remarks from the chicago rally for reproductive justice, may 2019

I was honored to be included among those speaking at the #AbortionSolidarityChi rally yesterday; here are my remarks for those who could not be there. The organizers have put together a toolkit for further action for anyone who would like to get involved in the local fight for reproductive justice, and I encourage you to check that out.

Hi, I’m Jes Skolnik. I’m a writer, editor, and activist. I’m an anarchist and abolitionist whose work includes, but is not confined to, issues of gender-based violence and injustice. I’m honored to be here today in the company of so many people I respect, who are doing such vital and necessary work.

I am here today to, first, tell you a personal story. It does contain mention of sexual assault and systemic racism — I do want to give everyone a heads up there, and I will try not to get too specific. In 1997, I was a freshman in college, at a small liberal arts school just over the border in Wisconsin. I was raped by my girlfriend at the time and a man she was involved with, and I got pregnant. The school’s reaction was to force me into mediation with my rapists, and, though I wasn’t going to an explicitly religious school, when I asked for abortion services, I was sent to a crisis pregnancy center. There, I was given racist counsel — since my rapist was white, we’d have a white enough baby, and those were “in demand.” Of course, I was dissuaded from having an abortion, presented with graphic photos and other scare tactics. I made plans to go back to my parents in DC to have the abortion I needed. A week or so later, I miscarried. A thing I did not know at the time is that I am intersex, a fact that was actively hidden from me by doctors at the time, and infertile — I can get pregnant, but not carry a child to term. (Under some of these draconian bills, that would make me an instant criminal.)

This happened 22 years ago, when many people felt that abortion was a solved and legal matter; if you didn’t have to visit a clinic and walk through the line of vicious anti-choice protestors, who never let up, you could be forgiven for thinking this way. This was before Bush, before the right ramped up its attempts to legislate against abortion access, an effort which has culminated in the bills we see today. It seemed like a narrow and marginal fight to some.

As I have grown in my own activism, I have grown to truly understand that the fight for reproductive rights is connected to every fight for liberation. It is a fight for bodily autonomy deeply interconnected with our struggles as trans and intersex people, as queer people. It is a fight against white nationalism; it is clear from so much of the rhetoric and legislation we hear and see before us now that the authors of these bills want more white kids, less of everyone else. This country’s history of forced sterilization — of black women, of indigenous women, of Mexican-American women, in prisons — speaks to that as well. Speaking of prisons — how does one obtain an abortion under state control, or access to humane pregnancy care? What does it mean to be an incarcerated parent? This is also a fight in which sex workers, marginalized by the feminist mainstream and criminalized by our current society, should have a seat at the table. It is a fight for affordable healthcare. It is a fight for freedom.

I do not ask just for abortion access in the case of rape, like what happened to me. I ask for abortion access at any time — safe, legal, informed, and affordable — and for sexual health and pregnancy care for all genders, all healthcare, to be so as well. I share my story today not to reiterate my traumas, but to call for action. My fellow speakers here today have already shared some ways to do so, and you will hear many other ways to get involved before this evening ends. Long before what happened to me 22 years ago, there were networks of people on the front lines, performing mutual aid for reproductive justice in many ways and in many communities. Since then, those networks have only grown, not just in response to the challenges from the right that we face but in response to community needs. Please listen to them, and if you are not already, consider joining them or helping to support them financially. And remember, this is not an individual fight, though the battlefields are our own bodies. This is a fight for liberation for all.