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.

Random Acts of Kindness

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

One particularly gray day, the kind of day writers have when their brains fog over and their vocabularies vanish, I had an email from the irrepressible Anne Lamott. Lamott is a longtime friend whose writing and gumptious spirit I greatly admire — but not someone from whom I would have sought literary endorsement in a million years.

“I can’t wait to blurb your book,” she wrote. Clouds vanished, vocabulary returned, book was soon published with a classic Lamott remark on the back cover proclaiming Perilous Times “rich in (the author’s) trademark blend of stories, history, knowledge and passion… an important contribution to (the fight for reproductive rights.)” Unsolicited kindness from a casual friend: an incalculable gift.

The kindness of strangers, though, is priceless. And might surely be a movement whose time has come.

Susan Johnson Nelson is up for starting the movement. She is also anxious to change the image of America and Americans from the ugly to the kind, as is her husband Andy. A few years ago the Nelsons traded in a comfortable life in San Francisco, where he was well established in a career in law, to join the U.S. Foreign Service. Having just completed a two-year tour in Managua, Nicaragua, he is now in an immersion program in Washington preparing for their next assignment in Hanoi. The Nelson family — which now includes 3-year-old Bode and 1-year-old Lake — is one you would want to represent the U.S. abroad. (The Nelson boys already enjoy love and adoration from fans on several continents.)

Susan Nelson decided recently to celebrate the Christian season of Lent not with the traditional giving up of one thing or another but with a daily act of kindness. Jesus would probably be fine with this. The inspiration actually came, she wrote in an initial social media post, from being on the receiving end of a double act of kindness herself not long ago. While negotiating the streets of downtown Washington with two screaming toddlers who had just received immunization shots, she ducked into a sandwich shop on a cookie diversion mission. A long queue of tired, hungry people let her jump to the front of the line (kindness #1), where the lady behind the counter smilingly offered not one cookie but two (double kindness #2.) Nelson’s first random act of kindness: a bouquet of flowers delivered to the lady behind the sandwich shop counter.

Others follow daily. They have included homemade cupcakes for Pete at the front desk, a basket of flowers painting by Bode for a post-surgery teacher, pick-up and delivery of recycling left in hallways (double kindness: gift to building residents and anger aversion for the maintenance workers who would otherwise have to deal with it.) There was babysitting for a friend in need, banana bread baked and delivered to the local firehouse. There was Andy’s kindness to Mother Earth, buying toothbrushes from all-recycled materials (hey, credit where credit is due; Andy also does extraordinary acts of fatherly kindness when Mom is wearing down) and on one dark and snowy Saturday morning both boys slept in until 9 a.m. — duly reported in the online exchange as a great kindness on their part.

The digital saga has also prompted reports of other acts of kindness elsewhere, such as the story of a woman with cancer, having her head shaved in a beauty salon as chemo-induced hair loss began and then finding her bill had been paid by an earlier customer.

They may be small acts of kindness, but who knows how large their effects? For many of us, frustrated with what seems the impossibility of world peace, tiny moments of joy bring renewed hope. It’s a start.

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.

After Tiller: A film for pro-life & pro-choice … and for opening dialogue

George Tiller: Boston Vigil

George Tiller: Boston Vigil (Photo credit: qwrrty)

Late-term abortions have to be the hardest to defend, and the most complex to consider — a segment of the abortion debate that I personally would want to stay as far away from as possible. But in “After Tiller,” filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson present a remarkably clear-eyed and comprehensive picture of the men and women who took on the job of providing this constitutionally-guaranteed right after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder. And force the viewer to confront the issue as a piece of the broader reproductive rights issue.

The two filmmakers, who co-produced and co-directed the documentary, are not taking sides or making points; their hope is to promote dialogue — and I wish them every success. Having seen “After Tiller” online, and later on the big screen at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater, I congratulate them on honest coverage of an incredibly difficult issue. They were curious, they say, about the providers themselves and their relationships with their patients. So the film spends at-home and in-the-office time with the providers, Warren Hern, a friend of Tiller’s who practices in Boulder, Colo.; LeRoy Carhart, who considered coming to Wichita after Tiller’s death and now provides abortion services in Maryland; and Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella, who run a clinic in New Mexico.

For the anti-choice forces “After Tiller” offers a bombshell of a quote, when one of the women physicians looks directly into the camera and says, “This is not an abortion; this is delivery of a stillborn baby.” Third trimester abortions are surely nearing the time when “fetus” becomes “baby.”

But if you believe in a woman’s right to make her own choices and her own decisions, “After Tiller” shows just how wrenchingly difficult and complex the decision to have a third-trimester abortion must always be. Most of the cases shown depict parents facing a choice between delivering a live baby who might live a tortured few days or months or a stillborn whom they want to spare such a fate.

In a perfect world, those who oppose abortion at any time and those who believe in a woman’s right to choose could use this difficult but forthright film to talk about — maybe even to begin to comprehend – each other’s viewpoints. Unfortunately we are living in a polarized time and an imperfect world. Still, one can hope.

Go see the movie if you have a chance.

A glimmer of sanity in Kansas

Scales of justice

Scales of justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Associated Press reports that the Kansas Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the law license of anti-abortion crusading former KS Attorney General (2003-2007) Phil Kilne. During his time as Attorney General, and throughout a subsequent stint as Johnson County District Attorney, Kline aggressively attacked Planned Parenthood and abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. The intensity of that relentless battle led to the killing of Dr. Tiller by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder on a Sunday morning in May, 2009.

No one is pinning blame for the murder of the widely-beloved physician on the anti-abortion obsessed former attorney. But Planned Parenthood supporters and pro-choice activists have to be cheering the small light that’s now shining on Kline’s egregious misconduct. The 154-page Supreme Court decision lists 11 specific violations of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct committed by Kline while he was in office. As county D.A., for example, he filed 107 criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic, all of which were subsequently dropped.

Third-trimester abortions, which are performed by fewer than a handful of providers in the U.S., are in many ways the hardest to defend, for those of us committed to protection of women’s reproductive rights. But I can absolutely promise that no one chooses a late-term abortion without strong, urgent and very personal reason. It’s a complex procedure with attendant complex effects. But Dr. Tiller chose to offer this procedure to women in need, and others are working hard to preserve the right as part of his legacy.

A new documentary, “After Tiller,” just opened in the San Francisco Bay area. It focuses on the four physicians who now openly offer late-term abortions. Film maker Martha Shane, co-director with Lana Wilson, is in town and speaking at a Q&A session following today’s showing at the Roxie Theater (where I’ll simultaneously be signing copies of Perilous Times.) The event is sponsored by Trust Women Silver Ribbon campaign.

Which brings me full circle back to Phil Kline. Obsessed with his conviction that abortion is a sin and must be banned, Kline brought excessive, unnecessary and costly disruption to Planned Parenthood services — which extend far, far beyond abortion: counseling, breast cancer screening, free screening for STD, contraception, countless services critical to boys and girls, men and women in the area. It was cruelty bordering on the insane to those countless innocent people in need of such services. So as I head over to the Roxie I am personally grateful for the Kansas Supreme Court and the note of sanity it has now brought to the state.

Who’s fighting for reproductive rights?

lisaalone1AC-TI-VIST: Vigorous advocate for a cause. Or, Lisa Lindelef (among a lot of others. )

As Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion rights, turned 40 early this year, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 7 out of 10 Americans want the law to stand. Those who believe otherwise, though, have been working to make abortion access difficult in many states, and are reportedly preparing a case that will lead back to the Court and potential repeal of Roe v Wade.

Enter the activists. They include the staff and countless volunteers for Planned Parenthood, the forces of groups like Trust Women Silver Ribbon campaign, the people of National Abortion Federation, National Organization of Women and…

NARAL Pro-Choice America. NARAL Pro-Choice is the one that’s drawn the interest and energies of Lisa Lindelef, one of the panelists on the Commonwealth Club of California’s October 17th program, Women at Risk: What’s Ahead for Reproductive Rights. She’ll be adding the perspective of a long-time activist to that of other panelists; if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, come join the discussion. Lisa currently serves on the board of the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, whose mission is “to support and protect, as a fundamental right and value, a woman’s freedom to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices through education, training, organizing, legal action, and public policy.”

About her personal motivations, and decision to work with NARAL, Lisa has this to say:

“I’ve been involved with the pro-choice and reproductive rights movement since before Roe, ever since I saw young women I knew “disappear” and never reappear.  As choice gradually, and now increasingly, has become threatened by restrictions designed to weaken the Roe decision without actually undoing it, I decided it was time to put serious time and resources into the fight.  The pro-choice coalition has many admirable and steadfast members but NARAL Pro-Choice America has been, and remains, the political leader of the pro-choice movement.  With its combined state and federal organization structure, it is uniquely positioned to lead the fight to protect a woman’s right to choose.

Since 1973, safe and legal abortion has been offered by physicians across the U.S., including members of Physicians for Reproductive Health, and through clinics maintained by Planned Parenthood and other groups such as the Feminist Women’s Health Centers in Atlanta, GA and Washington. Those who oppose abortion rights have been whittling them away, state by state, through restrictive laws and regulations, putting women with unintended pregnancies often at considerable risk; having been one of those women in the days before 1973, I know the risks.

Which is why I applaud the activists for choice like Lisa Lindelef.

Life begins… when? Come talk about it

Life begins… when? Come talk about it

 

Life begins… at conception? at birth? somewhere in between?

It’s not a question anyone can answer with absolute certainty, or a question likely ever to be agreed upon by everyone currently alive. But it’s a question many philosophers, theologians and — not always happily — politicians have been debating recently. And it’s a question sure to come up at the Commonwealth Club program Women at Risk: What’s Ahead For Reproductive Rights October 17th in San Francisco.

English: *Description: Scotty McLennan Author ...

31 December 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Scotty McLennan, the Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University (and model for Doonesbury‘s Dude of God) will be one of four panelists tackling this and other thorny — but pertinent — issues during the hour-long event. Here’s a bit of what McLennan has to say, excerpted from Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade:

“I’ll never forget the sight of each of my children emerging into the world blue and lifeless, being struck on the back by the doctor, taking their first breath, and becoming ruddy-colored as they began crying their way into life.” Those images, and a biblical reference to the “breath of life,” reinforce McLennan’s belief that “the Supreme Court got it right” in ruling that decisions about abortion should be left to the woman and her physician until the fetus might indeed be able to survive outside the womb.

McLennan also believes, as do I, that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

It’s a critical issue a long way from being solved, either by Roe v Wade, or by those of us who are pro-choice, or by those who would ban abortion entirely in the belief that banning it would somehow make unwanted pregnancies never happen.

How about you? If you’re going to be in the San Francisco Bay Area on October 17th, join us at the Commonwealth Club. It’s going to be informative, engaging, useful — and a lively time.