‘Menopausal Militia’ to Young Women: It’s Your Body!

Rebecca Sive

Young women of America: Today’s fight is a defining battle for American women. Fail to understand this at your peril.

I write as a member of the “menopausal militia,” as the New York Times, quoting NARAL’s President, Nancy Keenan this weekend, characterized those of us, “of a certain age,” who have led America’s decades’-long fight for reproductive rights.

But, on this day after the National Day of Action (to stop Stupak), I feel like I’m still 18, in the fall of 1968, gathering nickels, dimes and dollars for a friend to take the bus to Rapid City, South Dakota to get an (illegal) abortion.

On other recent days, I’ve felt like the newly married 23-year-old I was, living in Chicago the year abortion became legal, realizing that the fight was on; that I needed to make this fight a part of my life’s work, for my personal sake.

And on this day after, though still a married woman living in Chicago, things are very different for me. Today, it doesn’t matter to me, for me, whether abortion remains legal or not. It doesn’t even matter to me for my immediate family: I don’t have children or grandchildren. Even so, I know, with every bone in my body, that this is still a fight worth fighting.

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So, it still feels like a day in 1968. For if abortion becomes illegal again, or impossible to obtain in a conventional medical setting–because the Stupak Amendment has become law–it will be 1968 all over again.

For sure, it will be 1968 all over again if America’s young women don’t wake up and realize that women’s reproductive rights can only be secured by battling to secure this human right, the right to control one’s own body.

In 1968, as we looked towards adulthood, we knew that the threshold determinant of women’s equality was the capacity to control one’s reproductive destiny. We recognized that, absent that capacity, the rest just isn’t possible; nope, and hear me clearly on this one: none of it: not that cuddly family, not that nice home, not that non-sexist husband, not that good job, not the ability to choose when to have children, or how many to have, for the capacity to determine one’s own reproductive life is what makes all the rest of this achievable.

So, yes, we’ve battled ever since, and in the process we’ve become a (menopausal) militia.

And because we have, we’re here to tell you to stop talking about personal choice, as though it could be the basis of the strategy to win this fight (to stop Stupak) to keep abortion safe and legal. It isn’t.

Time to leave the talk to the (male) academics, pollsters and journalists. And while you’re at it, time to leave to the big-time male executives at the big-time ad agencies (they can waste their time) the business of proposing new taglines and “softer” messages: "If you just try this one, ma’am, you’re sure to get those middle-of-the-road moms on your side"…as though selling a permanent commitment to women’s reproductive choice were like selling perfume. 

Listen to us, us members of the menopausal militia. We know, from direct and repeated experience for decades, that there just isn’t any “nice” way to convince politicians to keep abortion safe and legal. This one is “hard time,” not in prison, but certainly in a war zone. 

Time to get real–you (younger) women who are wishing it were otherwise: This fight is about your body, and who controls it.

Why in the world do you think that it was only women’s reproductive healthcare that got exempted from a reasonable and comprehensive approach to providing Americans with access to healthcare? Was this just the luck-of-the-draw, just Congressional business as usual?

Hell, no.

There have been numerous other issues facing Congress on which the Blue Dogs said they’d hold out.  But, when it came down to it, they didn’t. Yet, when it came to legislation that would guarantee women’s autonomy, they did, and then, to add insult to injury, they convinced others to join them in their war against American women.

Why were these Members of Congress able to do this?  Because women’s autonomy–remember: it took women almost 150 years to get the right to vote in this country–isn’t what the men who (still) rule America want for us. Why? Because our gaining our autonomy is about their giving up their power.

If I cede the basic position from whence my power stems–in the case of a male legislator, that’s being male–what might I have left?

Forget the catchy slogans and friendly messages. Forget the pretty pink websites. Forget the pollsters. Forget trying to make deals with legislators fundamentally unsympathetic to the cause of women’s autonomy. Forget trying to make ever-so-reasonable arguments about reducing the cost of health care, or about the benefits of health care, if we just have reproductive coverage for those mothers who love their children just so much.

Instead, recognize that today’s fight is a defining battle for American women.

Today, and on every day to come, be battle-ready: be prepared to tell your legislators they’ve crossed the line. In fact, tell them they need to step back. Tell them you will lie down on the steps of the Capitol, so they can’t get in to vote; tell them you will picket the White House, so they can’t meet with the President; tell them you will ruin their family’s Christmas, and oh, by the way, while you’re at it, remind them you birthed the children now going to Afghanistan to fight, and because you did, you know every child should be a loved and wanted child; tell them you know that the America your children now fight for, and die for, is one which should give you equal rights, in all matters, and that means the right to control your own body. Tell them nothing less will do.

Young women of America: Fail to understand this at your peril. Take this lesson from the menopausal militia to heart.

Young women of America: Prepare for many, many more national days of action. And know that we’ll be right there with you. 

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Abortion

Texas Pro-Choice Advocates Push Back Against State’s Anti-Choice Pamphlet

Teddy Wilson

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated since 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature.

Reproductive rights advocates are calling for changes to information forced on pregnant people seeking abortion services, thanks to a Texas mandate.

Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2003, which requires abortion providers to inform pregnant people of the medical risks associated with abortion care, as well as the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.

The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated or revised since it was first made public in 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in June published a revised draft version of the pamphlet. The draft version of “A Woman’s Right to Know” was published online, and proposed revisions are available for public comment until Friday.

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John Seago, spokesperson for the anti-choice Texas Right to Life, told KUT that the pamphlet was created so pregnant people have accurate information before they consent to receiving abortion care.

“This is a booklet that’s not going to be put in the hands of experts, it’s not going to be put in the hands of OB-GYNs or scientists–it’s going to be put in the hands of women who will range in education, will range in background, and we want this booklet to be user-friendly enough that anyone can read this booklet and be informed,” he said.

Reproductive rights advocates charge that the information in the pamphlet presented an anti-abortion bias and includes factually incorrect information.

More than 34 percent of the information found in the previous version of the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet was medically inaccurate, according to a study by a Rutgers University research team.

State lawmakers and activists held a press conference Wednesday outside the DSHS offices in Austin and delivered nearly 5,000 Texans’ comments to the agency.  

Kryston Skinner, an organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund, spoke during the press conference about her experience having an abortion in Texas, and how the state-mandated pamphlet made her feel stigmatized.

Skinner told Rewire that the pamphlet “causes fear” in pregnant people who are unaware that the pamphlet is rife with misinformation. “It’s obviously a deterrent,” Skinner said. “There is no other reason for the state to force a medical professional to provide misinformation to their patients.”

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said in a statement that the pamphlet is the “latest shameful example” of Texas lawmakers playing politics with reproductive health care. “As a former registered nurse, I find it outrageous that the state requires health professionals to provide misleading and coercive information to patients,” Howard said.

Howard, vice chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, vowed to propose legislation that would rid the booklet of its many inaccuracies if DSHS fails to take the thousands of comments into account, according to the Austin Chronicle

Lawmakers in several states have passed laws mandating that states provide written materials to pregnant people seeking abortion services. These so-called informed consent laws often require that the material include inaccurate or misleading information pushed by legislators and organizations that oppose legal abortion care. 

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sent a letter to DSHS that said the organization has “significant concerns with some of the material and how it is presented.”

Among the most controversial statements made in the pamphlet is the claim that “doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”

Texas Right to Life said in a statement that the organization wants the DSHS include “stronger language” about the supposed correlation between abortion and breast cancer. The organization wants the pamphlet to explicitly cite “the numerous studies that indicate undergoing an elective abortion contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women.”

Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) said in a statement that the state should provide the “most accurate science available” to pregnant people seeking an abortion. “As a breast cancer survivor, I am disappointed that DSHS has published revisions to the ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet that remain scientifically and medically inaccurate,” Davis said.

The link between abortion and cancer has been repeatedly debunked by scientific research.

“Scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.

A report by the National Cancer Institute explains, “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Texas Tribune that the original booklet was written by a group of agency officials, legislators and public health and medical professionals.

“We carefully considered medical and scientific information when updating the draft booklet,” Williams said.