Devious ways to cancel rights

A Supreme Court decision in 1973 affirmed the right of women in the U.S. to make their own choices about reproduction, including the choice of having an abortion.

But oh well, never mind.

Those who oppose this constitutional right have chosen to negate it by going around the law: forcing clinics to close, layering restrictions, inserting unnecessary road-blocks, passing medically inappropriate or erroneous state laws, denying access to women who might want to exercise their right. So the right remains, but the justice is gone. If a woman has money and resources she may still choose to have an abortion. But if she’s poor, or without power, in well over half of the country she effectively is forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy no matter what. Or to try something that can leave her sick, maimed or dead.

“I think it is more difficult to get an abortion in the country today,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, in one of the better understatements of the year so far. To the members of this organization, this is very good news.

To poor, suffering, desperate women unable to exercise their own right — life and liberty included — the news is increasingly bad.

But it’s another group that’s getting me down. The New York Times reported in a recent story that Americans United for Life sees this flood of new laws as “life-affirming legislation designed to protect women from the harms inherent in abortion.”

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PROTECTING WOMEN. This has strictly to do with elevating the right of zygotes and fetuses above and beyond the right of women. HARM IS NOT INHERENT IN ABORTION. (It’s very hard not to scream.) Harm is inherent in the denial of women’s right to control their own bodies. Can these good folks not learn ANYTHING from history? Millions of women were maimed, sickened, left sterile — or dead when abortion was illegal. It will happen again. It’s already happening in much of the country.

Meanwhile, about that constitutional right to choose? Oh, well, never mind…

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.

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.

Underground abortionists? Today? Believe it.

The back alley abortionist of pre-Roe days came in all types: men, women, trained, untrained, compassionate or just in it for the money. They existed, all of them, because women desperate to end unwanted pregnancies sought them out. In almost every case the woman and the abortionist had little or no contact either before or after the event, but in many cases — including my own — there was a strange sense of gratitude to someone who managed to give you your life back. In countless other cases the woman died herself, because these were dangerous procedures in perilous times.

And they’re back.

Not in the same form, probably not in anywhere near the same number as was the case before Roe v Wade. But the Underground Abortionist is here. Loss of access to safe and legal abortion, thanks to layers of state restrictions, is causing women with unplanned pregnancies to seek out ways to end those pregnancies. They are, by and large, women without money or resources, very often women with more children already than they can care for. Some of them are just frightened children with nowhere to turn — abused by a family member or victimized in any of a million ways.

Enter the underground abortionist. Today’s illegal abortion provider is most often a drug dealer who knows where to get misoprostol and mifepristone, the drugs needed to end a pregnancy. The potential dangers are different from the assortment of dangerous methods used by illegal abortionists before 1973, but they surely exist: if the drugs are not pure, if they are taken in the wrong dosages, any number of conditions can make today’s illegal abortion as dangerous as those in days of old.

But happily for some women who are denied safe abortions today, there are compassionate other women trying hard to help. One wrote about her work on Jezebel and subsequently participated in a fascinating interview with Robin Marty of RH Reality Check. I hope you’ll read the entire piece.

This underground abortionist is motivated by what she hears, through emails, from women with unplanned pregnancies: “Desperate, scared, broke women write to her, wanting to terminate a pregnancy without turning to sharp instruments, unknown drugs, or old wives’ tales,” Marty explains. So she does her best to instruct them on proper use, and sends the drugs.

Is this any way to settle the critical, complex issue of unwanted pregnancy? At this point, for poor women in much of the U.S., it’s all there is.

The underground abortionist says, in this eye-opening interview, much with which I heartily agree. Particularly in these closing lines, when Marty poses hypothetical questions the interviewee might be asked:

“I think “pro-life” and pro-choice activists don’t talk enough to each other. I think we can actually sometimes find unusual common ground. I think that while a lot of the people at the top of the pro-life movement are cynical and misogynistic, a lot of the pro-life rank-and-file are people who are honestly well-intentioned and have been told a lot of lies.”

In other words – Can We Talk?

On language, and understanding

English: Open book icon
English: Open book icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My book group, which regularly veers off into interesting areas, veered into language and understanding. Even when we speak the same language, do we understand the same? Or, is my language okay, if you can’t understand me?

Debra’s grandson, for example, is struggling with appraxia of speech, a condition wherein “the child knows what he or she wants to say, but his/her brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words,” according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The anguish of it all is hard to imagine.

That brief discussion prompted Sue to tell a story of her own grandson, who happens to be an accomplished, much-honored teenaged classical musician today. But when he was four, he had not begun to speak. Oh, he spoke gibberish which HE understood perfectly well, it just wasn’t English gibberish. One day in the midst of a particularly frustrating outburst from her small grandson, Sue said, “There’s nothing at all wrong with the way you speak. It just happens that I can’t understand.” Ah, so.

Studies have shown, Sue explained further (there are some very wise people in this book group) that babies are born with a universal language, no matter where on the planet their birth may occur, and they have to be trained out of that language into the one that’s being spoken around them. Indeed, in a study published in 2007, Greg Bryant and Clark Barrett found it likely that baby-talk is universal. If only we grown-ups weren’t so determined to speak in our peculiar tongues.

It’s just worth thinking about. What if we could all start over and just evolve into a language of humankind?

(Currently I am struggling with the language of reproductive rights: You say “Pro-choice,” I hear “anti-abortion.” I say “fetus,” you hear “unborn child.” The list goes on.)

Oh, the Book Group book that started it all? Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. Some of us liked the book better than others. Some of us speak more than one language; none of us feel we could make ourselves understood to the tribes of the Amazon, fictional or real. Next month’s book selection is Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade. Its aim is to build, somehow, better understanding among U.S. tribes who speak the same language but in very different tongues.

Mark Ruffalo’s mother and me

Mark Ruffalo at the 2007 Toronto International...
Mark Ruffalo at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never met Mark Ruffalo‘s mother. But I am a new, big fan of her son.

Mark’s mom and I are of the same generation. We each experienced an unintended, unwanted pregnancy which we were forced to end illegally — because there was no safe, legal abortion in the U.S. before 1973. I don’t know the details of Mark’s mom’s abortion but I can tell you about mine. The result of a workplace rape, my 8 or 9-week pregnancy was ended by a back-alley abortionist in a dreary house on a dreary February day in Atlanta, GA. I told no one, not my closest friends or family members, no one. Until three years ago when the realization that those grim days are returning prompted me to speak out, and to begin work on a book. Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade was published in June. Three years ago I could not have imagined how perilous these times would have become.

And now, Mark Ruffalo is also concerned about a return to the days of illegal abortions that his mother and I survived — though countless other women did not. His statement was read at a rally outside of Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is threatened by new laws that would force it to close.

Here’s what Mark had to say:

“I am a man. I could say this has nothing to do with me. Except I have two daughters and I have a mother who was forced to illegally have an abortion in her state where abortion was illegal when she was a very young woman. It cost $600 cash. It was a traumatizing thing for her. It was shameful and sleazy and demeaning. When I heard the story I was aghast by the lowliness of a society that would make a woman do that. I could not understand its lack of humanity; today is no different.

“What happened to my mother was a relic of an America that was not free nor equal nor very kind. My mother’s illegal abortion marked a time in America that we have worked long and hard to leave behind. It was a time when women were seen as second rate citizens who were not smart enough, nor responsible enough, nor capable enough to make decisions about their lives. It was a time that deserved to be left behind, and leave it behind we did, or so it seemed. We made abortion and a woman’s ability to be her own master a right. That right was codified into law. That law was the law of the land for decades.

“My own mother fought to make herself more than a possession; she lived her life as a mother who chose when she would have children, and a wife who could earn a living if she so chose. I want my daughters to enjoy that same choice. I don’t want to turn back the hands of time to when women shuttled across state lines in the thick of night to resolve an unwanted pregnancy, in a cheap hotel room just south of the state line. Where a transaction of $600 cash becomes the worth of a young woman’s life.

“So that is why I am lending my voice to you and your movement today. Because I actually trust the women I know. I trust them with their choices, I trust them with their bodies and I trust them with their children. I trust that they are decent enough and wise enough and worthy enough to carry the right of Abortion and not be forced to criminally exercise that Right at the risk of death or jail time.

“There was no mistake in us making abortion legal and available on demand. That was what we call progress. Just like it was no mistake that we abolished institutional racism in this country around the same time. The easy thing to do is lay low, but then are we who we say we are? Do we actually stand for anything, if what we do stand for is under attack and we say nothing? There is nothing to be ashamed of here except to allow a radical and recessive group of people to bully and intimidate our mothers and sisters and daughters for exercising their right of choice. Or use terrorism and fanaticism to block their legal rights or take the lives of their caregivers. Or design legislation that would chip away at those rights disguised as reinforcing a woman’s health.

“I invite you to find your voice and let it be known that you stand for abortion rights and the dignity of a woman to be the master of her own life and body. I invite you to search your soul and ask yourself if you actually stand for what you say you stand for. Thank you for being here today and thank you for standing up for the women in my life.”

I imagine Mark Ruffalo’s mom is extremely proud of her son. I am proud to be his newest fan.