Defending Abortion after Kavanaugh (1): Lessons from History 1964-1980

Judith Widdecombe, abortion pioneer in MIssouri

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Kavanaugh’s confirmation after Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony now taints the Supreme Court. And not by chance, a majority of the justices on the court are now expressly against abortion rights.

This is the first of two posts looking to the history of abortion rights in America. Both focus on lessons learned at each stage in the struggle. They are valuable lessons, and lessons we can use in the fight to preserve abortion rights in the future.

We make two central points in this post. Abortion rights were won by a mass movement, not the Supreme Court. Second, the abortion wars continue because abortion has come to stand for women’s equality,  sexual freedom and desire.

This post draws on Jonathan’s ten years of experience in the 1980s as a counsellor working for a feminist abortion clinic in London. Of course that was 30 years ago, and Britain is not the US, but much that he learned then informs what follows.

In the early 1960s, Nancy was in high school in St. Louis, and lived with constant fears of getting pregnant ruining her chances of the life she wanted for herself. She did not get pregnant then, but later supported four close friends through abortions and as they put their lives together afterwards.

Judith Widdicombe

Our story begins in the 1960s, when abortion was illegal in every state in America. Our protagonist is Judith Widdicombe, a nurse who lived in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood and worked the evening shift in the labour ward at a Catholic hospital. Her husband had a delivery route for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Together, they spent one evening a week as volunteers for the Samaritans, a phone helpline for people who were thinking about suicide. [1]

Widdicombe noticed there were quite a lot of calls from women who were not thinking of suicide. But the women said they had been told this was a phone line for desperate people, and they were desperate, because they were pregnant. Could the Samaritans help?

The Samaritans could not, but there were so many of these calls that Widdicombe asked other volunteers if they were getting them too. They all were. So she asked friends outside the Samaritans if any of them knew how to get an abortion in St. Louis. One of them told her about a secret abortion referral service. Continue reading

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Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh and seven useful insights about sexual violence

Protest in St Louis, 2 October 2018

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Last Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford testified before the judiciary committee of the US Senate. She said that Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee for the Supreme Court, had attempted to rape her when she was 15. He denied it.

She told the truth and he was lying. Everyone in the room knew this, including the all eleven Republican senators.

What happened next was something else. The Republican senators rallied to defend the right to rape. Sure, class also mattered, and abortion, and Trump, and the midterm elections. But centrally, they did not want Kavanaugh to pay a price for his sexual violence.

An extraordinary moment of #metoo resistance had provoked that Republican backlash, and they closed ranks fast and hard.

When a system is working smoothly the mechanics of power are hidden. But when there is a breakdown, a ‘breach case’, we sometimes have an opportunity to see how the system works. And the links and deep loyalties that keep inequality in place become visible.

The hearing has offered such an opportunity. It gives us a chance to formulate seven useful ideas about sexual violence. Continue reading

Oil Empires and Resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria

 

Afghan Resistance, 1842

Afghan Resistance, 1842

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

This article is about three intersecting wars in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.[1] The bombings in Paris occurred just as we were finishing the piece, and give our arguments here further tragic relevance.

This piece is 25,000 words long, and readers may find it easier to read by downloading the version here: Oil Empires 16Nov2015 FIN5.

It will help the reader to know from the outset where we stand. We want the mass resistance to the Assad regime in Syria to win, and the Russian armed forces and their allies to leave. We want the Americans and their allies to leave Afghanistan, now, completely. We want Assad and the American, British, French and Russian military to stop bombing the Syrian resistance and the Islamic State.[2] Continue reading

The Five Chinese Feminists

Chinese feminists protesting against domestic violence in blood spattered bridal gowns

Chinese feminists protesting against domestic violence in blood spattered bridal gowns

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write:  Five Chinese feminists have been arrested for planning to protest against sexual harassment. They face five to ten years in jail. This post explains the background to the case, and suggests ways that other activists around the world can show solidarity.

Continue reading

Gang abuse in Oxford

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Last year seven men from Oxford were convicted in court on multiple counts of rape and abuse of young women and girls. They were part of a criminal gang that prostituted the girls for money. They concentrated on needy and vulnerable girls. The rapes usually began when the girls were between eleven and fifteen. The recent official report estimates, conservatively, that a total of 370 girls in Oxfordshire have been abused by gangs since 2005.

All seven of the men convicted were Asian. Six of the survivors testified. The fascist English Defence League has called a national demonstration in Oxford on April 4. They say that the council and the police did nothing because they were protecting Asians.

Unite Against Fascism and the local trades council have called for a mobilisation against the EDL on the same day, to prevent them from using the suffering of Oxfordshire children for their own ends. They are right to do so.

However, we need more than that. The local Labour MP, Andrew Smith, has called for an official inquiry to investigate how abuse on this scale was allowed to happen. He too is right.

But we also have to face the question of who is to blame for allowing the abuse to continue. In this blog we confront the racist arguments about abuse head on. In doing so, we have to say who is to blame for allowing the abuse to continue: the senior managers in the schools, the social services and the police.

Continue reading

Creative Protests

penn state mattress

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale direct your attention to some striking protests against sexual violence by students in the United States, India and Britain.

Over the last couple of years there have been many high profile protests against rape at universities in different countries. They show how it is possible, with very modest means, to mount actions that are effective, and enormously moving for the participants. Continue reading