Written by Tara Culp-Ressler
This past year included an overwhelming number of attacks on reproductive health and freedom, including some of the harshest abortion bans this country has seen since Roe v. Wade. However — despite the persistent attempts to silence, shame and police women and their bodies — there is one positive benefit resulting from the ongoing War on Women. It gave rise to several champions who didn’t back down from fighting for the issues that matter. Here are ten people who inspired us in 2013:
In April, Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores (D) took to the floor to advocate for overhauling her state’s abstinence-only education policy. In order to explain her support for the issue, Flores shared her own personal story of receiving inadequate sex ed as a teen. Flores explained she accidentally got pregnant when she was 16 years old and decided to have an abortion. She said she didn’t regret her choice, but she did want other young women in Nevada to be more educated about how to prevent pregnancy. “We prevent this by giving them the information and the resources that they need, so they don’t have to go to their dad and say, ‘I need $200 for an abortion,’ ” Flores noted.
Thanks to the shame and stigma that surround abortion, it’s still rare for public figures to talk openly about their decision to end a pregnancy, and Flores’ decision to share her story was very brave. The lawmaker received hate mail and death threats — as well as an outpouring of support from women’s health advocates, who rallied behind her with the #FierceFlores hashtag.
In October, the Kansas City Star published a remarkable investigative piece about a sexual assault case in Maryville, Mo., involving a high school football player and a young victim — one that bore some striking resemblances to the infamous rape case in Steubenville. But there was one notable difference. Although victims of sexual assault typically remain anonymous in the media, the Maryville victim, Daisy Coleman, wanted to share her story publicly. She allowed the Kansas City Star to use her real name, and later appeared on CNN with her mother to recount the details surrounding her sexual assault.
Thanks to a pervasive rape culture that tends to place the blame for sexual assault squarely on the shoulders of the victim, the individuals who speak up about being raped are typically harassed and shamed. Coleman experienced that, too — even before she started talking to the media, she was bullied and ultimately driven out of her small town. But she refused to be silenced.
“Since this happened, I’ve been in hospitals too many times to count. I’ve found it impossible to love at times. I’ve gained and lost friends. I no longer dance or compete in pageants. I’m different now, and I can’t ever go back to the person I once was,” Coleman, who was just 14 at the time of her assault, wrote in a powerful op-ed in October. “That one night took it all away from me. I’m nothing more than just human, but I also refuse to be a victim of cruelty any longer. This is why I am saying my name. This is why I am not shutting up.”
Rev. William J. Barber II, the president of the NAACP in North Carolina, spearheaded the biggest progressive protests of the past year. Barber partnered with other clergy, progressive activists and grassroots leaders to lead thousands of people in weekly “Moral Monday” rallies against North Carolina’s far-right legislature. They demanded economic and racial justice, access to health care and education, and voting rights. And they rallied against proposed abortion restrictions in the state, pointing out that lawmakers were wasting their time attacking women’s health while leaving important policy priorities undone.
In July, dozens of women’s health activists — including the president of the Planned Parenthood affiliate in North Carolina — got arrested in an act of civil disobedience against a proposed abortion bill at a Moral Monday protest. At that time, those activists brought the total number of activists arrested for protesting the state’s GOP-controlled legislature up to more than 700.
“When we started Moral Mondays and the first group went to jail, the women were at the front line,” Barber explained in an interview over the summer. “The sisters are here, the sisters have been here and the sisters are here to stay.”
State Rep. Wendy Davis (D-TX) rose to national prominence after working to defeat a stringent package of abortion restrictions in the Texas legislature. Davis filibustered the legislation for over 11 hours without sitting down, taking a drink of water, leaving to go to the bathroom, or straying off topic. Thousands of people from across the country tuned in to watch and spread messages of support under the #StandWithWendy hashtag. The pink sneakers she wore that night on the floor have become iconic.
Davis certainly did not work alone — her efforts were supported by thousands of pro-choice activists who protested at the capitol for weeks, and ultimately helped delay the legislation with a “people’s filibuster” — but she did become the nationally-recognized face of the backlash against Texas’ harsh bill. Thanks in no small part to the momentum that began with her filibuster this summer, Davis is currently running for governor.
Sarah Slamen was one of the thousands of Texas who rallied at the capitol this summer with Wendy Davis. During a hearing on the anti-abortion legislation in the middle of July, Slamen delivered an impassioned speech against the measure. “Thank you for every hateful statement degrading women and girls to sex objects, and brood mares, and bald eagles, and leather wallets, like your eloquent pro-life supporters have done today. Thank you for being you, Texas legislature,” Slamen told the Republican lawmakers in the room. “You have radicalized hundreds of thousands of us.”
State troopers removed Slamen from the room while she was in the middle of speaking — a silencing tactic that ultimately backfired, since her testimony went viral. Later that month, she appeared on MSNBC to deliver the rest of her speech that got cut off.
“I’m privileged as a white woman from a middle-class background to be able to have attended all of those hearings,” Slamen pointed out during her TV appearance. “Women with two and three jobs, the 20 percent of women who might be living in the rural communities of Texas who can’t get to the capitol, caregivers, they can’t get to the hearings and stand up for their rights, and it’s obvious that all the Republicans on that committee don’t care about the right to their health care either. So someone had to say something.”
Read more: aclu, Daisy Coleman, doug cox, Gwen Moore, health policy, julia burkhart, kansas, katelyn campbell, lucy flores, naacp, nevada, oklahoma, reverend william barber, sarah slamen, tamesha means, texas, Wendy Davis, Women's rights
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