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Conservatives have launched a new attack on abortion rights, which go against both medical science and common sense, says Anoa Changa, but the point is to bring the issue to the new conservative Supreme Court majority

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TAYA GRAHAM We thought abortion rights were protected by the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, but 46 years later, there is a concerted push across the country— Ohio, Alabama, Georgia— to ban abortion outright and to criminalize both doctors and women involved in it. Alabama has launched one of the most restrictive bans on abortion in the country and the Ohio state legislator has deemed a fetus an unborn person. Meaning, anyone who participates in abortion could face life in prison or even the death penalty, but who will be facing these harsh penalties? Some activists say these laws will fall squarely on the shoulders of black women, a group that already disproportionately suffers from America’s racist criminal justice system. To discuss the future of reproductive rights and the impact on communities of color, I’m speaking with Anoa Changa. She’s a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia and a journalist. She’s also the Director of Political Advocacy for the Progressive Army and is the host of the podcast The Way with Anoa. Anoa, thank you so much for joining me.

ANOA CHANGA Thank you for having me.

TAYA GRAHAM Now, can you talk a little bit about the restrictions on abortion in your own state of Georgia, and how these restrictions are impacting the women in your home state.

ANOA CHANGA The proposed legislation is a six-week abortion ban and many have correctly called this a total abortion ban. It’s also based on a legal fiction and really, a medical fiction. These bills have been referred to nationally as “heartbeat bills” when in fact, we’re not actually talking about an actual cardiovascular system or actual heartbeat, like fully-matured babies actually have. We’re actually talking about a cluster of cells with an electrical pulse, which is being used to determine the point in which an abortion would no longer be permissible under the laws of these states, including my own state of Georgia. Currently, right now, the one thing to continue to stress for everyone is, the law is not currently in effect. Abortion is still legal and still possible in Georgia, Alabama, and all these states passing these laws. These laws do not go into effect for some time and there are mounting legal challenges, but really, the major issues besides the total abortion ban—

I mean, many women do not even know they’re pregnant at six weeks and to be clear, we’re talking about six weeks. There’s some funniness in the different legislations on when six weeks even starts tolling because when you’re talking about how far along you are in pregnancy, usually that’s determined by your last menstrual period. It’s not even that you’re actually at six weeks with a more fertilized embryo, but that it’s six weeks from the last time you had a menstrual period. So, you can actually be far less along in terms of an actual pregnancy in that six-week period, that designation. It gets real tricky, but the real problem with these laws is it’s going against science. It’s going against medical testimony from doctors, midwives, doulas, nurses. You know, an entire medical community has come out against these laws. They’re going against the law, as it exists, as it’s been well-settled by Roe and subsequent cases, and they’re going against common sense. There’s no legitimate public policy or reason for such restrictions on abortion and there are many who would argue there should be no restrictions at all. But there really is a conversation that has been happening nationwide, which to the most part, I’m really thankful to see happening about reproductive justice— not just simply access to abortion, but reproductive justice as a whole— and really seeing some amazing organizers and organizations that are starting to get not just fundraising and support, but also the shine, so to speak.

TAYA GRAHAM Now, we know that poverty disproportionately impacts black women. How do you think this ban on access to reproductive services will affect them? Do you think this will disproportionately impact black women?

ANOA CHANGA Oh, most definitely. When you’re talking about a state like Georgia, which is the absolute bottom of the barrel in all the states in terms of maternal mortality and is also pretty low in terms of infant mortality, access to pediatric care. There are approximately half of the counties— we have 159 counties in Georgia— approximately half do not have any OBGYNs, so we’re already talking about a very compounded and problematic system of access to health care and safe and affordable health care for women in terms of their reproductive health. Now we’re adding this other layer onto it and it is definitely going to impact negatively, poor black women, black women, marginalized communities, across the board. And then, were looking at a legislature that claims to care about life but will not do things such as expanding our Medicaid, which would help alleviate some of the issues and conditions that we already have medically.

TAYA GRAHAM The CDC just released a report showing that maternal health is in incredible jeopardy in the United States, and that many of these deaths of both mother and child are preventable. What do you think the impact of these abortion bills and these reproductive inhibitors that are restricting access to Planned Parenthood—How do you think this is going to affect the health of women and children?

ANOA CHANGA Well so, when you mention Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood—There’s this whole, big we’ve seen this for years now about defunding Planned Parenthood because they’re tying it to abortion when in fact, the funding that Planned Parenthood and similar centers receive, is directly related to the comprehensive health services that they provide, that does not include abortion. We’re looking at really an attack on poor and working-class people because it’s not just women who are able to receive medical assistance at Planned Parenthood, but we’re looking at an attack on people’s access to health care just in another way by using abortion as this boogeyman. But, when you look at these laws compounding and the increased potential for criminalization—We had testimony during the hearings here in Georgia about how these types of laws and restrictions would actually restrict OBGYNs from even wanting to come and practice. When we’re talking about needing practitioners in areas that are underserved or that have no one at all, and then you have these other restrictions on top of it, it makes it even more difficult to get the skilled access, training, people, and resources that are necessary.

You add this, along with the fact that they do not want to expand Medicaid— let alone, entertain any type of conversation of a Medicare for All at the state level— and we really do have this situation where women are relying upon themselves, where families are relying upon community health centers. We have the Feminist Women’s Health Center here in Atlanta. I mean, there are abortion funds all over the South that are really cash strapped and trying their best to make sure and make a way because there already are restrictions. It’s great that everyone’s paying attention now, but there already are massive restrictions across the country in many locations that limit and inhibit access to care in varying capacities and ways. And so, now we have this as an additional layer that in, like I said earlier, acts as a total ban. And now, we’re talking about how do we actually get people care. The other concern is how miscarriages can be treated or will be treated under this potential law, and having people possibly having to deal with a very invasive legal procedure or process, on top of something that is arguably a very traumatic and personal event.

TAYA GRAHAM Absolutely. Now, there have been some people in the entertainment industry that have stepped forward to say they’re going to boycott Georgia, that they’re not going to produce their films in Georgia. Do you think this will actually influence Georgia lawmakers in their decision making?

ANOA CHANGA No, that’s pretty, the wide consensus here on the ground is that we don’t—I mean, so let me back up for a second. Boycotts, and strikes, and economic pushes like this are actually very good strategic tools, but the key word is strategic. They actually have to be tied to local organizing, local voices, and people who actually understand the intricacies in the legislature and with all these things going on. You know, Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor, put out a series of tweets and her organization Fair Fight is raising money to support reproductive justice organizations locally. They’ve asked people to consider supporting and staying and helping Georgians fight. It’s understandable the need to want to boycott, but here’s the thing— boycotting Georgia does not do anything also about the national, the very strategic national effort, to actually pass these laws. And when you’re thinking about Right to Life, if we want to do an economic boycott, we should be researching who are the corporate entities, who are major bigwigs, who are the people who are funding the Right to Life movement nationally that are actually pushing these laws?

We’ve seen people in the past look at boycotts of ALEC. This is the same type of strategy if you want to boycott, but for those in the entertainment industry who think they’re supporting, they should actually look to the women who are in the local film and media union who actually have their own petition. With all these people who are so concerned about supporting the same women, you would think they would have tens and hundreds of thousands of signatures right now, and they’re shy trying to get 2,000 signatures to stand in solidarity with them. You also have the reproductive justice leaders within various organizations. You have SisterSong, you have Feminist Women’s Health Center, you have ARC-Southeast, you have all these different organizations. You have [Yellowhammer] Fund in Alabama. You have all these different organizations where people are saying hey, don’t boycott us. Why don’t you come work and help invest in us because if we actually want to change the balance of power, we need freedom fighters, we need financial freedom riders to come and help us flip the switch on what’s happening down here because people are working very hard. Just because you don’t hear about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, but removing—I do understand people not wanting to give money to a state, but we also give money to the federal government and we have the person we have as president that’s doing the messed up things that he’s doing. Instead of just completely pulling any resources, if you want to boycott, that’s fine, but then at least invest in the people who are trying to make it better.

TAYA GRAHAM Yes. Excellent point. I just was curious, what is the makeup of the state legislature in Georgia? Is it similar to Alabama? For example, in the state of Alabama, all of Alabama Senate Republicans are white men and they dominate the Senate. What does Georgia’s legislature look like?

ANOA CHANGA Georgia’s legislature has been increasingly diversifying, but it still is a very similar issue we have here. I mean, you have it in many places that have had issues with gerrymandering and voter suppression, and the ability to actually flip seats and send people, but we have seen an increase in people of color and black people in these seats. Last cycle alone, we had a couple of different people who were actually first-generation Americans and new Americans who were elected to Senate and Representative seats. Sheikh Rahman, coming out of Gwinnett County, was elected to the Senate actually, and he is considered a new American leader, so someone who became a citizen, immigrated here and became a citizen, and then became an elected official. That’s what some of the push is and we’ll build on the work that Stacey Abrams was talking about in terms of expanding the electorate because demographically, we should be able to have a much more representative legislature when we’re talking about the Senate side. The House of Representatives— we do have a decent contingent in terms of our Black Caucus and then other members of color as well, but there is still so much room for growth when you start looking at really, the state as a whole and representation. That is something that people have been really thinking about and talking about, particularly as they start tackling the conversation around gerrymandering and redistricting.

TAYA GRAHAM Since Trump’s inauguration, six other states— Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Iowa, Mississippi, and North Dakota— have passed the heartbeat bill, which would allow criminal charges against both doctors and women seeking abortions and it would characterize the unborn person as a human, which means abortions could be punishable by life in prison or even the death penalty. Do you think this criminalization of abortion will lead to that kind of extreme sentencing?

ANOA CHANGA So what’s really been great to see is that people on multiple fronts— whether they are directly in reproductive justice spaces or their criminal defense, prison reform, abolitionist spaces— to see the cross-pollination of voices coming around to really help us not get to that point because that’s really the strategy where at right now. Hopefully, we don’t get there. I do think that there are judges, I do think that there are DAs, I do think that there are folks who would balk at that happening, but as we see with egregious and excessive prosecutions, we do know that there are people who will go ahead, even if it makes no sense to do that. We do know that people will do and prosecute that way, so the best thing we can do with all of our advocacy is trying to stop these things at a head now. There are the various court cases.

In Kentucky, they had actually filed, the ACLU had actually filed suit in Kentucky even before the governor had signed it into law. He actually signed the abortion ban there into law under a temporary restraining order. I believe, if I remember correctly, a federal court just kicked that back and they are appealing, but we’re also seeing in many instances that this is like— People talk about Roe as settled law. When we go through these conversations about SCOTUS and, of course, you know, Roe v. Wade it’ll be upheld because it settled a law. That is really a bare minimum and almost in some ways a bad litmus test to how judges at multiple levels of government, including the SCOTUS, will actually react to these types of cases, and that’s why this is happening.

They’re really hoping because of what is perceived as a more conservative bench at the Supreme Court level, that they’ll be able to get one of these cases, or a cluster of these cases up to the Supreme Court and really erode, if not undermine Roe, in a very significant way. Even if Roe v. Wade itself is still considered settled law, like I said, we’ve seen numerous ways that abortion access and rights have been restricted, and as you just pointed out, this push to try and criminalize abortion, there’s going to be a real conversation, I think, legally in the legal community around whether or not it comports, whether or not that’s inconsistent and how we push forward. But the other thing that really concerns me about this is the way in which, going back to our early conversation about how these laws disproportionately affect women of color, is the fact that the criminalization as we know in the general other crimes or other things, that this will be another way of further criminalizing people of color, women of color in particular, around abortion as this new frontier. It’s totally based on fallacy. It’s make-believe science that is not grounded in anything factual, but these national organizations are trying to push this particular very, very Evangelical Christian agenda that is really undermining rights and access across the board.

TAYA GRAHAM With President Trump in office and Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, has this emboldened lawmakers to push for these extreme restrictions?

ANOA CHANGA Yeah. I do think that, as we’ve seen across quite a few— the Muslim ban. I mean we’ve seen one extreme thing after another since 2017. It’s not that none of these issues have existed before Trump, but his language and the way he is distorting information. He has this large platform because mainstream media does not even effectively fact check or correct him. Like, when he was at a rally recently claiming that doctors and parents are assassinating babies, which is actually murder, that is something that is not happening at all, ever, anywhere. He is claiming that that is what a later-term abortion, which I’m really appreciative of all people who push back on some of the language that is even used, that that is not even factual. He’s definitely giving people blanket right to run around.

I mean, even when you listen to some of the testimony from these lawmakers when they’re at the well, when they’re speaking, they’re speaking in such wild terms that are not grounded in anything factual or real life. They’re so hell-bent on making these crazy decisions, or excuse me, these very extreme decisions, that they’re not listening to reason. We can’t reason with them. These notions that we could somehow reason with reasonable Republicans— If they are still standing as a Republican alongside these decisions being made, we have to question how reasonable they actually are. I mean, we need to be standing with people and making sure we’re getting communities the right information. I know here in Georgia on June 1st, a collective of the reproductive justice coalition groups are having a people’s townhall to start informing people about what is going on and what can be done next. Hopefully, other groups are going to continue doing the same thing because this issue is really making the case for why we need year-round engagement around these major issues, and not simply when candidates want to show up six weeks before an election to talk about what’s important.

TAYA GRAHAM I know you’ve been a vocal supporter and even critic of progressive candidates, including presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. What role do you want to see candidates play in pushing back against these restrictions on reproductive rights?

ANOA CHANGA I think, for the most part, several of the candidates— you know, I saw Senator Sanders had actually had several tweets along with Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren had some really great tweets. I saw that they have been, some of them have been starting to leverage their platform to not only address this issue head-on and not do the false equivalency of good people on both sides type of thing, that unfortunately sometimes happens with Democrats in the subject of abortion. I’ve also seen some of them lifting up actual local organizations, which is so crucial, which is why I keep reiterating it because these are people who are on the frontlines, who were doing the work, who really need our support and to be lifted up. I do think that they have not only a space in this conversation in terms of making sure that they actually understand what the good information is. There is actually, Samantha Bee did a bit recently. One thing she noted in that bit, she did a bit about sex ed for state legislatures or whatever, but she noted that even presidential candidates are, kind of, getting certain things wrong. I think what they’re getting wrong is the same thing that the mainstream media gets wrong. They’re not correcting the false narratives that are built into questions when they’re asked. They’ll say no, that’s not what’s happening, instead of challenging the person asking the question and then correcting it.

I think we need to correct this idea that later-term abortions, like, because of what they’re describing, that’s just one clear example where because of the huge platform presidential candidates have, they have an opportunity to help shape the dynamic around a lot this information and use language like “anti-choice” versus “pro-life” and use language— I forget what the proper term is that people have been using instead of later-term abortion. There’s another term people have been using as well, because that’s not really a defined thing by doctors. There is good language out there. They could just take some time, have a staffer do research, and make sure that they are doing the best thing possible in terms of their advocacy. But I do appreciate Senator Sanders, Senator Warren, and others who have been raising their voice around this issue the past week. It has been really good to see them boosting people instead of following suit with what— Like, Hollywood folks should have taken the same type of approach that the presidential contenders did, and taken a moment to breathe, and look and see what local people were asking for.

TAYA GRAHAM You make an excellent point that candidates have an opportunity to change the framing of these questions and that’s a really important part of this discussion. Now, I was curious if you’ve seen any polls or any indications of how the black community views this discussion on reproductive rights.

ANOA CHANGA I haven’t seen any particular polls about that specifically in the past week. I’m actually one who is skeptical of polling, but I do know that there’s a lot of conversation about how the black community tends to be kind of conservative on particular issues and abortion goes different ways depending on who you’re polling and where, but I do think that this is another instance where we need to have really good engagement, voter outreach, and just education on what reproductive justice entails, why it’s necessary for us to be aware and present in these conversations, and how it fits into the overall coverage about health care and economic justice, as a whole.

Abortion is not like some siloed, standalone conversation. Abortion is an issue of health care. Abortion is an issue of economic justice. I mean, these are conversations that we need to be having. I think that these organizations like your larger orgs, like your NARALs and your Planned Parenthoods, I know they’ve made more of an effort, but there really is a necessity to have conversations with these constituency groups. I do think that—I had a conversation with a friend who was just talking about how there’s progressive, faith-based leadership that is actually trying to navigate this conversation as well with communities to help them become more informed and aware. I know we have personal opinions about stuff and that’s great, but we should actually know the facts and that’s what we should be basing laws on.

TAYA GRAHAM You know, it’s interesting that you brought up the conservative strain in the black community because there’s some critics I’ve heard that say that reproductive technologies like Norplant and abortion have targeted the black community purposefully. How do you respond to those types of concerns?

ANOA CHANGA Well, I understand completely concerns people have with Norplant and some of the history around Norplant with issues in poor, low-income communities. Actually, my grandmother did a lot of research on this in terms of low-income communities as well as underdeveloped countries, particularly in the Caribbean, about how companies and entities would provide birth control methods like Norplant, but then not provide means of having it removed, etc. There is a concern there because of medical, ethical practices, and things of that nature. However, I do think there are some truth and validity in some of the concerns and criticisms, but there’s actually really good research and information out there that people could be more informed about so that they don’t take that and then translate it to, like, everything across the board is automatically targeting black people and trying to make our birth rates lower.

Like I said, going back to what I said about abortion being a matter of health care and economic justice, I myself as a mother of two, as a young mother of two, subsequently had two abortions— not because someone was targeting me or making it out to be, like, we want to get rid of your black babies, but because for my life and the children I was already raising, that was the right decision for me to make. We need to have real conversations about some of the issues and conditions that are affecting working-class women, disproportionally affecting women in marginalized communities, that may lend to higher rates of abortion, but not necessarily. Again, I’m not sitting here with factual, actual statistics in front of me, ya’ll, so I’m just speaking off the top of my head so don’t quote me. But at the same time, I have seen a lot of people who are more conservative try to use this well, you know, the black abortion rate is this, and they’re trying to kill black babies. That’s just not even factual.

When you look at data, when you look at statistics, there are so many other things that go behind them that cannot be explained by the numbers alone. And when we really start looking at the increase in growth in our population, it’s— I know people go back to Margaret Sanger was a eugenicists and things like that. I think we need to have these multiple layers of conversations, but we also need to be grounded in the here and now and listen to black women and black femmes who are doing reproductive justice work, who we’re leading the way. I get you might be skeptical of white-led organizations. I definitely understand that because we don’t necessarily, as a community, have the best history with white people and medical practices. Folks will point out the Tuskegee Experiment. I totally understand the concerns. However, there are plenty of black, Latinx, and other women of color who are doing this work, who are leading the way on reproductive justice, and that is who we need to be getting our information from and really, really taking and following their lead.

TAYA GRAHAM Anoa, I just want to thank you so much for your time and for your insights. Thank you for joining me.

ANOA CHANGA I appreciate you taking the time, as well.

TAYA GRAHAM I’m your host, Taya Graham, and I want to thank you for joining me at The Real News Network.

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Anoa Changa is an electoral justice staff reporter for Prism, a nonprofit media outlet elevating stories, ideas, and solutions from people whose voices are critical to a reflective democracy.