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.

Win some, lose some…

It’s a not-too-encouraging new twist on the old baseball adage: win some, lose some, some get rained out.

Women’s health & rights recently won one – Albuquerque –  lost one – Texas – and guess who still gets left out? The woman (and often her husband or partner) who simply wants to exercise a constitutional right to make a very personal, very private and usually very difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy.

The Albuquerque issue was a blatant attempt by right-wing ideologues to circumvent the law and ban late-term abortions outright. It would have immediately affected the entire state, since the only two clinics (and specifically the openly-advertising Southwestern Women’s Options) performing the procedure are in Albuquerque. Although late-term abortions are a tiny, tiny fraction of all such procedures, they are often the most wrenching, difficult and extremely private of decisions; for now, New Mexico women at least retain the right to make such decisions when necessary — and the access needed to carry them out.

Texas women fared worse. The Supreme Court turned down an appeal to block another blatantly anti-women law passed by Texas in July, which will force the immediate closing of as many as one third of the clinics in the state offering abortions.

Texas Governor Rick Perry proudly proclaimed that this means Texas women “are now better protected from shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions.” Excuse me? If I could get Mr. Perry to read my own story in Perilous Times, he might know what shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions are actually like. Tragically, because they are now denied access to safe and legal procedures, Texas women without resources may be forced to turn in similar directions.

Highly trained, dedicated physicians have been available to perform abortions in Texas clinics. Whether they have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic — as is now required — has absolutely no bearing on “the safety of Texas women.” But the law now enables one harsh, strident, anti-women segment of the state to impose its will on disempowered women. All but a handful of clinics in Texas will be forced either to close or to stop offering abortions. Some Texas women will be able to travel the long distances necessary to access safe procedures but others — women without money or power, desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy that could bring lead to unbearable hardship?

They not only lost one, they are now left out. My heart aches for those women.

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.