Securing Real Choices Means Going Beyond “Choice”

Silvia Henriquez

I fervently identified as pro-choice. However, how I define abortion rights is not as simple as being pro-choice. At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, we are faced with talking about abortion rights within the broader context of women’s real lives.

This post is part of our "What Does Choice Mean to You?" series commemorating the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

I was a junior in high school the first time I understood the political meaning of the term pro-choice. My very progressive, feminist “herstory” teacher organized a school trip to attend the 1992 abortion rights march in Washington DC. Sadly I was unable to go, but I eagerly made feminist signs, created slogans, and supported my friends who did attend. I soaked in everything about the abortion rights movement.  It was a turning point in my political consciousness.

I fervently identified as pro-choice. However, how I define abortion rights is not as simple as being pro-choice. My parents came to the U.S from El Salvador in the early 70s. They have always been political. However, abortion for my parents is not a political issue; it is a health care service. My father, who has been a physician in the Bronx for over 30 years, always reminds me, that when he was a medical student in El Salvador, he saw women in the emergency room with unfinished or botched abortions. Many of them died trying to do the best for their families.

The term “choice” was not used to describe the decision that led women to the emergency room in El Salvador 37 years ago. And in 2010 as we in the United States commemorate the 37th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade “choice” does not encompass the reproductive health decisions that low-income Latinas are making every day. The term pro-choice does not describe the complexity of our lives that leads to the need to consider abortion.  These are the stories and realities that I keep at the forefront of my activism. I am privileged to lead an organization who places at the center the most marginalized women in our communities. We prioritize abortion rights so that we can bring dignity to women who seek abortions and justice to the women who died because of their botched abortions.

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At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, we are faced with talking about abortion rights within the context of women’s real lives. For example, when a Latina is told by her school teacher that she’s better off getting pregnant than trying to go to college, we’ve undermined her “choice” for her future. If the closest family planning clinic is located miles away, if public transportation is lacking or dangerous, if anti-immigrant rhetoric instills fear both for immigrants and native-born members of a household, if politicians ban abortion funding for the poorest among us, the concept of “choice” is more of a privilege than a rallying cry. How these issues intersect make it complicated and difficult for us to have just one unified way of addressing abortion rights. However, I think we can all agree that “choice” does not move our agenda forward.

Looking ahead, it is time to collectively expand our messaging and embrace a holistic vision for reproductive freedom. Building bridges and intersecting reproductive health care with other progressive movements such as the education reform movement or supporting communities to improve the public transportation systems are steps in de-polarizing abortion. Cross-movement work, however, also means that we need to actually say the word abortion and not use euphemisms like “pro-choice”. There are many divergent opinions on abortion.  However, I am confident that by embracing a social justice paradigm to pursue abortion rights we will continue to build an energetic and unified movement.  I have not lost hope that one day abortion care will be as my father views it, simply a health care service.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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