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There Is No Magic Word: Why We Are and Must Remain ‘Pro-Choice’

9:19 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jon O’Brien for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

At a time when state legislatures continue to break new records for the number of restrictions on reproductive health-care access introduced, passed into law, and placed on ballots, when lawsuits against birth control coverage continue to trickle into the courts, when political candidates can’t even get it right on rape and the White House has repeatedly used abortion and birth control as bargaining chips, those of us who support reproductive autonomy face critical questions. One question should not be, as some have recently posited, whether or not a group adheres to a pro-choice or a reproductive justice frame when doing its work. It should be how each of us, individually and as organizations, can best use our knowledge, strengths, resources, and values to bring about change that makes women’s reproductive autonomy a reality.

F Collective: Pro-Choice Action

Pro-Choice Action

 

Right now, we need every voice and perspective we can get to speak out loudly, strongly, wherever, and to whomever they can, in whatever language they speak best, to protect rights that many thought were guaranteed. A movement that is monolithic does not use the best everyone has to offer. One that allows all organizations and individuals to identify as they see fit and truly put their passions to work on shared or complementary goals will thrive. We win when we have a definite, common goal that requires real action, and we win when we allow a variety of groups to speak to their own communities with their own voices. We recently saw this in Florida, where women’s organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the League of Women Voters; religious organizations such as Catholics for Choice, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; and reproductive justice organizations such as the Miami International-Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy (MI-LOLA) all worked to soundly defeat two ballot measures aimed at curtailing abortion access and real religious liberty.

Unfortunately, some advocates for reproductive health, rights, and justice insist we wordsmith the movement rather than take action. Some folks are paralyzed by semantics, stuck in a vain search for a magic word or phrase that will convince everybody to agree with us. In doing so, the focus is taken off what we believe and what we need to do, and we are reduced to creating word clouds of marketing frames outlining why we must replace the concept of “choice.” “Reproductive justice” has been suggested as this magic phrase.

Both choice and reproductive justice have a place in our battle for women’s autonomy. But one cannot take the place of the other.

At Catholics for Choice, we approach the word “choice” from an ideological standpoint, one that includes justice at its very core — social justice. We are called by our faith to advocate most strongly for policies that protect and lift up all people, particularly the most marginalized and the poorest of the poor. Our religious beliefs compel us to recognize the dignity and rights of all people, who deserve respect and equal access to reproductive health care, no matter their race, color, class, or creed. We cannot settle for any less. Why some people have failed to recognize that justice is an inherent part of what we do is a mystery to us.

We believe, however, that the reproductive justice model is an important piece of the reproductive rights movement. It works for some groups to reach the constituencies that they must reach. It reminds the rest of the movement that we are not, nor should we be, a homogenous steamroller.

As our colleague Loretta Ross, the co-founder and national coordinator of SisterSong, has noted, it was American women of color who first coined the term “reproductive justice” almost 20 years ago, in 1994. They did this to embrace a broader range of concerns that many women of color in the United Sates shared and that were not being addressed by some in the pro-choice movement. They found a phrase to express their unmet needs and through which they could develop solutions. SisterSong continues to highlight these concerns, and we are a stronger movement because of their efforts.

Unfortunately, as others have adopted this framework, some people have chosen to denigrate the language and framework of choice, even sighing a “huge sigh of relief” when others choose to stop identifying as pro-choice. We do not need to tear down each other in order to build ourselves up, and it is misguided to assume that there is a single way to approach a common goal or a single way of viewing the work that we do and why we do it. Those who have dismissed choice have most often misrepresented it. They have pointed to polling data claiming that the number of people calling themselves “pro-choice” is in decline, when most of us already believed that putting “choice” vs. “life” in head-to-head polling is a mindless approach. We’ve long known that Americans have felt that pitting the two terms against each other creates a false dichotomy, and that even those who consider themselves staunchly “pro-life” don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and do support abortion access at least some of the time.

Some have also claimed that Millennials don’t “get” choice, that choice does not reflect what Millennials need to hear in order to support access to reproductive rights. As Jennie Bristow noted in her perceptive essay on the alleged generation war over abortion rights in the United States, “Winning the argument for choice might be difficult today — though it is hard to see why it is more difficult now than in previous decades. What is certain is that younger generations of women, and their daughters, will lose a great deal if we turn our back on the ‘pro-choice label.’” It is, on the one hand, patronizing to assume that young people do not understand what being pro-choice means or must be told something different in order to gain their support for reproductive rights. It is equally troubling that many of those claiming that we need to use something other than choice to speak to Millennials view young people as a problem to be solved rather than a source of energy and people power for our movement.

Young people are the ones most often out canvassing, working phone banks, staffing, and leading our organizations, and they are more supportive of reproductive rights than other generations. They are the ones who are of reproductive age. The supposed “intensity gap” between pro-choice young people and anti-choice young people today largely tracks the so-called “intensity gap” between people of different generations. That perceived lack of involvement does not mean that young people cannot or will not prioritize choice. It does mean that those of us charged with sustaining the movement need to do less talking at young people about how they are the problem. We need to instead offer them real action that all people — young and old — can rally around.

It is not as if reproductive justice itself is not without its challenges. While it is absolutely right for some organizations, we cannot afford to be Pollyannaish in assuming it is right for everybody. In particular, we cannot be dictatorial in charging every group to use the term or pretend that it is inherently superior to choice in its ideology.

Some of the challenges of the reproductive justice framework illustrate why it cannot be a substitute for choice, as a concept or as a practical strategy. They include the following.

Read the rest of this entry →

Open Letter to Representative Trent Franks: What Caring About Women and Babies Really Looks Like

7:31 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bria Murray for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Dear Representative Trent Franks,

A mother nurses her infant

What does it mean to care for women? (Photo: See-Ming Lee / Flickr)

Today, I watched you debate during the markup for H.R. 3803, or, as you may know it, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks in Washington, DC. I watched you valiantly fight to save “the children” from their pain even in the case of rape or incest, or when a mother has been diagnosed with cancer and the treatment needed to save her life is incompatible with the continuation of her pregnancy. I watched you warn the rest of the judiciary committee that abortions are linked to higher rates of suicide, even though this “fact,” and the basis for the bill itself (that 20-week-old fetuses can feel pain) flies in the face of all accredited scientific evidence.

And all I could think about was September 7, 2007.

It may seem strange to you. September 7, 2007 was nearly five years ago. Why think about that now? And why such a specific date?

September 7, 2007 was the night I was raped.

September 7, 2007 was the night that my rapist’s sperm met my egg and I was impregnated with the child of my rapist.

I thought about all of this as I watched you passionately advocate on behalf of “the tiny little babies” and the only reaction I could muster was “how dare you.”

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your claim of caring about the “pain of the tiny babies” rings hollow when one remembers your support of the Ryan Budget, which would have slashed over $36 billion from food assistance programs. You called them “slush funds” and “runaway federal spending.” This from a member of the House of Representatives, who makes more in a month than I do in a year.

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your claim of caring about the “increased risk of suicide” among those who seek abortions rings hollow when, again and again, you have voted to strip people like me of health care by voting for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the slashing of Medicare and Medicaid. These programs that I, personally, rely on so that I can afford counseling to help me deal with the trauma of being raped.  After all, “health care” involves your mental health as well.

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your faux concern for the physical and mental well-being of parents and their children is sickening when you have over and over again proven your concern for both is nonexistent.

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Three Strategies for Promoting Women’s Right to Safe Abortion Care

11:55 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by On The Issues Magazine for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post. Originally written by Ayesha Chatterjee and Judy Norsigian for On The Issues Magazine.

As current staff members at Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS), an organization that has advanced the health and human rights of women and girls over four decades, and longtime reproductive justice activists, we continue to hope that safe and affordable abortion care will, someday, become a reality for everyone. With increasing attacks and restrictions on abortion access worldwide, we have our work cut out.

Here, in the U.S., the debate around abortion has become especially polarized. Right-wing and anti-choice groups bombard young people with messages that stereotype and stigmatize those seeking abortion services — both individuals and entire communities. Think: billboards have popped up around the country equating abortion to the genocide of African-American children, who are further described as an “endangered species.” These — and other — oversimplified messages mock a personal and often complex decision, not to mention the right to a constitutionally-protected and medically- safe procedure. They influence how people, especially young people, articulate and align themselves on abortion. They drive our activism — our tireless commitment to alliances across aisles and opinions, and to conversations that move beyond “pro-life” and “pro-choice” rhetoric to focus on the individual, her needs, rights and circumstances.

Engaging, mobilizing and building alliances on an issue like abortion can be an uphill climb. But as 2012 rolls in, we want to take a few minutes to remind you about why it is important and suggest a few ways you can go about this challenge. Read the rest of this entry →

Race, Class, and Rights in Mississippi: How A Reproductive Justice Campaign Can Save the Pill and Save the Vote

9:40 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Loretta Ross for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The 2011 Mississippi ballot Initiative 26 on Personhood and Initiative 27 on Voter ID exclusions may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the Pro-Choice and Reproductive Justice Movements to work together. In Mississippi, we are witnessing the intersection of race and gender politics in a campaign in which African American voters are probably the most critical constituents when they go to the polls on November 8. It’s a case study on Roe v. Wade intersecting with the Voting Rights Act and the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.

For the Reproductive Justice movement, this is an example of theory meeting practice in which we have an opportunity to link our human rights struggles in a statewide campaign. The best spokespeople are readily talking about both ballot initiatives consistently by bringing together women, families, race, and poverty. By co-joining race (Voter ID-27) with gender (Personhood-26), we have an excellent opportunity to experience an example of intersectionality in practice in an electoral campaign in which black women may be the very voters we need to move the needle against our opponents’ long-term manipulation of the African American electorate.

We have to strengthen the common ground between the Reproductive Justice and Pro-Choice movements based on linking human rights issues together. Reproductive Justice is our best opportunity to join middle-class women with poor women so that we can win for all women. Read the rest of this entry →

Surprise! Crisis Pregnancy Centers Don’t Separate Education, Religion

9:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andrea Grimes for RHRealityCheck.org. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The Texas Independent reports today on violations ranging from fire safety to client privacy in Texas’ many “alternatives to abortion” contractors. You know them as crisis pregnancy centers, and also as one of the few state-funded programs that saw their funding increase in this atrocious budget year–from $4 million to $4.15 million, despite the fact that they provide no medical care, no medical advice and are staffed by religious-motivated volunteers who undergo a minimum of training. Actual medical care that serves women and children in Texas been slashed, and Planned Parenthood has lost $47 million in funding.

The Texas Pregnancy Care Network conducted what amounts to an internal audit–with faith-based, religious-motivated inspectors looking into violations in clinics they have a vested interest in keeping afloat. There has not yet been an official third-party, or even Texas Department of Health and Human Services inspection into these CPC’s.

The Independent has the entire CPC inspection report available to read, but I’d just like to pluck out one totally not surprising finding: 15 percent of contractors did not, during supervised inspections, separate religious and educational material….

Continue reading…

The Triumph Over Racist Billboards in Oakland: We Did It Together

8:26 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Eveline Shen for RHRealityCheck.org. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On behalf of all of us who have worked on the campaign to remove the racist, anti-choice billboards in Oakland, I want to say thank you for all you did. So many of you emailed CBS Outdoor and spread the word about the action that we were able to generate thousands of emails to CBS Outdoor insisting on the removal of the billboards. At the height of the action, over 500 emails an hour were going into their local and national offices.

When the billboards were removed early Monday morning, all of us were relieved, and held our heads high as we walked our own streets. It is critical for us to name and claim Oakland as a place where each woman’s right to access the reproductive health care she needs is preserved, no matter her race, income, or immigration status. We are honored that several elected officials have joined their voices with ours. Congresswoman Barbara Lee reacted with a powerful statement condemning the billboards, and Mayor Jean Quan worked closely with us to ensure CBS Outdoor knew we had the full support of her administration.

Our coalition accomplished so much in a few weeks…from reaching out to thousands of supporters, to talking with local and national media, publishing our own OpEds and blog posts, and engaging elected officials. And in the final days of the billboards’ presence on our streets, we took a camera and a microphone and headed out to hear from Black women themselves what the billboards meant to them. These powerful videos were the result.

The racist billboards are part of a nationwide effort to wedge communities of color, and divide us from each other. Oakland reacted powerfully, with a unified voice to say, “Not here!”

But as we look around the country, we see a different picture.

Continue reading….

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

7:46 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Eleanor Hinton Hoytt for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

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. … Read more

Citizens United: An Unprecedented Threat to Reproductive and Sexual Justice

7:30 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jodi Jacobson for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

What’s the connection between the personhood of a fertilized egg and the personhood of corporations?

Both can and will undermine the fundamental rights of women.

On January 21st of this year, perhaps in some cosmically ironic sense a day before the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court handed down a decision on the Citizens United case.

In the 5 to 4 opinion, the Court held that:

Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.

Corporations can take money, funnel money, and use money to their political advantage in campaigns for U.S. elected offices and…they do not have to disclose a dime.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Can’t Make Eye Contact With Abortion Rights

7:18 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Loretta Ross for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

I find myself somewhat depressed by what’s going on in this moment. A year ago, millions of us watched with great hope the inauguration of President Obama. I did not expect him to be a miracle worker, given the overwhelming crises he inherited from George Bush — an economic meltdown, two wars, an out-of-control deficit, and a crisis of faith in our government and public institutions. The Office of the President had lost all credibility as the multiple lies and manipulations of the Bush-Cheney administration brought our country to its knees.

President Obama had a full-blown mess on his hands. He needed to prioritize saving the economy, ending the wars, combating terrorism, enacting health care reform, and restoring trust in the government before he could get to the main issues I wanted as a reproductive justice activist. I fully understood that we had elected a neo-liberal to beat back a neo-fascist agenda. So his support for Wall Street, for corporations, for moneyed interests — while disappointing — was not surprising. He had to have centrist, pro-business politics to get elected. After all, this is the America I know, love, and criticize.

The author talks about the racial and economic dynamics of abortion, STDs, teen pregnancy and health care.

What was truly disappointing was the way President Obama flinched every time support for abortion came up in policy debates — from the stimulus bill to healthcare reform. As Sharon Camp from the Guttmacher Institute puts it, "He can’t make eye contact with abortion," an observation those of us in the reproductive justice movement can’t help but agree with. His failure to stand up for the human rights of women — and to trust us — began to make me wonder about his commitment to those of us who were his core constituents and helped elect him. He’s like the prom date I had last night who can’t remember my name this morning.

In many ways, his failure of leadership on abortion rights has made things worse. In the healthcare reform debates, we have Democratic politicians increasing restrictions on access to abortion. President Obama openly supported the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions for poor women, women in the military, and women receiving healthcare from the Indian Health Service. Instead of dismantling Hyde, he’s defending it, while not understanding that a country that can be persuaded that poor women are second class citizens who don’t deserve funding for abortions can morph into a country that believes that all poor people don’t deserve funding for healthcare at all.

So as I continue SisterSong’s work of building a movement of women of color for reproductive justice, I wonder what the New Year will bring. Will we finally begin to see White House leadership help us save the lives of women of color who desperately need us to stand up for them? Will national political leaders wake up to the reality that poor women and rural women in states like Kentucky suffer most when the federal government compromises on access to reproductive health care? Will President Obama offer policies to substantiate his brilliant rhetoric? Will he support our human rights to have children, or to not have children? To parent our children in safe and healthy environments which are the cornerstones of reproductive justice?

The tea baggers on the right who loathe his agenda are the least of his problems. The diminishing faith among those in his core base should really worry him. How can we be motivated to come out to the polls when we doubt whether our needs are his priority?