Abortion rights in the USA: An interview with Tarah Demant

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Tarah Demant is National Director of Programmes at Amnesty International USA, where she campaigns on issues such gender justice and abortion rights. The past year has been one of the toughest for her, as the USA has seen a huge rollback on human rights.

In this interview, she talks about the impact of abortion bans on people in the USA, how she’s advocating for change at every level and why the hope and resilience of activists across the country spurs her on…

What was the most striking event in your region this year and why?

There has been an incredible backlash against gender justice throughout the Americas, including in the United States. One of the most obvious examples of this backlash is the attack on abortion rights across the region.

How did you feel working on it?

Honestly, it’s exhausting. The attacks are relentless. Anti-rights actors are moving state-by-state trying to push further abortion bans and criminalization. These attacks on abortion are hand-in-hand with broader anti-gender attacks across the country, including vicious attacks against transgender children. It’s devastating. It has real impact on people. And it takes a toll emotionally.

There is a lot of hope and resilience in the community. People show up day after day for each other, for their friends and neighbours, and for people they will never know.Tarah Demant

But it’s also a privilege to work in this space — there is a lot of hope and resilience in the community. People show up day after day for each other, for their friends and neighbours, and for people they will never know. In the toughest places — in the most conservative states — people are their fiercest. Fighting alongside these incredible activists inspires a lot of hope.  And no matter what happens politically, we are determined — we will never stop fighting. And that commitment is where I find a lot of energy.

What does your work involve?

We’re working across the country to combat abortion bans and to win further protections for abortion rights at multiple levels. We are documenting the impact of abortion bans and restrictions in our research, showing the real, human impacts of these human rights violations. We’re helping to connect global activists to local activists—creating solidarity and learning that has really buoyed work here nationally. And we’re lobbying the federal government: I spend a lot of time educating Congress on abortion and pushing the Administration to take every action it can to protect abortion rights. 

But we’re also ensuring we’re where the fight really is now: at the state level. The Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe meant that abortion rights are now left entirely to the individual states—and we’ve had to adjust very quickly to how we try to effect change as an international human rights organisation working at national level.

We’re equipping our activists in every state with the tools to engage in advocacy in their state as well as within their local communities: lobbying state officials, talking about abortion in conversations, raising abortion rights in local council meetings, ensuring abortion is always on the agenda in local governments. And we’re invested in states where voters can weigh in directly — like our work in Arizona, where we are fighting to pass a ballot initiative that would protect abortion in the state constitution.  We’re making sure that Amnesty is showing up for abortion rights in the USA — with our research, our lobbying, and our activists at home AND globally. And it matters. We can and will win.

Can you share a personal anecdote from a moment that moved you this year?

We have talked to doctors who’ve had to turn away patients desperate for their care. We’ve heard from families who have tried to figure out how to go thousands of miles to seek the care that their loved one needs and ultimately, we’ve heard stories of people who’ve been forced to give birth by the state because they couldn’t access abortion care.

But we’ve also witnessed stories of hope and communities of incredible resilience, of people across every state in the country and across every country in the Americas who are standing up for their rights, who are fighting back and who are fighting for each other.

In a state like Texas that has one of the most extreme anti-abortion laws, including a bounty-hunter system for those “assisting” in abortion, activists are unbowed. They are working every day to get people the information and care they need – even if that means travelling out of state. They are also supporting each other against a backdrop of relentless political attacks and threats to their safety and freedom. 

What are some of the most pressing human rights issues in your region/area of work that we should be aware of?

There is an incredibly dangerous backlash against gender equality in the United States, across the region and globally.  The anti-gender movement within the United States represents a very small minority of opinion, but it is very powerful, incredibly well-funded, very well-organized. 

Tarah Demant is National Director of Programmes at Amnesty International USA, where she campaigns on issues such gender justice and abortion rights. The past year has been one of the toughest for her, as the USA has seen a huge rollback on human rights.

And there is national and transnational coordination with shared strategies and objectives that challenge hard-won gains toward gender equality on multiple levels. These include attacks on the very idea of gender itself, pushing instead for a world in which only so called “traditional family” and stereotyped gender roles are accepted and protected. This means controlling women’s choices and behaviours, limiting people’s reproductive autonomy — including by restricting access to abortion, birth control, and sexuality education — and erasing LGBTQIA+ people altogether.  We must take this threat incredibly seriously and fight it at every turn.

Why should people continue to support Amnesty and its work?

The fight for abortion rights will not stop with abortion. Every person’s autonomy is on the line. And we are going to continue to show up to that fight every day, even when it’s not the front page of the news.  We’re working side-by-side in communities across the world to defend these rights—to defend our rights.  We’re there.  And we can do more and become more as people join us in this fight.

We will keep fighting in every state across the nation and in every nation across the region, because we believe in the human rights of all people, and we believe in the future we’re building together. And we know that together we can win.

What are your hopes for the future?

I believe in the future we are building — and I’m not alone. People are fired up across the country, particularly on abortion rights. I believe in a future where laws protect our rights, where women and people who can get pregnant control their own bodies and lives, where LGBTQIA+ people can live safely and authentically — a future where we protect and support each other and where we understand that each of our freedoms is tied together.

It can sometimes be hard to feel hopeful when the politics are so dangerous and skewed, but whether on any given day I feel optimistic or pessimistic, I remain determined to build that future.

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