Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why All Women Should Vote

I had a friend, a black woman, who wouldn't sit in the back of a bus. While this was hardly an act of radical resistance in 1998, she explained that it was an homage to her grandmother's generation who dedicated their lives to a struggle that would one day allow everyone, regardless of race, attain the simple right to sit where they please.

Those who know my politics know they hardly fit in the mold of the mainstream electoral system. To those, the fact that I am so adamant about women, immigrants, and people of color exercising that right is puzzling, and often garners some intense criticism and debate. I'm accused of playing into "petty identity politics." Well okay. Not to bring more "petty" identity politics into it, but everyone who has ever criticized me for voting have been white males. That is, people who would have had the right to vote (whether they chose to exercise that right or not) at any given time in U.S. history. Identity politics be damned, those of us with a different historical identity tend to see things a bit more uniquely. Women have had the right to vote for less than 90 years now. African American males have had the right for 138 years, but literacy requirements and the use of poll taxes effectively blocked most from voting until the Voting Rights Act that was only passed a mere 44 years ago. Immigrants continue to face many challenges in gaining citizenship, one of which is the right to be able to choose their representatives.

And we continue to struggle on these fronts. Our version of democracy holds very little variation; any candidate who has a snowman's chance in hell is guaranteed to hold the interests of the "bosses" at the forefront of their policy, lest they get literally "bought out" by another candidate's funds. But taking the time to actually go to the polls, regardless of which party we support for or whether or not we write in "Mickey Mouse" if we just couldn't care less, continues to be an act of every day resistance to tens of thousands of Americans who have not always had that right. And given the hours and dollars and sleepless nights I've spent on grassroots efforts, to criticize me for taking 45 minutes out of my day, minutes I probably would have spent picking my nose or cleaning my kitchen, to do something I perceive to be of relative historical significance is just offensive, if not completely ludicrous. Unless of course you're going to argue that me picking my nose or (heaven forbid) cleaning the kitchen is going to instigate the goddamn revolution.

Especially when you consider the sacrifices people have made to even be allowed to hold a legitimate political opinion, to show the government and board of elections that you are retaining that right can be a powerful homage to those who gave their lives for this cause. That's why all women should vote. Not just for the "leaders" (Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony), but for all our grandmothers and great grandmothers who sacrificed more than some of us can even begin to comprehend. For Lucy Burns, who was arrested at a 1917 suffragist protest outside the White House, beaten to a pulp, and left hanging by chains around her wrists. For Dora Lewis, who, the very same night, was thrown into a jail cell so hard her head was smashed against an iron bed frame, and she was knocked unconscious. For all the women arrested that night, thrown into Virginia's Occoquan Workhouse and fed food infested with worms. For Alice Paul, who went on a hunger strike and was subsequently force-fed through a tube until she vomited, then was tortured for weeks for acting on one very basic belief: the belief that women and men are equal.

And conversely, for Grace Saxon Mill, anti-suffragist extraordinaire, who wrote this piece of garbage to argue against women's suffrage in the UK during the early 1910s:

Arguments Against Women's Suffrage

Because women already have the municipal vote, and are eligible for membership of most local authorities. These bodies deal with questions of housing, education, care of children, workhouses and so forth, all of which are peculiarly within a woman's sphere. Parliament, however, has to deal mainly with the administration of a vast Empire, the maintenance of the Army and Navy, and with questions of peace and war, which lie outside the legitimate sphere of woman's influence.

Because all government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of con­tributing.

Because women are not capable of full citizenship, for the simple reason that they are not available for purposes of national and Imperial defence. All government rests ultimately on force, to which women,
owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of contributing.

Because there is little doubt that the vast majority of women have no desire for the vote.

Because the acquirement of the Parliamentary vote would logically involve admission to Parliament itself, and to all Government offices. It is scarcely possible to imagine a woman being Minister for War, and yet the principles of the Suffragettes involve that and many similar absurdities.

Because the United Kingdom is not an isolated state, but the administrative and governing centre of a system of colonies and also of dependencies. The effect of introducing a large female ele­ment into the Imperial electorate would undoubtedly be to weaken the centre of power in the eyes of these dependent millions.

Because past legislation in Parliament shows that the interests of women are perfectly safe in the hands of men.

Because Woman Suffrage is based on the idea of the equality of the sexes, and tends to establish those competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous consideration.

Because women have at present a vast indirect influence through their menfolk on the politics of this country.

Because the physical nature of women unfits them for direct com­petition with men.

So for any woman who refuses to allow her "best interests" be entrusted in the hands of men, for any woman who refuses to be represented only by her husband, for any woman who refuses to let society think you lack the capacity to think politically, to any woman who knows she is not unequal on the basis of her sex, and the women who know they are more than fit to compete with their male counterparts, I say to you today, GO VOTE!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

'Pregnant? Worried?'

Crisis Pregnancy Centers seek to blur line between clinic and counseling

by Beth Goers
Originally printed
Reprinted here with permission

A CRISIS PREGNANCY Center — CPC for short — hopes to be the first place a woman turns when facing an unplanned pregnancy. But pro-choice groups assert that Crisis Pregnancy Centers use deception, intimidation and harassment to dissuade women from having abortions.

Though not actually pregnant, to investigate these charges I recently visited some local clinics to see how I’d be treated.

The Savannah Care Center on East 34th Street advertises free pregnancy tests on the sign in the yard. I knock on the front door but no one answers. Finally, a woman comes out with a baby on her hip and says they’re closed.

I’ll have to try back later.

Across the street a young man waits on the cement stairs of the Savannah Medical Clinic. Also listed in the phonebook as “Abortion Clinic of Savannah,” the Savannah Medical Clinic is virtually the area’s only abortion provider.

But search “Savannah, GA abortion providers” on Google and the Coastal Pregnancy Center is one of the first names to pop up. Indeed, CPCs often set up shop in close proximity to abortion providers and choose similar-sounding names.

Another local CPC, the Coastal Pregnancy Center, is a small one-story building on the corner of Skidaway and DeRenne. When I walk in, I’m bombarded with babies.

Business cards with photos of embryos are displayed on the front check-in counter. Framed on the wall of the lobby is a huge drawing of oversized hands holding a baby. Below, it says, “God’s handiwork.”

A woman in jean shorts welcomes me.

“Do you need a pregnancy test?” she asks.

“No, I just wanted to talk with someone,” I say.

“She just wants counseling,” she hollers down the hall.

Another woman emerges from the rear. She has shoulder-length blondish hair and wears pink medical scrubs.

“Have you had the pregnancy confirmed by a doctor?” she asks.

“No. But I’ve taken some home pregnancy tests and they were positive,” I say.

“Are you going to get Medicare or health insurance involved?

Because we need to confirm the pregnancy if you’re going to get Medicare involved.”

“I’m on my parents’ health insurance. I’m not sure I want to get them involved.”

I can tell she’s displeased. “What we do here is confirm your pregnancy and then provide counseling,” Pink Scrubs says forcefully.

“Would you be willing to take a pregnancy test?” Jean Shorts asks.


Pink Scrubs hands me a bottle of water and a form asking where I heard about the Coastal Pregnancy Center.

Their ad in the Yellow Pages says ‘Pregnant? Worried?’ and offers free pregnancy tests and counseling. It’s listed under ‘Clinics,’ right after the All Women’s Health Center of Jacksonville, which offers abortions and free pregnancy tests. I can see how someone might get confused about which clinics provide legitimate medical services.

When I’m done filling out the form, Jean Shorts leads me to the bathroom in the back of the building. Pink Scrubs irons a onesie.

Many CPCs give material aid like diapers and baby clothes as gifts to clients who come in for pregnancy tests and counseling. There’s also a push to get more ultrasound equipment in pregnancy centers, presuming that once a woman sees images of her baby, she’ll decide to keep it.

I leave my urine sample on the top of the toilet and a third woman in her sixties ushers me down the hall. We wait for the results in a separate room with matching orange armchairs.

“Have you ever been pregnant before?” she begins her checklist.


“Have you ever had a miscarriage?”


“Ever had an abortion?”


“If this test comes back positive, is an abortion something you’re considering?” Her voice is motherly and I don’t want to disappoint her.

“Yeah, I want to explore all the options.”

She looks down at the intake form. “You wrote here that you’re Lutheran.”


“Do you go to church?”

“Not down here,” I say.

She leans closer.

“Have you been Saved?”

I don’t respond.

“Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you’re not Saved unless you believe that.”

She pulls out a laminated leaflet and scoots closer so I can look. She reads a prayer off of the leaflet and says, “You can hold on to this if you want.”

“Thanks,” I say, unsure if I am now Saved.

She leaves the room to check on my results. When she comes back, she says, “it was negative,” and shows me the single pink line.

While the Coastal Pregnancy Center’s ad in the Yellow Pages makes no mention of religious affiliation, once inside, they don’t hide that they’re a faith-based, pro-life ministry and openly express their opinion that abortion is murder.

Their “What Does God Say About Abortion” pamphlet provides Bible scriptures to questions like, “Should a child conceived as a result of rape or incest be aborted?”

The answer is Deuteronomy 24:16. “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”

The Pregnancy Center of Rincon is a one-story brick building nestled in among other medical buildings. Like many CPCs, it looks like a health care facility, with a waiting room and partitioned check-in desk. A bubbly pregnant woman greets me. She has short curly hair and wears a brown tee shirt that says “Care Net.”

Care Net, an umbrella group that provides resources to pregnancy centers, is the largest network of CPCs. About 1,900 pregnancy centers are affiliated with Care Net and Heartbeat International, a second national umbrella group that works closely with Care Net.

The pregnant woman hands me a clipboard with forms to fill out.

In the back room, we sit down. We talk about abortion first. She gives me a booklet called “Before You Decide: An Abortion Education Resource” published by Care Net.

It describes in great detail how each abortion procedure is performed and the risks involved. The main risks the anti-abortion camp focuses on are breast cancer and post-abortion stress syndrome. (The National Cancer Institute refutes any connection between abortion and breast cancer.)

The woman tells me she has a friend who had an abortion and now suffers from something called “anniversary guilt.” Every year on the anniversary of her abortion, she has flashbacks of the event and nightmares.

She says a lot of women get post-abortion stress syndrome, which she likened to post-traumatic stress disorder. (Research studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, American Psychologist and Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, have all concluded that post-abortion syndrome does not exist.)

She tells me about another friend who gave up her baby for adoption. Every year her friend gets pictures of her son playing softball and blowing out birthday candles.

“Doesn’t it make her sad?” I ask.

“She says getting the pictures is just a confirmation that she did the right thing,” the woman replies.

She hands me another pamphlet, “Adoption: A Loving Choice,” from a nearby shelf. I believe that adoption is a loving choice; I’m sure family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood agree.

She continually reminds me that I have plenty of time to make a decision.

“You’re a skinny little thing and you won’t show for awhile,” she says. I like her even more.

I get the sense that she thinks my best option is to marry the baby’s father and keep the baby. We talk at great lengths about the benefits of marriage and parenting, especially after she learns that my boyfriend lives with me.

“Well, he’s obviously really smart and you love him and it was going towards marriage anyways. It’s not like you guys have only been together for two months.”

“True,” I say, suddenly wondering why my boyfriend hasn’t proposed.

This push to get married directly conflicts with the center’s own pamphlet on adoption, which says, “Getting married because you are pregnant is now recognized to be a poor basis for building a loving family. Marriage failures are high for those who marry under such pressures.”

The woman tells me I have plenty to discuss with my boyfriend and says, “I’ll be praying for you this weekend. Call me or I’ll worry.”

From there, I get back on Highway 21 and drive back to the Savannah Care Center on East 34th. The renovated house looks like a daycare center. Toys litter the floor.

Their ad in the Yellow Pages says they offer free pregnancy tests, counseling and medical referrals, but no one could mistake this for a medical facility.

After standing awkwardly in the lobby for a minute or so, a woman approaches me. “Can I help you?” She’s dressed in a navy pantsuit.

“I’m pregnant and I’m not sure what I’m to do,” I say.

“Are you considering abortion?”

“Yes.” I try not to sound apologetic.

“Are you considering adoption?”

“Yeah, I’m considering all the options.”

She tells me they work with a great adoption agency and that I can change my mind about giving the baby up at any time, even when it’s born.

“We had this one girl who called me up the morning she gave birth and said ‘I can’t do it. I can’t give him up.’ So she kept him. She’s real young, but she’s a good mom.”

Young moms trading parties for pampers are a growing population. Last year the government announced that the nation’s teen birth rate had risen after a 14-year decline. Less than one-third of teen moms ever finish high school.

Navy Pantsuit leads me to the bathroom in the back of the house, where I’ve agreed to take a pregnancy test.

After I’ve done my business I walk back to Navy Pantsuit’s office. She instructs me to place my cup of urine on a small table by the door. She hands me a little eyedropper and tells me to squeeze out five drops onto the test area.

She and I hover above the test until it indicates that I am not pregnant. I act surprised and relieved.

Navy Pantsuit asks me about contraception and says, “Using condoms is like playing Russian roulette.” She says that condoms fail “something like 40 percent of the time.”

“That’s why we promote abstinence,” she says. “You know, abstaining from sex.”

She says ‘sex’ like it’s a dirty word.

I thank her and take my leave.


Newsflash to Norma McCorvey: You Are Not Roe.

Norma McCorvey remains a major thorn in the side of the pro-choice movement: the once working-class lesbian woman who initiated the landmark Roe v. Wade in 1973 has since become a Christian activist, anti-gay crusader, and spokesperson for many anti-choice campaigns.

In the 1970s, McCorvey claimed she had beeen impregnated by a non-consentual sexual encounter (a claim she later refuted) and tried to access an abortion in Texas. While she ended up carrying to term, this struggle was adopted by lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee and eventually brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, with McCorvey's name becoming the generic "Jane Roe" for anonymity. State bans on abortion were overturned on the basis of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of the right to privacy.

In the 1980s, McCorvey wrote her autobiography, I Am Roe, where she officially came out as Roe. She also wrote of her struggles with homelessness and drug abuse, as well as her sexual identity. It was in 1994 that she met an anti-choice activist from the extremist group Operation Rescue. McCorvey was introduced to OR's (medically inaccurate) fetal development pamphlets and became convinced she had been wrong about abortion. She was baptized, renounced her lesbianism, and quickly became the voice of the anti-choice movement.

Ever since then, the mainstream pro-choice movement has struggled with McCorvey's story, carefully navigating the distinction between Roe the person and Roe the symbol. We rationalize her experience by simply writing her off as yet another victim of anti-chioce guilt and shame... and to a point, I believe we're right to do so.

And yet there's one thing I feel so many of us are unwilling or somehow just unable to say: that Norma McCorvey is, in fact, not Roe.

Not in the singular sense, anyway. You see, McCorvey's situation was not unique, and it was not just her situation that was used by Weddington and Coffee in the legendary Roe v. Wade case. McCorvey's situation was the situation of tens of thousands of women all over the country, and so it remains. The moment McCorvey became "Roe," so did all women with reproductive capability. Weddington and Coffee did not argue just to allow Norma McCorvey have an abortion, they fought for ALL women to be able to have abortions. The Supreme Court's decision to allow "Roe" to have legal abortions was not a decision to just let McCorvey have an abortion; it was the decision that stated that ALL women are guaranteed autonomy over their bodies by the U.S. Constitution. "Roe" became symbolic of all American women the very moment the case was heard by the Supreme Court.

The experience of Norma McCorvey is no more valid or important than the experiences of any other woman who finds herself facing an unplanned pregnancy, or a pregnancy that she finds she cannot continue for personal or medical reasons. And that goes for all women with reproductive capability, whether they be pro- or anti-choice. The use of Norma McCorvey as a symbol against abortion only threatens choice if we allow McCorvey to singularly define who Roe is and what is best for her. And if all women are Roe, each with their own unique situation, there can be no gains for using an emblematic "Roe" against complete reproductive justice.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On gathering support networks

I've always known it would be more difficult to gather a wide-range of support for our cause than, say, the activism I've done in antiwar efforts in the past. Being against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are decidedly easier causes to build up, mainly because of the social structures that can adhere to your ideals. When support for America's wars is at an all-time low, it's not all that difficult to step out and openly declare yourself as an advocate for peace.

Being involved with an anti-war or pro-peace organization has its advantages that way. These days, you can find support and camaraderie in many different communities; student unions, churches, community centers, and food banks all have their reasons to be anti-war, to oppose torture, and to support peace and diplomacy. Even when I worked with a secularist group that ran on an anti-war, anti-torture platform, we had no problem reaching out to churches and community centers for support. One such center that was a registered 501(c)(3) even agreed to handle our donations so that benefactors could receive tax deductions.

It's a hairier world for those of us crusading for reproductive justice (which includes abortion on demand) and against fake clinics that are usually funded by churches. While you might think church organizations that have supported anti-war efforts wouldn't be the same ones that fund CPCs, our experience has taught us otherwise.

One of our organizers sent an email to a faith-based organization that she knew to be progressive and supportive of women's rights for 501(c)(3) parthership. A practicing Christian herself, she highlighted how our mission in exposing fake clinics does, in fact, fit within the group's humanitarian mission in that we are out to support struggling women and fight deception. Here is the response she received:

Dear Ms. M,

Thank you for contacting (our organization) regarding your project. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer partnership to your group as its mission clearly conflicts with our religious beliefs.

Your arguments for support are well-articulated, and I cannot think of any reason why you should not be a part of this effort if it fits your moral convictions. However, for (our organization) to support you would create a conflict within our organization because we are already partnered with one of these "crisis pregnancy centers" you speak of and have seen no reason to believe they are all negative places. While we certainly support a woman's right to be educated about her sexual lifestyle, we simply cannot endorse a group that is pro-abortion as it conflicts with our beliefs about when life begins.

Thanks again for contacting us and we wish you and your group all the best.

God Bless,

This was an organization that had offered not only 501(c)(3) partnership but actual funding and use of space as well to local anti-war causes, as well as non-religious social justice groups. And yet mention of the "A word" was simply not kosher.

It's not that I was surprised; after all, progressive churches are generally anti-war because they are anti-killing, and their scripture views abortion as a form of killing. And at least they're (sometimes) consistent, preaching against the death penalty and poverty as well.

But I have noticed a clear change in dynamic from my years as an anti-war organizer. Even those who agree with you tend to tip-toe around notions of "choice," careful not to tip the scales into being seen as "pro-abortion" or, heaven forbid, "anti-life." For these supporters, wearing a pro-choice t-shirt or attending a CPC demonstration is simply out of the question.

It is for that reason that the reproductive justice movement tends to remain confined to the usual suspects: feminists, social justice activists, and reproductive healthcare advocates. And of course their time and support is always greatly appreciated and highly valued, but new ways to expand our numbers without pulling from the already-active would be a wonderful addition to our ranks. Unfortunately, abortion remains a cause that's dreadfully emotional and touchy, one that most people would "just rather not get involved with."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Palin doesn't know if abortion clinic bombers are terrorists

In a recent NBC interview with Brian Williams, John McCain and Sarah Palin were questioned on the dangers of Barack Obama's association with "domestic terrorist" William Ayers. However, McCain himself voted "no" on a Congressional measure to make "bombings, arson and blockades at abortion clinics, and shootings and threats of violence against doctors and nurses who perform abortions” federal crimes.

Williams asked the GOP presidential ticket for their opinion on whether or not abortion clinic bombers are "domestic terrorists" as they have repeatedely labeled William Ayers.

Palin's answer:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Message to Colorado Voters...

In a couple of weeks, Colorado will vote on a ballot initiative that could possibly override sexual autonomy for thousands of women.

Amendment 48, also called the "Personhood Amendment," takes the insanity of anti-choice extremism to the next level. Even Colorado's devout Catholic, anti-choice governor Bill Ritter says that the proposed amendment "goes too far" and "threatens medical care." But somehow that hasn't stopped a right-wing fringe group headed by 21 year old law student Kristine Burton from getting the exorbitant amount of signatures needed to put this dangerous measure on the Colorado ballot this year, and the same spins they used to procure those signatures have been used to sway a frightening number of voters into supporting it as well. Decries from religious leaders throughout the state have decreased Ritter's influence amongst the anti-choice community, even among those who had been supporters of Ritter in the past.

Burton's project is the Colorado for Equal Rights campaign, another anti-choice faction that has appropriated of feminist and empowering language to soften the appearance of their anti-woman campaign.

This amendment would give legal personhood not only to a fetus, but to a fertilized egg. It poses a clear challenge to the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' definition of pregnancy; that is, that pregnancy does not even begin until a zygote has implanted on the wall of the uterus (which can take up to three days after fertilization occurs). The amendment would outlaw not only abortion in all its forms, but many forms of contraception as well, such as the IUD, the birth control pill, and emergency contraception. It would also ban some potentially life-saving medical treatments on women who have had sex in the past 72 hours because of possible damage to a potentially fertilized (but unimplanted and therefore undetectable) egg. Women who could have potentially become pregnant as result of recent sexual activity could be denied treatments for up to 72 hours out of a doctors’ legal fears that the treatment could damage a fertilized egg. Dr. Andrew Ross, OB/GYN, criticized the amendment as being based on “bad medicine.” That is, the passage of this amendment could threaten women's lives.

It's easy to write off Amendment 48 as a long-shot jab that won't amount to anything significant. However, support for 48 has grown astronomically as voters are sent pamphlets that contain false information, bunk research, and bad science. One such pamphlet claims that a fertilized egg has not only a heartbeat but brain waves as well, which is ridiculous considering a fertilized egg has neither organ that would make this even remotely possible (fetal tissue begins to grow only after a zygote has implanted).

On the whole this amendment is more proof that the issue is not about abortion, it's about control. In a world where a fertilized egg could supersede the rights of its harboring human, unable to be sacrificed even to give life-saving medical care to the person, the term "pro-life" just doesn't fit. In a world where a woman's body is defined as "pre-pregnant," where her body is made into a vessel that will be sacrificed at any cost in order to create yet another human being, the phrase "equal rights" is simply not applicable. In a world where political and moral beliefs trump medical care, preventative medicine, and scientific research, well... where does that leave us?