Topless Abortion Activists Who Stormed a WNBA Game Are Part of Problematic Group

On Tuesday night, activists from Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights interrupted a Liberty game at Barclay’s Center. That’s only half the story.

In Depth
Topless Abortion Activists Who Stormed a WNBA Game Are Part of Problematic Group
Photo:Sarah Stier/Getty Images (Getty Images)

In the middle of a WNBA game Tuesday night at Barclay’s Center, several topless pro-abortion activists interrupted the action. The protesters who took the court quickly stripped to reveal breasts covered in green material, while other protesters in the stands held green signs reading “Overturn Roe? Hell No!” and “Abortion on demand & without apology,” seemingly in hopes of drawing attention to the Supreme Court’s imminent decision on overturning Roe v. Wade, which could come any day now. Most of the activists were carrying green scarves, identifying them as part of the Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights organization. As security removed the protesters from the game, some of whom were pulled by their hair while another was dragged on their ass off the court, the audience cheered and led a standing ovation.

After the game, according to Sports Illustrated, Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu said, “I wasn’t sure what was going on…I personally thought it was the halftime show. It took me some time to process. I’ve only seen stuff like that on Twitter.” Meanwhile, Liberty guard Rebecca Allen cosigned the cause, saying, “I’m all for the message and happy we were able to lock back in.” As we’ve seen throughout the over-drawn dismantling of Roe, Allen’s perspective aligned with storied athletes across the WNBA, including Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, the now-detained Brittney Griner, Nneka Ogwumike, and Kelsey Plum, all of whom signed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court publicly opposing abortion restrictions last year along with hundred of other women athletes. What better backdrop, then, to galvanize athletes and fans who are already deeply invested in securing abortion rights than a WNBA arena…right?

In reality, last night’s show of activism was far more complicated than just a bunch of angry women hoping to raise hell in the midst of a women’s sports league. Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights took responsibility for the protest, tweeting, “This wasn’t to protest the game or players, but to call on YOU to #RiseUp4AbortionRights NOW! Yes we know most people here support #abortionrights. NOW SAVE THEM! GET OFF THE SIDELINES & INTO THE STREETS!,” continuing as they called for everyone to “shut the country down.” The group’s strategy across the country has been to stage shocking spectacles to ignite outrage and action. And while the shock value certainly seemed to work, garnering national attention and tweets of support, the productivity of such displays, especially when put on by a group like this one, is murky at best.

In April, after the Kentucky legislature effectively ended legal abortion in the state, Jezebel reported that Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights was organizing a day of action and calling for volunteers to distribute wire coat hangers with its fliers nationwide during something they called “National Coat Hanger Day,” complete with “die-ins in bloody gowns that dramatize the nightmare this will mean for women.” At the time, Jezebel pointed out that these tactics wouldn’t actually help Kentuckians get abortions and that the group’s theatrics might’ve actually taken resources from local grassroots organizations and abortion funds.

“Kentucky-based organizers have been quite clear they don’t want Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights descending on their communities,” Erin Matson, co-founder and executive director of Reproaction, had told us. As for the coat hangers? Jezebel’s Susan Rinkunas pointed out that coat hangers as symbols for the abortion rights movement are both controversial and confusing, as they suggest that all illegal abortions are unsafe and do little to acknowledge the safety of a self-managed abortion with abortion pills.

Additionally, Sunsara Taylor, one of the leaders associated with the group, has been critical of the efficacy of abortion funds as a solution to the inaccessibility of abortions in some states. The futility and ultimate failure of our government to protect our bodily autonomy is, of course, something to scream about—but abortion funds help people who need abortions actually get the care they need, and to discredit their work could have very real consequences for the pregnant people who need support and funding most urgently. Here, Taylor writes about her opposition to abortion funds as a “strategy:”

“…It must be stated bluntly: As a service, Abortion Funds help some (a small minority of) women and others access a crucial right. But, as a “strategy,” focusing on funding abortion is deadly! In fact, if pro-choice people restrict themselves to abortion charity, no matter how many women they help in the short term, they will—despite their “best intentions”—be facilitating a future where all women are enslaved.”

Speaking of enslaved! Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights has proudly touted the chant “FORCED MOTHERHOOD IS FEMALE ENSLAVEMENT” across their branded platforms. For starters, the use of “enslavement” feels…inappropriate given that the leaders of this group are not Black. Then, while forcing people to give birth is an affront to human rights, the repeated usage of gendered terms in this repeated warcry excludes trans and nonbinary pregnant people who need abortion access and care. As the cherry on top, the group’s green scarves are an appropriation of the “Marea Verde” or “Green Wave” that, according to Refinery29, first emerged in Argentina over a decade ago as activists there fought to decriminalize abortion, though they are far from the only abortion rights group to use them. (Jezebel reached out to Rise Up for comment and they had not yet responded as of publication.)

While the group’s staged outbursts have captured the attention of celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, the focus on events in Los Angeles (at Dodgers Stadium) and New York is a questionable one, given the states’ demographic makeups and already solid support for abortion rights (though the group’s protest at Pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston this week seemed to be a perfect target). Why not shock attendees at last month’s National Rifle Association Conference? Or at sporting events in states with trigger laws?

National attention for the cause of reproductive rights is (mostly) always good, but Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights is a problematic figurehead for the movement. Despite constructing a glittering distraction, the depressing fact of the matter is that the group’s antics won’t change the Supreme Court’s decision. The cards have already been played, and Roe is about to tumble, so if you wanna protest, protest, but the best way to help right now is to donate to an abortion fund and red state clinics to help people who will really need it.

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