SWANs protecting abortion rights by all means necessary

By Ben Rizzo, Red Phoenix correspondent, Florida.

Long-established rights to abortion and reproductive healthcare are under attack as never before in America. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision of June 2022, which overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had established a right to the safe, legal termination of a pregnancy, has left it up to the states to pass any abortion restrictions they see fit. Many states with governments dominated by right-wing, Christian fundamentalists — emboldened that a shift in the court’s composition to a two-thirds conservative majority (thanks to three justices appointed by Donald Trump) would eventually lead to the destruction of abortion rights — had already passed a flurry of new laws greatly restricting access to the procedure. Among these were Florida, where during the Spring 2022 legislative session, the Republican majority easily enacted a measure, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that limited almost all abortions after 15 weeks. 

Now in a post-Dobbs world, Florida’s leaders are ready to double down on their efforts to control people’s wombs. Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) has said that she would like to see the abortion limit lowered to 12 weeks during this year’s legislative session, which begins March 7. In addition, DeSantis has already indicated an eagerness to sign a so-called heartbeat bill that would ban abortion after six weeks (which is sooner than many people realize that they’re pregnant). “I’m willing to sign great life legislation. That’s what I’ve always said I would do,” proclaimed DeSantis at a press conference when asked if he would support such a measure. Abortion rights in Florida seem to be careening toward obsolescence at the same time that people from neighboring states with more restrictive laws flock to Florida for terminations. In response, in recent months there has been an upsurge in clinic defense activity meant to ensure that reproductive rights can be accessed without the harassment and danger posed by the anti-abortion fanatics who often surround clinics.

One example of a group in Central Florida that has stepped up to fill that security breach through clinic defense is SWAN — Stand With Abortion Now — a name inspired by the beautiful swans found in Orlando’s Lake Eola Park. Recently, the Red Phoenix spoke with organizers from SWAN to learn about their activities and goals. That interview can be found below. In some cases, the responses may be from more than one member of group, in which case their first initial has been used before their response.

The Red Phoenix: What does SWAN stand for?

SWAN: Stand With Abortion Now

RP: How long has it been in existence?

SWAN: Since June of 2022

RP: What was the impetus behind its formation?

SWAN: The overturn of Roe v. Wade was the main reason for the formation of SWAN. 

RP: What activities is it engaged in?

SWAN: [Our group] primarily functions as a clinic escort and defense group. SWAN’s main focus is to protect our clinics’ patients and staff from harassment and invasion of privacy from right-wing, Christian nationalist protesters who yell, lie, and film outside of the facility. However, we also provide resources to the unhoused community that continues to grow in the surrounding downtown community. We’ve also just recently obtained Narcan [Naloxone] to provide overdose reversal assistance to anyone in the area who may be at risk. First and foremost we are an abortion rights advocacy group. 

RP: What type of people comprise SWAN?

SWAN: There’re all types of people in SWAN. We accept all genders, races, religions, etc. The only folks we don’t accept are fascists. 

RP: Besides defending reproductive rights does it have a political agenda / ideological orientation?

SWAN: Primarily we’re an abortion rights advocacy organization, but we also explore the intersecting issues that relate to abortion access and recent attempts to restrict it. 

RP: What do you see in the future for abortion rights in Florida?

SWAN: “T”: Governor DeSantis is a blowhard but at his core he is a sniveling coward aching for donations and political capital. He has indicated his willingness to further restrict abortion access in the state, but I think it’s unlikely he’ll do it unless he feels it will give him an edge in his upcoming presidential race against Donald Trump. Abortion restrictions are hugely unpopular, and DeSantis is almost certainly aware of this. The deciding factor may be how strong his gerrymandering efforts really have been.

SWAN: “K”: What I would like to see and what I think will happen [to] abortion rights in the state of Florida are unfortunately very different. I would love for there to be more access, a lift on the 15-week ban, as well as better healthcare for patients in general. Unfortunately, with the way the Florida government is run and the insane gerrymandering throughout the state, I don’t believe that will happen. I think things could possibly get more draconian. Thinking about the future of abortion rights in Florida seems like a slippery slope down a hill of uncertainty, frustration, and fear. As of right now there are less than 10 legitimate abortion centers in the state of Florida. I’m definitely afraid of what’s going to happen here. I do know that regardless of what happens, SWAN and other abortion advocacy groups will be here to aid in any way we can to ensure patients get the care and support they need.

SWAN: “W”: Florida has become a safe haven for abortion access in the South, however, personally I do not see it remaining that way for any substantial amount of time. Right-wing law makers have increasingly been pushing extremism on social issues to distract voters from their economic failures.

Unfortunately for marginalized groups of people who are impacted by these issues like abortion bans, “Don’t Say Gay” bills, and the “Stop Woke Act,” social issues are all the two parties are able to take wins and losses on due to their joined allegiance with capitalism. No true economic equality or wins can be made without disrupting the ruling class, so the threat of losing our rights must continue to be dangled in front of voters by faux progressive political leaders but never truly secured to motivate them to continue to participate in voting. Meanwhile, right-wing leaders are able to successfully destroy rights such as reproductive freedom to benefit their wealthy interests and win for their religious base. Florida has failed their people in housing, hurricane recovery, healthcare, and education. All of that is inconsequential though for the political right if they are able to win the religious majority with an extreme pro-birth stance, which they are surely doing.

RP: What type of response have you gotten from the public?

SWAN: We’ve gotten pretty much nothing but support and love from the community. We’ve been able to grow a tremendous audience on social media and have gotten material support from the local community as well. Our TikTok follower count is over 125,000 as of right now and continues to grow. We continue to grow in membership as well. Our mailbox continues to be filled with items on our wish list from folks who want to offer support.

SWAN: “K”: The response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive with a few bigots here and there. I think it’s been a long time since such a loud and proud escort group has existed in central Florida. Of course there are the fringe comments that will occasionally come in to our social media accounts, but those are few and far between. I think on the whole, the public and patients are glad we’re here. 

RP: Have there been any interesting incidents or responses?

SWAN: “T”: Every day we cover clinic escorting duty is always interesting. We have a group of regular protesters who show up, but sometimes there will be new ones as well. We also get traveling anti-choice protesters. Our TikTok is full of the crazy antics of both our volunteers and the protesters we oppose. On Halloween, SWANs conducted clinic defense in costume. We were able to fund a patient’s abortion via a fundraiser on TikTok live. We’ve had to call police because protesters have trespassed on the property. It really runs the gamut.

SWAN: “W”: I always think it’s interesting that sometimes people think this cannot be real. They think our engagement with the anti-abortion protesters must be scripted. They cannot believe that these people would come out here and say the horrific things they do.

It really can be unbelievable and so I understand the confused response. That’s why it’s so important that we do the work that we do. It’s SO important to show that these people are real. They exist. They are in our community. And it’s not just one rogue church. These people exist everywhere and they torment people seeking healthcare across the nation. 

RP: What are SWAN’s long term goals?

SWAN: The complete and total protection of abortion rights, access, patients, and workers, not only for us but for all people who can become pregnant everywhere.

RP: How many people are in SWAN?

SWAN: More than we thought we’d have when we started. I don’t want to give an exact number.

RP: What type of responses have you gotten from other reproductive rights advocates (i.e. Planned Parenthood), the clinics, etc?

SWAN: Some abortion rights advocacy groups take issue with our methods. There’s been a longstanding tradition of clinic escorting that enforces non-engagement with protesters. We specifically do not abide by this rejection of any and all methods by which to conduct clinic escorting and defense. Our volunteers can and will engage with anti-choice protesters if it means we can better protect our patients and facility. Some organizations have decided not to work with us for that reason. However, we have the support of the clinic we defend and multitudes of patients that we’ve served, and that’s enough for us.

RP: What, exactly, is SWAN’s position on abortion rights?

SWAN: [Our group] is a proud advocate for abortion for any reason. SWAN believes that abortion is essential healthcare. Abortion is not shameful or embarrassing. Abortion is not something that should be stigmatized or hidden away from public discussion. Abortion today is something that should be celebrated due to modern methods that keep it an extremely safe option. Safe abortion allows patients to make a family planning choice without fear for their lives or well-being. SWANs are proud to help keep abortion accessible and safe. 

RP: Does SWAN intend to get involved in electoral activities (supporting pro-choice candidates, etc.)?

SWAN: This has yet to be decided.

RP: Is there anything you would care to add?

SWAN: If you want even more info on SWAN, check out our TikTok and our website.

SWAN clinic escorts protect patients from harassment by hecklers and protesters.

Categories: Health Care, Interview, U.S. News, Women and LGBTQIA+

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