Monday, April 23, 2007

Reproductive Rights Rant

It bears repeating...

"My position on reproductive rights is based on the idea that a government that bans abortion is the same government that can make it compulsary due to the governmental assumption that women have no sovereignty over her body, life, or ability to make medical decisions with her doctor." - Maven

[This morning I was listening to a story of women in rural China being dragged away to hospitals and forced to have a late term abortions. All I feel is horror and overwhelming anger at government controlled reproduction.]

In her book, "Beggars and Choosers" Ricki Solinger talks about how as soon as the Roe v. Wade decision came down what was once called "reproductive rights" turned into "pro-choice." All of the sudden, reproduction became a choice where some women were deemed better choicemakers than others or able to become consumers or not. Instead of a right of every woman to reproduce or not that cannot be denied, it became a choice that can be viewed as trivial as choosing a dress, a car, a tube of toothpaste. The right to reproduce or not becomes only exercised by those who can afford it or are found worthy -- just as it was in the pre-Roe v. Wade world.

For the first 18 years of life I didn't have any real opinion on abortion and reproductive rights issue. I vaguely remember Roe v. Wade being announced on the news and wondering why there was such a fuss over it. Heck, I was six years old, what did I know? I did grow up with a Catholic-Jewish mother, who told me stories about what things were like before Roe v. Wade. One time during the late 1940s, she went with her best friend to a back alley clinic after her friend had out-of-wedlock pregnancy with a Mexican-American. That was scandalous on so many levels. When my mother saw the abortionist with his dirty fingernails, missing teeth, and general lack of hygene, she threatened her friend with going to the police if she went in. This forced her friend to go to a maternity home and lie about the infant's heritage (Italian instead of Mexican) in order to get someone to adopt the child. Her friend never talked to her again and somewhere there is somebody who thinks he is Italian when he his really Mexican. My mother stopped her friend not to save the life of the fetus, but save the life of her friend.

My mother was generally apolitical and hated the political debates my dad would have with me. She was born in 1930, so she was a product of her time -- she was not a feminist by any stretch of the imagination. The only things she felt strongly about was reproductive rights and anti-child abuse. She would get really angry seeing men on television talk about pro-life and say, "What does he know? He is a man. Why men feel like they can talk about this?" This is a woman who lost her only pregnancy when a umbilical cord was wrapped around my brother's neck when I was three. All she wanted to be was a mother. Again, she wasn't a feminist, but she was always for reproductive rights.

My mother also worked for Children's Services and would be the one social workers would take abused children to because she knew how to comfort them. It would break my mother's heart seeing children with cigarette burns, bruises, burns, and all the taletell signs of abuse while she would compliment them on their dress or hair. It would kill her to hear their cries for their abusive parents -- the only ones they knew. She felt strongly that all children should grow up knowing they are wanted. She saw adoption and reproductive rights as ways to make sure every child is a wanted child.

As an adopted person, there is always people willing to volunteer that isn't it great that you weren't aborted when they find out your adopted. It is a horrible thing to say to a person and quite unreasonable since all of us could have potentially aborted, or victims of miscarriage, or just fail to attach ourselves to the uterine wall. I always felt that if I had been aborted, that I really be moot whether or not I cared about it.

It was not until the Fall of 1984, after returning from Europe and entering college that I was forced to figure where I was on the subject when I volunteered for the Mondale-Ferraro campaign. I canvassed Daly City for Mondale and did frequent tabling for Mondale on campus with the only other Democrat on campus (I was told that there was pro-Reagan graffiti in the men's bathrooms on campus). I was for Mondale, because I disagreed with Reagan's policies and really not about the abortion issue. In fact, It really didn't occur to me until someone came up to our table and called us "BabyKillers." Now, it took me a few minutes to search my brain on this. Then I remembered that Mondale was indeed Pro-Choice and I got it. From the very beginning, I have always thought reproductive rights protected both the woman who needs an abortion and the woman who doesn't want an abortion from being forced into one.

This forced me to do research to figure out this whole Roe v. Wade situation. I really struggled with it, but after reading about the history of abortion, the right to privacy, Griswald, Roe, and talking to people who lived in the pre-Roe era, I had no choice to come down to fighting for reproductive rights. You can detest the practice, but believe that if we don't give women a right to her own body, what rights does she have?

If you looked into life before Roe, criminalizing abortion just didn't work. The wealthy and the well connected got their abortions, and it didn't stop desperate poor and working class women from going underground for dangerous abortions.

I volunteered for Clinic defense in the early 1990s against Operation Rescue, not necessarily for reproductive rights, but because many poor women used Planned Parenthood for pregnancy testing, pregnancy prevention, and pre-natal care because they did not have health care. I figured that I was fortunate enough to have health care coverage and could go directly to a hospital for pregnancy prevention in complete privacy since Operation Rescue doesn't haunt hospital grounds. The poor should have the same type of privacy that Americans with health care have. Being a clinic defender meant I escorted clients through a gauntlet of yelling people calling them names and holding up posters of aborted fetuses. I would talk to them to get their minds away from the pleading walls of bodies and tell them that they are under no obligation to tell them why they were going to the clinic. They could be going in for a pap smear, HIV test, adoption referral, birth control, breast exam, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, prenatal care, as well as an abortion.

It also meant I was there to protect the pro-life protestors. As I escorted a very pregnant woman, her husband, and seven year old daughter a protestor told the little girl that her mother is a murderer. I had to calm down the husband because he wanted to hurt that person. I told him that I was there to remind them that these people are just protestors, they know nothing about them, and they have no right to know that they are going in for a pre-natal appointment. Everytime, I would come to the clinic, I would be very polite to the protestors even though they would sing outside of the clinic windows. Even though I would see cars slow down in front of the clinic and move on. Some would say that was an abortion prevented, one could also argue that it could have prevented someone from getting birth control or pre-natal care.

One time during a particular Operation Rescue "hit" the local police after being very patient and clear about the rules with the organizer, told them to clear out. The head of the Operation Rescue in San Jose decided that in protest he would lock himself up in his van and keep dialing 911 to lock it up. So much for pro-life...hope no one needed emergency services to save their life.

I have quit the National Organization of Women when Molly Yard, its president at the time said that women should be proud of their abortions. I quit and never returned after all these years on principle even though I remain a proud feminist.

I have tabled with various people for reproductive rights over the years from elderly Population Zero folk to mothers and grandmothers. One time somebody came to our table and threw down a package of diapers and called us "baby killers" and a woman at our table said, "Thanks, that happens to be my grandson's size!"

One time we were tabling at a wine festival and countless people from all walks of life, especially those who remember life before Roe vs. Wade and thanked us for being there. They expressed their dismay that in 1990-91 we were still having to fight for reproductive rights.

Finally, a man in his sixties came to our table.

"I am a conservative republican and I have more reason to be pro-choice than any of you."

We kind of looked at each other and raised eyebrows.

"My mother died of a botched abortion."


He signed an oversized post card to Bush Sr. to protect reproductive rights and wrote down what he told us.

In my years working on Adoption reform, I have actually joined forces and have been praised by pro-lifers and organizations. I have been able to argue that changing adoption laws and attitudes toward adoption can do far more to encourage adoption over abortion than anything else.

Over the years I have formulated a better solution in stopping abortion or making them extremely rare. The overwhelming amount of abortions are based on the decision not to carry a pregnancy to term. Why do women want to terminate their pregnancies?

In many cases their parents and family members, as well as society, say that an unplanned pregnancy will "ruin their lives" by keeping them from school, higher education, a career, a better life, and someone who will marry them. These parents see pregnancy out-of-wedlock as a poor reflection on their parenting to have a daughter get pregnant unmarried and too young.

I have seen this phenomena of generations of women who got pregnant out-of-wedlock who disappeared to maternity homes to relinquish their offspring for adoption -- scared girls and women who get the horrible ultimatum hide your shame or loose the connection to your family. Women who wanted to keep their pregancies and become mothers were told that no one would want them and their lives would be ruined. The government would tell them that the closed adoption system was to protect them from their offspring who they gave up in shame and were told that they would never see again. Countless generations of women have left hospitals empty handed with their milk coming in and people saying to them that they couldn't imagine giving up their child. If these pregnancies are seen as so shameful, then why would anyone want to take a pregnancy to term?

In these cases, we need an entire cultural shift that all families welcome all births regardless if they are a result of wedlock or not. Just make room for the pregnancy and make sure the pregnancy doesn't interfere with the woman's education and job prospects by having the family pitch in for child care.

There are also cases where a family has a whoops child which puts the family in financial peril. The family just doesn't have the luxury for the mother to miss work due to pregnancy or child birth. She can't be pregnant and work. This is where society has to stop the whole belly-aching about paying people to have more kids isn't encouraging people to carry a pregnancy to term. Our culture and government need to be able to step in and help families to stay intact and keep their kids and pregnancies. We need free childcare or benefits that encourage extended families to live near each other to provide help to couples and families on the edge.

Then there are cases where there is domestic violence, incest, and rape where women will become indangered if their pregnancies are discovered. Again, our culture and government needs to help these women not be victimized again by being forced into a situation not of their chosing. Counseling, shelters, job training, child care, health benefits including pre-natal care, and long term housing are needed to encourage these women to take on the role of single mothers.

In general we have to stop calling all single mom's welfare queens, baby-making machines, or burdens on society. All mothers need to be respected and supported. That means job training, education, child care and pre school, affordable housing, prenatal and post-partum support, parenting classes, medical coverage, drug treatment if necessary, and being paid to stay home and take care of her children -- especially for breastfeeding.

We need to involve extended families and support them in raising children when the mother cannot.

For women who don't want to parent there should be ethical and humane adoption practices that provides impartial counseling and support during and after relinquishment to make sure if parenting is what she really wants, or if she wants to choose adoption. Adoption should treat mothers as mothers, until she signs the relinquishment papers, and then and only then is she a birthmother. There should be lifelong post adoption support for birthmothers, adoptive parents, and adopted persons that encourages openness and what is truly in the best interest of the child and when that child becomes an adult. Encouraging adoption means taking the shame and secrecy out of adoption. It means the end of the scare tactics and coercion and lawyers who claim to represent both the mother and the potential adoptive parents. It means culturally Americans have to view adoption as equal to blood ties on every level, but without diminishing the either. There are abuses in the adoption and foster care system that keep families from staying together or making families form.

Then there is the men. In the abortion debate, no one talks about men keeping it in their pants. All they do is whine about how men have no voice without acknowlege that it is so very often the men who insist on an abortion, if not the woman's family. Men would have a lot of power if they would just keep their pants zipped. There are cases where couples do come to a conclusion together because they are either married or have a long term, loving relationship. In the context of a loving and equal relationship, men should and have an equal voice. Should men who have no interest in or counters the mother's well being be in the position of telling her what to do with a pregnancy either way? Should men who have no interest in being legally bond to a woman and child have a say? How can someone who will have no ability to ever get pregnant speak to what a woman who becomes pregnant is going through? How does he justify knowing more than a pregnant woman does about her motives, morals, and mandate her behavior?

We also need full access to fact based sex education and free and effective birth control. Every adolescent (since girls are going through puberty as early as nine) needs to know how their reproductive systems work, how they can get pregnant or get diseases, and how people protect themselves from pregnancies and diseases. While abstinence only education (especially abstinence only education that overstates risks of birth control) doesn't work, abstinence plus (where abstinence is taught along with education about birth control and prophylactics) does work as long as there is reinforcement classes throughout teens and young adulthood.

A weird irony is that the same people who claim to want to end abortion are also defending pharmacists who refuse to sell birth control to women that would prevent abortion in the first place. The problem is that many pro-lifers think that birth control is a form of abortion, any prevention of conception or attachment to the uterine wall is abortion. I have heard a liberal talk show host, Bernie Ward say that these people are not pro-life as they are pro-birth. They don't care what happens after birth of the child they saved in fetus-hood and they don't care about the life of its mother.

I am a mother. I am a mother who had trouble conceiving and did so after a long and difficult process. I am a mother who truly appreciates the life that was inside me even though I had complications in pregnancy and birth. I am not a baby killer, but I am a thinking, compassionate woman who understands completely that adulthood presents difficult and messy decisions. The best thing we can do is create affirmative choices other than abortion, and that requires us all to change our prudish and judgemental nation that builds itself around supporting all mothers.

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