating. It gives me that little bit of possibility, like okay we've been taking hits for a long time but we don't stop.
Just being here in community has felt really good and knowing how many people are out there who want to be a part of this movement, who are excited about being part of this movement, and who are willing to be like, "Oh, let me sit and let me listen and let me learn," that's amazing. I just feel really excited about what the potential of that is. Potential people power and the potential for building our movement.
Melissa: When we come back, Lizz Winstead joins us to talk more about the next steps in Operation Save Abortion.
Lizz: I want everyone to stand up. Just stand up. You guys want to stand up, feel free. All right, stand up. I want you to put your arms in the air and then I want you to scream as loud as possible on 3. 1, 2, 3. [screams] Take a seat, take a breath. You need that because you've wanted to do that, I don't know, 10, 20 years, for the last three weeks, that's unclear. You just did it. I'm feeling good about all of you.
Melissa: With that, Lizz Winsted gave voice to what many have been feeling since the Supreme Court reversed Roe v Wade last month. Lizz is the founder and chief creative officer of Abortion Access Front and co-host of the Abortion Access Front's weekly podcast, Feminist Buzzkills Live. She's also co-creator of The Daily Show. Lizz, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Lizz: Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa: We have been talking about the Operation Save Abortion event. What were the key takeaways you took from the event?
Lizz: I think the key takeaways from the event were really bringing humanity, A, to the issue. A lot of times when we talk about abortion publicly, which isn't very often, we talk about policy, we talk about strategy for politicians, we talk about voting, and we don't talk about-- if you want people to vote, what are the things that will inspire a politician to know about abortion access so that they will prioritize it? What are the experiences of the patients and the people providing the care?
Also, just if you've been looking at the landscape and watching the news and constantly wondering what can I do, I wanted people to have an orientation in an afternoon of all the ways they can help so that they can do a self-assessment to figure out where they can hang their hat because, man, this is a marathon. We all need to be in this for the long haul so having you be able to place yourself with one of these amazing organizations was really key.
Melissa: It did seem to me that at least for me, one of the key takeaways I heard from the participants that you'd gathered was this notion of a long fight, of a marathon and therefore of pacing and of some patience but even as you're screaming, you're kind of moving forward but also I really appreciate how you've phrased this to kind of personal and I think many researchers, historians who have followed the movement to abolish abortion have talked about that asymmetry, the ways that the anti-choice movement has really personalized this notion of fetal life or unborn children and the people who are seeking abortions, they just become a nameless, faceless mass.
It is fetal life which takes personality and center stage. That asymmetry has real effects in our public policies and now our legal decisions.
Lizz: Yes, and it's been okay for decades to present pregnant people and women as these vessels. We've allowed this erasure because consistently we've been told we shouldn't talk about it. We've been told that abortion should be siloed out as a shameful form of healthcare that we have. Unless we re-center people who experience abortion and give the dignity in humanity to the person going through it and also there's so many hard conversations to have around abortion that I think we don't have any of them.
Something I'm going to say might sound very radical but the value of one's pregnancy is that of the person pregnant. If you are pregnant and don't want to be pregnant and would like to have an abortion, that pregnancy has a different value than the pregnancy of somebody who's trying to start a family. If we don't come to terms and have these hard conversations, the default is always going to be to presenting fetal life as a priority over those of us living and walking the Earth.
Melissa: It's a tough conversation, Lizz, and maybe not so tough to have one on one. Maybe something, I think, especially when we understand that most people who seek abortions have already given birth or already parents. A majority fully understand every aspect of the process and including what happens after birth when one is rearing or making choices about the person who's been born. Maybe in our one on ones, we can have those conversations, but boy, it is hard to do it in a public space.
I guess part of what I'm wondering about sort of this Operation Save Abortion that you've pulled together here is your fearlessness, your willingness to say all kinds of things that I think some of which are provocative, some of which are just facts of the case, but which really rarely get a public airing. I guess my question really is, Lizz, how'd you get so brave on this?
Lizz: I was someone who I've had multiple abortions. I was able to walk away and get out in my life and do all these really cool things. Really back in 2010, when we watched Texas, the first time we watched Wendy Davis and everything, I realized that I stepped away, I pulled the ladder up behind me, Melissa, into a degree without knowing it. I was like, "I got to get this ladder back down," because somebody's self-determination, I need to fight for that.
I just couldn't go on. When I started traveling and meeting patients and meeting providers and seeing that these independent providers in these communities that we don't know much about. We know about planned parenthood, they have a federal presence, they have a national presence, but we don't know about these community providers. When you provide care in a community like Montgomery, Alabama or Little Rock, Arkansas, people protest outside your clinic. We all know that but you can't get someone to mow your lawn. You can't get people to support you.
When we realized that they were working in a silo knowing they were helping people get the care they needed, but walking through a gauntlet of hate, having to defend the record, having to do the lawsuits, having to provide the care, and then having to defend themselves, I was like we have to take some of that off their plate. They should be able to provide the care and then us, as a public, should be the hype man and be all those things.
Melissa: I want to talk with you, Lizz, here about the toolkits, the materials, the exercises for those thousands who were watching via live stream and virtually. Tell me a little bit about why those hands-on exercises were an important part of the event.
Lizz: Sure. Not only did we want to spend an afternoon orienting people to all the ways they could be helpful, we wanted people to, A, who have never organized before watch the event through house parties. We wanted them to get together. Just for them to even understand which a lot of people really didn't. It's like if you got four friends together to watch this, you're an organizer, you organized something. You've organized. With each toolkit, it was associated with having people ask some questions of themselves.
We really asked people to be honest about where you've been, what you knew about whether it was clinic support or patient support, and then we wanted people to brainstorm thinking about what they learned and taking those aha moments and saying, how can we apply this in our community? Then, lastly, we gave people a little bit of an action to take. That might be something that would be 100% helpful when they walked into this having zero things that were helpful that they knew about.
We wanted them to be interacting constantly in ways that would empower them and also give you a little bit of a deeper meaning as to if patient support or legislative advocacy or whatever would be right for you because the day was about immersion in learning all the ways but not that you have to do everything. Taking that separation out and saying, "Wow, this particular aspect of advocating for abortion access really speaks to me, meets my capacities, meets my passions, also meets my skill set."
Often we think of activism as an outward extra thing you do. We really wanted to reinvent the concept of activism to be, "Hey, figure out what you are good at and what you can do effortlessly. We will help you find a way to apply that to making the world a better place."
Melissa: That's so helpful. To think through and even the way that we've been trying to frame it here, this notion of provider protection, patient support, legislative action, organizing. You have this event, these tool kits, these house parties, how does momentum remain sustained?
Lizz: Now, we're in the slog. We are vetting every person who participated and we explained why because you cannot enter into the space of abortion activism without us knowing that you're not an interloper from the anti-abortion movement. We've had doctors, we've had all of these organizations, at some point have somebody wants to do harm, who pretends to be someone they're not. We identify each of these people as who they really are. It's up now at operationsaveabortion.com.
We've created a living activist calendar that is nationwide events like any kind of webinars or if you can do something more educational pieces, and then there's a breakdown menu for every state so you can do regional events as well. People can constantly be looking and we're working with all of these organizations to make sure their activist calendar is full. If there's a City Council meeting they need you to go to on something or a clinic needs somebody to repair their fence or who're looking for funds to get someone from A to B.
You can constantly be tapping into that activist calendar and see when you are free and when you're available to do things. There's all kinds of direct action things as well because the thing about direct action I just want to reiterate is direct action doesn't mean you have to necessarily take to the streets, put on a costume, and scream. Direct action can be talking to someone like you said, one-on-one about abortion or doing something small, and facilitating actions that are happening. It's pretty great.
Honestly, it was a great day, but it's only really going to sustain its greatness if you really commit, you have to commit. You're part of a community that needs you. Please, please do that because you just got to know the greatness of these people today. I've known them for 10 years and every day, they're the ones keeping us going.
Melissa: Lizz, you're my funny lady, you're my comedian activist. What brought you to those tears?
Lizz: I think it was the fact that whenever these crises happen and they happen in Touchstone Moments in Georgia and throughout and the outrage. When I hear thousands and thousands of people saying, "I don't know what to do, what can I do?" I'm thrilled to be able to provide for them something to do. What hit me in that moment and what hits me every day is if you don't know what to do or haven't known what to do that these people are doing it all. That someone is doing it and they've been doing it 24/7. They've been doing it to the detriment of their own personal lives, their exhausted, their health, their mental health, and doing it under the dome of hatred and ignorance. The only way to crack that honestly is if we all make the commitment to doing this fundamental culture shift and on how we talk about abortion. You said earlier in the segment, listening is important.
I am going to put a plea out that's going to make people probably mad, but to my democratic operatives and to the politicians and strategists who say they're pro-choice, they need to take a breath and stop listening and stop strategizing around this until they have really, really understood from people who've had abortions and people who provide them. Actually what's at stake and a plea to President Biden, please meet with people who've had abortions.
I know that his moral compass is different than mine when it comes to this issue because of his Catholic upbringing, but hearing the stories of people who've had them help you make informed, compassionate decisions. If we're going to say we're an informed, compassionate country, we have to show compassion for this issue, the way we do everything else.
Melissa: Do you have optimism hope in this moment?
Lizz: I do because the fact that 10,000 people watched an internet live stream and, Melissa, people in the comments on YouTube who didn't know each other, created their own Zoom links to do the exercises that they were watching alone. People stayed for eight hours on a Zoom. We had a 9,000-person retention rate. It was like, so I do, I'm always forever grateful when people decide to talk about this because every time it's talked about, we get new volunteers and we get new people saying, "What can I do?" To be able to say, "I have an answer for you," and you get to decide.
"Not only I'm going to tell you what to do. I'm going to give you a menu of things that are going to work out for you and that connect with you," and I couldn't wake up every day and do this if I didn't have optimism.
Melissa: I have to say 9,000 people staying for eight hours on a Zoom.
Melissa: I don't know if it makes me optimistic, but it certainly as my jaw on the floor at the moment because after two and three years of all of us living our lives virtually, that does indicate a certain commitment to this issue. Lizz Winstead, thank you for your humor, for your organizing, for your tears, and for saying some of the things that make people mad, you can always come back to The Takeaway to do that.
Lizz: Thank you so much, Melissa.
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