Commentary Race

Common Cause, Different Perspective: The Generational Divide of the Pro-Choice Movement

Eleanor Hinton Hoytt

My generation of feminists took abortion from the back alleys and made it legal for women; today’s generation of feminists will make it affordable, accessible and viable for <strong>all</strong> women – not just the privileged or the comfortably employed middle-classed, or those with supportive families, friends, or partners who support their right to have an option or make a decision to have an abortion.  To my fellow pre-Roe feminists, let’s pass the torch without fear or apprehension!

This article is second in a series published in partnership with Choice USA in an effort to highlight the importance of inter-generational dialogue within the reproductive justice movement and to uncover ways to work together across generations in order to sustain and thrive. Read the first by Andrew Jenkins here

Over the past year, I’ve been in many conversations about the future of the pro-choice movement—conversations that have raised questions about the absence of passionate, angry young feminists today who will take our place as heads of pro-choice organizations tomorrow. These conversations and my recent participation in the Stand Up for Women Rally against defunding Title X and Planned Parenthood reminded me of early experiences about finding my place in a budding feminist movement in the South.

From my time a college student in the South at the height of the civil rights movement to the early 1980s, when the National Black Women’s Health Project was started, there were few places for young, angry Black women. I witnessed many young Black women throughout our communities who were faced with unintended pregnancies and grappled with their one option, feeling that they had no choice.  With no job, no money and paralyzing fear – many young women made the decision to have a back alley abortion.  Admitting their “sin,” returning home to disgraced parents, becoming a wife at their own “shotgun” wedding, and putting their dreams on hold to take care of an unwelcomed baby and an unwanted husband were not options. 

It was these events that led me to step from behind the shadows during a time when many felt women were at their best when they were mute. I declared myself a Black feminist and became embroiled in one of the biggest rights movements in our nation’s history. I wanted to change the landscape for women forever by helping my generation find their courage and voices to declare for ourselves and future generations of women that ‘Our bodies belong to us.’

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For the 1960s and 1970s feminist, our need and desire to have control of our bodies and make our own choices about our lives embedded an unmistakable passion within us to march for our rights, speak up for justice and demand the acknowledgement of our power as women. In 1973, our efforts were rewarded with a landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade – giving women the right to have an abortion. Finally, we could declare that our bodies were our own!

My generation of feminists took abortion from the back alleys and made it legal for women; today’s generation of feminists will make it affordable, accessible and viable for all women – not just the privileged or the comfortably employed middle-classed, or those with supportive families, friends, or partners who support their right to have an option or make a decision to have an abortion.

To us then and to some of us now, abortion was about choice—remembering how limited poor women’s options are, I still grapple with the word choice, and often doubt its meaning. To the young feminist today, what I understand and appreciate about the many young feminists in my life and in the movement is that they are about much more than being passionately PRO-CHOICE.

It’s Time to Pass the Torch

Thirty-three years after the biggest victory to date in the reproductive justice movement, I became the president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative (formerly National Black Women’s Health Project) – the only national organization dedicated solely to advancing the health and wellness of Black women. As a leader of a Black women’s health organization, who is part of that pre-Roe generation, I’m often asked the question, “Are young feminists today ready to lead this fight for reproductive justice?” and I hesitate, just for a moment. But my answer is always, “Yes, and I’m ready to pass the torch.”

I see the ‘passing of the torch’ as a common cause from a different perspective. I have heard the fears that some of the leaders of my generation have about the current generation. That they lack intensity; they refuse to listen and follow; they don’t have the urgency of NOW; and they have never lived without the power of their own agency or without control of their own body. When I see the young feminist of today, I see that their values are different, creativity is unlimited, and understanding of innovation amazing and astonishing. And, most of all, they have greater access and are most accepting of different races, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses and sexualities – this adds many more angels to the fight.

I’m happy that young feminists of today have had more opportunities to claim ownership of their bodies. I am happy that they don’t know the dark alleys, and I’m pleased that they are blogging, tweeting, and asking me to be their Facebook friend. And for many of them I meet, they want to share their stories with me and hear mine—they ask, what has kept me involved, passionate and angry for the past 30 years. I tell them my story and listen to theirs.  But most of all I ask them to believe that they may achieve what I have not in many ways.

I urge my other pre-Roe or “menopausal militia” leaders to recognize the differences in this generation’s struggles, understandings, desires and dreams. I believe that too often we see a different experience or opinion as a sparring point, but now, more than ever, we must see this as a broadening of our cause. Young feminists are not laser-focused on abortion, and that’s okay. Let’s accept their boarder reproductive justice agenda.

To young feminists, we invite you to come ready to listen, share and counsel us on how you can take our strategies, add them to yours and create new and fresh ways to deliver our message to the masses and strengthen our armor in the fight for reproductive justice.

To my fellow pre-Roe feminists, let’s pass the torch without fear or apprehension!

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 Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”