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Reproductive Rights: Sinking or Swimming?

by Charlotte Taft


April 3, 2012

As I write this, I'm not sure whether reproductive rights activists are in a boat that is sinking, or on the brink of the next chapter of transformation for women and the planet.

I'm voting for transformation. But my feet are getting wet. And I am asking some not-very-useful questions, like "Where did we go wrong?" I have taken to wearing goddess jewelry from the 1970s and quoting some of my favorite feminists. I know that the next chapter of the women's movement will not be a copy of the last one. But I don't want the fierce energy of the second wave to be lost. Perhaps when someone finally rediscovers Loretta Lynn singing that Mommy's got "The Pill" from 1975, all the hot air will come rushing out of the cranky old anti-birth control movement and we can continue on with the 21st Century!

It is thrilling to watch pushback like the demonstrators in Virginia, and the walkout of women legislators in Georgia as the Director of the nonprofit Abortion Care Network, a group of independent abortion providers and allies. But as medical professionals and clinics, most of us can't defy state regulations without being heavily fined or closed down.

I am searching for ways that clinics can be part of the movement for change and still be safe and supportive places for women and their families. To that end, I have 10 topics I'm considering.

1. Can we find a way to inoculate patients and staff against the 40-year-old organized, intentional and well-financed campaign of secrecy and shame that has effectively silenced 54 million women?

2. Can clinics maintain our integrity when we are being forced to give inaccurate information or provide abortion services according to the law of the Republican Taliban and not according to our best medical judgment?

3. Can we find a way to make clear and public our opposition to the government taking over the practice of medicine so that our patients understand we are doing everything possible not to collaborate? Maybe banners: We Stand with Women and We Protest the Intrusion of the State into Women's Health Care.

4. Can we find a way to have our patients experience abortion providers as their partners and their allies? To let them know that we struggle with the same stigma that they experience? That in so many ways we are the same as our patients?

5. Can we make it clear that most abortion providers are led by conscience just as much as pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions, and Catholic hospitals that want to control their patients? For many of us abortion care is a calling -- a life's work that we do for love of justice and respect for women.

6. Can we find a way to remind our patients who are struggling that even if they have a rough time with an abortion choice, the day after abortion is made illegal will be a helluva lot rougher?

7. Can we make our clinics centers of excellence that network with other medical professionals in our communities to end our isolation?

8. Can we bridge the artificially constructed gap between people who recognize abortion as an essential human right, and people who condemn the choice of abortion as irresponsible and uncaring? I think most women who have abortions do so because they value life and because they take very seriously the myriad responsibilities that come not just with birth, but with nurturing a human being. Many are already mothers and choose abortion as a matter of loyalty to the children already in their care.

9. Can we acknowledge a difficult part of our work -- that it is a kind of killing -- so that staff and patients and the pro-choice public can consciously work through the emotional and ethical issues inherent in that? Can we seize the authority to define ourselves and our work? This is what my clinic wrote many years ago: At this Clinic we do sacred work that honors women and the circle of life and death. When you come here bring only love.

10. Can we remind our patients and the public that there really is no "pro-choice" and "anti-abortion." There is really only pro-legal abortion and pro-illegal abortion. The legal status of abortion defines whether it is a safe medical procedure or a dangerous threat to the lives of women of childbearing age. If the extremists win, abortion will still exist in this country just as it does in every country across the globe. It is time to expose the fact that those who oppose abortion are actually supporting illegal abortion and to reckon with what that means for women's health and lives.

Sink or swim?

Once upon a time we believed that telling the stories of women would touch even the hardest hearts. But today's ultraconservative politicians are a whole new breed. We have to reach out directly to the public. We have got to waken the compassion of the silent 54 million women to stand up for other women. At stake is not just our future, but the future of women all over the planet.

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Charlotte Taft is proud to be the Director of the Abortion Care Network. She has a Bachelor's Degree and Master's Degree in Feminist Studies. For 17 years she was Director of an Independent Abortion Clinic in Dallas, Texas. Charlotte lives in rural New Mexico.

Also see: "Gone Too Far? Reproductive Politics in the Time of Obama" by Carole Joffe in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See "A Counselor's View: Embracing A Holistic Perspective of Abortion"
by Linda Weber
in the Cafe of this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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