The Hammer of Justice

**This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine

Pete Seeger’s life as an activist lasted eight decades, beginning in the 1930s when he joined the Young Communist League and started roaming the nation with Woody Guthrie. He made one of his last appearances at the Farm Aid concert last September, apologizing that he didn’t have much of a voice left but leading the crowd in a sing-along of “This Land is Your Land,” just as he had countless times across the years.

Seeger, who was born in Manhattan in 1919 and died there in January, told Mother Earth News in a 1982 interview that “it’s impossible to have education without controversy.” He was often a radically divisive figure, charting a course that put him in conflict with the U.S. mainstream. Read More

Don’t Miss PRA at Creating Change!

Creating Change logo

Headed to the Creating Change conference in Houston this week? Don’t miss PRA’s workshops!

You can also follow along with us on Twitter @PRAEyesRight for live updates and photos from the conference. If you couldn’t make it to the conference, watch for videos of our workshops next week!

Friday, January 31st   

9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Tope TF Charlton

No Denying It: Overcoming “Religious Refusal” Policies that Seek to Deny Equal Access and Protections for LGBTQ and Reproductive Rights

Debates over religious refusal policies have proliferated in the last two years, posing real risks to the rights and needs of LGBTQ people as well as successfully rallying extreme conservative legislators and movement leaders. This session will identify the current landscape of religious refusal policies, the impact on LGBTQ rights, the linkages with sexual and reproductive rights, and identify possible targets and strategies for tackling these issues at the local and national level going forward.

PRA fellow T.F. Charlton will join May Sifuentes from Planned Parenthood, Ian Palmquist, and Maureen Kelly.

kapyaThink Globally before Acting Globally: The Ethics of International Justice, Faith and Equality Work

As U.S. activists strive to be helpful in the 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal, it’s critical to reflect upon the ethics of international LGBT work. It’s a mistake to assume what is needed or will be helpful. We find ourselves in a reactive stance rather than a reflective one: Ugandan “kill the gays” bill or 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. This workshop explores ethical guidelines for activists seeking to do international LGBT work.

PRA’s senior religion and sexuality researcher, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma will join Michael Adee, Ann Craig, and Bishop Yvette Flunder.


10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Cole KapyaTo Uganda and Russia, With Love: Stopping the Export of Homophobia Here At Home  

The U.S. Christian Right has exported to Africa—and increasingly, other areas of the globe—a virulently (and violently) homophobic ideology. Those most responsible include groups and individuals that gave us DOMA, Prop 8, and other anti-LGBTQ and –reproductive choice campaigns. While much energy has gone towards condemning agents of intolerance abroad, an emerging grassroots global solidarity movement is working to hold U.S. culture war exporters accountable right her on U.S. soil. We’ll identify practical action opportunities, principles for effective and accountable cross-border partnerships, and responses to the opposition’s tactics and claims, such as “homosexuality is a Western import” or “abortion and contraception threaten traditional family values.

PRA’s LGBTQ rights researcher, Cole Parke, and senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma will be joined by Vanessa Brocato

12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

tarso kapyaForum: Ethics for Global LGBT Work

A discussion with PRA executive director Tarso Luís Ramos and senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma on the launch of a new journal called “Ethics and Human Sexuality.”





Saturday, February 1

10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Tarso RamosCrisis of Success: LGBTQ Momentum, Racial Regression, & Our Collective Challenge

At the ’63 March on Washington, A. Philip Randolph warned of a “crisis of success,” foreseeing that victory over legal discrimination would be treated as the end point of the country’s commitment with civil rights, rather than as an important milestone along the long road to social justice. As today’s LGBTQ rights movement finds itself on a roll, we’ll learn and share with organizers building a long-term, intersectional movement for “justice,” and not “just us.”

PRA’s executive director, Tarso Luís Ramos, will be joined by Race Forward’s Rinku Sen, Caitlin Breedlove from Southerners on New Ground, and Mandy Carter of the Bayard Rustin Coalition.

Sunday, February 2

9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

tarso rachelBeyond Bullying: Equally Excellent Public Education for All? 

Too often, discussions about LGBTQ students and education begin and end with anti-bullying policies and the creation of “safe spaces.” But LGBTQ students, educators, and activists encounter unique challenges in the classroom in other important areas as well. This workshop will take a closer look at some often-overlooked challenges to LGBTQ equality in the classroom, focusing on three crucial areas: the growing national movement to privatize education, debates surrounding school-based sex education, and the connection of LGBTQ issues and racial justice in schools. Come join us as we discuss how the equality movement can address the full range of education issues facing the LGBTQ community.

PRA’s executive director, Tarso Luís Ramos, and PRA fellow Rachel Tabachnick will be joined by Dan Quinn of Texas Freedom Network and Geoffrey Winder of GSA Network.




Zambia First Lady Deserves Praise for Pro-LGBT Speech? Think Again.

First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba. Image via YouTube

First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba. Image via YouTube

The global North LGBTI and Human rights groups have heralded Zambia’s First Lady Christine Kaseba’s “positive” statement on homosexuality. But if you read her full remarks in context, there’s isn’t anything praiseworthy about it.

At a reception hosted by UNAIDS on November 5, 2013, Dr. Kaseba told a group that “Silence on men having sex with men should be stopped,” and added “no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. .. Personally, I am concerned about the vulnerability of our women married to or in intimate relations with men who also have sex with men.” On this basis, she joined many Human rights defenders in calling on Zambians to have an open and civil discussion on homosexuality which, as she argued, is the key to fighting HIV and AIDS. Because of the demonization of LGBT persons across Africa, many Africans gay persons are forced to live a lie—married to women during the day, and gays at night. Her statements made global headlines, and many international human rights organizations lavished her with praises for standing up against homophobia.

However, the international community seems to have missed the rest of the First Lady’s speech (posted below). Like many African politicians, Dr. Kabesa falsely claimed that young people are “enticed” or recruited into same-sex relations—the same claim used by Scott Lively and other anti-gay figures both in the United States and Africa to promote widespread prejudice, discrimination, and violence. In the very same speech to UNAIDS, Dr. Kabesa says, “We have anecdotal evidence especially in colleges where young men are enticed into having sex with men but at the same time also have young girlfriends on the side.”

As a Zambian national and human rights defender, I found her statement misleading, and a major distraction to the plight of LGBT persons in Zambia and the rest of Africa.

When I first heard about Dr. Kaseba’s statement, I wanted to know what Zambian LGBT persons thought of her position on homosexuality. I read a short post from an outspoken Zambian LGBT advocate (I’m withholding her name because of threats of violence she’s received), questioning the logic of Dr. Kaseba making such a statement while two LGBT Zambians, James Mwape and Phillip Mubiana sit in Zambian prison simply being gay, and Paul Kasonkomona is facing charges for speaking openly about homosexuality on TV.

I think the Zambian LGBT author rightly interpreted the First Lady’s statement as little more than nice words mean to entice donor’s dollars. In fact, the Zambian media reported that Dr. Kaseba made these remarks at the international donors “reception”—which happened to be UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board Reception with Key Partners.

Dr. Kaseba knows that her husband, President Michael Sata, who sees nothing wrong with Africa’s longest reigning dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, needs something big to win him donor support. Is the First Lady’s statement on homosexuality the key to new dollars?

Regardless, the statement sought to distract international attention from the systematic persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, and inter-sex persons in Zambia.

Combatting HIV/AIDS within the LGBT community is crucial to human rights, but so does the freedom to work, expression, association and live peaceful lives—which Zambian LGBT citizens are currently denied. So in as much I applaud the good portion of the First Lady’s statement, I find it insulting that those who heard her speak failed to ask her to declare her position on her husband’s administration’s persecution of LGBT citizens, failed to ask that something be done about the LGBT Zambians sitting in prison, and failed to ask why she was perpetuating the blatantly false lies about “gay recruitment.”

The celebration of the First Lady statement in international circles and the down-playing of the same by local activists suggest the lift between wealthy global North activists and poor African activists. Western activists continue to fail to seek guidance from Zambian activists when getting involved or commenting on local stories. They cannot ignore Zambian voices, assuming “we know better.”

Press statements alone do not translate into human rights—actions do. Dr. Kaseba is not new to Zambian politics and knew very well her husband’s policies on LGBT persons—she is aware that Human rights defender Paul Kasonkomona is fighting his case in court; she is aware that James and Phillip were snatched from the privacy of their home in April, dumped in prison and denied bail.

If the International community needs to celebrate Dr. Kashiba’s courage, they should ask her to step up and do something. Ask her to have the charges against Paul Kasonkomona, Phillip Mubiana, and James Mwape dropped immediately and release them from prison. Ask her to work with her husband to stop the persecution of LGBT persons in Zambia. Only then can I, and I believe many LGBT rights advocates in Zambia, join the world in celebrating her courage.

As for now, her statement is meant to deceive the world that LGBT persons have a home in Zambia, so she can collect donor money.

Zambian First Lady Christine Kaseba Speech to UNAIDS by PoliticalResearch

ISSUE BRIEF: This Month in Racial and Immigrant Justice

Racial Justice

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Racial and Immigrant Justice.

Senator Ted Cruz Says “Stand Your Ground” Laws Protect Black Americans
Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R), during a Senate hearing on “stand your ground” laws, announced that these laws actually “protect” Black Americans rather than harming them. The hearing came about as a result of the 2012 shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Cruz stated that because many Black Americans tend to be victims of violent crimes, they would benefit from using “stand your ground” laws as a defense. He then addressed Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, and suggested that her family was “simply mourning the loss of [their son],” while others were trying to turn this tragic event into something more than it was. Studies have found that the considered “justified” killing of Black Americans is 22 percent higher than White Americans. 

Conservative Lawmaker Says He’d Support Slavery if Constituents Want It
Nevada lawmaker Jim Wheeler’s comment regarding slavery, and whether or not he would vote in favor of it depending on what his constituents wanted, has been criticized for its lack of immediate condemnation. A YouTube video of a Republican gathering in August of this year shows Wheeler at a Storey County Republican Party event saying, “If [slavery’s] what [the citizens] wanted, I’d have to hold my nose…they’d probably have to hold a gun to my head, but yeah.” Wheeler claimed the quote was taken out of context and that his point was not that he’d actually vote for the reinstitution of slavery, but that he’d represent his constituents no matter what they demanded. 

Push Continues to Get “Redskins” Name Dropped
Activists and legislators have been protesting the Washington NFL football team’s name and mascot, the Redskins, in hopes that the racist epithet of Native Americans can be eliminated from Washington’s club. The team’s owner, Dan Synder, has responded to the push by asserting the team has created 81 years of memories, which they honor and pride. Many politicians, from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to Rep. John Lewis, along with American Indian civil rights leaders, continue to push for Washington to finally replace it’s racist team name and mascot with something that doesn’t harm a whole racial group of people. 

Tucson School District Un-Bans Latino Books
In 2010, the Arizona legislature passed a law essentially banning Latino books from Tucson schools, as well as the rest of Arizona. The law also suspended Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, which Attorney General Tom Horned said would “politicize students” or “demonize White people.” Now, the Tucson Unified School District voted 3 to 2 to un-ban seven books—six of which are written by Latino authors. While teachers are not expected to utilize the books in their classrooms, they now, at least, have the option to offer them to their students. 

32 States Failing to Follow Law Keeping Native American Families Together
Back in 1978, after learning about the substantial number of American Indian children who were removed from their homes by public and private agencies, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in order to keep Native American families together. Today, however, 32 states are not meeting this act’s requirement, with South Dakota being perhaps the most grim example. The state claims that the current removal of Native American children from their families is due to neglect—although many representatives, such as Bob Walters of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, contend that “neglect is subjective” and the real issue blighting them is poverty. Financial incentives for White families to adopt American Indian child exacerbates the problem, as, a decade back, South Dakota designated all Native children as “special needs,” which offers adoptive parents a bonus of up to $12,000. Despite comprising 15 percent of the child population in South Dakota, Native American children make up more than fifty percent of the ones housed in foster care. 

DOJ Cracks Down on Racist Rental Practices in Pittsburgh
Last month, the U.S. Justice Department sued S-2 Properties, owner of Baldwin Commons Apartments, for racial discrimination in their renting process. Located in Pittsburgh, where White residents make up more than 65 percent of the population, this issue was brought to federal court after the Justice Department organized a sting with agents posing as renters to check for discriminatory bias. They discovered that when their White testers inquired about space for rent, S-2 Properties staff members overwhelmingly favored them to move into the 100-apartment complex in Baldwin Borough, while their Black testers were placed on a waiting list. The same result occurred even after one of their Black testers spoke with S-2 Properties a mere few hours before a White tester. 

New Study Says Racists More Likely to be Gun Owners
A study conducted by Australian and British researchers suggests that White Americans who exhibited “symbolic racism” were more likely to be gun owners. Individuals were asked multiple questions to test their racial prejudices, one of which was, “How well does the word ‘violent’ describe most blacks?” with five options ranging from “extremely well” to “not at all well” given. The “extremely well” answer was an indication that the person accepted racist stereotypes. The study found that the higher the score, the better the chance the respondent owned a gun. Researcher Kerry O’Brien offered that the discussion over this finding might be “tricky” if White Americans remain opposed to gun reforms more so than any other racial demographic. 

SCOTUS Weighs University Affirmative Action Case
U.S. Supreme Court Justices are divided over an affirmative action case in Michigan state schools. In 2006, a measure known as Proposal 2 amended the SCOTUS decision in 2003 to uphold race as a factor for law school admissions “to ensure educational diversity.” Affirmative Action advocates have sued to block part of Proposal 2. Some justices, such as Antonin Scalia, did not find just cause for repealing the amendment, proclaiming, “It’s not a racial classification. It’s the prohibition of racial classifications,” while others favored striking down the measure stating. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “We can’t put hurdles in the way of a disadvantaged minority.” If Proposal 2 in Michigan is overturned, the ruling could affect affirmative actions bans in other states, such as California, Arizona, and Florida. 

NYC’s “Stop and Frisk” Policy Not Gone Yet
Despite the push to do away with the stop-and frisk policy in New York City that overwhelmingly targets Black and Latino people, and despite a federal judge’s ruling that said the NYPD violated the civil rights of these people of color, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals is halting efforts to reform the policy. The previous ruling is currently on hold after the judge in charge on the case was removed for “[running afoul] of judicial conduct. The Court of Appeals claimed she had failed to appear impartial. This will push back the ruling until next year, when a new judge is appointed to overlook the policy. The future of the policy could also hinge on the decisions made by newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio.

California GOP Focuses Attention on Winning Over Asian Americans
The GOP, in order to diversify and expand its fairly White party, is focusing its attention on the Asian American community. At the California Republican Party Convention last month, Republican leaders spoke out at the Asian Pacific American Roundtable about their need to communicate better with Asian Americans. While the GOP struggle to win over Black and Latino voters, Nimfa Gamez, vice chair of the Filipino American Republican Party of Northern California, suggested they will have better success with Asian voters because they share “many of the party’s core values of family, education and religion.” Republicans in California plan to hire 15 Asian workers overall by the end of this year to reach out to the Asian American community. 

The Scott Lively Trial. Where are we and what happened yesterday?


United States District Court, Springfield, Massachusetts

United States District Court, Springfield, Massachusetts

Scott Lively, co-founder of the virulently anti-gay Watchmen on the Walls and a veteran of the broader anti-gay movement, will be tied up with legal proceedings until at least 2015. The African LGBTQ advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has sued Lively for crimes against humanity, specifically for inciting the persecution of Ugandan LGBTQ people.

The suit was filed last spring with the aid of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and hinges on the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign victims of crimes under international law access to American courts. Historically, the law has been used by human rights activists on behalf of victims of governments, multinational corporations, and other private actors. SMUG vs. Lively is unprecedented, however, as it is the first such case seeking accountability for persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Want to see our profile of Scott Lively? Click here.

Want to see our profile of Scott Lively? Click here.

After a series of appeals, in August, U.S. district Judge Michael Ponsor ruled against Lively’s motion to dismiss the case. In his ruling, he offered words that have inspired hope in many: “Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBTI people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms. The history and current existence of discrimination against LGBTI people is precisely what qualifies them as a distinct targeted group eligible for protection under international law. The fact that a group continues to be vulnerable to widespread, systematic persecution in some parts of the world simply cannot shield one who commits a crime against humanity from liability.”

Yesterday’s scheduling hearing in the case offered some interesting insights, and Political Research Associates was in attendance to observe them.

First, CCR and SMUG are attempting to get a protective order put in place for some of the data which could be obtained by Lively and his lawyers from Liberty Counsel. As discovery moves forward pre-trial, it’s entirely possible that Lively could request the identity and contact information of LGBTQ people in Uganda who may have attended rallies, protests, or meetings which are at issue in the trial. These are not people who are being called as witnesses in the court case, and CCR and SMUG are (rightly) concerned that if Lively were to gain access to these people’s identities, he may pass the information along to his anti-gay friends in Uganda and their lives could be put at risk. No agreement between the plaintiffs and defense has been reached yet, and the judge will likely rule on the issue around the beginning of December.

As Cathy Kristofferson of Springfield’s Stop the Hate & Homophobia Coalition reported in late September, Lively has already demonstrated his propensity for endangering the safety of those who stand against him. Using Peter LaBarbera, head of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) as his cover, Lively released a “hit list” of those who are supporting the prosecution of his persecution. The release of such a list targeting individuals in Uganda could have devastating consequences.

Unsurprisingly, Lively has rejected a settlement offer from CCR and SMUG. That document and the offer haven’t been made public yet, but any admission of guilt by Lively without a conviction is a near-impossibility.

It’s important to note that this trial could drag on for several years, and that’s a deliberate tactic by Lively’s defense team. Once Lively himself takes the stand and goes on record, he will be forced to admit under oath what he did in Uganda, much of which is on video thanks to PRA’s senior researcher, Dr. Kapya Kaoma. Discovery and other pre-trial proceedings are expected to last until early 2015, at which time Lively will likely ask the judge to dismiss the case once again. Presuming the court denies that request, the actual trial will then commence.

Lively ProtestWhile the trial itself is still a long way off, the energy around this case is already building. Prior to yesterday’s scheduling session, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Springfield Federal Courthouse. The crowd included members of Stop the Hate & Homophobia, a Springfield-based coalition of LGBTQ rights advocates; representatives of the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force (including two Ugandan refugees); members of Out Now, a local LGBTQ youth organization; supporters from the Western Mass Recovery Learning Center; and a variety of others, all boldly expressing their solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Uganda, in Springfield, and around the world.

PRA will be on the ground and in the courtroom to keep you up to date with the latest developments! For the full background on Scott Lively’s involvement in Uganda (as well as other U.S. conservatives who are exporting homophobia), check out

**Eric Ethington contributed to this post

UPDATE: Here’s the official court schedule, courtesy of our friend Cathy Kristofferson at Join the Impact:


Issue Brief: This Month in Reproductive Justice

reproductive health SLIDE

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Reproductive Justice.

One Court Strikes Down Texas Anti-Abortion Restrictions, Another Reinstates
On Monday, a federal district court struck down a provision of the recent restrictions on Abortion rights Texas had set to go into effect on October 29th. The restrictions, signed into law on July 18th by Governor Rick Perry, required physicians that provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. The proposed restrictions caused an instant political and media backlash, most notably when State Senator Wendy Davis held an 11-hour filibuster to block the vote on the measures. Although state legislators claimed the provisions were meant to protect the health of women, they were widely condemned as an attempt to deny abortion coverage to over a third of all women in Texas. Over 80 percent of the Texas population opposed the restrictions, and medical experts across the country claimed it would provide no medical benefits, and would in fact “jeopardize women’s health and safety.” In the ruling, the judge noted that the law had “no rational relationship to improved patient care.” While the ruling was a victory for reproductive rights, the ACLU reported that ‘less than an hour after the decision, the state of Texas had already filed its appeal” against the federal ruling. On Wednesday, a panel of three judges (all George W. Bush appointees) granted Texas’ request for a stay on the lower courts ruling, effectively placing the restrictions back into place for now.

Outrage Erupts in England Over Gender-Based Abortions
Christian groups across England are planning lawsuits against two doctors who arranged for the abortion of female fetuses for parents who had wanted boys. Over the past year, the Daily Telegraph began an undercover investigation of abortion clinics, secretly filming doctors that “agreed to terminate fetuses for sex selection purposes.” The investigation caused a media uproar across the country and a subsequent investigation by the British Government. On October 7th, the Government announced it would not charge the doctors, claiming the Abortion Act of 1967 “does not expressly prohibit gender specific abortions.”, and held a debate in parliament over the issue two days later. Numerous anti-choice groups have begun preparing lawsuits against the doctor

In El Salvador, A Miscarriage Can Lead to Jail Time
El Salvador is currently one of five countries to have a total ban on abortion, and outlaws abortions even in cases of rape or when a mother’s health is at risk. The controversial ban sparked worldwide attention this summer when government officials refused to let a dying woman have an abortion, even after it was determined that the baby had no chance of survival. A report by BBC News this past Thursday found from 2000 to 2011, over 200 women have been accused of using a miscarriage as cover up for a suspected abortion. 49 of these women were convicted of murder, with prison sentences ranging from 12 to 35 years. The report also underlines that all the accused women came from the public health sector, and were “overwhelmingly poor, unmarried and poorly educated.” Not a single case started from the private health sector, where it is estimated that thousands of abortion procedures take place annually. Defense Attorney Dennis Munoz Estanle, who represented 29 of the convicted women in court, says these women were used by a criminal justice system “that needs women to make examples of.”

New Abortion Restrictions in Ohio Push Legal Boundaries, Closes Clinics
Since the appointing of Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis to the state medical board in 2011, Ohio has passed extensive restrictions on abortion clinic procedures.  Under one of the new restrictions, public hospitals are barred from making transfer agreements with clinics, resulting in clinics across the state being unable to find a willing private hospital to sned patients to in the case of an emergency. In the past month, two more clinics have closed while another clinic appeals a state order to close, bringing the overall total to five clinics closed in 2013, leaving only nine remaining in Ohio. Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a challenge to these new restrictions in state court, arguing that they violated the “single subject” rule in the Ohio Constitution since the restrictions were passed through an unrelated budget bill. Pro-Choice advocates say these restrictions as tip-toeing federal law by both limiting access to abortions, and shaming the women who enter clinics through questionable methods. Starting this month, abortion clinics in Ohio are required to ask all patients if they would like to see an ultrasound of the fetus and feel its heartbeats.

Documentary Highlights Risks For Physicians Who Perform Late-Term Abortions
Earlier this month, the documentary After Tiller was released, which profiles the four doctors remaining in the U.S who “still openly offer the controversial third-trimester procedures,” following the murder of Dr. GeorgeTiller in 2009. Third-trimester abortions are a highly controversial procedure, opposed by many on both sides of the abortion debate, who view them as being too close to childbirth. Tiller, who performed third-trimester abortions through his clinic in Kansas, was shot to death during a service at his local church by an anti-choice radical. Instead of focusing on the political debate surrounding abortion, the documentary highlights the every day risks these doctors face and the emotional toll inflicted on both them and their patients. To little surprise, the ProLife Action Leaguestill found a way to be offended by the politically neutral film, claiming it was filled with “contradictions and moral blindness.”

Annual “1 in 3” Aims to Directly Confront the Stigma of Abortion
October 22nd marked the beginning of the 1 in 3 Campaign Week of Action, a grassroots campaign put together by the Advocates for Youth organization. The campaign aims to show the American public that abortion is more mainstream than people realize, while confronting the negative stigma associated with abortion that “continues to impact women’s experiences with their reproductive health.”The campaign takes its name from recent studies that show about 1 out of 3 mothers will have an abortion at some point in their lives. Despite being a common health care procedure, many of these women are fearful to openly talk about their experience. The organization believes the fear to speak out is directly associated with the increased attacks on women’s reproductive rights. The campaign centers around the stories of many women who have bravely shared their testimonies in a new book published by the organization to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling on Roe V. Wade, which made the right to have an abortion legal across the country.

House Republicans Attempt to add “Conscience Clause” to Obamacare
In a last second move, the GOP-controlled congress attempted to add a provision to the Affordable Care Act during their most recent attempt to defund the law. Under the new ACA guidelines, companies with over 50 workers are required to provide insurance plans which cover contraception coverage. Though religious organizations are exempt from this requirement, it was not enough to satisfy House Republicans. Just days before the federal government shut down, conservatives added a “conscience clause” to their funding bill. The move was seen by many as as a symbolic attempt to add their social views into the battle over Obamacare, despite having little relevance to the overall debate and no chance of being passed.

Nebraska Court Rules Teenage Girl “Too Immature” to Have An Abortion
On October 4th, the Nebraska Supreme Court denied a 16-year-old girl’s request for an abortion, claiming she lacked the maturity to make the decision by herself. State law requires pregnant women under 18 to obtain written consent from a parent or guardian before they can have an abortion. The young woman in this case, who became pregnant in May, was placed in foster care months earlier after the parental rights of her biological parents were terminated on the grounds of abuse. Upon becoming pregnant, the woman requested a consent waiver from the state, fearing her foster parents would refuse due to their religious beliefs. The court ruled she was not mature enough to make the decision on her own since she was dependent on foster parents, despite not being her legal guardians. Attorney Catherine Mahern, who represented the young girl, noted this story is only one example in an alarming trend. “The real story here is how many girls in foster care are getting pregnant,” she said. “It’s shameful.” According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute in 2011, 33 percent of women in foster care become pregnant before the age of 18, over double the national average at 14 percent.

Lawsuit Challenges Fetal Protection Laws In Wisconsin
This past July, a pregnant woman was arrested in Wisconsin after informing her doctor of a previous drug addiction, on the grounds of “endangerment to her unborn child.” Under a 1998 state law known as the “cocaine mom” act, welfare authorities can confine a pregnant woman who uses drugs and alcohol to “a severe degree and refuses treatment.” Despite years of sobriety, which was validated by a urine test, the doctor and a local social worker informed the police of the woman’s prior drug problems. Upon being arrested, she was brought to the county commissioner, who disregarded her plea for a lawyer, though “the court had already appointed a legal guardian for the fetus.” She was ordered to attend a drug treatment center for 78 days. In response to the ruling, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women filed a federal suit against the state on October 2nd, arguing the law is unconstitutional. In their official statement, the group argues that the law “deprives women of physical liberty, medical privacy, due process and other constitutional rights,” and creates a nature of fear around pregnant women seeking care. The suit also notes hundreds of similar cases, in which “low-income and minority women affected disproportionately.” Wisconsin is currently one of four states with similar fetal protection laws.

Local GOP Party Backtracks After Comparing Abortion to Slavery
On the morning of October 30th, the Republican Party of Chisago County, Minnesota posted a meme depicting a slave auction with the caption “Pro-Choice. Against Slavery? Then dont buy one.” The picture caused an instant media backlash and the group deleted the meme the same afternoon. In a statement responding to the controversy, the Party refused to name who created the picture, but noted they were “very sorry that something so clearly improper (either intended or in poor taste) ever made it to our page”, and that the Republican party “believes in Freedom for all Americans regardless of race or religion. It is after all where the Republican Party came from in its origins, the anti-slavery movement.” But not everyone was offended by the piece though. Minnesota Republican Party Secretary Chris Fields, who is African-American, told the local StarTribune that he saw “absolutely nothing offensive about that (Facebook) post.”




Hell Houses and the Gender Politics of the Religious Right

Image source:

Image source:

Last week I had my first experience at a “Hell House,” put on by an Assemblies of God pentecostal church in Temple, Texas. It was sort of like a Haunted House, except the point of the scares was to win people for Jesus. Scenes of “demons” luring people into various “sins,” with tragic and often grisly consequences, were followed by a final act in “Hell” – a place where “demons” violated our personal space (I had to tell at least two not to touch me) and children possibly as young as 8 played the role of screaming, tormented souls.

What was most interesting about the Temple Hell House was how it centered conservative gender politics in its cautionary tales. The central character was “Lindsey,” a white teenage girl portrayed as causing her family’s downfall and eternal damnation by being sexually active, and having a (coerced!) abortion. The violent deaths suffered by her entire family – including a murder and two suicides – are explicitly described as “Lindsey’s fault” for making bad choices.

This narrative brought to mind the surprisingly similar gender ideology promoted in a very different setting: the recent Values Voters Summit (VVS) in Washington, D.C. As with the Hell House, several speakers at VVS presented the well-being or ruin of families as dependent on conformity to conservative Christian gender norms – to the point of arguing for an all encompassing ideology of gender roles.

In the “Future of Marriage” VVS panel, Ryan Anderson – a “Religion and Free Society” fellow with The Heritage Foundation – claimed “biological…[and] social reality” as the basis for reserving marriage for heterosexual couples. Echoing a March 2013 report for Heritage (where Anderson asserted as “anthropological truth” that “men and women are different and complementary”), he made the striking statement that “There is no such thing as ‘parenting.’ There’s mothering and fathering.” Defining same gender unions as legally equal to heterosexual ones, he continued, is the same as “saying that you don’t need to have a mother and a father as an ideal for a child.” When “absentee fathers” are the “most urgent social problem in America,” Anderson concluded, “How will the law teach that fathers are essential, when it’s redefined marriage to make fathers optional?”

Anderson’s comments stood out for putting an ostensibly secular, sociological spin on the well worn argument of “gender complementarity” as an objection to women’s and LGBTQ rights. Like Anderson, others on the Religious Right are adopting messaging that emphasizes secular support for arguments they once made primarily from scripture. A new “issue analysis” on “Complementarity in Marriage” released by the Family Research Council this month highlights several substantial quotes from “secular scientific sources” as proof that “men and women have very different ways of thinking…[and] complement one another.” As they have done with the repackaging of “religious liberty” arguments, the Christian Right seems poised to reframe longheld religious teachings on gender complementarity as conclusions from common sense that’s basic and universal – the FRC report begins, simply, “Men and women and different” – and “born out [sic]” by “hard science.”

This repackaged gender theology resurfaced in a VVS breakout session on “The War on Football” presented by Dan Flynn, author of a book by the same name. Flynn forcefully dismissed scientific studies and media coverage of the NFL’s “concussion crisis” was forcefully dismissed as sensationalist “BS,” part of a broader effort by an ill-defined cabal of football haters to undermine the sport.

Tim Murphy’s excellent write-up for Mother Jones details Flynn’s bizarre claims and rightly diagnoses Flynn’s defense of football as a product of gender anxiety (Flynn: “It’s not that football has grown especially hard, it’s that society has grown soft”). It’s also the product of gender complementarian theology; here too, Flynn claims science as support. Flynn argued that boys need football as an outlet for testosterone and to learn to “become…[men]” – at one point saying, “I have 20 times more testosterone in my body than the women in this room,” and that testosterone needs to be “channeled” somewhere. Flynn also praised football for teaching an important “life lesson”: getting knocked down and taking hits is part of the game, and life. Boys playing football have a choice between crawling to the sidelines and crying over their wounds, or getting back up to “fight.” The difference between “winners and losers” in life is that the former “get up” when they face setbacks, while losers “stay down.”

From the Hell House, to the “Future of Marriage,” to the “War on Football,” conforming to the binary gendered expectations of the Religious Right is marks the difference between individual and society success and failure. The consistency of these messages across such different topics and venues are an indication of just how robust and widespread these gender ideologies are in conservative Christian culture.

Warning, some language in the following video may not be work-appropriate.

Seduction and Betrayal: The Perils of Arizona’s “Business Climate”

photo by James Brooks

By Elizabeth Tandy Shermer:

Radical journalist Andrew Kopkind once quipped that Arizona and its capital, Phoenix, were “at the mercy of [their] own myths.” That was as true in 1965 as it is today. Local promoters have long credited central air conditioning with making the Valley of the Sun livable. The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, in particular, has promoted hot, arid Central Arizona as “the air-conditioning capital of the world.” But no matter what anyone tells you, industry did not come to Arizona—and Phoenix did not sprawl—because of air conditioning.

It’s true that coolers had been built in Central Arizona decades before Phoenix exploded in size following World War II, but hardly anyone had them. Window unit prices dropped in the 1940s, but these units were still costly and ineffective in 100-degree heat (no matter how dry). Central air was rarer still. The Federal Housing Authority did not cover the cost of this amenity in new homes until 1957. Even then, Phoenix builders tended to install systems in only the most affluent neighborhoods. As a result, just a third of all Arizona homes had central air by 1970.

In truth, no single consumer product or technology was responsible for Phoenix’s meteoric growth. Manufacturers came to Phoenix because of its “business climate,” a seemingly benign term coined at mid-century to describe an area’s ability to attract, sustain, and keep investment. What mattered most to executives on the move—much more than air conditioning—was the fact that wages were low, workplace rules were minimal, and tax rates were advantageous. Boosters were particularly proud that they had convinced voters to pass a right-to-work law (the first in the American West), to eliminate inventory taxes (both for raw goods used in manufacturing and for finished products ready to be shipped), and to reduce fees on equipment used in manufacturing.

By 1960, the Arizona capital—a farming community of about 11,000 people in 1910—was an electronics and aerospace oasis with a population of nearly 440,000. Phoenicians found work producing an astonishing array of goods for defense and consumer needs, including airplanes and aircraft parts, aluminum products, chemicals, gases, electronics components, gears, controls, scientific instruments, metal parts, missiles, rockets, plastics, tools, dies, sensors, small power sources, tracking devices, and (yes) environment control systems.

But for all these short-term successes, Phoenix’s carefully calibrated business climate was in fact malignant. Bankrolling corporate welfare left Phoenix and many other communities on the verge of bankruptcy, especially when employers decamped for cheaper pastures. Phoenix (like the rest of the country) is now much better cooled than it was before, but that fact has hardly helped it retain businesses or attract new investments. Arizona has lost much of the industry that boosters recruited, most of it finding its way across the border or overseas. Arizonans, moreover, hardly stand out for their business-first credo. Executives can find similar tax advantages, giveaways, and union restrictions across the country (even Michigan has a right-to-work law now).

And it is no coincidence that cities and states across the country now find themselves on the precipice of financial catastrophe, a fact that should be kept in mind as they face the same problems as Arizona and its capital: namely, what to do about municipal debt, persistent unemployment, and sluggish housing markets. Indeed, Phoenix now stands out, writer and social critic Andrew Ross maintains, as “a twenty-first century Detroit in the making.” It certainly looked that way in 2008, when the housing crisis struck the cash-strapped state and its capital particularly hard. Many states and municipalities had, of course, tied their finances to real estate and construction and found themselves offering improbable schemes to raise revenues in 2009.

Arizona’s plight made headlines when the government sold off a collection of state properties, including maximum-security prisons and key buildings in the state capitol complex. The $735 million deal left the legislature in the unique position of leasing its legislative chambers from a private real estate company. “What are our choices?” asked House Majority Leader John McComish (R-Phoenix). “We could cut more, or we could raise taxes more. Borrowing over the long term, we think, is better for the people, better for the economy.” This agreement will cost Arizona a lot in the end, but Republican Gov. Jan Brewer was still unable to convince representatives to buy the capitol back last year after a regressive sales-tax hike provided them with a budget surplus.

Americans should keep this saga in mind this fall. Cooler temperatures will not bring fiscal relief or an end to the Great Recession. And the answer does not lie in one or two new product lines, such as the solar panels or trash-to-energy plants, that many consider a quick cure to what plagues metro Phoenix. Neither technology will make a dent in the city’s 7 percent unemployment rate, which is slightly below the national average but hardly stellar.

Small groundswells and large protests indicate that the free-enterprise myths that created Arizona’s unsustainable past may be losing their power. Many Americans now express support for making businesses pay their fair share of the tax burden. Citizens have likewise been eager to take advantage of Obamacare, whose Medicaid expansion provisions are making a real difference in the lives of low-income Arizonans. Trade unions and immigrant rights groups have also vigorously sought to empower workers, mount legal challenges to anti-union legislation, and enter into coalitions with environmental groups to make sure that new jobs will be good and green. That’s great news, because what Phoenix, Arizona, and the rest of the country need is not another gimmick or technology, but rather a new climate built on putting the public good above corporate welfare.

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer is an assistant professor of history at Loyola University Chicago, where she offers courses on business, labor, politics, and public policy. The University of Pennsylvania Press published her most recent book, Sunbelt Capitalism: Phoenix and the Transformation of American Politics. She is now writing The Business of Education, which explores how corporations shaped public universities to serve their workforce and R&D needs over the course of the twentieth century.

ISSUE BRIEF: This Month in Economic Justice

Economic Justice

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Economic Justice.

Wisconsin Judge Rules In Favor of Unions, Holds WERC in Contempt of Court
A Madison judge found the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in contempt of court for enforcing provisions of the collective bargaining restrictions signed into law by Governor Scott Walker in 2011 that had previously been ruled unconstitutional. The Judge also issued an injunction which barred any future attempts to enforce these restrictions on any union in the state. The WERC was in the process of preparing certificate elections for over 400 school district worker unions to take place in November. The commission had claimed the previous ruling had only applied to unions in Madison and Milwaukee, giving them the right to enforce the restrictions across the rest of the state. In his decision on Monday, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that his previous decision in 2012 had already wiped the provisions from existence. School districts are free to once again negotiate wages, hours, vacation, and workplace conditions. Judge Calos  also scolded the WERC for “conduct [that] was nothing more than an attempt to elude the application of a judgment the commissioners knew full well applied.”

Income Gap Rises to Highest Levels in Over a Century
Over the past few decades, the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans has continuously increased. Now, the gap has reached its highest level in the past 100 years.The L.A Times reported in September that between 1993 and 2012, the real incomes of the wealthiest Americans grew 86.1 percent, while the bottom 99 percent of wage earners only grew 6.6 percent. These statistics come from an examination of IRS data by economists at UC Berkely, the Paris School of Economics, and Oxford University. The study attributes the cause of the increasing income gap not only to technological advancements and outsourcing, but to the reduced power of progressive tax policies, along with “changing social norms regarding pay inequality.”

Coalition of Immokalee Workers Honored for Protecting Rights of Laborers
On October 16th, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) were honored at the Four Freedoms Awards ceremony, an annual event hosted by the Roosevelt Institute. The award honors individuals and groups that “exemplify Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision of Democracy outlined in his famous January 14th, 1941 address”, remembered as the “Four Freedoms Speech”. The group joins past recipients such as Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Elie Wiesel, the Dalai Lama,  and Bill and Hillary Clinton. The CIW is a worker-based human rights organization which began in 1993. They are a non-hierarchical organization which uses grassroots organizing to advocate for economic justice and labor reforms. They are most known for their Campaign for Fair Food program, which sets to “educates consumers on the issue of farm labor exploitation and forges alliances between farm workers and consumers in an effort to enlist the market power of major corporate buyers to help end that exploitation”. Through the campaign, they have successfully negotiated fair food agreements with food retailers such as McDonald’s, Whole Foods, Sodexo, and Subway to establish more humane labor standards for farm workers.

Young Children of Color in the U.S Face “Crisis Levels of Poverty”
The most recent Census Bureau data shows 42 percent of African-American children and 37 percent of Latino children under the age of 5 live under the poverty line. Growing up in poverty adds extensive physical and mental stress on young children during their most cognitive years, and affects future educational and health outcomes. These numbers are further troubling, as conservatives in Congress just finished reducing federal spending on children, with  $4.2 billion in sequester cuts to children services in 2013. Adding more salt to the wound, the bipartisan organization Family First is reporting that “Congress is considering a budget plan that would lock in or deepen these cuts for next year.”

Job Market Slowly Improves
The jobs report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the month of September was released on October 22nd. Originally scheduled for October 4th, the report was delayed by the 16 day shutdown of the federal government. Though the economy added 148,000 jobs and unemployment hit a five-year low, the economy did not progress at a desired rate. The findings suggest that employers may have held back on hiring new workers in lieu of the potential government shutdown. Economists estimate the federal shutdown cut $25 billion from the U.S economy, which helped slow economic growth to about 2 percent for the current quarter.

Long-term Unemployment Reaches Highest Rate in Over 60 Years
Though there has been a steady (if sluggish) improvement in employment , the job reports do not factor in unemployed Americans who have given up searching for a job. The percentage of Americans looking for work remains at a 35-year low, as the recession continues to discourage people to look for jobs. Zach Mcdade and Austin Nicholls of the Urban Institute reported in September that “4.2 million Americans—37 percent of the unemployed—have been jobless for longer than six months, the highest rate by far in the last sixty years.” They note the relationship between long-term unemployment and poverty, where the long-term unemployed are more likely to be poor, and the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it becomes for them to find work.

Annual World Food Day Brings Awareness to Global Hunger
On October 16th, activist groups around the world participated in World Food Day. Held on the anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the campaign aims to mobilize advocates to raise awareness, educate, and call for action to end global hunger. The day is observed to “create solidarity among groups working to end hunger and to educate thousands of people, young and old, about the roots of global hunger and the multi-faceted approaches to end it.” Over 450 organizations have taken part in World Food Day, highlighting effective methods of food security and the challenges facing world hunger. One of the central features of World Food Day is their annual teleconference, featuring world leaders and experts in economics, human rights, nutrition, and agriculture.

Study Finds Majority of U.S Fast-Food Workers Require Public Assistance
At the end of August, fast-food workers across the country went on strike, claiming their current median wage of $8.94 dollars per hours was unlivable and simultaneously demanding a wage increase to $15 dollars per hour. An October 15th report by Reuters, using data by the U.S Census Bureau, shows 52 percent of fast-food cooks, cashiers, and other front line staff had relied on at least one form of public assistance from 2007 to 2011. These public assistance programs include Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), and the Earned Income Tax Credit. In a concurrent report using the same data, the National Employment Law Project found  “the 10 largest fast-food companies in the United States cost taxpayers more than $3.8 billion each year in public assistance.” These companies are placing the burden of providing for their employees on the taxpayers, rather than paying them a livable wage for their service.

State Legislators In Ohio Sue to Prevent Medicaid Expansion
This past Monday, the state legislative board of Ohio approved a request by Governor John Kasich to fund the Medicaid Expansion program under the Affordable Care Act. By Tuesday morning, six Republican state legislators had filed a lawsuit to halt the expansion. The lawsuit calls for the state to reject the proposal, and prohibits the state department from receiving funds from the expansion. The expansion provides Medicaid coverage to uninsured residents in the states who choose to participate, whose earnings are at or lower than 138 percent over the federal poverty level. Set to begin in January 2014, the expansion is 100 percent federally funded for the first three years (free to the states), after which federal funding slowly decreases down to 90 percent in 2020. Despite the extremely low costs to states and the opportunity to provide their most vulnerable citizens with health coverage, 22 states have declined to participate in the expansion, leaving 5.2 million Americans without insurance who would have qualified under the expansion.

Bleak Findings on “Poverty Day”
On September 17th, the U.S Census Bureau released their annual data report on poverty, or as contributor Greg Kaufmann refers to it, “poverty day”. Kaufmann argues the biggest takeaway is not in the data itself. Rather, the overlying issue surrounding poverty in America is that “we’ve long known what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty, and we still know what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty. But we’re not doing it.” Previous reports by the Census Bureau have highlighted the potential methods of combating poverty in the United States. But the findings show they have been continuously neglected. The percentage of Americans living in poverty remains at 15 percent (over 45 million Americans living on less than $18,000 for a family of three annually). This includes 22 percent of all children, 27 percent of African-Americans, 25 percent of Latinos, and 28 percent of Americans living with disabilities. The issue goes beyond missed opportunities to create effective policy, as “we now face a Congress poised to make matters worse for those who are faring the worst in our economy.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cuts set by the sequester will cost over 900,000 American jobs by the third quarter of 2014. Beginning in November, there will be cuts to food stamp (SNAP) benefits which will effect 22 million children. And then there is the recent House vote to cut an additional $40 billion to nutritional supplement benefits in September.

Laying Siege to the Last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi

By Michelle Goldberg
The Public Eye Magazine – Fall 2006

On Tuesday, July 18th, for the first time in ten years, protesters arrived on Dr. Joseph Booker’s block in Jackson, Mississippi. They went door to door, ringing bells and telling people that their neighbor, the state’s last abortion provider, is a baby killer. A few weeks before that, protestors showed up at the Raleigh, North Carolina, home of Susan Hill, the owner of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the clinic where Booker works. Soon the death threats started coming. “There is a feeling that things are ramping up,” Hill says. “The protestors that we see in various places are more vocal, screaming, not just protesting.” In her experience, clinic violence is often preceded by just this kind of heightened rhetoric.

The last abortion clinic in Mississippi is under siege. In mid-July, Operation Save America — previously known as Operation Rescue — held a week of protests outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The next week, another anti-abortion group called Oh Saratoga! commenced its own seven days of demonstrations. Impatient for a change in the Supreme Court, anti-abortion forces are determined to make Roe v. Wade functionally irrelevant in the state, and they believe they’re getting close

A decade ago, there were six clinics in Mississippi. Yet the combination of constant harassment and onerous regulations led one after another to shut down, and since 2004, Jackson Women’s Health Organization has stood alone. Closing it would be the biggest victory yet in the anti-abortion movement’s long war of attrition. This makes Mississippi an alluring target.

Operation Save America is not what it used to be and on the surface its Mississippi sojourn certainly didn’t look victorious. There were at most a few hundred demonstrators in Jackson. That meant that women coming to the clinic had to brave a gauntlet of shouting people, many holding massive photos of aborted fetuses. But this was a far cry from the days when Operation Rescue brought tens of thousands of protestors to cities like Wichita and Buffalo during the early 1990s, where they tried, and sometimes succeeded, in physically shutting clinics down.

Clinic blockades are far less frequent these days, due largely to both a public backlash and a legal crackdown. Not long after Operation Rescue’s most high-profile demonstrations, a number of abortion providers were murdered, and their deaths sent the militant wing of the movement into disrepute. Then in 1994, partly in response to the killing of Florida abortion doctor David Gunn, President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. FACE makes it a federal crime to use “force, threat of force or physical obstruction” to block access to reproductive health services, and imposed prison sentences and fines up to $250,000. The law also allows clinics and health care workers to bring civil suits against violators.

“We’ve been sued for millions and millions of dollars,” says Flip Benham, the head of Operation Save America. A Texan with ruddy, sun-cured skin, and short brown hair, he has the hearty manner of a high school football coach. “Thanks to the media, we’ve been painted with the broad brush stroke of being violent folks because of a few loose cannons, who aren’t even Christian, who blew up abortion mills and killed abortionists. So what happens is, folks are afraid. There are new laws in place now that weren’t there in the 1990s, like FACE.”

The result has been a drastic decline in Operation Rescue’s fortune and its clout. As legal judgments piled up, Benham, who took over the group’s leadership in 1994, changed the group’s name to Operation Save America in an attempt to get out of paying. It didn’t work. “Planned Parenthood came into our office and confiscated every computer, every file, every piece of paper, every pencil that we had,” he says.

Yet Benham and his crew can still make life difficult for reproductive health workers in Mississippi. The protests create a constant, low-level state of emergency among the clinic’s staff, intimidate many of the patients, and add to the tension that plague doctors already living with the omnipresent threat of violence.

Hill owns five clinics throughout the country, and she has to be on constant alert. Over the years, her facilities have been subjected to 17 arsons or firebombings, as well as butyric acid attacks and anthrax threats. One of the doctors who was murdered, David Gunn, worked for her. “Fortunately we’ve been safer in the last few years for whatever reasons,” says Hill. “Thank God there haven’t been the shootings.”

By and large, the people who showed up in Jackson so far are not nearly as belligerent as their rhetoric. Historically, though, the doctors who’ve been targeted by protests — especially protests that demonize them personally — are the most likely to be assaulted or killed by extremists. “All we can say is, when protests at a clinic go up, that’s when there tends to be a shooting,” says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “There seems to be some link.” Many of the abortion providers who have been shot, including George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, Dr. George Patterson in Mobile, Alabama, Gunn and John Britton in Pensacola, Florida, and Barnett Slepian outside Buffalo, New York, were first the subject of repeated demonstrations and threats. Their names were put on hit lists and wanted posters, and information about them circulated throughout the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement.

Even if the movement’s extreme wing wasn’t represented in Jackson, it has some support there. The most faithful of the Jackson clinic demonstrators is a local man named C. Roy McMillan, who sees protesting abortion as his full-time job and says he’s been arrested 65 times. McMillan is one of thirty-four signatories to a 1998 statement that calls the murder of doctors who perform abortions “justifiable…for the purpose of defending the lives of unborn children.” He describes the late Paul Hill — the murderer of gynecologist Dr. John Britton and his escort, retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Herman Barrett — as a friend.

So Dr. Booker has reason to worry. He’s long been one of the gynecologists singled out by militant anti-abortion forces. He’s been stalked repeatedly, and during the 1990s, he was put under the protection of federal marshals. “We were very fearful he was going to be killed,” says Smeal. He had a police escort during the recent protests, but if he’s fearful, he won’t admit it. A 62-yearold black man with a trim, white-streaked mustache and goatee, and a stud in his left ear, Booker says anti-abortion harassment has been increasing but he dismisses the protesters as “more bark than bite. If you don’t get intimidated, they get frustrated and don’t show up as much.” A Pittsburgh native who was educated in San Francisco, he describes himself as “a Yankee, pro-choice, outspoken, and black. And that’s a bad combination in Mississippi.”

Race is an omnipresent issue at the protests, though it shows up in unexpected ways. The clinic’s staff and most of the patients are black; the majority of the protestors are white. Still, the demonstrators see themselves as the heirs of the civil rights movement — they carry pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr., compare the pro-choice movement to the KKK and call abortion “black genocide.” What they generally refuse to do, though, is support government measures that might ease the burdens of poverty in the state’s poor, black communities — or help women better control their reproductive lives. Mississippi’s high rate of unplanned pregnancies, says McMillan, is due to the “moral degeneration of the black culture, and I submit it’s caused by the welfare mentality.”

The protests are just one side of the vise that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the women it serves are caught in. Both are also being squeezed by an ever-expanding panoply of anti-abortion legislation that’s made Mississippi the most difficult state in America in which to terminate a pregnancy. Even as the Jackson Women’s Health Organization hangs on, the state offers the country’s clearest view of the religious Right’s social agenda in action. It’s a harbinger of what a post-Roe America could look like.

On July 19, a white taxi that says “Choose Life” on its side pulled into the parking lot of the Jackson Women’s Health Center. Out jumped one of the clinic’s surgical technicians. Her boyfriend is a cab driver, and his boss, the owner of Veterans Taxi, has emblazoned the anti-abortion message on every car in his fleet. Opposition to abortion is everywhere in this state — more than an ideology, it’s part of the atmosphere. Recently, Mississippi came close to following South Dakota and banning most abortions; many expect it will do so during the next legislative session. The local government leads the nation in antiabortion legislation. Mississippi is one of only two states in America where teenagers seeking abortions need the consent of both parents, forcing some mothers to go to court to help their daughters override a father’s veto.

Many cars have “Choose Life” license plates; the state gives much of the proceeds from the plates to Christian crisis pregnancy centers. More than two-dozen such centers operate in the state. They look very much like reproductive health clinics, and they offer free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, but they exist primarily to dissuade women from having abortions. Like other crisis pregnancy centers nationwide, those in Mississippi tell their clients that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, infertility and a host of psychiatric disorders, none of which is true. And although the women who come to them are virtually all both sexually active and unprepared for motherhood, they also counsel against contraception, believing that abstinence is the only answer for the unwed. At Jackson’s Center for Pregnancy Choices, which gets around $20,000 a year in money from the Choose Life plates, a pamphlet about condoms warned, “[U]sing condoms is like playing Russian roulette…In chamber one you have a condom that breaks and you get syphilis, in chamber two, you have an STD that condoms don’t protect against at all, in chamber three you have a routinely fatal disease, in chamber four you have a new STD that hasn’t even been studied…”

According to Barbara Beavers, a former sidewalk protestor who now runs the Center for Pregnancy Choices, as many as 40 percent of the pregnancy tests the center administer come back negative. Some of the women who take them live with their boyfriends, making a commitment to abstinence unlikely. But Beavers is unapologetic about her opposition to birth control, in part because she thinks a woman whose contraception fails might feel more entitled to an abortion. “They think, it wasn’t their fault anyhow, so let’s just go ahead and kill it,” she says.

Already, places like the Center for Pregnancy Choices are leading public dispensers of reproductive health advice in Mississippi. The schools teach either abstinence or nothing at all. Besides private physicians, the only places that provide birth control prescriptions are the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the offices of the State Department of Health.

For women seeking to avoid pregnancy, there are other hurdles. According to a survey by the Feminist Majority Foundation, of 25 pharmacies in Jackson, only two stock emergency contraception (EC). Even when the pharmacies do carry EC, individual pharmacists may refuse to dispense it; Mississippi is one of eight states with “conscience clause” laws protecting pharmacists who refuse to dispense contraceptives. Dr. Booker says he has written several EC prescriptions, only to find his patients unable to fill them.

Not surprisingly, Mississippi has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, and the highest teenage birth rate. It is tied with Louisiana for America’s worst infant morality rate. According to The National Center for Children in Poverty, more than half of the state’s children under 6 live in poverty. The immiseration of Mississippi’s women and children isn’t solely the result of diminished reproductive rights, of course. But it’s clear that enforced ignorance and lack of choices play a major role. “You would be surprised what they don’t understand about their own bodies,” Betty Thompson, the former director of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, says about the clinic’s patients.

For the anti-abortion movement, though, Mississippi isn’t lagging behind the rest of the nation. Rather, it’s the vanguard. “We’re not waiting for the president, we’re not waiting for the Congress, we’re not waiting for the Supreme Court to be packed,” says Benham, the head of Operation Save America. “This issue can’t be won from the top down. When you’re on the streets and you see these battles won over and over again, when you see the statistics of abortion dropping, you begin to realize hey, this battle is being won.”

Indeed, the same strategy at work in Mississippi is being used all across the country. According to the National Abortion Federation, 500 state-level anti-abortion bills were introduced last year, and 26 were signed into law. The number of abortion providers dropped 11 percent between 1996 and 2000, and almost 90 percent of U.S. counties lack abortion services.

Abortion rights won’t disappear in America in one fell swoop, and they can’t be protected by a single Supreme Court precedent. Congress’s ban on adults taking a minor who is not their child across state lines for an abortion, and South Dakota’s attempt to ban abortion outright, are making headlines. But the more gradual erosion of rights often escapes people’s view. Through a combination of militant street actions and punitive legislation, Roe v. Wade is being hollowed out from the inside. The right to an abortion doesn’t mean much if there’s no way to get one.

Michelle Goldberg is a contributing writer for and the author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.