Marlene Fried, a reproductive rights champion and scholar, has a “recipe for activist fuel” in the battle to defend abortion access across the country: “Complete outrage at what is going on, a sense of urgency and yes, optimism,” she told members of Community Board 8 on Tuesday night.
The Upper East Side community board’s Women and Families Committee and Voting Reform Task Force joined together to continue a conversation on abortion rights that’s gripped the city since a Supreme Court draft opinion — one that foreshadowed the end of Roe v. Wade — was leaked in early May. This month, Fried was accompanied by NYS Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, who debuted legislation over the summer to protect abortion access in the state’s constitution. “We’re all reeling from the disastrous decision of the Supreme Court,” she said.
The two CB8 bodies voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to support the right to abortion and to back Seawright’s legislative push.
Linking Politics With Health
Known as the “Equality Amendment,” Seawright’s proposed constitutional amendment was introduced in July during a special session. It’s scope in prohibiting discrimination is wide: ethnicity, nationality, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes and reproductive health care would all be protected statuses. “Limiting or eliminating a woman’s choice is sex discrimination,” Seawright said.
After passing the initial vote in July, the amendment must now also pass a new legislative session — starting in January — before being turned over to voters, as a referendum on the ballot. That time will likely come in 2024, Seawright said. “We’re expecting a strong fight from the religious right, who’ve already promised to spend millions of dollars to have this defeated in New York State,” she said. Still, Seawright feels “confident” that she’ll be successful.
NYS Senator Liz Krueger is bringing an identical bill forward in the Senate, according to Seawright.
CB8 speakers on Tuesday suggested that political involvement and bodily autonomy are deeply intertwined. “The New York Academy of Medicine has referred to voting as part of the ‘social determinants of health,’” said Shari Weiner, co-chair of the Voting Reform Task Force. Some fear that striking down the right to abortion could bring on far-reaching — and extreme — consequences. “I am scared to death because I think that this is a major step forward in making women a second-class citizen, again,” said Rita Popper, a board member.
A Different Kind Of Fight
In 2017, the Women’s March — a global protest in support of women’s rights — was fueled by rage over the election of former President Donald Trump. “The organizing was somewhat anarchistic in the beginning,” said Fried, who is a professor emerita of philosophy at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. “People were desperate to do something and to show that they weren’t going to stand for this.” Millions wanted to be seen.
Now, unlike decades ago before Roe v. Wade was established, those seeking to preserve protections for abortion are up against a different kind of fight. “At the moment it’s legal chaos, we’re in uncharted waters,” Fried said, later adding that “the stakes are incredibly high. Before Roe, there were actually very few prosecutions. But today, there’s extensive surveillance.”
There are still some doctors, according to Fried, who will continue to provide abortions despite restrictions as a form of “civil disobedience.”
Abortion pills, which now account for over half of all abortions in the U.S., according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, are “not a panacea,” she said. But they’re still a light in the dark for those advocating for safe, legal abortion access — especially in states where abortion access has been severely restricted and those who seek it are subject to legal repercussions. “There is no way to tell that a person has taken the pills,” Fried said.
CB8 members also advocated for supporting organizations like The Brigid Alliance, which offers financial and other forms of aide to those seeking abortions, and participating in “postcard campaigns” — sending postcards to people in other parts of the country, encouraging them to vote for politicians who would fight to make abortion legal at the state level. “Not only are the postcards a way to get to people, but it’s also quite therapeutic,” said Erica, a Zoom participant who’s sent thousands of postcards in recent months.
Being vocal about personal experiences has become a powerful rallying cry for abortion rights proponents, too. Over Zoom, Lori Bores told CB8 of her grandmother’s death, following what she described as an “illegal abortion,” when Bores’ mother was seven years old. “It was kept secret in the family,” she said, concluding that it had a lasting impact. She held up an image of her grandmother’s headstone, which she said she brings to protests.
Inspiration for continuing the fight, unexpectedly, is being found in the opposition’s approach. “They worked for 50 years to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Fried said. “So we need to show that same persistence, fortitude, stick-to-it-iveness.”
“Limiting or eliminating a woman’s choice is sex discrimination.” NYS Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright