Faces of hope for women’s rights

The universe may, after all, be unfolding as it should (apologies to Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata.)

This could be encouraging.

Within the past several days I’ve been to a number of events concerning our rapidly disappearing reproductive rights; I’ve discussed end-of-life options with a friend newly diagnosed with ALS; and — this one puts things into a new perspective — listened to the remarkable nuclear arms experts Eric Schlosser (Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety) and Joseph Cirincione (Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late) explain how easily we could obliterate one another.

StethoscopeMore on compassionate dying and nuclear weaponry later. I just finished talking with about 40 young medical students and healthcare professionals about reproductive rights. Many are students, and members of an excellent organization, Medical Students for Choice. They are committed to protecting women’s health, educating other healthcare providers and the general public about women’s health needs, and making sure that women everywhere have access to safe, legal abortion.

These young people can make believers of you. Belief, that is, that women’s rights will indeed be protected and that lack of access will not lead again to women dying from botched abortion. The articulate president of MSFC (who bought a copy of Perilous Times and said everyone should know these stories; no wonder I’d follow him anywhere) told me he was certain that each and every member of MSFC would continue to provide safe procedures even if abortion becomes illegal again; but he also said, “I don’t believe that will ever happen.”

I wish. But even though I am a hopeless optimist I’m not optimistic about Roe v Wade staying in place once it’s challenged at the Supreme Court level, which is likely to happen soon. Many of the young healthcare professionals were also upbeat with the belief that women don’t stand to be harmed as severely as pre-Roe “because medical abortion is so simple now, and misoprostol (the abortifacient pill) so readily available.” I wish again. Many, many women today are already facing harm because they take misoprostol without proper supervision, in improper dosages or too late. But these women are — as obvious in the statements of the young professionals at this seminar — essentially invisible. They are poor, disempowered and living in remote (even not so remote any more) areas where they have no access to safe abortions. They’re not dying in droves — one of the things that prompted passage of Roe v Wade — but they are often harming themselves… or having more unwanted babies.

I’m siding with the students. Their dedication and commitment are an inspiration and their hope for the future admirable. My hope is just that they are right… and the universe will continue unfolding, with justice, as it should.

Loretta Ross: Justice Feminist

Loretta J. Ross

Loretta J. Ross (Photo credit: now_photos)

“You can’t protect human rights,” says author, speaker and human rights activist Loretta Ross, “by violating the rights of someone else.”

Ross’ activism is focused partly on reproductive rights — which she is quick to explain include women’s health, access to birth control and contraception and more — but goes far beyond. “I believe in justice for all peoples of the world. I believe that human rights are the pathway to justice.” She once wrote, “If I had to choose one over-arching feminist label for myself, it would probably be as a ‘justice feminist’…”

I had known Ross only through coast-to-coast phone conversations during research for Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade several years ago. But she was in the Bay area recently, speaking to audiences at Mills College, Stanford University and elsewhere, and I was lucky enough to join a lunch hosted by Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign head Ellen Shaffer. Also there were Kelly Hammargren, of the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art, whose “Choice” exhibition will be part of a 4Choice 2013 celebration in December and January, and several other women’s rights activists. But it was Ross who held our attention.

As outlined in Perilous Times, Ross came to her activism through a lifetime of struggle that goes back to being raped at 14….. and continued through raising the child of that experience (a now-grown son, of whom she is tremendously proud.) Founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, she has worked for more than 40 years toward the goal of justice for women everywhere.

Ross has a pretty strong foundation for her passion: the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (She answers the argument against a woman’s right to choose by quoting Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal..  “Rights are for people born,” she notes; “not the unborn.”)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is quite a document. In case you’ve not spent a lot of time with it, here in brief are the first several Articles:

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
  • Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status…

In other words, Justice. Loretta Ross intends to keep working for it.

The power of stories

Talk talk talk talk talk talk...

Talk talk talk talk talk talk… (Photo credit: THEfunkyman)

Storytelling is on the move. In the past few days there have been encouraging reports from the 1 in 3 Campaign, “a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion.” Other news is circulating about an upcoming art installation and a planned documentary film — all focusing on the telling of personal stories.

The 1 in 3 (as in, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion) Campaign recently launched its own Facebook page. You can visit the site, you can Like the page, you can buy the book — 40 stories of 40 years of Roe v Wade — you can read other stories, or write your own. It is a project of Advocates for Youth, another story-supporting nonprofit that’s been around and helping young women since 1980.

Then there is the film: Kickstarter efforts to fund The Pro Voice Project —  “A behind the scenes documentary about five women speaking publicly about their abortion experiences in spaces free from politics and moral judgment,” are tantalizingly close to the set goal. Check it out. You may want go over there right this minute and pledge a few bucks! The film will tell the “human stories and shades of gray hidden in our black-and-white abortion debate,” and it is definitely a project whose time is here.

Another unique and powerful project is underway at 4Choice2013, wherein you can tell your story through art or with a letter in your own words. Organized by the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art, “Choice” is a juried exhibition focusing on women’s reproductive rights. Its motivation? “Our rights to safe legal reproductive care are slipping away, but our silence around our need for reproductive care allows that right to be stolen from us.”  Part of the “Choice” exhibit will be an art installation of letters “telling of what it means to have access to safe, legal abortion.” Anyone can write a letter for inclusion in the installation — the writers will remain anonymous, but the power of the installation will be in the power of the stories they tell, There’s still time to send your own letter.

There are other story-telling projects underway at NARAL Pro-Choice America, at My Abortion, My Life — and over at Catholic Planet there are stories of women who had abortions and now regret it,

This is all we have: our stories. Each story is unique because every woman is unique. When enough of the stories are heard we might well reach the point where real, thoughtful, courteous civil dialogue happens. It’s a conversation that is long overdue.

Juries of our peers

If I were on trial, I’d want someone like me – having worked hard to be open-minded throughout my entire good-citizenship career – for one of my jurors. But not for the jury to which I was just summoned. The prosecution may have wanted me; the defense would’ve had me outa there in a heartbeat.

It was a fascinating exercise. For openers, the giant jury assembly room was nearly filled, all of us summoned for this one trial. We were all duly sworn in on the spot, and eventually the judge and two main attorneys appeared. This case, the judge said, could be unpleasant for some, and complicated for others, and they hoped to sort it all out before getting down to business the next day. She then read out the form: a questionnaire about you the juror. Have you ever been sexually assaulted? Do you know anyone who has? And questions to that effect.

Here’s what the deal seemed to be: A woman had been abused by a guy. It didn’t seem to be rape; it seemed to be everything else. Kidnapping with intent to commit rape. Maybe attempted rape. Even attempted arousal for purposes of who knows what. The trial, if the judge’s overview was any indication, would turn on who you believed, and how far is too far. In the 1950s, when I had my own trials (physical/emotional, not judicial) with date rape/workplace rape of this exact sort, women had little power and less choice. Today it can come down to who has real power and who has real choice. Did she really go somewhere with him willingly? Did she say No? Did he listen?

Sorry guys, unless she’s 6′ tall and outweighs him by 40 pounds, I am going to lean toward the lady. Handily having a disabled husband to look after, I begged hardship exemption.

Hopefully, for plaintiff and defendant both, a jury of their peers was seated the next day.