Dr. Ken Edelin: Warrior for women’s rights

Women everywhere suffered a loss on December 30 with the death of Kenneth Edelin, retired ObGyn and longtime champion of reproductive justice. Dr. Edelin died of cancer at his home in Florida. He was 74.

Photo Courtesy:  LifeNews.com
Photo Courtesy: LifeNews.com

Ken Edelin’s obituaries all lead with the story of his sensational manslaughter trial in 1973.  As the New York Times reports, “Dr. Edelin (pronounced EE-da-lin) was charged with causing the death of the fetus of an unwed 17-year-old during an elective abortion in her sixth month of pregnancy. In a six-week trial in Boston that explored uncharted legal ground and made headlines across the country, Dr. Edelin, who was black, was vilified as a baby-killer and defended as a victim of racial and religious prejudice being tried for an action that had never been defined as a crime: killing a fetus that may or may not have been a “person,” and whose rights had never been specified by law.” He was convicted, but later acquitted of all charges.

Edelin’s long career, though, was much more than that event. It included teaching, writing, mentoring, and advocating for reproductive justice, especially for poor women of color. Among other honors and awards, he received the Margaret Sanger Award, its highest honor, from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 2008.

In the several times I spoke with Ken Edelin during research for Perilous Times (about his story, which appears on pages 109-111) and after its publication (to thank him once again) he was gracious, generous and supportive. He was particularly proud of the book he wrote about the Boston trial, Broken Justice: A True Story of Race, Sex and Revenge in a Boston Courtroom, and understandably a little miffed that it had not received the recognition he felt it deserved. It may have been too exhaustively detailed to find a major publisher or a host of readers, but Broken Justice makes certain that the full story of that episode is preserved.

It was an honor to have encountered Ken Edelin, even only in phone calls. He will be missed.

All kinds of greetings this season

Christmas bells
Christmas bells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing that dropped out of the Christmas card was a front page torn from The Flint (MI) Journal of September 5, 2013:

ABORTION CLINIC CLOSES; ONE REMAINS IN AREA read the banner headline at the top of the page.

My friends keep track of things for me. News and notes get saved — sometimes for three months — because holiday cards are still my generation’s catch-up communication of choice. Who went off to college, got married, landed a new job, took an exotic trip, (got sick or died) — news of the old year comes with good wishes for the new. This year’s news, for me, tended to focus on reproductive rights. Thus the clipping from The Flint Journal (on whose payroll Bud Johns appeared as a kid, and a young reporter.)

The story wasn’t one that would have made lasting news much beyond Genessee County, Michigan. An ugly report about a woman saying she was “forced” to have an abortion, a lawsuit, and that was the end of the Feminine Health Care Clinic.

It’s still possible to obtain an abortion in the area, though obviously now more difficult. The closing of FHCC brought the number of abortion-providing clinics in the area down from four not long ago to, currently, one. And that, according to Flint Area Right to Life Director Judy Climer who’s been leading this effort, “makes us feel we’re on the right track.” Climer’s track leads to total denial of abortion access. And the interesting point of the whole long, sad story is summed up later in the article:

Lori Lamerand, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan points out toward the end of the story that all of these things “were not done solely in the best interest of the patient.”

This week will bring more cards. Next week will bring a new year. If miracles happen — and isn’t this the season of miracles? — the new year will bring some sort of rational public dialog about protecting the patient, i.e. pregnant woman, while somehow respecting those who blindly hold that her fetus is all that matters.

Miracles do happen.

 

The season of giving/funding/etc

Cedar Christmas Wreath
Cedar Christmas Wreath (Photo credit: wilsonevergreens)

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year — Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or just getting an annual new start — you are undoubtedly receiving daily invitations to help others get their own new start. With dollars. It’s a tradition of the season. And despite all the despair about consumerism and commercialization, answering all those year-end appeals has an upside.

Your dollars can do good.

Just in case you can’t decide where to send them, this space would like to suggest a few possibilities:

In the end-of-life arena, your dollars can double their value if you send them in the next 10 days to Compassion & Choices, a great organization with a dollar-for-dollar match currently available. Full disclosure: I’ve been a volunteer, board member etc for Compassion & Choices NCA for well over a decade; more disclosure: it has Charity Navigator‘s highest rating.

Planned Parenthood! So some of their facilities offer abortion services — which is making this excellent organization the target of every right-wing anti-women group in the U.S. They also perform invaluable services across the full spectrum of reproductive care, for women and men alike. I get weary with their solicitations, but still send money because they do good. They also have a match waiting for you to double your dollars between now and the end of the year.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, check them out. If you want to support legislative action (and not get a tax deduction) you can send much-needed dollars to the activist group. But the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation also does good, and is a 501(c)3.

On a smaller scale — and the small-scale organizations often need your money the most and do every bit as much good — here are just a couple of suggestions:

SisterSong — mobilizing women of color (and well worth the support of women of all colors) for reproductive justice.

The Women’s Information Network — Many different iterations in different parts of the country, but WIN members: young, progressive, professionals, are the women who will create change as well as the age group with the most to lose as reproductive choice disappears.

Catholics for Choice — just because Catholic officialdom opposes abortion, contraception, women’s reproductive choice and everything else (end-of-life choice included) rational, countless good Catholics do not. My favorite Catholics, a lot of them at least, are pro-choice. And this one Protestant for choice thinks Catholics for Choice is a great group.

These are just a few of the places where your dollars can help make a difference, and a happier new year for many.

I (might) heart New Mexico

Flag-map of New Mexico
Flag-map of New Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Mexico is, so far, batting 500: the good citizens of Albuquerque voted down (on November 19) a ballot measure that would have denied women the right to an abortion after 20 weeks. Now a case is underway in a New Mexico district court to establish whether a dying citizen has the right to hasten his or her death with the aid of a physician.

On the surface, the two issues might seem to have little in common — other than both being in New Mexico and involving the two primary causes with which I’ve been concerned for the past several decades. But they are at the heart of similar social justice concerns: individual autonomy, the individual woman’s right to control her own body, the individual of whatever gender, race or religion to choose a humane and compassionate death. They are opposed by the exact same groups: those who say they want “less government” — yet would involve the government in these most personal and private matters, and those who say they want religious freedom — yet would have their own religion dictate to everyone else.

Sanity prevailed in Albuquerque last month. Late term abortions are the most difficult and painful of decisions, and account for only a tiny fraction (one or two percent) of all abortions. But the people who put the issue on the ballot saw this as one more chance to chip away at the already diminishing right to a safe and legal abortion in the U.S.

One can only hope that sanity will prevail again. The end-of-life case now being argued was brought by a 49-year-old woman named Aja Riggs who has advanced uterine cancer, and two physicians who want to be able to prescribe medications – without fear of prosecution – to terminally ill patients wanting to end life on their own terms. Riggs’ cancer is currently in remission, but she has gone through aggressive treatment and extensive periods of terrible pain and suffering and says, “I don’t want to suffer needlessly at the end.”

Would any of us? Would you?

Most of us would feel that decision – what to do as we face life’s end – is one we’d prefer to make with our loved ones and our physicians and without governmental interference. Just as many of us – well reflected in the Albuquerque vote – would prefer having women make their own decisions with loved ones and physicians and without governmental interference.

Maybe reason will win again – a win for New Mexico and the rest of us.

Judge Janice R. Brown on family planning

Janice Rogers Brown
Janice Rogers Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In her words, it is “a repugnant belief.” That would be family planning.

Excuse me?

Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has an interesting opinion about birth control: Thou Shalt Not. It is fine with me if Judge Brown chooses not to plan her family (she had one child by her first husband) but not so fine to impose that personal belief on the rest of us.

But that’s where we are headed. Judge Brown recently ruled that the government should not require Freshway Foods to cover birth control for their employees because that would have Freshway affirming “a repugnant belief,” and force them to be “complicit in a grave moral wrong.”

Some of us do not see family planning as morally wrong. By and large we tend to believe that strong families with children who are loved, wanted and cared for make sense. By and large we also believe that adult women are competent to make decisions about their eggs. But once that egg is fertilized, Judge Brown believes, along with many others including the Freshway founders, that it becomes something sacred and that’s where our beliefs diverge.

All of this increasingly matters. New York Times writer Jeremy W. Peters explains it in a thorough and thoughtful piece about how abortion cases in courts such as Judge Brown’s served as the tipping point for recent action by Senate Democrats to call an end to the filibuster. It’s hard to blame them. Democrats joined with Republicans to put Janice Brown — who was highly distasteful to liberals and moderates — on the bench, assuming Republicans would later join Democrats to put mildly distasteful others on the bench. Wrong. Republicans simply dug in and refused to confirm any Obama nominee.

Which puts us in a situation of majority rule without much minority right… but then, we have been for some time in a situation of minority rule without much majority power.

Democracy is a mess when extremists take over. Extremists have taken over reproductive rights: no contraception, no abortion, no choice, no access, no rights for countless women across the country. Extremists leave no room for dialog, mutual respect or compromise; it’s simply My Way or the Highway.

When a federal judge holds extremist opinions there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.

Abortion foes win — who loses?

Mississippi is poised to become the only state with no abortion clinic, if the latest effort to curb reproductive rights in that state succeeds. That latest effort would be the newly passed law requiring physicians associated with abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which is set to go into effect July 1. This regulation will join the laws requiring waiting periods,  multiple visits, parental consent and a long list of other measures designed to limit a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

None of these laws have anything to do with protecting women. They have to do with politics, power and the infliction of one person’s belief (Life begins at conception? A fetus’ rights trump those of the woman in whose body it resides?) upon another. The informed consent provision, whereby a woman must know and understand her decision to have an abortion, is law across the U.S. It is rational and right.

But those — predominately white males — who presume to know better than women with unwanted pregnancies, are slowly wiping out reproductive rights: restriction by restriction, state by state, law by law. A lot of them presume not only to know best, but to speak for God. Prof. Matt Friedeman for instance, who spends his days (at least one per week of them) harassing women entering the Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion facility for reasons only those women understand, tells them, “the Lord wants you to love that baby.” Friedeman knows this? In all the conversations with God I have had, and I am a believer in personal prayer, She has never suggested to me that Matt Friedeman is Her spokesman.

All else aside, in the battle for women’s wombs, here is who loses: the poor woman, the powerless, the disenfranchised, the overburdened. If you’ve got money and resources in Mississippi, or anywhere else, and you’re faced with an unintended pregnancy, you go somewhere else and have a safe abortion. If you don’t, you risk potential tragedy trying to self-abort, or you simply bring one more unwanted child into the world.

What an infinitely better world it would be if those who presume to know women’s bodies better than women themselves would focus their considerable time and energies instead on improving the lives of the already-born.

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