Q&A: The Pro-Choice Group Texas Feminists Hate

Photo: Ellie Van Houtte/Corbis

When the feminist group Stop Patriarchy held a rally outside Mississippi’s sole remaining abortion clinic last summer — as part of its cross-country Abortion Rights Freedom Ride — Mark Ruffalo supplied a moving letter of support. On the eve of this year’s Freedom Ride rerun, which will focus exclusively on Texas, Stop Patriarchy received an open letter much less friendly in nature.

“We, a united group of Texas reproductive justice activists, organizations, and nationwide allies, oppose this ‘freedom ride,’” reads a letter of concern signed by more than 100 people calling themselves Texans for Reproductive Justice. “We oppose Texas’ abortion restrictions. We also oppose Stop Patriarchy’s messaging, tactics, dishonesty, and racism.”

Published on Tumblr last week, the letter condemned Stop Patriarchy for its “lack of transparency,” “questionable tactics,” and “racist” language (comparing unwanted pregnancy to “enslavement,” co-opting civil rights language like “freedom ride”). The letter also alleged that Stop Patriarchy “undermines the work already being done in Texas by suggesting that Texans have not yet begun to fight back.”A double-negative hashtag — #fuckstoppatriarchy — ensued.

Undeterred, Stop Patriarchy will take its questionable tactics to four Texas cities starting tomorrow — the site of some of the most draconian and contested abortion restrictions in the country. There will be “speak outs,” where abortion providers and patients will testify about seeking an abortion before Roe v. Wade as well as today. And Stop Patriarchy will protest outside the headquarters of the GOP and pro-life groups, carrying bloody hangers and wearing shackles. Although Stop Patriarchy has clashed with other feminist groups in the past — notably over its anti-pornography stance — the Texas Abortion Rights Freedom Ride is by far its most controversial and highly publicized action to date. Stop Patriarchy activist Sunsara Taylor told the Cut about her unpopular mission of “revoking the pro-life movement’s cloak of morality.”

What is Stop Patriarchy?
Stop Patriarchy is a movement made up of people with a lot of different perspectives who all see that women have not achieved equality. That’s a myth in this country. We’re surrounded by a cult of violence against women and degradation of women in the ever-more mainstream pornography industry and the all-out assault to deprive women of their rights to abortion and birth control. They’re reducing women to objects, either sexually or as breeders. We’re a movement aimed at challenging that culture.

Last year’s Abortion Rights Freedom Ride wasn’t nearly as controversial. Why are you so unpopular in Texas?
I know there was a tremendous outpouring of anger against the abortion restrictions passed in Texas last year, and there are probably people that want to channel that into an electoral strategy — into relying on the courts and into the Wendy Davis campaign. The Democratic Party and Wendy Davis — who came out in support of a 20-week abortion ban — don’t want abortion to be her campaign. They want to stay away from this issue. There are major forces behind the Democratic Party who are very happy to see the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride being opposed.

What’s the problem with letting Democrats handle abortion?
The Democratic Party’s whole message of “safe, legal, and rare” has been devastating. It ceded the moral high ground to Christian Fascists with the notion that there’s something wrong with abortion. Abortion is perfectly moral. Fetuses are not babies, and women are not incubators.

There are many different ways of helping women get abortion access, and we applaud those efforts. At the same time, there is a need for political resistance to turn the tide. What happens in Mississippi, North Dakota, Texas, and New York sets the precedent — legally and socially — about whether we’re going to lay down or stand up and fight. Because when the laws get changed and reversed, it’ll be worse than before Roe. Thanks to fetal-personhood laws, we’ve already seen hundreds of women go to jail for complications of miscarriage. We wouldn’t just go back to the days of emergency rooms filled with women with punctured uteruses and sepsis — those women would also get arrested.

The stigma and the shame of abortion is already greater than it was when abortion was first won because the counter-assault has been almost unchallenged. Everywhere we went on last year’s Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, we heard two things: older people with stories of friends who bled to death in parking lots and other pre-Roe horrors, and the young people who saw our signs that said “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology” and asked which side we were on. They’ve never seen the word abortion uttered by anybody who supports it. They’ve only heard choice.

What do you make of charges, by Texans for Reproductive Justice, that by using “language that minimizes the horrors of slavery” you do more harm than good?
We draw tremendous inspiration from the civil rights struggle. Civil rights activists broke, frankly, with the “go slow, let the system work through its normal channels.” That was letting all kinds of horrors be perpetrated. Like Nina Simone sang about: Do things gradually, but bring tragedy. The Freedom Riders broke out of that dynamic and put themselves on the line to change the course of history. We draw inspiration from that. Nobody claims to own it. Who thinks that way? That to draw inspiration is to own it?

Meanwhile, the top of the Texans for Reproductive Justice site is a flag that flew over half of Mexico. They’re flying a southern slave-state flag — Texas was created in order to expand the power of slave states in Congress. The hypocrisy is stunning.

But some of the undersigned on that letter are abortion providers. Does that make you think twice about your protest?
Providers are on the front lines, but the war on abortion is a war on women and it’s going to have stakes that go way beyond any clinic. It’s going to have effects on the social status of half of humanity when women are forced to have children against their will. Not only do they die from complications from pregnancy with much greater frequency, studies show, but women’s lives are foreclosed on. They drop out of school, are driven into property, and trapped in abusive relationships. Forced pregnancy is a form of enslavement.

This interview has been edited and condensed.