Celebrating Women’s Equality

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking to a Women's Equality Day crowd in San Francisco

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking to a Women’s Equality Day crowd in San Francisco

This is for all those who missed the party:

Women’s Equality Day quietly came and went recently, not quite 100 years after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment – the law that said women were equally entitled, along with men, to the right to vote. Since ratification of that groundbreaking law – women should make choices just as men do?! – an assortment of other rights have been won. But equality? Not quite.

It was the indomitable U.S. Representative “Battling Bella” Abzug who figured that all those rights – won and yet to be won – should have their own day. The New York Democrat introduced legislation establishing Women’s Equality Day, to be observed annually on August 26th in commemoration of the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment. A lot of other indomitable women, notably Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her suffragette friends Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, laid the groundwork for the women’s movement.

Fast forward to Women’s Equality Day, 2014. In his official proclamation, President Obama mentioned “all those decades spent organizing, protesting, and agitating,” and took the occasion to list (in the proclamation) a few of the things that his administration has indeed accomplished to advance women’s equality.

But in commemorative events such as the one this writer attended in San Francisco with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, there was a lot of talk about areas in which women are still not quite equal. Pelosi’s focus, she explains, is a three-pronged “Middle Class Jumpstart,” aimed at achieving equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave, and quality affordable healthcare – actions that would unquestionably boost equality for (and the lives of) women in the U.S.

What those ferocious ancestors of ours like Abzug and Anthony were fighting for was not just equality but justice. There’s not much justice if you’re a single mom having to send a sick child to school because you can’t afford to lose a day’s pay or manage a trip to the doctor. Nor is there much justice if that day’s pay is 10% less than men on the same job are getting.

There’s also not much justice for women in non-metropolitan areas who seek abortion services. Ninety-seven per cent of them have to travel long distances, navigate a maze of medically unnecessary restrictions and often also struggle through hostile protesters – assuming they can find the time and money to do this.

Are such issues – reproductive rights – equality issues? It’s hard to feel equal – to the men who don’t face these issues, or to people with more money and power than you — if you are a woman in any of the situations cited above. And given the strength of the conservatives who want to tip the scales ever farther downward, it’s hard to feel optimistic.

But Pelosi and her “Middle Class Jumpstart” plans, reproductive justice groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation (to name just a few) and women’s rights organizations of every sort are hard at work trying to keep the scales from tipping farther against U.S. women. Bella Abzug would be proud.

It’s not too early to start planning for Women’s Equality Day 2015.

Women lose in Texas

texas our texas

texas our texas (Photo credit: jmtimages)

Does it surprise anyone that Texas legislators have succeeded in making abortion virtually impossible for Texas women? Probably not. It saddens me. I know how it feels to be unintentionally pregnant — in my case it followed a workplace rape — and desperate. You tend not to be thinking about that collection of cells that might possibly, eventually, develop into something viable; you are thinking about the rest of your life.

If  you are without money or resources (many women of means in Texas will manage to go elsewhere for a safe, legal abortion) you are likely to do desperate things.

Before 1973, those desperate things included attempting to self-abort with  knitting needles and coathangers, or by ingesting or douching with potentially deadly  solutions. Women traded stories, myths and reputed recipes for becoming un-pregnant again. In some cases these led to a successfully ended pregnancy; no one knows how often they ended in sterility or injury or death. When you see your life unraveling, you will take a lot of risks to keep it together.

Certainly this punitive legislation may reduce the number of abortions in Texas. The bill in toto could be a cause for jubilation or rage, depending on where one stands. But one can only feel sad for the increase in the number of unwanted children whom the great state of Texas cares little about, or the desperate women who now will take dangerous risks.

Sad (abortion) stories; happy endings

“Beatriz,” as the 22-year-old pregnant woman in El Salvador was known, has now been delivered of a fetus that could not have lived. Beatriz is fine. She could have lost her life had the pregnancy continued. In another story out of El Salvador, the physician attending another Salvadoran woman named Melanie speaks of having performed an abortion to end Melanie’s 8+-week ectopic pregnancy, and Melanie says she was never worried about losing her life.

But the reality is that politics and religion control the issue of abortion in El Salvador; the woman and her physician are shuttled pretty far aside. (Melanie’s physician describes herself as “deeply religious.” She apparently has some coincidental belief that allows her to perform abortions when necessary.) Down near the end of these stories are statistics about the number of women and physicians who have been convicted of the crime of abortion. There are not a lot of them; but if you were one of them it can’t be good news.

The U.S. is happily not El Salvador. But there are certainly plenty of politicians, and not a few religiously motivated others, who seek to criminalize abortion. It is, in their view, morally wrong under any circumstance.

My question is:  Who knew best what should be done in the above cases? The El Salvadoran government? The Catholic church? Or perhaps Beatriz, Melanie and their physicians? Who knows better than the woman and her physician in the U.S.?

Sometimes, only personal stories tell truth.

(Unpaid plug: there are a lot of personal stories in my new book, Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade. You’re invited to consider them and I welcome your thoughts.)

The curious world of cyberspace

Disappearing from cyberspace is a little like being a tree that falls in the forest. A very small tree. Having disappeared from cyberspace myself for a couple of weeks, I am comforted by the fact that the forest is very large.

It’s not that this space disappeared, just that Boomers and Beyond disappeared. Boomers and Beyond is a blog primarily about issues critical to over-50 generations, and it came to pass on  True/Slant.com a couple of years ago. It dealt with health care and fitness and housing choices and brain exercises and driving safety, and often diverted into rants about gay rights and abortion rights and gun control and other miscellany — because the True/Slant folks were a free-wheeling bunch and why should anybody quit worrying about rights and justice when they turn 50? All those profound words are archived in this nifty blog (this WordPress one right here) created by incredible friend-of-B&B-&-this space Mary Trigiani, so that if anyone stumbles into the forest and wants to study a small bush those twigs — OK, enough with the metaphor — are there to be read.

True/Slant didn’t actually disappear; it got bought by Forbes, and is gradually reappearing (as a New And Improved Forbes blogsite) there. Boomers & Beyond is reportedly going to reappear thereon, as soon as a contract appears. In the interim, it is just sitting there inert, and after several watchful readers noticed its inertia (posting anything new isn’t an option at True/Slant any more) I decided to venture once more into cyberspace.

It’s pleasant to meet you here. I hope we’ll meet again soon.

Abortion foes are winning, folks

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 22:  A pro-choice advocat...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Will women in the U.S. soon be unable to have a safe, legal abortion? That scary possibility becomes more likely every day. Does anyone really understand the pre-Roe v Wade horrors which abortion foes want to see returned? Not really. That’s because huge numbers of women who could have told the horror stories died at the hands of back-alley abortionists, and those of us who did survive are dying off fast, unheard.

This space welcomes writer John Leland’s front page article in today’s New York Times to the voices crying in the wilderness — just in case someone other than Nancy Keenan might care to listen.

At least 11 states have passed laws this year regulating or restricting abortion, giving opponents of abortion what partisans on both sides of the issue say is an unusually high number of victories. In four additional states, bills have passed at least one house of the legislature.

In a flurry of activity last week, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi signed a bill barring insurers from covering abortion in the new insurance exchanges called for under the federal health care overhaul, and the Oklahoma Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Brad Henry of a bill requiring doctors who perform abortions to answer 38 questions about each procedure, including the women’s reasons for ending their pregnancies.

It was the third abortion measure this session on which the Legislature overrode a veto by Mr. Henry.

At least 13 other states have introduced or passed similar legislation this year. The new laws range from an Arizona ban on coverage of abortion in the state employees’ health plan to a ban in Nebraska on all abortions after 20 weeks, on the grounds that the fetus at that stage can feel pain.

Fetal pain is a subject of debate in the medical community, and the United States Supreme Court has recognized the government’s right to ban abortions only after a fetus becomes viable, which is more than a month later.

“Fetal pain” is just one ploy; its determination can easily go from 20 weeks backward to ban the morning-after pill. Other ploys? Forcing a pregnant woman to look at ultrasound pictures, prohibiting a physician from discussing fetal abnormalities with his/her patient, and “in Utah, after a pregnant 17-year-old paid a man $150 to beat her in an effort to induce a miscarriage, legislators passed a law that would allow a woman in such circumstances to be charged with homicide.”

Unwanted pregnancies happen. When they do, the man involved can simply walk away, as countless millions have done and will continue to do. Why, then, should so many men purporting to have such omnipotent wisdom be empowered to eliminate a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body?

It’s going to get worse. Unless people — and that includes males of the species who still have brains and some concern for the future of womankind — start paying attention, and standing up to the fundamentalists of all stripes, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the religious factions who claim authority over all women, it’s going to get worse than many people in today’s society can even begin to imagine.

Opponents of Abortion Advance Cause at State Level – NYTimes.com.

Abortion foes winning with fear tactics

This is the way abortion rights end (apologies to T.S. Eliot): not with a bang, but with something worse than a whimper. The steady, relentless chipping away of those rights, state by state. And where a straightforward denial of women’s rights might face opposition, abortion foes are stooping to emotion-twisting, privacy-invading, fear-inducing tactics the likes of which have not been seen in a half century.

The “pro-lifers” (which is to say, the people who worry about some potential, unwanted life but don’t give a tinker’s dam for the lives of grown — often just barely grown — women) want abortion absolutely banned in this country. They are pushing closer to that goal every day. They like to talk about “protecting the unborn,” but the big losers in this dangerous game will be those who most need protection: poor, disadvantaged, un-empowered women.

New York Times editorial writer Dorothy Samuels offered a sharp overview of the dangerous times ahead for women’s rights, after reporting on a recent lunch celebrating the 40th anniversary of New York’s becoming the first state to fully legalize abortion. That law, Samuels notes, “began to reduce the death and injury toll from back-alley abortions and set the stage for the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which made abortion legal nationwide and recognized a constitutional right to privacy.

But abortion-rights groups are newly anxious about new assaults on women’s reproductive rights, including a fight over abortion that snarled the last days of the health care reform debate. Anti-abortion groups are newly emboldened.

The health care reform law contains advances for women’s reproductive health care, including enlarged access to insurance coverage for maternity care, contraception and other services. But President Obama and pro-choice Congressional lawmakers made abortion coverage vulnerable as part of the effort to secure the measure’s passage.

Kelli Conlin, head of Naral Pro-Choice New York, told guests at the lunch that “anti-choice forces are mobilizing in every single state to limit a woman’s access to abortion in more insidious ways than we can imagine.”

As Ms. Conlin was speaking, members of the Oklahoma House were getting ready to override vetoes of two punishing abortion measures. The state’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, rightly viewed these intrusions into women’s lives and decision-making as unconstitutional.

One of the measures, which seems destined to spawn copycat bills in other states, requires women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion and further mandates that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and hear a detailed description of the fetus.

The other law grants protection from lawsuits to doctors who deliberately withhold fetal testing results that might affect a woman’s decision about whether to carry her pregnancy to term.

Several states have either passed or are considering bills that would ban abortion coverage in insurance plans sold through the state exchanges established by the federal health care law.

A new Utah law criminalizes certain behavior by women that results in miscarriage. Embarking on a road that could lead to the Supreme Court, Nebraska last month banned most abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy based on a questionable theory of fetal pain.

About two dozen states are looking at bills to increase counseling requirements or waiting periods prior to abortions. About 20 states are considering new ultrasound requirements. This is on top of an already onerous regimen of state restrictions that has drastically cut down on abortion providers and curtailed a woman’s ability to exercise a constitutionally protected right.

Draconian laws will not stop unintended pregnancies. Once abortion foes succeed in eliminating a woman’s right to privacy and ability to make her own, often difficult, choices the lucrative business of back-alley abortions will once again thrive. And women will die.

Editorial Observer – A Spreading Peril for Women’s Privacy and Freedom – NYTimes.com.

Abortion foes invade NY Metro

A new attack on reproductive rights is underway, this time on New York City subways. As if the Georgia anti-choice campaign linking abortion rights to Black genocide or the Polish campaign linking abortion to Hitler weren’t enough, now we have a soft sell campaign complete with well-dressed women ostensibly traumatized by a past abortion and downcast men who  yearn to be good fathers.  Come on, folks. Is it possible that (often poor, often desperate) women choosing to have an abortion have perfectly good brains, and not many of them have the man in question offering support?

The 2,000 ads, which straphangers (are now seeing) in nearly every subway station, depict either a woman saying, “I thought life would be the way it was before,” or a man saying, “I often wonder if there was something I could have done to help her.”

Many people, certainly including this writer, will have reservations about all this.

“The campaign suggests that feelings of sadness and self-harm are the universal experiences for someone who had an abortion,” said Samantha Levine of NARAL Pro-Choice New York. “And there’s no evidence to suggest that that’s true.”

“The organization behind these ads has an agenda,” continued Levine. “They aren’t seeking to help women — they’re seeking to get abortion banned.”

But Michaelene Fredenburg, who started San Diego-based Abortion Changes You (25 years) after her own abortion, says her ads are more about helping people than politics.

“I had an abortion when I was 18,” said Fredenburg, 44. “I had a hard time … I wanted to reach out and say you’re not alone.”

Fredenburg’s agenda could be broader than Levine suggests, or narrower, depending on your degree of cynicism. She has, surprise, a book. You can purchase it on her website at a 20% discount, for $19.95. Plus “outreach materials” that include cards ($20 for 250), posters (set of three, $50.) A disclaimer at the bottom of most pages says it is “not a professional counseling site” or meant to replace such, but you are offered ‘Healing Pathways’ to follow or other readers’ stories to read.

Fredenburg was 8 when Roe v Wade paved the way for her to choose a safe, legal abortion 10 years later. Had that not been the case, she might well have joined the uncounted thousands who died at the hands of back alley butchers rather than lived to create an organization. Contributions are invited, and purportedly tax deductible, although there is no mention of 501(c)3 status. Miscellaneous retreats (and the phone number of a suicide prevention hotline) are listed under the ‘Find Help’ button. Planned Parenthood is notably not listed, although they often help, and they do not force anyone to have an abortion.

I have no reason, other than it seems a great way to sell stuff and make a few bucks, to question Fredenburg’s altruistic intentions in founding Abortion Changes You. (PS, so does an unwanted pregnancy.) But if she is not in cahoots with those who seek to eliminate a woman’s right to control her own body, she is their tool. Should they succeed, women will return to a dark age that today’s 44-year-olds cannot begin to imagine.

When Fredenburg agrees to fight for all women’s right to control their own bodies, and to have access to the safe, sterile, legal abortion she presumably chose for herself, as well as to console others who have long-afterward regrets, I’ll buy her book.

Metro – Don’t look now: You may not like the ads you see.