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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 19th, 2022

Netroots Nation 2022 — Day One — Featured Panel: Abortion access is both a disability issue and a queer issue

Per­haps no top­ic has hung heav­ier over pro­gres­sives’ minds dur­ing this year’s Net­roots Nation than access to abortion. 

I chose to spend some time on Thurs­day at a pan­el titled Dobbs and Roe: Queer, Gen­der-Expan­sive Visions for Abor­tion Care, fea­tur­ing an all LGBTQAI+ pan­el, where they dis­cussed the broad­er impacts of abor­tion access through the lens of queer­ness and disability. 

Jes­si­ca Sem­ler, activist, for­mer Pub­lic Defense Direc­tor at Planned Par­ent­hood of West­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, and first open­ly LGBTQ mem­ber of the Etna Bor­ough Coun­cil in 2020, mod­er­at­ed the pan­el. The pan­el also fea­tured Cori Fras­er, a dis­abled, non­bi­na­ry social work­er and co-founder of the Pitts­burgh Cen­ter for Autis­tic Advo­ca­cy, and La’Tasha D. Mayes, for­mer pres­i­dent and CEO of New Voic­es for Repro­duc­tive Jus­tice, an orga­ni­za­tion cen­ter­ing on women, femmes, and gen­der-expan­sive folks, and cur­rent Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee for the Penn­syl­va­nia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Dis­trict 24. 

The pan­el was quick to name the per­ils posed by the Dobbs deci­sion, and not­ed that these per­ils exist­ed long before Roe or Casey. 

Mayes point­ed out that mar­gin­al­ized folks have long had to rely on sys­tems “that were nev­er meant to pro­tect Black or gen­der-expan­sive peo­ple.” This, she says, has led to an over-reliance on con­sti­tu­tion­al rights and laws to save us, when we need to be putting our focus on human rights. And the “right to repro­duc­tive jus­tice, the right to con­trol bod­ies, gen­der, and the right to form fam­i­lies” are very much some of the human rights Mayes’ orga­ni­za­tion centers. 

“We saw Roe was com­ing to an end,” she said, speak­ing of those who work in human rights-root­ed repro­duc­tive jus­tice work. “But none of us were pre­pared for that moment. It sent shock­waves through the nation.” 

She also brought atten­tion to the ways lan­guage uplifts and dam­ages the move­ment. In the light of con­ser­v­a­tive furor over using ter­mi­nol­o­gy such as “peo­ple who can become preg­nant” as opposed to “women,” her points are time­ly and welcome. 

“When we say ‘a woman’s right to choose,’” she says, “not every woman is an abor­tion seek­er, and not every woman has a choice.” 

Fras­er drew the con­nec­tion between abor­tion access and queer health­care. In Penn­syl­va­nia, they said, many of the abor­tion care providers are also trans­gen­der care providers.

“Lots of trans folks are not able to access hor­mones since there’s an increased demand from folks in less abor­tion-friend­ly states com­ing [to Penn­syl­va­nia] need­ing care,” they said. 

They went on to talk about those “attack­ing abor­tion rights through the lens of dis­abil­i­ty.” An exam­ple they used was the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing a patient’s deci­sion to ter­mi­nate a preg­nan­cy if the fetus was iden­ti­fied to have Down’s syndrome.

“And what I say to that,” they said, “is that we have to pro­tect the abor­tion rights of women with Down’s syn­drome. If we lim­it abor­tion there, we are lim­it­ing the rights of those with dis­abil­i­ties who can become pregnant.”

They also iden­ti­fied the ways in which abor­tion care is inex­tri­ca­ble from queer rights, par­tic­u­lar­ly for trans people. 

Abor­tion access, they said, “is part of a larg­er puz­zle, of an attack on bod­i­ly autonomy.”

“This is com­ing at the same time as attacks on trans rights,” they con­tin­ued, cit­ing the recent flur­ry of Repub­li­can-spon­sored bills lim­it­ing access to puber­ty sup­pres­sors and gen­der-affirm­ing care. 

“There’s abor­tion and there’s trans care, and there’s LGBTQ mar­i­tal rights, and rights to cho­sen fam­i­ly. All are part of a big­ger strat­e­gy to cre­ate a very con­trolled, carcer­al world,” they said. “We don’t live sin­gle-issue lives. We have to address them all simultaneously.” 

Sem­ler turned the pan­el towards a dis­cus­sion about the com­mon call from Democ­rats in the wake of the Dobbs deci­sion, which have amount­ed to more calls to vote. She said that this mes­sag­ing has been dis­il­lu­sion­ing to young and mar­gin­al­ized vot­ers who have been vot­ing, often dili­gent­ly, yet are still not get­ting their needs met by state and fed­er­al lev­el officials. 

Mayes respond­ed by say­ing that vot­ing is nei­ther the first nor last step, but a strat­e­gy that must be “inte­grat­ed with com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing.” We can’t be ask­ing peo­ple to orga­nize or vol­un­teer, she con­tin­ued, if they “don’t have food to eat or a place to live.”

Fras­er con­curs, adding: “As we’re orga­niz­ing, we’re try­ing to get peo­ple in the cen­ter, we’re try­ing to get them to val­ue human lives and…they don’t.” 

Sem­ler then piv­ot­ed the pan­el to dis­cuss the pit­falls of the com­mon Demo­c­ra­t­ic response fol­low­ing the Dobbs deci­sion, which were increased calls to vote. This, she said, can be dis­il­lu­sion­ing to young, mar­gin­al­ized vot­ers who have been vot­ing, often in size­able num­bers, yet are still not hav­ing their needs met by state officials. 

Mayes said that vot­ing is nei­ther the first nor last step, but one strat­e­gy that must be “inte­grat­ed with com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing.” She goes on to say that we can’t ask peo­ple to orga­nize if they have noth­ing to eat and nowhere to live. 

She calls advo­cates to ask: “How are we sup­port­ing our abor­tion funds? How are we mak­ing sure we’re vol­un­teer­ing to get peo­ple where they need to be?”

Fras­er men­tioned that one of their areas of focus­es is mutu­al aid. There was a pop­u­lar meme going around social media of folks offer­ing to take their friends “camp­ing,”  but this, they said, isn’t enough. 

“We have to build sys­tems where we sup­port each oth­er out­side of the gov­ern­ment,” they said.

They offered an exam­ple of a recent work­shop in the greater Pitts­burgh area show­ing peo­ple how to do things such as access­ing plan B. 

“Hav­ing a plan that is not ‘the Dems are going to save us…’ if we could all just do that, things would be so much better.”

Mayes laid out sev­er­al points Democ­rats could be advo­cat­ing for in order to help bring abor­tion access to those who need it the most. 

“We need to be train­ing more health­care providers to pro­vide abor­tions,” she said. She called out Med­ic­aid for not cov­er­ing abor­tions, say­ing that there needs to be a way to get tax­pay­er dol­lars to sup­port abor­tion care, trans care, and health care in general.

And there needs to be more sup­port from white people.

“The face of the repro­duc­tive rights move­ment is white women. But it’s black women who have sup­port­ed your right to con­trol your body,” Mayes explained. She encour­aged white sol­i­dar­i­ty, so that “Black and brown folks can take a breath, take a rest. It would be nice to take a rest. But we don’t get that.”

The ses­sion wrapped up with a brief Q&A, where an audi­ence mem­ber asked the pan­elists how they respond dur­ing coali­tion-build­ing when it comes to those who allow abor­tion to be “pushed aside” as a nec­es­sary val­ue to come under “the big tent.”

“That’s why Roe was over­turned,” Mayes said. “We weren’t will­ing to fight for it as our core issue on all levels.

Fras­er agreed. “Good coali­tion-build­ing starts with val­ues,” they said. “If abor­tion isn’t on that list of val­ues, what are you doing?”

The ener­gy of the con­ver­sa­tion was focused, pas­sion­ate, and urgent. It is clear that the Repub­li­can par­ty is relent­less in their efforts to rob peo­ple of their inalien­able human rights. Abor­tion access isn’t an issue that can wait–people need help now. But it can­not move for­ward with­out cen­ter­ing those that need abor­tions the most. 

“I don’t know any­body talk­ing to dis­abled peo­ple,” Fras­er, at one point in the dis­cus­sion, said. “[There are] Autis­tic adults, many of whom need repro­duc­tive care, and they’re not get­ting care. Why?”

“Let’s find the peo­ple nobody thinks are white enough, straight enough, cis enough, because we’re here.”

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