Commentary Abortion

Forty Years In and Women of Color Still Lack Access to Reproductive Health Care

Mariotta Gary-Smith

40. Significant also for the landmark Roe v. Wade decision 40 years ago that made it legal for women to obtain an abortion. I wonder, what is next for Roe v. Wade?

This post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a blog series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.

Forty. This past summer I turned 40, a milestone year in my life. Not too young, not too old. I wonder which way I am headed next. 

Forty. Significant also for the landmark Roe v. Wade decision 40 years ago that made it legal for women to obtain an abortion. I wonder, what is next for Roe v. Wade?

I’m a child of the civil rights and feminist movements. The year I turned 16, my mother, herself a lifetime activist/agitator, turned 40 and began sharing with me more of her history and her views on the issues. She told me about how she wasn’t able to attend the college she wanted to because my grandmother (another civil rights activist/agitator) was fearful of my mother going to school in the deep South. In 1966, the year my mother would have entered college, young Black women were facing grave dangers.

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My mother spoke passionately about how she wanted more for me—she wanted me to have all that she’d worked for and to understand why she chose to fight and advocate. She talked to me about my right to a life full of “unending potential, possibility, and promise.” She talked about my right to choose, the various choices I would be making, and how I would make them. We always talked openly, honestly, and yes, with some difficulty, about sexuality, especially Black female sexuality. Our conversation reverberated with tones of the Middle Passage, American slavery, Jim Crow, segregation… and choice. We talked about how my life was my choice: my body, what I did with it, and who I decided to do things with were all mine.

In high school, several of my peers were pregnant and had to make a choice. Some left school to give birth and parent. Some opted for adoption. The few who exercised their right to terminate their pregnancy asked me to help advocate for them. I did, continuing the family legacy of being a youth-focused activist. I remember the stigma and shame these young women endured. It was a horrible and soul shaking experience. The images that were pushed on us as we walked into the clinic, the vile words that were shouted at us: “baby killers;” “whores who have no morals.” I hadn’t felt such tangible hatred from folks before. They had no clue about the personal situations that resulted in a decision to abort, and of course, none of them offered other ways to help, either.

At college, I continued to speak out and advocate for friends who chose to terminate pregnancies. During these years, I worked at a reproductive health clinic that provided health services, including abortion. As staff, we were required to receive training in bomb safety and self-defense just to go to work. It was a choice that I made, and without hesitation, I would do it again. Yet, the environment was hard, working to provide quality, compassionate care to women and their families/partners under threats of harm and violence. Although time has passed, the stigma and the hostile reality for women who exercise their right to choose still feel fresh and palpable.

Forty years young and it strikes me deeply how the right to choose is still a question of whether women have a right to control their own bodies. I got a loud, resounding answer during this most recent election cycle. Women, their bodies, and choice were bandied around by white men who promoted their concept of “women” as a commodity, interchangeable with whatever parts fit the needs of those in power. I was disgusted with the conversations about rape, power, and choice—and the deafening silence about intersections of oppression that impact many women.

Because of my experience in the deep South, the reality of how difficult it is for women to access services without being harassed, stigmatized, disrespected or arrested is not lost on me. In places outside of the South, people might have the idea that it’s no longer so hard to gain access to abortion services. Women of color, immigrant women, and low-income women who are pregnant know, however, that access to reproductive health services (especially abortion) has many roadblocks. Consider what these women might encounter if they have issues with finances, transportation, immigration status, not having childcare/support, literacy issues, addiction, language barriers. All these issues shape the ability of women to seek access to quality care, including safe and legal abortions in a state that is considered a leader in health care reform. That is why a path to citizenship is a choice issue. Economic justice and educational equity are choice issues. Criminal justice reform is a choice issue. The list is long, yet important.

Roe v. Wade. Forty. Not too young or too old. Right in the middle. Which way are we headed? What will be the legacy that is yet unwritten? How do we want the impact of this decision to ripple out for the next generation of women?

This year I turned 40. Not too young, not too old. Right in the middle. What I choose now in my life will certainly inform the life and legacy that I want to have. As I reflect back on my mother, and the hopes she expressed to me, I ask myself, what would I say to her? I would say to her, “Mama, I’ve chosen to remain committed to our family legacy of activism. I’ve refused to remain silent, and instead I am openly supporting other women in their decisions, whatever they may be. I’ve tried to live the life you imagined for me so many years ago in the hopes that I’ve made you proud.”

And so, I will always choose to fight for women’s right to make choices about their lives. I will always choose to make sure my reproductive choice is fully protected, honored, and available. I will always choose to see the complexity of that choice, and to find my place in the multiple and connected struggles for social justice, not only for me, but for my nieces and nephews, godchildren, sisters and brothers, cousins, and friends. And, especially for you.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.