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๐ŸŒฑย Abortion, IVF, & Comstock | Believe the Canary in the Coal Mine

Part III: The State of Abortion & Freedom

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized: Itโ€™s clear, abortion will be on the ballot in the U.S. this year. We can learn from feminist activists in the past and our hermanes today how to turn the tide against the repressive forces.

In Case You Missed It: Old Men & Old Laws Shrinking Womenโ€™s Freedoms

What You Can Expect
๐Ÿ—ณ Abortionโ€™s Election Chances
โœŠ๐Ÿฝ Lessons from Ni Una Menos
๐ŸŒฑ News with a Social Change Lens
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Margaret Atwood saves democracy

Last week's newsletter was a big one and very timely! Abortion rights are on the ballot in the U.S. election this year and the right-wing is not hiding their eagerness to keep taking more and using old man Comstock to do it. Just this week, we had two reminders:

  1. Justice Sam Alito's hairy ears must have perked up last week because he seems very excited about the future prospects of the Comstock Act. In this week's hearings on possibly banning the abortion pill, Alito was giving away the plan without using the name Comstock. The court may be skeptical in this case, but that won't last long. I highly recommend listening to the 17-minute update from Strict Scrutiny about the latest on the mifepristone case.
  1. On a more positive note, Democrat Marilyn Lands won a landslide victory in deep red Alabama! And y' wasn't even close. The special election results have her up 25 points, which is a pretty big reversal from her 7 point loss in 2022. She ran directly against the recent fetal personhood ruling by Alabama's Supreme Court and resulting short-lived IVF ban. She also ran for expanding freedoms and accessible, affordable healthcare.

Believe the Canary in the Cole Mine

Both of these news stories illustrate my point for this week. We are nearly two years out from the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 and many of the predictions that abortion activists and other women, queer, trans, and non-binary people were yelling at the time have come true. It's been frustrating, to say the least, to watch as right-wing judges and lawmakers do exactly what they've said they would only for the press and moderate lawmakers to act surprised.

Reading the book 'The Man Who Hated Women: Sex, Censorship, and Civil Liberties in the Gilded Age' by Amy Sohn for this month's series was really illuminating. Not only did it highlight the repressive forces in our history, but also the progressive people who helped influence and bring about change despite the overwhelming forces of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (as bell hooks refers to it). While Comstock's law kept us back to remain puritanical, countless people, mostly women and trans people, stood up to educate the public and give working class people more power and agency. Their stories reminded me that we have always faced these forces against women and LGBTQ+ folks and that there have always been people who have successfully pushed back and influenced change. I recommend you read the whole book, but here are a few stories:

  • Margaret Sanger โ€“ is most well known for combatting Comstockery. Starting in the 1910s, she began selling contraceptives, which eventually led to founding the American Birth Control League in 1921. If that doesn't ring a bell, then you might know Planned Parenthood Foundation, which it later became.
  • Ann Lohman - was a successful abortionist, under the alias Madam Restell, at a time when men were using government and the creation of medical schools and accreditations to push women out of the field. "to understand the mid-19th century crackdown on abortion, one must understand it as a business that has been dominated by women." By 1878, Comstock had found his cause to arrest her, she was indicted, and she ultimately chose to commit suicide. Comstock had a reputation for driving his targets to suicide.
  • Dr. Sara Chase โ€“ was a 41-year old single mom and physician who wouldn't have it with Comstock's claim that sharing information about sex education, reproduction, and feminine hygiene was illegal. She was fierce in pushing back against the suppression of medical information and contraception and advocated for women leadership in medicine.
"Anthony Comstock's reign was devastating to American women, but his era was a thrilling period of transformative feminist activism. [The activists] placed women's bodies, and pleasure, at the center of the debate over sexuality and obscenity." โ€“ Amy Sohn

Women at the time recognized the need for class solidarity in the movement to overcome patriarchy and ensure the freedom of everyoneโ€™s bodies and the ability to act with agency. This is why Alabama's special election can be another stepping stone to a much bigger movement.

Taking a Lesson from Nuestres Hermanes

I heard USF Professor Elizsabeth Jay Friedman speak about the womenโ€™s movements in Latin America over a year ago but it still sticks with me. In addition to her wild rainbow sleeves and green bandana๐Ÿคฉ, I loved what she had to say about modern feminism.

She told the story of the Ni Una Menos movement and the movement to end feminicรญdio in Latin America. The term feminicรญdio speaks to the brutal violence perpetrated against women and trans people simply because they are feminized. The mass movement is one of the largest in Latin America and brought in a wave of progressive legislation to end gender-based violence and bring in more representation in government leadership. The movement started in 2015 in Argentina, but quickly spread to other countries in the region because of the success of the social media campaigns. My favorite factoid is that the movement's name comes from a 1995 phrase by Mexican poet and activist Susana Chรกvez (not related).

Elzsabeth emphasized that this massive movement for solidarity was built through smaller conversations. Through salons or listening parties similar to what feminist activists did during the Comstock Era. Women and LGBTQ+ people were able to share their experiences of gender-based violence and what it was like generally to live in a society that does not stop this kind of violence. By hearing other women's experiences, they were able to build a mass movement of true solidarity that spanned class, race, and religious lines. They started their movement through deeper connections as well as using social media and tech to bring more people into the movement. Itโ€™s worth it to learn more about Ni Una Menos and their movement of solidarity to end the harmful machismo culture and build a progressive future.

Joy is Central to Mass Movements

Lately, Iโ€™ve been thinking about joy in activism. We know how the right-wing recruits people to its movement, through fear, rage, and the desire to return to the repressive past of the Comstock Era.

In contrast, our movement is about a bold and positive vision for the future for everyone, but it's also mixed with anger against an unjust system that continues to try to silence women, LGBTQ+ folks, Black people, and all marginalized groups. That is the kind of energy that worked for Ni Una Menos. It was a mixture of righteous anger at an unjust society and the joy of camaraderie within the movement.

The Alabama special election win is an example of that. It's in a long line of Democratic and pro-abortion wins since the Supreme Court's decision. Listen and remember this:

In every election, ballot measure, and special election where abortion has been on the ballot, abortion has won.

Every single time. I keep hearing, my friend, Natalie Burdick's advice in my ear every time abortion comes up. (want to feel hope before the election? listen to our podcast episode.) If anyone doubts that abortion will be on the ballot this year, then they're not paying attention to election results.

"they will exist until women rise in one big sisterhood to fight this capitalist society which compels a woman to serve for the interest of menโ€

โ€“ Margaret Sanger

We can be a part of a mass movement to say no to people who try to control us and limit our freedoms. It's a movement that needs to be multi-racial, multi-generational, inclusive, and joyful in our vision mixed with a little righteous anger.

By the turn of the century, the U.S. was turning more progressive and Comstockery was laughed out of town for its prudishness, control, and repression of thought. The Comstock Act was pushed back into the deep shelves to gather dust. Let's do the same again in 2024!

Enjoy this article? Subscribe for the full series. This writing is part of a monthly series to help navigate ๐Ÿงญ social change activism in today's uncertain world.

Getting to the roots - evaluating the news with a social change lens
  • ๐Ÿงฐ Protect Your Peace, While Speaking Up! - Thanks to everyone that joined Emily Weltman, Taj Smith, and I at our LinkedIn Live! the conversation dug into speaking out about issues we care about online while also protecting ourselves and our wellbeing.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - If you're looking for resources to protect yourself online, try Equality Labs' Anti-Doxing Guide or explore 18M Rising's internet security workshops. And If you didn't catch the event yesterday, make sure to follow our podcast ๐Ÿ˜‰.
  • ๐Ÿ“š Why Do Police Train In Israel? - Did you know that Israel is one of the top places in the world to train soldiers and police? Thousands of Police officers have taxpayer funded trips to Israel to learn aggressive and violent tactics.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - U.S. Police are now being trained like the military, which leads to the idea that U.S. citizens are military threats. Sadly, Israelโ€™s military is one of the best trained in the world because of its history of oppressing the Palestinian people.
  • ๐Ÿ“š Flyingโ€™s Still Bad for the Planet - The world is slowly reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, except in flying, industry, and shipping, which contribute to 30% of US carbon emissions.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - As individuals, we have a lot more power to shift industry by changing our behavior. We build collective change by each making changes to our lives. Imagine how industry would react if everyone reduced their air travel just slightly?
  • ๐ŸŽฌ Colorblindness is a Trap - Hannah Nicole Jones outlines the current threat of right-wing attempts to use โ€™colorblindnessโ€™ in the courts to destroy the small progress to level the playing field after centuries of oppression. Itโ€™s a great & quick history lesson!
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - Pay attention to language and how people use certain terms. Progressives recognize that โ€˜colorblindnessโ€˜ is a goal to achieve after weโ€™ve rejected white supremacy, not a tool to undo initiatives meant to resolve historic inequities.

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let's grow together - reflections, ideas, and curiosities of the week

Find our latest videos on our ๐ŸŽฌ Quick Bites page. Margaret Atwood lays it all out in this Financial Times video. This is the best 6-minute review of the U.S. election this year and really lays out the stakes.

About the roots of change agency โ€” Navigating heart-first activism & storytelling. We explore the ๐ŸŒฑ roots of our world to support organizations and activists ๐Ÿฅต avoid burnout and ๐Ÿ“š tell empathetic stories that cultivate connections that ๐ŸŒ empower โœŠ๐Ÿฝ social change. Donate to support our work.
๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿšฎ Defeating Patriarchy๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ for activists & heart-first humans ๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿณ๏ธโ€๐ŸŒˆ Queering Life

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.


Navigating heart-first activism & storytelling. We explore the ๐ŸŒฑ roots of our world to support communicators, organizations, and activists ๐Ÿฅต to avoid burnout and ๐Ÿ“š tell empathetic stories that cultivate connections that ๐ŸŒ empower โœŠ๐Ÿฝ social change.

Learn more about the Roots of Change Agency.