Commentary Abortion

In Jackson, Mississippi, Southern Hospitality and Food for Thought on Access to Abortion

Robin Marty

On my first day in Mississippi, I was schooled in reproductive rights by an unlikely source.

Robin Marty is reporting for Rewire from Jackson, Mississippi this week.

I expected my beliefs to be challenged in a number of ways when I came down to Jackson, Mississippi.

I didn’t expect it to come from an intern from England.

Southern charm and hospitality is a reality, and I experienced it firsthand from the moment I arrived. After calling to ask my host to remind me of her address, she picked me up from the airport instead, energetically sharing everything from the saga of filling her car up with gas (and believe me, it was a saga) to a full tour of the city, including a ride past Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state capitol building, her home, and what she referred to as “The Help Tour” (the author of the book grew up in the neighborhood and the story took place there).

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My host often opens her home to journalists, lawyers, anyone who needs a short-term place to stay. The definition of “short” varies—I will be here for just a few days, others live with her a few months at a time.

That’s how I met Elizabeth. Also boarding here, the young British lawyer is interning for Deathrow Legal Defense Fund. Out for a ride to pick up some of the most essential needs for our time in town (me, groceries; Elizabeth, a microphone headset to skype with her loved ones back home) the traditional getting-to-know-you line of work questions got more philosophical, as they always tend to when you write these sorts of topics.

“So for you, the right to an abortion is a bodily integrity issue?” she asked.

I told her about a conversation I had recently with someone who would be considered an anti-choice adversary, and how because of it, I thought very long and hard about the question “Is there any change that could ever make you ‘pro-life.'” Of course, she meant pro-life under her terms, where no one is allowed to have an abortion. I spent a full 24 hours mulling the question, trying to come up with an scenario where I might say that there could be no abortions, but I could only come up with one change that would allow me to accept that as a possibility.

“Only if there became a way to transfer a pregnancy from the moment the person carrying it no longer wanted to be pregnant, and instead give it to someone else, intact and alive,” I told her. “Abortion is about a person not wanting to be pregnant, not just not wanting to raise a child.”

At the time, I was convinced I was pretty definitive. Elizabeth made me realize I still hadn’t thought it all the way through. There will be a time not too far in the future when science will have artificial wombs, she pointed out. What then?

“How would they get the baby? Wouldn’t that be invasive?” she questioned.

“Well, yes, probably. But abortion is a process, too.”

“You can take a pill, and it all comes out,” she said. “That’s not invasive. Besides, this would be mentally invasive. Knowing that you have a child out there regardless of the fact that you didn’t want it to exist. That’s emotionally invasive.”

It didn’t take too long for me to realize that she was completely right. Even if we could magically and with no effort transfer an embryo or fetus somewhere else to complete its growth, there is much in the past to support the belief that a woman, if left with the choice to not be pregnant but know that a child with her genetic code is out in the world somewhere, or stay pregnant and keep and raise the child herself, she would be inclined to choose the latter. If abortion no longer existed and the “choice” was either embryo transfer or giving birth, there’s little reason to believe that women would choose transfer as a viable option over giving birth and keeping the resulting child.

We see the beginnings of that even now. Although anti-choice activists point often to the decline in available babies for adoption, citing abortion as the reason for the lack of supply, one adoption historian claims it isn’t the legalizing of abortion that has caused the change, but the acceptance and assistance of single parent families. “The number of births out of wedlock actually continued to rise sharply in the 1970s and 1980s, after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. But now there was less stigma attached to the single-parent home,” said author Barbara Melosh in an interview for her book Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption.

In fact, that explains the stances that often seem so contradictory in anti-choice policy: an opposition to both abortion and federal programs that often assist poor families, many of whom are being supported by single mothers. Opposition to abortion ensures pregnancies that must be carried to term. Opposition to assistance programs leave these mothers with no ability to raise those children on their own.

It took me all night to understand it, but when I woke up this morning something dawned on me that had not before. There already was a womb that could carry the child until it was born and then allow someone else to have the resulting child. According to the “pro-life” faction, that was exactly what the pregnant woman was.

No wonder they’ve fought Roe so hard for the last 40 years.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

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.