Willie Parker vs Reproductive Oppression

Dr. Willie Parker
Dr. Willie Parker

“The Racialization of Abortion,” Willie Parker titled his talk; “A Dirty Jedi Mind Trick.” He then spent about 45 lively, provocative minutes elaborating on the theme.

The occasion was a recent Grand Rounds presentation at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, where he addressed a standing-room-only crowd of (mostly) young interns for an event that more commonly draws a smattering of attendees. But when Willie Parker comes to town, it’s a good idea to bring in extra chairs. Parker is an African American physician, a provider of abortion and reproductive health services to women who would otherwise be denied them, current board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, a ferocious defender of women’s rights and fearless citizen. He is also this writer’s personal hero.

Parker explained in his opening remarks that his “is heart work and head work. Dr. Martin Luther King said the heart can’t be right if the head is wrong. (King) also said we have guided missiles and misguided people.” On the podium, delivering a rapid-fire lecture in behalf of reproductive justice, Parker is akin to a guided missile consisting of equal parts passion, outrage and statistics. The youngest of six children whose mother sent them to church three times a week, he speaks with the cadence and conviction born of those roots.

“There are over six million pregnancies per year in the U.S.,” he says. “Half of them are unintended. Of the unintended pregnancies, half end in births; half in abortions. One in three women under 45 will have an abortion. While unintended pregnancies have fallen among the upper classes, they have increased 29% among the poor. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately likely to have unintended pregnancies…”

And it is at this point that Parker’s inner preacher takes over. “People,” he says, “we’re gonna get ugly for Jesus.” It is his challenge to those who attack him, most often fundamentalist Christians, for protecting the reproductive rights of his mostly young, Black clients. Often they also accuse him of participating in “Black genocide.” It is this myth — that abortion is a government plot to eradicate the Black race – that leads to the Dirty Jedi Mind Trick theme.

“It is epidemiological mischief,” he explains. “They take data, put a spin on it that is not intended, and then start a ‘call-and-response’: You have white people saying abortion is racist, getting Black people to say Amen. They can put a cultural war in your framework. It’s important that we recognize the significance of this message, and debunk it.”

In addition to the epidemiological mischief there are outright lies. Former presidential candidate Herman Cain, an African American Tea Party Republican, said in one speech that 75% of abortion clinics were in Black neighborhoods, to encourage African American women not to have children. Parker says the correct figure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is 9%.

“At its core,” Parker says of these efforts, “it is patriarchal and insulting. They assume a woman is not capable of making her own decisions about her own body.”

What’s needed now, to combat all this, Parker says, “is a new framework, to define this community problem as Reproductive Oppressionon. Reproductive oppression is the control and exploitation of women and girls and individuals through our bodies.” Parker cites the long history of reproductive oppression that includes “forced breeding during slavery, sterilizations, and human experimentation on Puerto Rican women for the contraceptive pill.

“Current examples of reproductive oppression,” he says, “include limiting access to reproductive healthcare, family caps in welfare, and federal and state laws restricting access to abortion.”

But there is hope. Parker cites Atlanta-based SisterSong and its formidable co-founder Loretta Ross as embodying the principals of reproductive justice. Parker lists these as:

1 – Every woman has the right to decide when to have children.

2 – Every woman has the right to decide if she will not have a child.

3 – Women and families (deserve) the resources to parent the children they already have.

4 – Every human being has the right to primary sexual pleasure.

Anti-abortion forces would certainly argue against at least the first two. Parker’s message to the young interns was that it’s not just argument, but twisted myths and dirty tricks that are being used to deny those rights. He maintains it’s the responsibility of the medical community, among others, to stand up for women who are suffering from being denied, to fight against reproductive oppression.

In all likelihood, Willie Parker will keep right on leading that battle.

  *   *   *   *

(Read Dr. Parker’s statement on the recent Supreme Court ruling against restrictive Texas abortion laws: http://prh.org/)

 

It was — 1933 — a very good year

Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Ruth Bader Ginsberg is too old? Perhaps she should consider stepping down from the Supreme Court?

These suggestions were floated more than once in the Q&A session after a recent Commonwealth Club talk by University of California Hastings Professor of Law Scott Dodson. Dodson is the editor of a newly released collection of essays, The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, whose writers suggest nothing of the kind. Contributors to the book, and Dodson himself, focus instead on the significant contributions made thus far by the 82-year-old justice, and the impact she continues to have on jurisprudence and on life in the U.S.

Dodson was drawn to write about Ginsberg because he “kept encountering her clear and consistent opinions” and wanted to create an objective view of her legacy – notably including gender discrimination, as in the case that ended Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admission policy, and racial discrimination, as in the voting rights case Shelby County v Holder. In the latter case, Ginsberg famously wrote that throwing out an anti-discriminatory measure as no longer needed “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

As New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote several months ago: Ruth Bader Ginsberg has no interest in retiring.

Carol_Burnett_1958
Carol Burnett in 1958

Several days before the Dodson talk, David McCullough, 82, spoke at another San Francisco event in conjunction with his most recent book, The Wright Brothers. McCullough did not go into detail about his next project, but gives every indication that he is a writer with no interest in retiring.

Meanwhile in Texas, Willie Nelson, 82, has another concert coming up, and the next show planned by Carol Burnett, 82, is almost sold out.

This writer may not have anything else in common with Ruth, David, Carol and Willie, but we take what we can get. 1933 wasn’t a bad year to be born.

 

John Paul Stevens: 95 & Going Strong

John Paul Stevens

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, a man of many accomplishments, comes across as a man of few regrets. The latter might be summed up in two words: Citizens United. His regrets over that controversial 5-4 decision, handed down just months before he left the Supreme Court, are strong, and many.

Stevens, who turned 95 in April, appeared recently at an event in Washington DC co-sponsored by the Alliance for Justice and George Washington University Law School. Introduced by AFJ President Nan Aron, Stevens was interviewed by Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart.

Stevens demurred on several issues such as the benefits or evils of social media and citizen journalists: “I’m not a good person to ask about that.” But on most points he was crystal clear.

Re political candidates having “a litmus test” for potential Supreme Court nominees? Even as to Citizens United, “it’s a bad idea. But the (Citizens United) case should be overruled.” Throughout the interview Stevens referred to the case as bad for the country and the future, and damaging to the basic principles of democracy, “which should be ‘one person, one vote’ and not (decisions hinging) on a bunch of money.”

Asked by Capehart why he had changed from the conservative he was considered when first named to the bench to his later identification as a liberal, Stevens said, “I didn’t change, the Court changed.” Every member appointed from 1981-91, he pointed out, was more conservative than his predecessor.Scales of justice

On electoral reform, another issue Stevens sees as imperative, he said “some things can be done at the state level. The right to contribute (to campaigns, etc) should have some geographical boundaries. Excessive photo IDs have never made sense.”

Stevens, in response to a question from Lithwick about “bombast and aggressive, ideological arguments” in the Court, said that “ideology is not good. That’s one reason I am against televising arguments, which would have an adverse impact on the deliberating process. I believe firmly in people knowing the institution, but not if it has an adverse effect on the institution itself.” Possibly because some member might be a camera hog, Lithwick interposed? “Any one of the nine. And I would include myself.”

Talking briefly about interactions among the justices, Stevens – known to have had a close relationship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia – gave the impression that the Court does indeed function as intended. “I think John Roberts is a very good Chief Justice,” he said. “He executes the duties of Chief Justice well, although I disagree with some of his decisions.”

Stevens recalled stumbling over a few words while giving his dissent in Citizens United. “I said to myself, ‘You’re not as articulate as you were.’ And that’s when I stepped down.”

Fielding questions five years later, the renowned Justice showed no problem articulating his thoughts. Including the need for electoral reform – and the need to overturn Citizens United.

On Making Abortion “A Thing of the Past”

This first appeared on Huffington Post

“One day our country will be abortion-free,” says Pro-Life Mississippi board member Tanya Britton.

Rose Mimms, Director of Arkansas Right-to-Life, wants to “make abortion unthinkable.” Read: impossible.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s stated goal is “to make abortion a thing of the past.”

We have been here before. None of the above zealots are old enough to remember exactly what it was like, but I could describe for them the time when abortion was unthinkable, impossible and illegal and the country was what Britton would describe as “abortion-free.” It was only legal-abortion-free, of course, and this is what that was like:

Women died. By the untold thousands. They died of sepsis most often, a singularly terrible way to die. They also died of things like puncture wounds, desperately trying to end what was a torment to their bodies and souls. They had found themselves with unintended pregnancies – most often caused either by uncaring and irresponsible husbands or by inexcusable acts of rape, incest or circumstances over which the women themselves had no control.

Women of means died less often; they could generally access a safe abortion, even if it meant traveling to a more enlightened country than these United States. Primarily, those who died had little money and less power; often they already had more children than they could care for. Those who denied them the right to an abortion did little or nothing to help them care for present or future children.

So here we are again.

Abortion opponents can make it impossible, unthinkable, illegal; they cannot make it a thing of the past. Because women desperate to end unwanted pregnancies will always, always, always find ways to do so. Some of them, as is already happening, will die trying.

At least Britton, Mimms and Perry are honest about their goals. Others continue to obfuscate. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties would have the Supreme Court believe that their corporate religious sensibilities are offended by employees’ having the right to terminate a pregnancy before it actually begins, since they equate contraception with abortion. In state after state laws are being passed that are medically unnecessary, scientifically inaccurate, and constitutionally illegal, all in the name of “protecting women” or “protecting the rights of the unborn.” In reality, every law is designed as another step toward making abortion “unthinkable,” impossible and again illegal.

Until they can make it illegal again, making it inaccessible is enough. Again, women of means are seldom being harmed; women without money or power are suffering and dying.

It is not possible to “end abortion.” Not even religious extremists in other countries are able to do that, even though in many countries religious extremism attempts to rule women’s lives. Every day, women in Kenya and Afghanistan die trying to end unwanted pregnancies.

As George Santayana put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Unless we remember the tragedies women faced when abortion was “a thing of the past,” we will be condemned to watch those tragedies return.

Women will die.

About those women in Boston

I don’t personally know Eleanor McCullen, so I have no reason to believe she is not a sincere, well-meaning woman who honestly believes it is her Christian duty to inject herself into the lives of perfect strangers. Ms. McCullen — if you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few weeks — is lead plaintiff in a case now before the Supreme Court. She and her fellow “Operation Rescue” protesters argue that they should not be prevented from encountering women trying to enter a clinic in Boston where abortions are performed. And that the 35-foot buffer zone currently protecting such women interferes with the protesters’ free speech right to speak directly into their faces.

Lord help us all.

Courtesy:  Keesa McCoy, 4/25/12
Eleanor McCullen (Courtesy: Keesa McCoy)

But first, back to Ms. McCullen. According to NPR’s Nina Totenberg, she “looks like a cheery grandmother.” McCullen told Totenberg that she asks women to “just talk a minute before you rush in. You rush in so quickly, and then you come out in tears.” She tells women: “There’s another option other than taking the child, the small boy or girl, from the womb.” On her refrigerator she keeps pictures of the “babies she has saved.” That has to make her cheery. Perhaps every one of those babies is healthy, happy and well-fed, and living in a warm, loving home. One hopes.But I am still inclined to wonder about the other women. The women (and girls) who might appreciate the buffer zone because on that particular day in their very private lives they would prefer not to be accosted by a perfect stranger. Suppose you were one of them.

Suppose, for instance, you are a 14-year-old (who might look older to Ms. McCullen) who had been raped — probably repeatedly — by an uncle, or some other family favorite. Already traumatized beyond imagination, you might wish not to spend the next 6 or 7 months with this ugly reminder of unspeakable abuse, but rather try to struggle back into some sort of a life of your own. Is it really Ms. McCullen’s business if you want to make this choice?

Or suppose you have an eagerly anticipated, greatly wanted pregnancy, but have learned of a fetal anomaly that will mean it can only face a few hours or days of terrible suffering. Do you need to explain the wrenching decision to spare your child that suffering to a perfect stranger?

Possibly you are a young mother unable to care for too many children already, or perhaps a woman with so many drugs in your system you’re not willing or able to handle a drug-addicted infant. Maybe you’re a strong, independent woman with a promising career and complicated life, or maybe you’re an older woman who had difficulty with your last pregnancy and know another could be fatal. Does Ms. McCullen need to be let in on all of these details?

If Ms. McCullen needs baby pictures on her refrigerator, could she not go to the homeless shelters of Boston, or hang around the police stations where abused and neglected infants regularly turn up?

I don’t personally know any Operation Rescue people. So I have no reason to doubt their Christian commitment, even if my own Christian commitment is somewhat different. Their web site declares they seek “to restore legal personhood to the pre-born and stop abortion in obedience to biblical mandates.” Several of those words and phrases could be called into question, but the Supreme Court is only concerned, for now, with Ms. McCullen’s right to speak loudly in the face of innocent women, and odds are they’ll vote in favor of the cheery grandmother.

This cheery grandmother wants to weep.

Devious ways to cancel rights

A Supreme Court decision in 1973 affirmed the right of women in the U.S. to make their own choices about reproduction, including the choice of having an abortion.

But oh well, never mind.

Those who oppose this constitutional right have chosen to negate it by going around the law: forcing clinics to close, layering restrictions, inserting unnecessary road-blocks, passing medically inappropriate or erroneous state laws, denying access to women who might want to exercise their right. So the right remains, but the justice is gone. If a woman has money and resources she may still choose to have an abortion. But if she’s poor, or without power, in well over half of the country she effectively is forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy no matter what. Or to try something that can leave her sick, maimed or dead.

“I think it is more difficult to get an abortion in the country today,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, in one of the better understatements of the year so far. To the members of this organization, this is very good news.

To poor, suffering, desperate women unable to exercise their own right — life and liberty included — the news is increasingly bad.

But it’s another group that’s getting me down. The New York Times reported in a recent story that Americans United for Life sees this flood of new laws as “life-affirming legislation designed to protect women from the harms inherent in abortion.”

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PROTECTING WOMEN. This has strictly to do with elevating the right of zygotes and fetuses above and beyond the right of women. HARM IS NOT INHERENT IN ABORTION. (It’s very hard not to scream.) Harm is inherent in the denial of women’s right to control their own bodies. Can these good folks not learn ANYTHING from history? Millions of women were maimed, sickened, left sterile — or dead when abortion was illegal. It will happen again. It’s already happening in much of the country.

Meanwhile, about that constitutional right to choose? Oh, well, never mind…

Reading Along with David Souter

You have to love David Souter. First he tosses the world’s best tenured job out the window when jobs aren’t exactly going begging, then he doesn’t announce a book deal, then you start learning about his digs. The New Hampshire farmhouse, it turns out, wasn’t exactly a castle: no phone, no running water, a definition of Souter-rustic. Then you learn he has quit the farmhouse in Weare for a Cape Cod in Hopkinton. How many people do you know who uproot from Weare and resettle 8 miles away in Hopkinton? I learned this from a learned piece in the New York Times and explored some of its implications on my True/Slant blog (you’re invited.)

Here, though, is why I love David Souter: his books were getting too heavy for the farmhouse to handle. When you get too many books, you buy a house with stronger shelves. David Souter has his priorities right.

My father might have rivalled the good Justice. When he retired, after 28 years, from the 3-story house owned by the college he worked for, it fell to my sisters and me to deal with the books. Over a period of roughly two years we furnished a small room in the college library, gave away truckloads to anyone with a book-yearning appearance, divvied up another hundred or so and finally ripped the backs off — and this is as painful for the ripper as for the rippee, I suspect — of the rest so they could go to the country recyclers.

My current, final husband is in this same rarefied class: books are in stacks on the floor where they overflow the wall-to-wall shelves. But when a friend publishes something new or the Daedalus catalogue comes… well, what’s a reader to do.

I submit this Souter Plan for reviving the economy: accumulate more books, buy more shelving, move to a house with stronger walls when necessary. (Excepting this writer, please; I asked for a pre-nup that stipulates I will die first so I don’t have to deal with it all.) If everyone followed this plan we wouldn’t need Cash for Clunkers to stimulate the economy, and we’d probably have world peace because we’d all be too busy reading.