The New Administration: Not Quite Ready to Stand Up for Women

Frances Kissling

The cultural discourse of those who do not recognize women's sexual and reproductive lives as a matter of human rights allows President Obama to disregard our needs.

"It is time that we end the
politicization of this issue.  In the coming weeks, my Administration
will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find
areas of common ground to best meet the needs of women and families
at home and around the world. 

"I have directed my staff to
reach out to those on all sides of this issue to achieve the goal of
reducing unintended pregnancies

— Barack Obama Statement
on rescinding the Global Gag Rule January 23, 2009 

There is joy tonight in the new and
improved pro-life movement. This is the movement that says it has given
up for the time being on making abortion illegal and instead wants to
reduce the number of abortions without supporting contraception. These
are the so-called third way-ers and progressive religious pro-lifers
who want women who are already pregnant to continue their pregnancies
and support bills that offer rhetorical cover for that goal, but very
little money.  While they talk about prevention, they really don’t
like contraception. After all, women who use contraception are
having sex, and the religious types are not so progressive that they’ve
given up on the idea that sex is a sin unless it takes place in marriage.
If they support contraception for everyone, someone might conclude that
they understand sex as a legitimate expression of love outside of marriage,
as well as within it, and pleasure itself might be seen as holy. This
is not their culture and they will fight a quiet war to be sure government
is with them.

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And so, when President Obama asks Congress to remove some modest provision for expanding access to
family planning from the economic stimulus package he presented to Congress,
he sends the message that he too only talks the prevention game, but
will not walk the walk; he too sees women’s capacity to get pregnant
as not a legitimate policy issue. He too doesn’t want to deal with
the messy issue of sex and pregnancy.

"It is time that we end the politicization
of this issue," Obama says. Yet as soon as the Republicans used the family
planning provision as a political wedge, he played right into it — Just take it
out of the package, he directed Congress. Every value that undergirds the sexual and reproductive
health, justice and rights movements was ignored by the President.

insensitivity to women is hard to swallow when compared to the purported
sensitivity he extends to the hard line anti-abortion movement — sensitivity that influenced the President’s decision not to rescind the global gag rule on January
22 but to do so quietly a day later, without ceremony or celebration with the
leaders of the international and domestic movements that represent the
thousands of women who were denied information and services as a result
of the gag rule.

We were promised that science and evidence would determine policy. Well, the evidence is in
that women’s economic well being is tied to their ability to decide
when and whether to have children. Evidence shows that the cost to low
income and unemployed women of unintended pregnancy is increased poverty
and joblessness. But politics were more important than facts.

We were promised that preventing unintended
pregnancy would be high on the President’s agenda. And those of us
who support that approach do so not because abortion is bad, but because
women want to prevent unintended pregnancy and, for the most part, lack
of education and resources, not irresponsible sex, are the reason they
fail. The President’s January 23 promise of a "fresh conversation
on family planning" turned out to be the stale crumbs of political
compromise that consistently sweep women’s needs under the policy

We were promised that reproductive
health would be framed as a social justice issue, integrated into the
long neglected list of what women need to be full and productive members
of the community — jobs, health care, paid family and medical leave.  But at the very first opportunity to link women’s reproductive health
to social and economic justice — the economic stimulus package — the President denied the link when he picked up the phone and told
Henry Waxman to take out the family planning provision. 

The President has asked us to end the
culture wars. I say forget it. Bring back the culture war. For in fact
what the President and his progressive pro-life buddies has asked us
to do is stop talking about the values that are the foundation of our
support for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. He
asks us to deal only with "practical solutions" which he then refuses
to implement.

The discussion of sexuality and reproduction
is a profoundly cultural issue; its long term resolution and the transformation
of US social policy into one that is respectful of the values of women’s
rights, and autonomy and that recognizes that sexual and reproductive
freedom is a value requires a cultural discourse. Nothing proves that
more than the crass political decision President Obama made yesterday to
eliminate family planning access from the economic stimulus package.
And it is the cultural discourse of those who do not recognize women’s
sexual and reproductive lives as a matter of human rights that allows
a President to disregard our needs. 

News Politics

NARAL Leader Campaigns to Oust Anti-Choice Colorado Congressman

Jason Salzman

NARAL Pro-Choice America officials have stepped up support for pro-choice Democrat Morgan Carroll in her competitive race against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who’s voted repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called voters this week on behalf of pro-choice Colorado state Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora), who’s running against anti-choice U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora).

Hogue stopped by Carroll’s campaign office in a Denver suburb and called voters, in part, she told Rewire, because NARAL wants to “send a signal to the anti-choice legislators who are hiding from their anti-choice records when they come home at election time.”

Hogue pointed to Coffman’s repeated votes to defund Planned Parenthood—efforts based on discredited videos released by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress. Coffman used a Planned Parenthood Action Fund logo in a political advertisement, despite having voted repeatedly to defund the organization, as first reported by Rewire. He voted again to defund Planned Parenthood after the ad aired.

“Mike Coffman has worked to defund women’s health centers and even fought to redefine rape,” Carroll said in a statement during Hogue’s visit. “Millions of women across this country simply can’t afford to have representatives like Mike Coffman in Congress.

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Coffman once co-sponsored a measure that redefined “a ban on federal funding for abortions to exempt only ‘forcible rape.'” Coffman’s campaign did not return a call seeking comment.

Coffman’s district, concentrated in the suburbs east of Denver, is perennially ranked as home to some of the nation’s most competitive political races. Coffman was first elected in 2008, two years before district boundaries were re-drawn, making for a much closer elections.

The Republican, a former U.S. Marine who has become known as a tough campaigner, surprised analysts by his ten-point margin of victory in 2014, after a narrow 2 percent margin in 2012.

Asked for a reaction to her phone calls on Carroll’s behalf, Hogue said she was encouraged by the candidate’s name recognition but dismayed by the apathy she encountered, though she noted that the election season is young.

“Particularly if we continue to hear that Trump is down by 15 points in polls, apathy is going to be a real issue in this election,” Hogue said. “People need to be made to feel that their vote matters. It matters at the top of the ticket. It certainly matters when you get down to the folks who are going to stay in the state house here [in Colorado] or go to D.C. and do the day-to-day work of moving this agenda forward. People need to hear that their participation has value.”

“We hope our investment in the field effort here puts Morgan Carroll a little bit closer to victory, but also builds power for NARAL members and the issue long term,” Hogue said. “Our job doesn’t end on Election Day. It begins on Election Day.”

Commentary Politics

Milwaukee Officials: Black Youth, Single Mothers Are Not Responsible for Systemic Failings—You Are

Charmaine Lang

Milwaukee has multiple problems: poverty, a school system that throws out Black children at high rates, and lack of investment in all citizens' quality of life. But there's another challenge: politicians and law enforcement who act as if Black youth, single mothers, and families are the "real" reasons for the recent uprising and say so publicly.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

On the day 23-year-old Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer, the city’s mayor, Tom Barrett, pleaded publicly with parents to tell their children to come home and leave protests erupting in the city.

In a August 13 press conference, Barrett said: “If you love your son, if you love your daughter, text them, call them, pull them by the ears, and get them home. Get them home right now before more damage is done. Because we don’t want to see more loss of life, we don’t want to see any more injuries.”

Barrett’s statement suggests that parents are not on the side of their sons and daughters. That parents, too, are not tired of the inequality they experience and witness in Milwaukee, and that youth are not capable of having their own political ideologies or moving their values into action.

It also suggests how much work Milwaukee’s elected officials and law enforcement need to do before they open their mouths.

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Barrett’s comments came after Smith fled a traffic stop and was shot by authorities on Milwaukee’s northwest side. The young Black man’s death sparked an urban uprising in the Sherman Park neighborhood, an area known for its racial and religious diversity. Businesses were burnt down, and the National Guard was activated in a city plagued by racism and poverty.

But Milwaukee parents and families need more than a directive thinly disguised as a plea. And Mayor Barrett, who was re-elected to a fourth term in April, should know well that Milwaukee, the nation’s most racially stratified city, needs racial equity in order for there to be peace and prosperity.

I live in Milwaukee, so I know that its residents, especially its Black parents, do love their children. We want more for them than city-enforced curfews and a simplistic solution of returning to their homes as a way to restore calm. We will have calm when we have greater investment in the public school system and youth services; easy access to healthy food; and green spaces, parks, and neighborhoods that are free from police harassment.

In fact, according to staggering statistics about Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole, Black people have been consistently denied their basic human rights and health. Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration of Black men nationwide; the Annie E. Casey Foundation has found it is the worst state for racial disparities affecting Black childrenand infant mortality rates are highest among Black women in the state.

What we absolutely don’t need are public officials whitewashing the facts: that Milwaukee’s young people have much to protest, including Wisconsin’s suspending Black high-school students more than any other state in the country.

Nor do we need incendiary comments like those coming from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who drew national attention for his “blue lives matter” speech at the Republican National Convention and who is a regular guest on CNN and Fox News. In an August 15 op-ed published by the Hill, Clarke has called the civil unrest “the rule of the jungle,” “tribalism,” and a byproduct of “bullies on the left.”

He went even further, citing “father-absent homes” as a source of what he calls “urban pathologies”—leaning on old tropes used to stigmatize Black women, families, and the poor.

Single mothers are not to be blamed for young people’s responses to a city that ignores or criminalizes them. They should not be shamed for having children, their family structure, or for public policy that has made the city unsafe for parenting.

Creating justice—including reproductive justice—in Milwaukee will take much more than parents texting their teens to come home. The National Guard must leave immediately. Our leaders must identify anti-Black racism as a root cause of the uprisings. And, lastly, creating justice must start with an end to harmful rhetoric from officials who lead the way in ignoring and dehumanizing Milwaukee residents.

Sheriff Clarke has continued his outrageous comments. In another interview, he added he wouldn’t “be satisfied until these creeps crawl back into their holes so that the good law-abiding people that live in the Milwaukee ghetto can return to at least a calm quality of life.”

Many of Milwaukee’s Black families have never experienced calm. They have not experienced a city that centers their needs and voices. Black youth fed up with their treatment are not creeps.

And what hole do you think they should crawl back into? The hole where they face unemployment, underemployment, police brutality, and racism—and face it without complaint? If that’s the case, you may never be satisfied again, Sheriff.

Our leaders shouldn’t be content with Milwaukee’s status quo. And asking the citizens you serve to be quiet in the ghetto is an insidious expectation.


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