On showing up at the polls

After all these decades, all these elections — and I’ve never missed one — I mailed in my absentee ballot for the first time ever a few days ago. It leaves a lot to be desired.

Not that voting absentee isn’t perfectly respectable, or was a capricious decision. This post is being written from the friendly skies of Virgin America en route to Manhattan, which would make getting to the polls in San Francisco tomorrow somewhat of a challenge. But absentee is just not the same.

Showing up at the polls makes a statement: I took all this trouble to come say hello, sign my name, stand in the little booth, schmooze with the neighbors and collect my bright red I VOTED sticker. With absentee you just drop the envelope in the mail. And don’t even get a sticker.

Politics being the messy, frustrating mess it currently is, I know people who are staying home and not voting any direction. Doesn’t seem wise to me. Given the critical issues ahead (Iran, another war? Horrors.  New Supreme Court nominees who’ll send reproductive rights back to the dark ages? Could we please revisit the Citizens United decision?….) I’m hoping staying home doesn’t catch on, unless you’re in favor of war and Citizens United and oppose women’s rights.

I’m looking forward to a stay in Manhattan, beginning just before voting day. But I’m going to miss walking around with an I VOTED sticker on.

 

Abortion wars: pro-choice forces question accuracy of new poll

However the “pro-life” tag for all those anti-women’s-rights people came to be co-opted, it was a stroke of genius. It is, of course, more devious than truthful. Anti-abortion forces, as this space has raged about from time to time, piously support the life of a fertilized egg, while ignoring the lives of mature women. But the loaded label is firmly set.

Most recently, a Gallup poll has brought it to the forefront once more. That poll, released early this month, showed that slightly more Americans call themselves “pro-life” (47%) than “pro-choice” (45%.) The figures are about the same as shown in a similar poll last July, though the pro-life leanings are actually weaker than the percentages a year ago (51% to 42%.) Writer Amanda Marcotte, blogging at RH Reality Check, argues that the poll numbers don’t reflect the political strength of pro-choice Americans. Rather, she says,

the term “pro-life” is more of a tribal identifier or a feel-good term than it is a political stance.  This becomes only clear when you consider that pro-life activists tend to follow the lead of the Vatican (even if they’re Protestant) and object to all forms of fertility control that offer women a reasonable amount of control over their own bodies.

Marcotte interviewed Jessica Grose, whose article on Slate.com about the poll also questioned whether the pro-life numbers reflect a trend against women’s choice, or might be attributable to other factors. Republicans not wanting to be counted as pro-choice because it might align them with Democrats, or Obama; the general movement of Gen Y away from pro-choice. Grose does not, in the long run, see the poll numbers as a voice of doom.

The notion that more and more Americans are embracing the pro-life label is pretty terrifying for pro-choicers. But what does it really mean to call yourself pro-life or pro-choice? Do the labels actually track people’s views about the legality of abortion? The answer may be yes, but not in a simple or neat way. Though more people are calling themselves pro-life, the percentage of Americans who say abortion is morally wrong is down six points from last year. But at the same time, a Pew poll from last August showed that slightly more people are also saying that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, though the gain is only 1 percent from the previous September.

The upcoming Supreme Court nomination process could potentially shift things back to the pro-choice label. It’s not about Elena Kagan per se, but Gallup senior editor Lydia Saad says that when the abortion issue is raised in relation to the Supreme Court, the issue tends to help the pro-choice side—because, in the end, most people don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Recent data back up the second part—according to a CBS News/New York Times poll from April says that 58 percent of Americans still believe that Roe v. Wade was a good thing.

A hopeless optimist to the core, I wish I could join these wise observers in finding any glimmer of hope in the whole scene. From where I sit and what I know — and I am among the steadily dwindling few who know first hand the horrors that women faced pre-Roe v Wade — the hard core anti-abortionists are pulling every trick in the book to gain ground, and it’s working. If they ultimately do win, women will suffer an unfathomable loss.

Pope denounces abortion, gay marriage

With all due respect to the Catholic faith, and to the legions of good people, clergy and laity alike,who are among its believers, this space takes serious issue with the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI used a famous Portuguese shrine to the Virgin Mary on Thursday as a stage to denounce abortion and gay marriage, just days before Portugal is expected to join five European countries that have legalized same-sex weddings.

In a speech (in Fatima, Portugal) to Catholic social service groups, Benedict called for initiatives aimed at protecting “the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”

He also said he expressed his “deep appreciation for all those social and pastoral initiatives aimed at combating the socioeconomic and cultural mechanisms which lead to abortion, and are openly concerned to defend life and to promote the reconciliation and healing of those harmed by the tragedy of abortion.”

The common good, according to the pope, would suffer from individuals being allowed to marry those whom they love. And tragedy? What he and his allies are invoking — in this drive to dictate what women may or may not do with their own bodies — is a return to the brutal reality of back-alley abortion. That will be the tragedy beyond healing.

The pope’s remarks came on the third day of a four-day visit (to Portugal) aimed at shoring up Christian belief in increasingly secular Europe, although it has been somewhat eclipsed by the sexual-abuse scandal confronting the Vatican in recent weeks. Benedict also has used the visit to signal a more forceful tone in confronting the abuse, which he has called a “sin inside the church.”

Although it is 90 percent Catholic, Portugal has seen a notable shift away from Catholic teaching in recent years. The country legalized abortion in 2008 and its Parliament recently approved a bill permitting same-sex marriage. President Aníbal Cavaco Silva is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.

The church has opposed the measure, but Portuguese society appears to be largely supportive.

Portugal would be the sixth country in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway and Sweden. France and Denmark recognize same-sex unions, which convey many but not all of the rights enjoyed by married couples.

Individual rights, women’s rights and gay rights are slowly going forward in a few places around the globe.  Pope Benedict XVI would like us all to go backward.

Pope Decries Gay Marriage in Portugal Visit – NYTimes.com.

Abortion rights/ pro-choice, what's in a name?

Words matter. When the folks who seek to deny a woman’s right to control her own body co-opted that “pro-life” phrase, a disingenuous but highly successful sound bite was born. You support reproductive rights? You’re anti-life. Pro-death. It was a brilliant PR move, if not entirely accurate. “Pro-lifers” choose to ignore the millions of women who will suffer if abortion restrictions force them into unsafe, often life-threatening choices. You’re pro-choice? You want to save those lives.

Now, perhaps, a new clarification of terms by NPR Managing Director David Sweeney may nudge us toward more honest dialogue:

Last week, I wrote a post about how NPR identifies people who support or oppose abortion. It engendered a lively debate inside and outside NPR. Today, some top editors got together to review the 2005 policy and decided to no longer use “pro-choice” or “pro-life.”

Here’s the memo that was just distributed to all NPR staff:

“NPR News is revising the terms we use to describe people and groups involved in the abortion debate.

This updated policy is aimed at ensuring the words we speak and write are as clear, consistent and neutral as possible. This is important given that written text is such an integral part of our work.

On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.

Digital News will continue to use the AP style book for online content, which mirrors the revised NPR policy.

Do not use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in copy except when used in the name of a group. Of course, when the terms are used in an actuality they should remain.” [An actuality is a clip of tape of someone talking. So if a source uses those terms, NPR will not edit them out.]

It’s a small step in the right direction, and this space would like to offer three cheers to NPR. Thanks for acknowledging my right to be fiercely in support of women’s rights and reproductive rights — while I am also, equally, pro-life.

NPR Changes Abortion Language – NPR Ombudsman Blog : NPR.

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.

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