In 2011, there were 44 abortion clinics in Texas. By September, providers expect that number to drop to somewhere around six. While big-name health organizations like Planned Parenthood are trying to open new clinics that comply with strict state laws or challenge lawmakers in court, a scrappy protest group Stop Patriarchy has simpler strategy: getting the people who support abortion to be as loud, and perhaps as obnoxious, as they feel the anti-abortion crowd has been acting.
"The people who support abortion are very timid about saying so," says Sunsara Taylor, head of Stop Patriarchy. She's referring to the people she meets on the street, when her group travels the country and approaches strangers to talk to them one-on-one about the dwindling number of abortion clinics nationwide. "People who are against abortion are very unafraid. They really feel that they have the moral high ground right now."
So while abortion opponents might hold photographs of dead fetuses in front of clinics, Stop Patriarchy organizes demonstrations like the Bloody Coat Hanger Street Actions. They'll go on tours across the country and stand, hangers in hand, in front of institutions that lobby against abortion access.
The protests are silent and always peaceful, Stop Patriarchy insists, but meant to be visually dramatic. On April 12, volunteers held a giant sign that said "Forced Motherhood is Female Enslavement," for a few hours in front of New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral, usually a popular venue for pro-life masses.
Unlike Planned Parenthood, Stop Patriarchy doesn't have much to lose, as they don't run their own clinics or have any say in national politics, and they don't have to worry about offending people. A favorite slogan is "Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!" Taylor proudly identifies as a communist and has long been involved with various left-wing causes. She spoke out against the Iraq war as a guest on Bill O'Reilly's show in 2007; he called her a "lunatic." She also takes an unexpected stance against the porn industry. Her group's Call to Action published online explains: "In recent years, pornography has become increasingly violent, cruel, degrading towards women; women are referred to as 'cumdumpsters' and 'fuckbuckets'; the 'money shot; (ejaculation in a woman's face) is standard."
But those facts are all beside the point. Right now Taylor just wants talk about all of the clinics that are closing in the United States. She lives in New York City, but to the chagrin of local feminists, she's coming to Texas. Starting July 30, Taylor and her volunteers will bring their dramatic street demonstrations to four cities in a tour cheekily named the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride.
Texas feminists don't want the tour.
Local Brooklyn-based writer/activist/clinic escort Katie Klabusich even made a #fuckstoppatriarchy hashtag out of it.
Most recently, a big group of people calling themselves Texans for Reproductive Justice signed an "Open Letter of Concern" about Stop Patriarchy and the July 30 Freedom Ride. "We oppose Texas' abortion restrictions," they write. "We also oppose Stop Patriarchy's messaging, tactics, dishonesty, and racism."
The Texans' letter points out many things about Stop Patriarchy that could rub people the wrong way. Last year, for instance, police escorted Stop Patriarchy volunteers off the Hampshire College campus after they "repeatedly disrupted programming" at a reproductive rights conference, according to a statement the conference organizers posted online afterward.
(Taylor says people got offended about the anti-porn literature her group had and claims that the cops were called on the volunteers without any warning).
The Texans also accuse Stop Patriarchy of being Islamaphobic; as proof, they hyperlink to a post the group had re-tweeted criticizing the Hobby Lobby that asks, "Should I order my burka?"
The Texas authors further argue that Stop Pornography minimizes the horrors of slavery and the civil rights movement by using phrases such as "freedom ride" and "female enslavement;" that Stop Patriarchy's stance against pornography "endangers and disempowers sex workers;" and that the group is just a promotional tool for Bob Avikian, chairman of the U.S. Communist Party. The authors ask you to donate your money to one of many other women's rights groups instead.
"It's McCarthy-era anti-communism," Taylor describes the letter as.
(Taylor and others also posted a lengthy response to the criticisms).
Stop Patriarchy isn't an official nonprofit. They raise money to fund their Freedom Ride through an IndieGogo page. If you donate as little as $10, you get a sticker, or for $1,000 you get assurance that you funded an abortion for a woman in Texas. They've raised nearly $20,000 for the upcoming Texas trip.
"The little money that Stop Patriarchy raises, if that's a concern they need to be questioning the big guys," says Diane Derzis, a woman who is famous for owning the last abortion clinic in Mississippi.
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Derzis has tried to keep her clinic open through more official channels, lobbying legislators and fighting restrictive state laws in the courts. But she feels that lately the strategy is failing. She's currently waiting on a verdict from a federal appeals court that could close her clinic, too.
Derzis says she was was impressed by the group's activism in Jackson last year during a fight over her state's "personhood" bill. Now she serves as an advisor to Stop Patriarchy, though she's not sure yet if she'll make it to Texas next week. Other advisors are Merle Hoffman, a 60's-era activist who founded a well-known center that provided abortions two years before Roe v. Wade, and Carol Downer, who also founded centers before abortion was legal.
"We became far too reliant upon courts to maintain the status quo, while our enemy is in the trenches with these churches raising money, raising time, electing people," Derzis says. "Am I a communist? Absolutely not. Do I care whether someone else is? No."
She adds: "I think it's time starting thinking outside the box, because what we've been doing has not been working."