Commentary Abortion

Response to Time: What Choice? *Our* Choice

Charlotte Taft

Like so much journalism, the Time magazine article seemed determined to focus on conflict and failure, rather than on the extraordinary energy and transformative gifts of the movement for women’s reproductive choice have yielded over these past 40 years.

It is always exciting when one of our colleagues is featured in an important article such as Time Magazine’s Cover article What Choice? Many thanks to Abortion Care Network member Tammi Kromenaker and all her staff and patients at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, ND for inviting this journalist into their daily routine and letting her see firsthand both the caring provided by an independent abortion provider, and the ridiculous hoops that patients have to jump through. Tammi made sure that the journalist understood some of the complex reasons that women choose abortion. Pickert noted that when a patient wasn’t sure about her choice she was given more time to consider what she wanted to do. She shared many statistics that the public may not be aware of, for example that independent clinics provide the majority of abortions, and that most of the women who have abortions already have children.

But I was sorry to see that, like so much journalism, this article seemed determined to focus on conflict and failure, rather than on the extraordinary energy and transformative gifts of the movement for women’s reproductive choice have yielded over these past forty years.

I know Kate Pickert had access to another perspective of the movement because I had a lengthy interview with her. I shared the fact that there is really nothing new about the Reproductive Justice concept—that what the early women’s movement worked for was a panoply of changes including access to excellent child care; health care; housing; freedom from violence; access to credit; equal pay; progressive divorce laws; an end to forced sterilization; access to understandable consent information for any medical procedures; safe birth control; and, yes, safe and legal abortion. Of course we didn’t see abortion as separate from other aspects of women’s’ lives. What we wanted is what we still want—a society that supports the ability of women to make real choices about their lives—not one in which women have children they don’t want to have because they don’t have access to abortion; or have abortions they don’t want because they can’t afford to have children. I acknowledged that over the years political and legal attacks on abortion have backed us into a corner in which we have often felt we have to protect the most fundamental right to an abortion, and the movement for Reproductive Justice reminds us that we cannot sacrifice any of our fundamental rights without putting them all in jeopardy.

I shared the reality that women have been bombarded by a well-funded 40 year old campaign to shame and control them, no matter what their choices. Women face stigma when we have children at what someone thinks is the wrong time or in the wrong circumstances; when we don’t have children; when we have abortions; when we place children for adoption; when we have miscarriages for which we can be blamed; when we want to give birth with dignity and autonomy regardless of the edicts of the medical establishment; and when we struggle with motherhood under impossible circumstances without the support anyone would expect in a civilized society. Every far right wing faction from the Tea Party to the Taliban seeks to control women by shaming them and creating rules for every aspect of their lives, beginning with their sexuality and reproductive lives.

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I was dismayed to see Pickert give space to the idea that “…a rebellion within the abortion rights cause—pitting feminists in their 20’s and 30s against pro-choice power brokers who were in their 20s and 30s when Roe was decided—threatens to tear it in two.” Obviously there are profound changes in any movement from generation to generation. It is the deep caring about these issues from people of all ages that is the enduring story. What I see is an extraordinary working together of feminists of all generations, especially in clinics and statewide coalitions. What I see is a movement that has room, and a need for all of us. The Board of the Abortion Care Network is made up of the voices of young women who bring their perspectives of political change and ways to harness the power of current technology and social networking, as well as the wisdom and experience of those who have been in this movement for four decades. We benefit from all these perspectives. But the movement is much more than the organizations that have battling for women since Roe. It is also the bottom-up power of people who will not be controlled or silenced by politicians. An example is the extraordinary outpouring of human outrage at the antics of the right-wing dominated legislatures in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, that represented women and men of all ages and cultures. I dispute unequivocally the idea that those who support illegal abortion “are more where the American people are.” We who provide abortion see every day that Americans of all ages, nationalities, cultures, and religions vote for legal abortion by the choices they make.

I also must take exception with the idea that illustrating that abortion is normal is counterproductive, as Frances Kissling is quoted as saying. We are not ‘normalizing’ anything—as if that is somehow making up a story. We are simply pointing out that abortion is normal and has been since the dawn of time. Women yearn to be able to determine when and whether to bring new life into the world through their bodies. The fact that it is normal doesn’t mean it is trivial. And because it is not trivial, most women consider their decisions very carefully. Because it is not trivial, women don’t choose to have children when they feel that cannot nurture them properly. No matter what accusations could be made that the ‘movement’ is afraid of the nuances around abortion, it is clear that most abortion providers are not just aware of the complexity of pregnancy issues, but have worked hard to assist women to come to their own choices working through those nuances. The Time article didn’t share the movement to challenge stigma, or the powerful message of ACN’s You Are a Good Woman, or the Pregnancy Options Workbook or the Guide to Spiritual Resolution After Abortion. I was disappointed that this voice of abortion care didn’t have a central place in this piece. Women and men deserve to know that we who provide abortions are their partners and allies—not another ‘side’ that they have to negotiate in order to make their own decisions.

The idea that trusting women to know whether or not it is best for them to have a child in their circumstances is ‘hard line’ makes no sense to me. Whom else can we trust to make this most fundamentally personal decision? Abortion providers know very well that even the women who have been picketing our clinics the day before their abortion are very clear that their situation is special and no restrictions are appropriate. Which woman’s choice should we give up on —the young woman? The poor woman? The woman who feels she can’t bear a child with profound handicaps? The woman who had an affair? The woman whose reasons aren’t ‘good enough’? The woman who was raped in a way that some politician thinks wasn’t legitimate? And when we care about and support women, we are also supporting their children. This fact has been invisible in the national conversation on abortion.

With the election of 2012 we have turned an important corner. We watched as abortion and birth control became topics of conversation in every news media and political race, and hence at every kitchen table. Secrets were told and women claimed their rights, and the world didn’t fall apart. Men and women from all walks of society became more comfortable demanding that women must have authority over their own health options. The antis have been clever and found ways to align themselves with political power. But no movement can truly call itself ‘pro-life’ when it has wantonly murdered doctors and others in the abortion care community. No movement can truly call itself ‘pro-life’ when it seeks to make abortion illegal, thus ushering in illegal abortion as has been shown all over the globe. And no movement based on tactics of spreading stigma, fear, and shame can prevail in the long run. This is our time to reach out to all our partners and allies who understand that what are dismissed as ‘social issues’ affect us economically and politically, and emotionally, and spiritually. Our strength comes in our honesty; our respect for women and all those who care about them; and our deep recognition that all the issues of our lives are connected.

What Choice? Our choice!

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.”