Peace for the Abortion War

Aspen Baker

For more than 35 years our country's conversation about abortion has been stoked into a divisive war. I believe abortion peace will exist when each woman who has lived this experience can be supported, not shamed, and public policy reflects what's best for women's lives.

The mixture of excitement, nerves and anticipation will be
felt by every woman gathered in the Roosevelt Room.  Big, goofy grins, solemn, serious faces,
nervous chatter, a hand held or two.  We
will be in our best clothes or the ones that make us feel the most comfortable,
feel the most ourselves. Some of us will avoid each other’s gaze. I like to
imagine that I will sit calmly, holding eye contact with the person across the
room from me, and nod to her in recognition of this historic moment. Together,
we will wait for him to arrive.  

We are a room full of women who have had abortions and we
are the first to ever be invited by a President of the United States to a White House
meeting to tell our personal stories. 
This meeting is a public acknowledgment of our shared experiences and a
statement of Presidential support and respect for every woman who has had an
abortion.  This is the first political step of a
peaceful approach for resolving the abortion war. 

For more than 35 years our country’s conversation about
abortion has been stoked into a divisive war. It is time to begin the healing
process and chart a new path for resolution. I believe abortion peace will
exist when each woman who has lived this experience can tell her story and be
supported, not shamed.  A White House
meeting focused on personal story-telling is a concrete and symbolic action
that the President can take to demonstrate his intent to forge a new path for
addressing abortion in the United
States.  

One in three women will have an abortion in her
lifetime, but our voices are seldom part of the public debate and there is
little social understanding or acceptance for what we experienced. People go to
war over our experiences, as we’ve become caricatures, myths, people to be
mocked, feel sorry for, hide, shame, protect, or put on a pedestal.  When we are acknowledged, it is often as
pawns, prepped to tell prescribed version of events: "Abortion made me hate
myself" or "Abortion brought me to life." Our deeply personal stories are never
accepted without concern for their political implications and portrayals of our
stories in media and culture are far too often based in stereotypes and myth.
We often do not even see ourselves in each other.  This war has divided us too.  

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The truth is our stories and personal experiences with
abortion are far more nuanced than the simplistic – and antagonistic – debate
that rages around us.  After my own
abortion, I remember thinking that the public debate had virtually nothing to
do with how I felt and what I needed. I remember feeling in awe of the fact
that I could safely and medically end a pregnancy and realizing that my whole
life wasn’t at the mercy of nature or circumstance. My decision to have an
abortion felt like a decision to play God and that was powerful and scary
beyond words. Choosing to not change my life was a life-changing experience for
me. Afterward, I needed space and time and understanding to process all of this
and reflect on my own values and beliefs about the meaning of life, including
my own. But, when I tried to engage with the broader political debate over
legal abortion, I was asked to simplify my decision and silence the emotional
impact of my abortion in favor of defending my right to have had one in the
first place, or to become a victim of abortion rights and deny my ability to
cope and grow and be whole after such a life-changing experience.  

The author talks about her personal experience with abortion.

I couldn’t believe the debate had sounded the same for so
long, despite how much the world had changed and how many of us women, and our loved
ones, have had their own experiences with abortion. Our rights, values, lives
and needs are really what this debate is all about. How could the debate not
respond to us and better reflect our experiences?  

It must. Not only to be more supportive of women who have
had abortions but because a more honest, reflective, responsive dialogue has
the potential to overcome the years of damage the divisive debate has had on
the health and well-being of our nation.  

Roe v. Wade
celebrated its 35th anniversary last year.  In the next 35 years, the United States has the opportunity
to have a very different conversation about abortion than it has for the past
three decades. We can extend a baseline of universal respect for the beliefs
others in our nation hold about abortion. Dialogue can replace war.
Reproductive health policy can grow from our loved ones’ lives and needs and
our media – books, TV, and films – can represent women who have had abortions
as we truly are. 

How would our world
change?  Consider the debate over informed
consent laws – laws that require doctors to tell women seeking abortion that
they are terminating the life of a unique human bring.  It is obvious that informed consent laws impinge
on women’s right to access medical care free of state interference – and we can
respond to informed consent laws by referencing women’s constitutional
rights.  But we can also respond by
asking women who have had abortions what kind of relationship with a provider
would have been most helpful to them in considering and seeking out
abortion.  If our response to informed
consent laws were informed by research on what type of information and
counseling would have helped women seeking abortions feel best supported and informed,
we could learn about  significant gaps in
services that must be remedied, unnecessary hoops that could be eliminated, and
best practices to be promoted. Most importantly, this approach focuses the
debate back on women’s own, personal, specific and real needs for information
and counseling. 

What if the voices and experiences of women who have had
abortions were featured in major women’s publications, and treated with the
same level of respect and significance as given advice about how to best cope
with divorce or find the right gynecologist? What if there were online support groups
in which women who have had abortions could come together and connect with each
other without fear of targeting or attack? 
If we review and assess potential policy through the lens of women’s
real, lived experiences with abortion, and we create public forums for women to
speak for themselves, we can build a more open, more respectful, process for
making these important decisions, one that invites new voices and opens up new
ways to understand abortion and its role in our society.  

This approach will ensure the debate is about real people
with real problems and real needs. And women’s responses will point the way
towards peace by revealing new opportunities for engagement, connection and
actual dialogue.  I don’t know where this
path will lead, but I do know that if we let ourselves listen to women’s lived
experiences, our individual opinions about abortion will be anchored by and
respectful of the reality of women’s lives. 

It is exactly the right time to take up the cause of
abortion peace and President Obama is just the man for the job.  He can begin by taking yet another
unprecedented, historical step to build unity in place of partisanship. A White
House meeting to publicly acknowledge the experiences of women who have had
abortions is a peaceful approach to transforming the abortion war and sets a
tone for new possibilities for the next 35 years of abortion in the United States.

Look for more dispatches from Aspen Baker’s vision for peace in the abortion war on Rewire in the coming weeks. This post also appears on Aspen’s personal blog.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Law and Policy

Purvi Patel Could Be Released From Jail by September

Jessica Mason Pieklo

In 2013, investigators charged Patel with both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, based on the theory that Patel had self-induced an abortion and delivered a live infant, which then almost immediately died post-delivery.

The State of Indiana will not appeal a decision vacating the feticide conviction of Purvi Patel, the Granger woman who had previously faced 20 years in prison for what state attorneys described as an illegal self-induced abortion.

Patel was arrested in 2013 after she sought treatment at a hospital emergency room for heavy vaginal bleeding. While being examined by medical personnel, Patel told doctors she’d had a miscarriage and had disposed of the remains. Investigators located those remains and eventually charged Patel with both feticide and felony neglect of a dependent, based on the theory that Patel had self-induced an abortion and delivered a live infant, which then almost immediately died post-delivery. In February 2015, a jury convicted Patel of both counts.

But in July, the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated Patel’s feticide conviction, holding the statute was not designed to be used to criminally charge people for their own failed pregnancies. However, the court largely upheld Patel’s felony neglect of a dependent conviction, deferring to controversial medical testimony offered by the state that claimed Patel’s fetus was on the cusp of viability and had taken a breath outside her post-delivery.

Patel had initially been sentenced to serve a total of 20 years. But because attorneys for the state failed to appeal the July decision, she could be available for re-sentencing as soon as the court can schedule a hearing—which could mean a possible release as early as September, depending on her new sentence and credit for time served.

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