Abortion On Demand and Without Apology: Lina Thorne & Mars Coulton At Bughouse Square Debates, Chicago

 From World Can’t Wait, Chicago

Bughouse Square in downtown Chicago has an almost 100-year history of passionate debate over issues that matter, cut short during the anti-communism of 1950s McCarthyism but revived by Studs Terkel in the 1980s. This year, Lina Thorne, Chicago Chapter of the World Can't Wait and one of 45 million women in this country who have had abortions, and Mars Coulton, poetry slam escapee and reliable troublemaker against the system, took the soapbox to argue for "Abortion on Demand & Without Apology" and won first prize in the annual Bughouse Square Debate.
Lina & Mars ripped apart the hypocrisy of the "pro-life" reactionaries and made a powerful case for the centrality of women's right to abortion on demand if women are to be free. They drew a big crowd and the loudest, most vicious hecklers of the afternoon, who didn't succeed in pulling them off track or off message. Watch the videos to get just a taste of the polarized atmosphere. The loudest voice you hear from the right (literally and politically) was a tall guy weighing well over 250 lbs who tried to shout them down (one of a number). When a woman got in HIS face, he grabbed her by the arm before another man stepped up and told him to stop it right there. That's how tense it was! But listen and you'll also hear the growing applause and approbation from the left as more and more women, of all ages and nationalities, found their voice in support of our sisters, with loud applause from some of the men too.

Lina and Mars were supported by Coco, a "heckler" taking the lies of the Christian fascists over the top with her "Buy Bull" quotes about women being vessels whose proper place is to submit to their masters. Lina and Coco had been part of the June 1 protest and memorial to Dr. Tiller in Chicago and traveled to Wichita for his funeral. In accepting first prize, Lina brought Coco on stage with them. Mars thanked the hecklers for reminding us of what we're up against and the work we have ahead, and Lina called on everyone to speak out at what may be a turning point for women's right to abortion. This was an inspiring example for all of us to follow!
part 2 of video

Abortion on Demand and Without Apology: A text version of Lina Thorne’s speech

On May 31st, Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed in the foyer of his church by a well-known anti-abortion “pro-life” activist. This doctor was one of 3 late abortion providers operating publicly in the United States who had treated thousands of patients from all over the US and from around the world. He was a caring, courageous person who saw a great need and filled it, saving thousands of women’s lives. He was a hero and his death must mark a turning point away from the politics of compromise and moral capitulation that have left women in this country on the defense.

We are up against a Christian fascist movement that seeks half of humanity’s total submission to the other half.  These forces have escalated their rhetoric, violent attacks, and mobilization in the past few months and we must recognize the moment we are in and act accordingly.

But to go back to the basics, why is this about women, and not fetuses? There is hardly a single person in this country who hasn’t had pictures shoved in their faces of bloody gore, supposedly the result of abortion, or serenely floating fetuses in a glowing bubble, appearing as if inhabiting another universe from us…rather than inside of a woman! The anti-abortion movement always focuses on the fetus, fetus, fetus.

Why is this actually about the woman instead? Because for one thing, women’s oppression is real. In the US alone, every single day, 3 women are murdered by her partner. Every 6 minutes a woman is raped. Every 15 seconds a woman is beaten.  Everywhere we look we see women and our bodies degraded and commodified. This is the world in which we make our choices.

Even more than that, though, abortion is not murder because fetuses are not babies! They exist within, are dependent on, and biologically integrated into the woman’s body. Over 90% of all abortions happen when the fetus is smaller than the tip of my pinky, a clump of barely differentiated cells. But even after that, the fetus is still a fetus; not a socially distinct “person” and not a human being whose rights trump the woman’s. When I asked the president of “Feminists for Life” (Serrin Foster) why a clump of cells that small should be more important than the rights of the woman in which it existed, she responded, “Toulouse-Lautrec was also a very short man. Are you saying his life didn’t matter?” This is the sort of anti-scientific nonsense these people promote.  To really understand their agenda, we have to recognize that there is not a single anti-abortion organization out there (Feminists for Life included) that believes in the right to birth control. This is not about saving fetuses for them or preventing unwanted pregnancies! This is about birth control, sex, and whether women are human beings or just walking, talking incubators.

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I went to Kansas in 2001 to be a part of defending Dr. Tiller’s clinic from the onslaught of hordes of Bible thumping zombies from around the country organized by “Operation Save America.” Even then, I don’t think I truly understood how precious Dr. Tiller was.

Now, seeing the fascists of this country appointed to the highest offices of the government (such as the Catholic activist Alexia Kelley who was appointed by Obama to the Department of Health and Human Services), guiding policy, reshaping the culture of the armed forces, preaching both on street corners and from the largest megaphones of cable news shows, hearing them time and again scream, “whore!” when I and other women stood up in public against their hatred, seeing the pictures of women in Afghanistan confronting crowds of men also screaming, “whore!” because they werer marching against the legalization of rape (which is what has happened under the US-selected President Karzai just this past year), after sitting in a tiny crowded waiting room in a clinic myself, looking around at the tense and anxious faces, and feeling so angry that so many women my age were burdened by such needless guilt…after all this, hearing that Dr. Tiller had been taken from us… hit me really hard.

Now, when we in World Can’t Wait speak out against the mass use of torture and bring out enlarged pictures of the atrocities that are carried out in our names onto the streets, we always meet people who repeat after Dick Cheney: “you can torture as many people as it takes to keeps me safe.” Literally, this is what we hear, every single time.

But we women who want to control our own bodies and decide what happens to us are the ones with a morality problem?

In 1993, after Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms, he said, "It is not unplanned pregnancy, it is unwanted motherhood that shipwrecks people's lives. Make no mistake, this battle is about self- determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family's lives. Abortion is about women's hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women."     

This is the reality of the situation, and these are the terms on which we have to fight for our rights. We will never be able to emancipate ourselves if we seek common ground with the forces that are organized for the explicit purpose of subjugating us. I’ve been at these clinics when they mobilize. There is no common ground with someone yelling, “one way or another YOU WOMEN WILL KNEEL!” Right now, in 2009, supposedly at the dawn of a new progressive enlightenment led by Barack Obama, there is less access to abortion services than ever before. The violence and threats have skyrocketed since Bush left office. And fewer and fewer medical students are even learning how to perform this procedure. So what difference does it make if Roe is upheld in name if there are no doctors and no clinics?

The week before Scott Roeder assassinated Dr. Tiller he was caught twice gluing the locks shut on Kansas abortion clinics. He was well known to the authorities as an anti-abortion activist. They knew what his license plate was. They knew what his phone number was. They even had his address. And yet, even though Roeder was caught committing 2 felonies, violating the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances Act, that week, the FBI and the local police departments chose not to apprehend him. And as a result, Dr. Tiller was murdered. As a result of Tiller’s death, women will die. All this shows that there is no “referee” for us to rely on. It is way past time for us to stand up, speak out and mobilize to say WITHOUT THIS BASIC RIGHT, WOMEN CAN NEVER BE FREE! ABORTION ON DEMAND AND WITHOUT APOLOGY!


Main Reproductive Rights Abortion On Demand and Without Apology: Lina Thorne & Mars Coulton At Bughouse Square Debates, Chicago


World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.