How do we fight for choice?
Seattle Clinic Defense organizer and nurse-midwifery graduate studentreports on a discussion of the state of the fight for abortion rights.
SOME 30 activists, community members, nurses and medical students gathered on June 20 for a panel discussion hosted by the grassroots group Seattle Clinic Defense titled, "My Body is My Own: How to Fight for Reproductive Justice."
The panel's speakers included Dr. Deborah Oyer, owner of Aurora Medical Services and an abortion provider; Marcy Bloom, a long-time reproductive justice activist who helped win legalized abortion in Mexico City; and Elizabeth Fawthrop, a founding member of Seattle Clinic Defense.
Dr. Oyer, a family practice physician, is an outspoken advocate for women's unfettered access to abortion, contraception, and sex education. She addressed the history of right-wing attacks, both legally and at clinics, which have escalated in recent years.
Oyer pointed out the numerous attacks on abortion rights that incorporate fake science--for example claiming that birth control causes an abortion. "No it doesn't," Oyer said. "If you're going to fight me, at least get your science right." Oyer also called on physicians to get involved in the political battles over women's health care and women's right to control their own body: "Where are the doctors standing up and saying, 'No, stop legislating what I can and can't do in my exam room!"
Both Dr. Oyer and Marcy Bloom addressed the stigma and shame that many women feel regarding having on abortions. Bloom called on members of the audience to talk about their own abortion stories along with focusing on the attacks on women's rights. If the stigma around abortion is high and we aren't talking about it, Bloom said, "how do we reach the people who can barely say the word 'abortion'?"
During the discussion section, audience members referenced the 1in3 campaign that encourages women to post videos of their abortion stories. The project's name comes from research from the Guttmacher Institute showing that one in three women will have an abortion before she turns 45.
Elizabeth Fawthrop rounded out the panel by focusing on the importance of on-the-ground organizing. Fawthrop referenced protests at the Michigan statehouse after Rep. Lisa Brown was chastised and silenced for using the word "vagina" during a debate on anti-abortion legislation. Fawthorp pointed out that while the protesters rightly made fun of Republican house leaders trying to ban the word, "I don't think any of us are naive about the scale of these attacks."
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FAWTHORP WENT on to discuss the differences in organizing strategies embraced by Seattle Clinic Defense and liberal women's rights organizations.
Seattle Clinic Defense, which grew out of Seattle's Walk for Choice last February, is a grassroots organization that counter-protests anti-choice demonstrators in front of clinics, and recently picketed a lecture by anti-choice commentator Abby Johnson.
Fawthrop explained how groups like NOW and NARAL Pro-Choice America, by contrast, have ceded ground to the anti-choice minority by funneling their energy into electing Democrats. "I'm going to call the big women's groups onto the carpet," Fawthorp said. "They have failed us...and the Democrats are not our friends. They will ignore us at their earliest convenience, or worse; actively work against us."
In May, nearly six full months before the presidential election, NARAL President Nancy Keenan announced NARAL's endorsement of Barack Obama--asserting that "we are ready to go to battle and work every day to keep a pro-choice leader in the White House."
However, Obama has shown that he isn't similarly committed to fighting for women's health care--as demonstrated by his "compromise" over whether birth control for women should be covered in health insurance policies--Obama supported an exemption for religious organizations. Yet groups like NOW and NARAL didn't call for action against this policy--in fact, NARAL called on its members to write to Obama and thank him.
John O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, explained that Obama's compromise "may seem reasonable on the surface, but it sends the wrong message, namely: that an employer's personal beliefs may interfere with an employee's conscience and therefore make it more difficult for him/her to access the healthcare coverage that he or she needs."
Obama has walked a fine line between pro-choice rhetoric and policies that make women's access to abortion more confusing at best and harder at worst. And he has managed this while being hailed as a hero for women and families by liberal organizations while they drum up support for Obama and the Democrats as we head into election season.
Overall, the June 20 panel provided a lively discussion of reproductive justice from the point of view of providers and activists. As the panel drew to a close, Kat McGhee, an organizer for Seattle Clinic Defense and moderator of the event, led the audience in an enthusiastic chant of "Vagina!"--in solidarity with Michigan's recent Slutwalk demonstrations that Fawthorp referred to.
Seattle Clinic Defense is planning its summer campaign to confront anti-choice demonstrators, as well as a study group on the book Bearing Right: How the Conservatives Won the Abortion Debate by William Saletan.