Dawn Addis, Susan Robinson, MD, Erin Foote, Benjamin Vargas, Ruzena Brar

DAWN ADDIS

Welcome! Thank you for showing up to the San Luis Obispo Reproductive Rights Rally and March. 

This is a part of a National Day of Action. We are one of hundreds of events happening across California and our Nation today. This is a community organized event. I’m Dawn Addis and I’ll be MCing our short rally today. I wear a lot of hats, but today I’m just me. One person, like you, who cannot stay quiet. So can I hear you make some noise San Luis Obispo? Let the world know we are here.

It’s your power, as individuals, that will make the difference. In the grassroots we have the saying “they tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we are seeds.” Each of you came today because you are the seed of hope and the seed of action. To be successful we must always have both – hope and action. The catalyst for coming together today is S.B. 8, “the bounty-hunter abortion ban” in Texas. The new State Law bans abortion after 6 weeks, before many people know they are pregnant. It also deputizes private citizens as bounty hunters, allowing them to sue those involved in helping a person access an abortion.

But here’s the thing – the Texas law has its basis in a City ordinance. In 2019, the City Council in the tiny town of Waskom, Texas – a town of 1,600 – unanimously voted to bar any abortion facility from operating in its city limits. The ordinance allowed private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion in the city or assists someone in obtaining one. Once passed, close to three dozen cities followed suit, and then came Lubbock, Texas. A town of over 200,000 where a Planned Parenthood closed due to similar local ordinance.

After Lubbock came S.B. 8, and the entire State of Texas fell. For the first time since 1973 an entire U.S. State does not have access to safe abortion. One small town set the path for 15,000,000 people to lose access to the care they need.

Now, 2021 is shaping up to be the most devastating year for abortion access. 83 restrictions have been enacted across 16 states, including 10 bans. By the time this is finished, it’s expected that 26 states will be without abortion care.

What we know is that pregnant people with economic means will continue to have options, however those who don’t simply will not. The attacks and inequities are growing.

This is my call to action for you

Listen to the stories today and relentlessly think locally.

Ask Yourself 

  • Does your Council, CSD, your County Supervisor explicitly support abortion and reproductive health care?
  • Does every woman in SLO County have access to the care they need at a distance and a cost that is affordable?
  • Does your School Board – at every level – support accurate information about gender and sexuality?
  • When you give your time, energy, and money – is it to candidates and representatives who champion reproductive health care access, and will never let your area become a Waskom?
  • Do you act as if you are the solution you have been waiting for?

Each time you ask these questions, shorten the distance between thinking and doing. Be hopeful, and take action. Elect people and donate to candidates who uphold the right to free, safe, accessible abortion and reproductive care, and the sharing of accurate, gender affirming information – right here in San Luis Obispo County. Now is the time. We are the seeds and this is the moment to grow.

SUSAN ROBINSON, MD

There has been a lot of outrage about the TX law having no exception for rape or incest. Of course you should be able to get an abortion after rape or incest, but this implies that there are some abortions that are more justifiable than others – some “good” reasons for abortions and some “bad” reasons for abortions. I challenge that.

Speaking as an abortion provider with 25 years’ experience, I want to speak for everyone who seeks abortion care for whatever reason. Everyone who comes to a clinic looking for abortion care has thought it out and has a good reason for it. Whether or not you or I would have an abortion for that reason is not the point. It’s the owner of the uterus who gets to decide. In fact, those of us who don’t own a uterus have NO IDEA what is going on for someone who is pregnant.

There’s a joke among abortion providers that says: Everyone believes that abortion should be legal in four circumstances – endangerment of the pregnant patient’s life, rape, incest, and “my particular circumstances.”

I believe that a person’s reason for wanting an abortion is irrelevant. It’s up to the person carrying the pregnancy to decide whether or not that pregnancy should continue. You can probably imagine a story that is so compelling that the most ardent anti-abortion advocate would agree that that person needs an abortion. But what about the patient who isn’t a good storyteller or is too shy to tell the whole story, or just doesn’t want to talk about it?

No. The reason is none of our business. Rape, incest, whatever – of course we invite the patient to tell the story, but the reason is none of our business unless the patient wants to talk about it. Patients request abortions because they need them. No one wants an abortion. No one is walking to the store and passes an abortion clinic and says, “Hey, that looks like fun, I think I’ll have an abortion”. A person does not ‘want’ an abortion the way they ‘want’ an ice cream cone, or a new pair of shoes or a Tesla. A person ‘wants’ an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap ‘wants’ to gnaw off its own leg to escape.

I have had patients say, “Doctor, I know I have a 50/50 chance of dying, but I just can’t have another pregnancy”. Can you believe that? Someone thinks their chance of death is 50/50 but they still come for an abortion? You’ve gotta know they REALLY NEED that abortion. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. By the way, when an abortion is done by an experienced doctor, abortion is safer than childbirth no matter when in the pregnancy that abortion is done.

I have heard people say that at some arbitrary point in the pregnancy, you should no longer be allowed to have an abortion. “Early abortions are OK but I don’t think you should be allowed to have a later abortion.” l have cared for many patients having abortions in the second and third trimesters and I can tell you that the further along a pregnancy is, the more complex and disagreeable the abortion procedure is. But more important, the further along a pregnancy is, the more complex and catastrophic is the cascade of disasters that led to that patient needing a late abortion. I have never had someone ask for a later abortion just because they wanted to fit into their prom outfit.

Some people say there are too many abortions done, that abortions should be “safe, legal, and RARE.” What is this? Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Too many abortions, too few abortions – OH!! Just the right number! How many abortions would be ‘just right’? I think that as long as there are over 20,000 deaths per year in the world from unsafe, illegal abortions, that means there are way too FEW safe and legal abortions being done. I think that ‘just the right number’ of safe, legal abortions is enough for all the people who decide they need one to have one. I’ll go for ‘safe, legal, and exactly as frequent as needed’. Screw ‘rare’.

I find it astonishing that a bunch of government functionaries who know nothing about your life have the unmitigated arrogance to think that they can make a better decision about your pregnancy than you can. You and only you are the world’s best expert on your own life. This may sound strange and radical, but each of you is intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and ethically competent to struggle with complex health care issues and to come to decisions that are appropriate for yourself and your family. People seeking abortions need a lot less judgment and a lot more compassion, and they all need safe, legal abortions no matter what the reason is.

ERIN FOOTE

My name is Erin Foote and I use she/her pronouns. I’m a step-mom, a Cal Poly employee, a proud union organizer, a first generation college student, and I stand before you as all of these things because I had an abortion when I was 24.

I wasn’t at Planned Parenthood that day because I thought I was pregnant. I was there because I thought my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend may have given me an STD. So, you can imagine my surprise when they said to me, “we can’t do a pap smear today because you’re pregnant”. And so, with a gallows humor that is the only comfort a person has access to in that sort of predicament, I thought to myself, “well, at least this is more treatable than herpes!” and immediately asked to schedule an abortion.

I told very few people. The manager with the eye patch at the Italian restaurant where I would have to take a few days off. The now ex-boyfriend, whom I also asked for money for the procedure. An older friend in SF, the only adult I knew with a “real job” who could lend me a few hundred bucks without hardship, and a good friend and unitarian minister who took me to the procedure and let me recover in a spare bedroom at his house in Long Beach.

I didn’t tell my mom, who I have always been, and continue to be, very close to, and who I was living with in Orange County while attending community college full-time. When I reflect on why, the strongest feeling I remember having was not wanting to worry her, but I think I may have secretly feared losing her love or respect. I actually had still never shared that I’d had abortion with her until this year, on my 38th birthday, when she began disparaging a family friend for “being so irresponsible” and I, a few glasses of wine deep, said, “I’m going to have to stop you right there, mom, because I’ve also had an abortion.”

I was barely 5 weeks pregnant when I had a surgical abortion, which actually posed challenges, as the cluster of cells in my uterus was so small they had to call in an ultrasound technician to locate it. It was very uncomfortable, but not terribly painful, and afterwards they led me to a recovery room where I sat for a short period of time with a heating pad on my abdomen, eating graham crackers and drinking a juice box–yes, there are snacks at your abortion!

All in all, this story is unremarkable, because I had the privilege of access: access to support, access to funds, access to healthcare. But that access has always been under attack, and at this moment, as we stare down a post-Roe reality, nice white ladies like myself and like perhaps many of you in attendance, no longer have the privilege of saying nothing. So if you’re here today, and you’ve never told anyone about your abortion, I want to you examine that silence–who are you performing this silence for?

Now, there are very valid safety concerns in this kind of disclosure, and if you cannot speak up, what I’m about to say next is not for you and does not diminish your struggle. But upon reflecting on that question, if you think for even a second that your silence in any way helps embolden anti-choice lawmakers in Texas, in Louisiana, Arizona, New Hampshire, Montana, Ohio, Idaho, Pennsylvania, or any of the other 8 states where reproductive rights are under attack, then you must use your privilege and speak up about your abortion.

Yes, donate to Planned Parenthood, donate to abortion funds like the Yellowhammer Fund, elect pro-choice officials who will codify Roe, raise a fucking riot! But also, we must disabuse folks of the notion that abortions are something that happens somewhere else, to someone else, that they don’t know. The powers that be are relying on your shame and your silence, but you and me, we have a very powerful tool at our disposal, and that’s to simply, and without apology, speak the truth. Thank you.

BEN VARGAS

Hello, everyone!

My name is Ben Vargas and I use he/him/his, and I am the president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cal Poly. I’ve dedicated the last 4 years of my life towards protecting reproductive justice and spent the last two year as the President of Planned Parenthood Generation Action. In my four years of PPGA, I’ve boothed at Farmers Market, I’ve been a translator at Health Fair, and I’ve patient-greeted at the health center here in San Luis Obispo. I’ve met so many people, heard so many stories, and shared so many memories.

In my adolescence, someone I cared about had an abortion and being so young I couldn’t grasp what was going on. Yet, as I got older I realized the amazing sacrifice she made, and the courage she had for her and her family, and I’ve made it my life’s mission to fight for reproductive justice.

I just want to thank you all for being here and letting those politicians know that we aren’t going to take this. I know this is my last quarter as President, but I want to give a shoutout to Gracie and Jackie, as they are our new presidents! Thank you!

RUZENA BRAR

If I seem familiar, it might be because this is my second time speaking at a rally like this, here at the courthouse. The first time was in May two years ago. I’m a private person and I don’t like attention, but I decided to speak up because things seemed like they were getting really bad for abortion rights. States had just passed a flurry of bans. It seemed like almost every day brought a new one. I’m up here again today because things have gotten so much worse. None of those earlier bans were implemented, all were immediately blocked. But now Texas has found a way to subvert Roe v. Wade, and other states are ready to follow suit. And those earlier bans, those trigger laws, will go into effect in 11 states if Roe is overturned.

It seems unbelievable that Roe v. Wade could be overturned. It has 48 years of precedent behind it, and the fact that a majority of Americans support a right to abortion. Nevertheless, in December the Supreme Court will hear a case banning abortion at 15 weeks in Mississippi. The fact that they’ve even agreed to hear this case is extremely alarming. Roe protects abortion up to viability, or about 24 weeks, so the only reason to hear this case is to consider overturning Roe v. Wade. And a Supreme Court that refused to block a 6-week ban in Texas seems likely to do it.

Until 4 years ago, I took reproductive rights for granted, and I didn’t follow what was happening with abortion restrictions. I was always pro-choice, but I didn’t think I’d ever need an abortion. And I thought living in California meant I didn’t have to worry about abortion access. But no one plans to have an abortion. When my third pregnancy was affected by a severe diagnosis, my perspective changed. I found out that having a right doesn’t mean it’s easy to access. At the time, when I found myself on the wrong side of a medical statistic, it felt so unfair. But in time, looking back, I realized that in so many ways I was extremely fortunate.

Abortion is protected up to 24 weeks in California, so even if Roe is overturned we would not lose that right. But in many places–including here–there is no access to surgical abortion in the second trimester. The logistics of having to travel for abortion are not simple. Like 59% of abortion patients, I was already a mother when I needed an abortion, so we needed childcare for our young children. Luckily, my parents—including my mom, who considers herself pro-life—were able to drop everything to fly from another state at a few days’ notice. My husband and I had to take time off of work for the two-day procedure, but luckily we were able to take paid time off. We had to wait nearly two weeks for our appointment, waiting to find out if we would be referred to LA or San Francisco, and then book a hotel last minute. But fortunately for us, we only had to pay for our travel costs—my insurance approved an out-of-network clinic and covered my abortion completely. I know so many people in my position who didn’t get any coverage, or fought insurance to get reimbursement and still paid hundreds or thousands, so this was really lucky. We didn’t want to stay away any longer than necessary, so we came home immediately after surgery on the second day, but I was fortunate to have my husband there to support me, and drive me home while I slept off the effects of the anesthesia.

And, most of all, I was fortunate that I had a choice, a choice that has been taken away from Texans, and is threatened in so many other states. Right now, abortion patients in Texas are trying to organize travel, trying to find a way to afford it, and trying to figure out how to deal with logistics, the childcare, the time off of work. They are learning that they have to wait for an appointment in Oklahoma or another state, because clinics are overwhelmed with patients from Texas. They are realizing that the longer it takes, the further along they are, the more expensive it will get. And all the while they are worrying that anyone helping them, telling them where to go, or offering help in getting them there, could be sued under Texas’ new law.

With this new law, the anti-choice movement has shown their hand. They are done tiptoeing around the precedent of “undue burden,” of passing incremental restrictions week by week. They are done pretending to advocate for healthcare by requiring unnecessary ultrasounds, waiting periods, or banning specific procedures. The goal was always to ban ALL abortions. They have been laser focused on that goal. This is the end game. They have shown us who they are.

Now it is time for us to show who WE are. All of you here are already doing that. By being here you are showing what you stand for. But there is more you can do, and I hope you will.

First, talk about abortion. Share a personal story with a friend, talk with your kids about what abortion is, or express your outrage about these laws. This can help destigmatize abortion, and it can also combat the misinformation the anti-choice movement spreads.

Second, support pro-choice candidates. You can do this not only by voting for them, but for volunteering with political parties or campaigns, or signing up to phone bank with Naral California, or volunteering with our local Planned Parenthood.

Also, stay informed about pro-choice legislature and call your representatives to urge them to support it.

Finally, you can help support abortion rights by donating to organizations like Naral and Planned Parenthood, and you can help support abortion access by donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds, or an abortion fund in a specific state. Abortion funds are the best way to help improve abortion access for people who struggle to afford it.

Now is the time. It’s time to stand up for abortion rights and access, which should be available no matter where someone lives. It’s time to stand against the anti-choice movement, because if we don’t protect our rights we WILL lose them. And it’s time to normalize abortion, to take away the power of the anti-choice movement to control the narrative around abortion. One in four women have an abortion, it IS normal and it MUST remain a right.

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