By Louise “Lou” Fischer–
Although we saw it coming, the Supreme Court’s recent disgraceful decision to strike down Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case that made abortion a constitutional right nearly 50 years ago, is a major setback to women’s reproductive health and freedom. This ruling takes away women’s right to make choices about their own bodies and hands it over to anti-abortion politicians who will blithely force women to stay pregnant and have children against their will. I am very troubled by the whole situation, but as President Nancy Pelosi instructed, “Don’t fret, get organized.
Shannon Olivieri Hovis, California State Director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, is an expert and leader in the abortion rights movement. She agreed to give me, for San Francisco Bay Timesan exclusive interview about what happened and what we all need to do now.
I met Shannon a few years ago when she started dating her husband, Victor, a political activist friend of mine and commissioner at the San Francisco Veterans Commission. Shannon, 36, who identifies as a bisexual woman and member of the LGBTQ+ community, was born in San Francisco, grew up in Mill Valley and currently lives in San Francisco with Victor and their adorable 7-month-old baby girl, Catalina. His hobbies include performing at SF Oasis as a member of the musical theater group ‘Drunk Drag Broadway’, singing with the GLIDE Memorial Church Choir, and dancing with the ODC/Dance Company.
Lou Fischer: What is NARAL and what is its purpose?
Shannon Olivieri Hovis: NARAL Pro-Choice America is the political arm of the reproductive freedom movement; it is the nation’s oldest and largest abortion rights organization fighting for reproductive freedom, including access to abortion care, birth control, pregnancy and post pregnancy care. -partum and paid family leave. NARAL Pro-Choice California is dedicated to protecting and expanding the ability to make personal decisions about our reproductive lives without government interference. NARAL, with 4 million members from every state and congressional district in the country, and more than 370,000 members in California, represents the 8 in 10 Americans who support legal abortion. NARAL has designations as both 501c3 (educational and charitable functions) and 501c4 (political activity).
Lou Fischer: What is your role at NARAL and what was your educational and professional background to get there?
Shannon Olivieri Hovis: I’m the director of NARAL Pro-Choice California. I became involved in sexual and reproductive health in high school as a peer health educator with the Marin AIDS Project and continued in college providing sexual and reproductive counseling to students. I attended USC as an undergraduate and double majored in theater and social science with a major in psychology. I joined Teach for America and taught 5th grade special education in a bilingual transitional class in New York City where I earned a Master of Science in Teaching from Pace University. I became frustrated with educational policies impacting my classroom and returned to California to earn a master’s degree in public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy.
After grad school, I worked in policy and political strategy in various roles, including the Civil Rights Section of the California Department of Justice under Attorneys General Xavier Becerra and Kamala Harris. I have worked on policies related to policing and profiling, criminal and juvenile justice, child protection policies, LGBTQ+ rights and immigration. As a bisexual woman, I have always known that reproductive freedom is essential for gender equality and LGBTQ+, racial and economic justice. Coming to NARAL to work at the intersection of these issues is for me a return to basics.
Lou Fischer: To be honest, what happened? Supreme Court justices who pledged to uphold “established precedent” have screwed us up. In your wildest nightmare, did you see this coming?
Shannon Olivieri Hovis: Donald Trump has arrived, and yes, I saw that coming. The extreme anti-choice minority is working to overthrow Roe vs. Wade for nearly 50 years and Trump gave them a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court. Reversal deer was a litmus test for Barrett, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh; their lip service to maintain precedent was, as President Biden would say, “a bunch of malarkey.” The Supreme Court has since decided to reinstate Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. [Dobbs v. Jackson]which was unconstitutional under the protection of deer. Next, the Court allowed the 6-week abortion ban imposed by Texas vigilantes to come into effect, allowing deer fall in Texas. Finally, the leaked draft opinion confirmed our worst fears: that the Supreme Court would end the constitutional right to abortion.
Lou Fischer: What action is NARAL taking now that the nightmare is real? Is there a chance to come back to Roe vs. Wade or is it really over now and the best we can do is keep as many states as possible?
Shannon Olivieri Hovis: The struggle has long been at the state level. Even with deer, states could restrict access to abortion. In some states, only one clinic offered abortion care. With this recent decision, access becomes exponentially more severe. NARAL has been ready for a long time; the fight takes place in states where we have to overthrow state legislatures, governors and attorneys general to win as many states as possible. We need to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act in Congress to enshrine a federal right to abortion. He passed the House; we need to win seats in the Senate and hold the House to give this bill a fighting chance.
Attacks on reproductive freedom are a last coordinated effort by white male patriarchy to maintain existing power structures and are, in fact, linked to attacks on transgender youth and the right to vote. However, there is not a single state in the country where banning abortion is popular, so public opinion is on our side. Things will get worse before they get better, but just like those of us who are LGBTQ+ don’t go back to the closet, people with wombs don’t go back to the 1950s; you can’t go back.
Lou Fischer: What can California do to help women in other states?
Shannon Olivieri Hovis: California, a designated reproductive freedom state with more than a quarter of the nation’s abortion care facilities, will play an outsized role in serving out-of-state patients. NARAL Pro-Choice California and our allies have formed the California Future of Abortion Council (CA FAB Council), to create a plan to protect access to abortion. This year, we have a legislative package of 16 bills, including a constitutional amendment, to specifically enshrine the right to abortion in California. We must use our political power and our pulpit of intimidation to protect the basic freedoms of all Americans.
Lou Fischer: How can the general public contribute to the fight for reproductive rights?
Shannon Olivieri Hovis: To be involved! Become a NARAL activist and volunteer to help us pass critical legislation in the upcoming election; reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights are on the ballot. Contribute to NARAL and organizations such as the National Network of Abortion Funds to remove financial and logistical barriers for women seeking access to abortion across the country. Sign up to be a clinical escort and ensure everyone can access care safely.
Lou Fischer: Thanks for meeting me. I think I hear the baby cry.
Shannon Olivieri Hovis: My pleasure. I’m grateful for San Francisco Bay Hours to spread our message. The baby is fine—Victor is taking care of the diapers!
For more information and to get involved
In numbers :
Where are states currently on the right to abortion? (The source: The Washington PostJuly 7, 2022)
16 -States where abortion is prohibited or almost prohibited;
3 – States where abortion will be banned imminently;
3 – Likely to prohibit abortion;
8 – States where abortion is currently legal (Florida and Kansas are on this list, so who knows?);
21 – States (including the District of Columbia) where abortion is legal and likely to be protected.
Louise (Lou) Fischer is a former co-chair of the board of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and was a nominated and elected delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a proud graduate of the Emerge California Women’s Democratic Leadership program, served as a commissioner in San Francisco, and has held leadership positions in several nonprofit and community organizations.
Posted on July 14, 2022