Access Denied

Real Male Allies May Not Exist


We expect Republicans to devalue women and strip us of our rights. But when "progressives" like California Gov. Jerry Brown vote to limit abortion access, we're left wondering: Can we trust anyone?



Over the last week, women as a collective whole felt themselves emotionally battered as day after day we learned that the Republican Party would always find a way to justify our abuse and disbelieve our stories so long as it meant keeping themselves in power. The calm, methodical, and heartbreakingly eager-to-be-helpful testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as she cataloged her own sexual assault as a teen, juxtaposed with the belligerent, evasive, and snide remarks of potential Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh should have been an easy exercise in determining credibility. Instead, the GOP steadfastly held onto their pre-conceived notion that Kavanaugh was under attack by a vast left-wing conspiracy and Ford was a mistaken pawn manipulated into lying about her past in order to bring down an impeccably moral Christian judge.

The week was a painful reminder that women shouldn’t ever expect their own lived experiences to be believed by Republicans. We can shout “Trust Women” into the halls of every legislative chamber in the country and not expect anything other than a turned back from the GOP. It’s a reality that most of us have come to terms with, knowing that our best effort isn’t to change their minds but to remove their power, eroding at their current base of support, teaching our children to respect all people regardless of race, gender or ability, and challenging them at the ballot box at every turn. It’s working, too, as those who identify as Republican shrink down to almost a quarter of Americans.

We expect this from the GOP. We expect to be minimized, to have our stories disbelieved, have our needs tossed aside for political expediency.  But when our allies do it, too? After a week like this, it really, really hurts.

There is still a very strong possibility that Brett Kavanaugh will be our next Supreme Court justice. But even if he is pulled, or if the Democrats sweep midterms in both the House and Senate, there is little doubt that the next nominee Trump proposes will be just as willing, if not more so, to see Roe v. Wade overturned and send the right to a legal abortion back to the states to decide.

There is almost no scenario in which abortion rights will not be decimated within the next three to five years, if not sooner. A number of progressive states have acknowledged that likelihood by removing antiquated pre-Roe abortion bans from their penal codes, codifying abortion rights into their state constitutions or finding other ways to ensure that access to abortion not only remain secure, but that it is expanded to assist the flood of potential patients who may be forced to travel to the state when it is made illegal in their own.

California, as one of the most progressive states in the nation, is leading the way in ensuring abortion was accessible for everyone. A groundbreaking bill overwhelmingly passed in the state legislature that would allow University of California and California State University to offer medication abortions in their student health centers. The expansion makes complete sense—medication abortion requires no special instruments or additional physician effort, since pills are simply provided to the patient, students who may be unable to leave campus due to class time, work schedules, and lack of transportation would have immediate nearby care, and because medication abortion is extremely safe, there is a very limited likelihood of complications that would require emergency follow up that would need more extensive medical care.

Then Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it because he believes there are already enough abortion providers in the state as it is, and adding more to the mix will do little to improve access. “Because the services required by this bill are widely available off-campus, this bill is not necessary,” Brown said in his veto statement, arguing that “the average distance to abortion providers in campus communities varies from five to seven miles, not an unreasonable distance.”

Of course, we’ve seen this sort of posturing before, every time we are told we are frantic shrills demanding from Democratic candidates a “litmus test” simply because we want the right to our own bodily autonomy if not prioritized, at least upheld. Or when we were told by the Bernie bros that there was no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, despite the fact that our last two Supreme Court nominees make it very, very clear there is. But to be told by yet another alleged ally in an allegedly progressive state that we don’t need to worry, that the abortion access issue is all in our heads? That one really hurts.

As someone who works daily in covering lack of abortion access, it is difficult to understand exactly how “too much availability” can be a problem. Adding abortion services on campus allows students the most convenience possible, limiting the burdens involved scheduling and traveling off-site to an appointment, regardless of how little ground that patient needs to cover.

Improving access to abortion services for college students wasn’t just about helping them, either. Removing that patient from the outside clinic’s rosters means more availability for non-student patients, too, making it easier for everyone to obtain the care they want. Unless there are abortion providers sweeping the dusty floors of their unused clinics, humming to themselves as they scratch the empty days off their calendars then no, there isn’t “enough” access already.

It also wasn’t about money, either. While Brown noted that the bill if implemented would cost $9.6 million to put into effect, he ignored the fact that private donors already agreed to cover much of the costs to put it in place.

When Brown decided unilaterally that there was already “enough” abortion access, he didn’t just override a veto. He stated loudly that his own opinions were more valid than those of the 78 legislators who voted in favor of the expansion—roughly two-thirds of both chambers. That he knows the abortion landscape better than the policy makers and think tanks that offered studies showing abortion was still out of reach for a large number of Californians seeking terminations. That his opinion holds more weight than the lived experiences of the approximately 500 students a month that come to campus health centers hoping to access medication abortion only to be turned down. That he believes it is completely fine to force those pregnant young people, primarily women, to disrupt their lives and leave campus, even though there was the opportunity to make it easier for them, because it’s not really an “unreasonable” burden for them.

“This week we watched while powerful institutions, and specifically the white men who run them, repeatedly denigrated and ignore the lived experiences of women’s sexual assault in favor of protecting their own power,” said Adiba Khan, co-founder of Berkeley Students United for Reproductive Justice, in a statement. “And so … it is particularly unconscionable that Gov. Jerry Brown chose to turn his back on students’ experiences and instead hide behind bogus claims to deny increased access to abortion. He completely discounted the burden that travel, time, and additional costs can impose on students.”

Governor Brown is supposed to be a progressive ally. Instead, he ignored and rejected the efforts of politicians to relieve women of a significant roadblock to their right to an abortion. He did it at a time when legal abortion itself is already in a fragile and tenuous state, and handed a huge moral victory to the anti-abortion movement just when they are already at their ascendance. Brown didn’t just kick women when they were down, he spit on them afterwards as a parting gesture.

For the last week, women were supposed to have seen a small silver lining in this endless fog of despair, that those who are assaulting us emotionally, physically, and legislatively, are supposed to be the “other side.” It’s not “our men.” “Our men” trust women. “Our men” are listening to our stories and apologizing for the hurt we are feeling. “Our men” are going to step up and take some of the burden off our shoulders now that they realize just how much we have been carrying. “Our men” will protect us, believe us, support us and vote for us.

But in the end, we simply cannot trust them not to blindside us. Not even our so-called allies.

As DAME writer Christine Grimaldi said on Twitter, “If you’re a ‘progressive’ to whom reproductive rights are disposable, you’re not a progressive.” You cannot say you trust us, then decide on your own that we do not need the policies that we have spent months fighting to pass. You cannot dismiss our lived experiences and tell us that you believe our burdens aren’t “unreasonable” to carry. You cannot be an ally when you purposefully and strategically hand victories to our enemies when they are at the height of their power.

We are already struggling to fight the Trump administration, the religious right, and the Republican Party itself. We will never, ever be able to continue forward if you continue to knife us in the back.

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