Gender Institute Statement - Buffalo Massacre - May 14, 2022

Dear UB Gender Institute Community, This weekend’s massacre in Buffalo continues to shake our community to its core. We continue to grieve for the families that have experienced unspeakable loss, for the Masten District, which witnessed unbearable violence, and for our city, which so many of us have called home for a long time.  Read more...

Gender Institute Statement - Roe v. Wade

Leaked Draft of the Supreme Court Decision to Overturn Roe v Wade

The University at Buffalo’s Gender Institute is outraged at the implications of the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark 1973 case of Roe v Wade. The fact that we are writing this statement at a time of unimaginable hate and violence, when a white supremacist terrorist attacked Buffalo’s East Side, killing ten people and injuring three, reminds us of the founding principles of the Reproductive Justice (RJ) movement as stated by SisterSong, the nation’s largest multi-ethnic RJ collective: “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”
The rights to equality, bodily autonomy, dignity, and safety are fundamental human rights that link the fight against white supremacy with the fight against legislation that criminalizes access to safe abortions. These are interconnected struggles.  If states will now have the power to force women to endure unwanted pregnancy and childbirth and all their significant risks to women’s health, which is what the state of Mississippi is arguing in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), then more than 36 million women of reproductive age, and more people who can become pregnant, in 26 states could lose access to abortion.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi ban, which now looks likely, it will mark a huge step backward and the first time in our nation’s history that a constitutional right has been taken away from people, and access to safe abortion will be at risk for the entire nation. Those who will bear the greatest burden of this decision will be the poor, communities of color, immigrants, and those in rural America. This decision will be the direct result of systemic racism, ongoing white supremacy, and coercive reproductive policies in the U.S. 
 
Buffalo Defeats Operation Rescue in the 1990s
Thirty years ago, Buffalo was ground-zero of the nation’s abortion debate. The militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue convened in Buffalo for its “Spring of Life” protest in April 1992. They tried to block access to Buffalo’s six abortion-providing offices and clinics, targeting such clinicians as Dr. Bernard Slepian who was murdered at his home six years later.

Operation Rescue Protest.

Reverend Paul Schenck of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue argues with pro-choice supporters during an abortion rights protest in Buffalo. One pro-choice supporter holds up a sign reading "Keep Abortion Legal." (Photo by mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Students and community members fought courageously against Operation Rescue, escorting women inside clinics, and putting their own bodies on the line by physically defending the clinics. They formed an organization called Buffalo United for Choice (BUC). On most days, pro-choice counterdemonstrators outnumbered Operation Rescue members and BUC members coordinated efforts at the different sites using headsets and walkie talkies. Aided by a federal court order prohibiting obstructing access to the clinics, the Buffalo pro-choice demonstrators were able to do what those in Wichita, Kansas were unable to do a few months earlier, namely, prevent Operation Rescue (OR) from closing down access to the clinics. This broke the momentum of OR and showed other communities how to do it.
The federal court order that was so crucial to stopping Operation Rescue in Buffalo was obtained by two UB law professors—Isabel Marcus (who would become the first co-director of the UB Gender Institute) and Lucinda Finley. Their work set a legal precedent by getting an injunction restricting anti-choice protestors from blocking and obstructing clinics and from harassing patients and staff. In 1996 Professor Finley successfully defended this federal court order before the US Supreme Court, which established “buffer zones” around clinic entrances. Thanks to Professor Finley’s successful work, buffer zones were set up around many other clinics throughout the US, significantly enhancing safe access for patients and staff. 
Today, we need to remember this history and be inspired by it as we prepare for the work ahead of us. With the US Supreme Court now poised to permit states to ban abortion entirely, states like New York, and cities like Buffalo that are dedicated to ensuring safe access to legal abortion may once again become the target of violent anti-abortion extremists.
 
What Can You Do?
Please consider donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), which is an umbrella organization for about 90 member abortion funds. https://abortionfunds.org/   
 
If you would prefer to donate directly to the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF), you can support their spring efforts. https://www.nyaaf.org/ 
 
It is also important to engage in discussions about abortion, and to use the word abortion in conversation. One reason the right to an abortion is being taken away is because anti-abortion activists have been so successful in stigmatizing abortion, which results in even those who support abortion being afraid to talk about it. 
Make sure your legislators know that you want New York State to be a safe haven for legal abortion. Encourage the state support abortion funds and set up helping networks that will aid abortion seekers from out of state. 
 
And finally, VOTE!
 
[Many thanks to Gretchen Ely, Lucinda Finley, Jo Freudenheim, Melinda Lemke, David Schmid, Gwynn Thomas, and Hilary Vandenbark]

For more on this topic, please visit our Reproductive Justice page