I support a woman’s right to an abortion.

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This post is a part of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Blog for Choice Day 2013

I’ve been thinking this morning, on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, about the phrase “pro-choice.” There are conflicting views within the feminist community on the value of the “pro-choice” label and that’s a good thing. We need to have those discussions about what it means to support abortion rights for all women and not only for those who can access it the most, because then the choice to have an abortion is easy for some and extremely difficult for many.

Does the label fit me anymore, knowing that my views and understanding of abortion have shifted and expanded from a purely reproductive rights standpoint to one that embraces reproductive justice? Not exactly. But I still believe it’s a simple, useful phrase in theory because it implies that women decide if or when to become a mother. That women are in control of their bodies and fates. Forty years after Roe, this idea is still powerful and radical when so much of our culture and conservative politics dictate the opposite.

As a teenager, I came into reproductive rights activism through pro-choice organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood and Feminist Majority. In the spirit of sharing our stories in this blog carnival, and in honor of my pro-choice beginnings in reproductive rights, here is why I will always support abortion rights:

 

  • Without the right to a legal abortion, I lack personhood, autonomy and citizenship. The right to privacy as enshrined in the Constitution (the legal bedrock of abortion rights) means that I have the ability to decide my reproductive future and control my own body.

 

  •  Listening to the women and girls who call the DC Abortion Fund hotline. Their personal stories turn from fear to anxiety, relief and gratitude as they tell me about their struggle to find a clinic near their home, schedule a convenient time for the procedure, find transportation to the clinic and childcare while they’re gone, and pay for an abortion. In other words, the hurdles they need to overcome to exercise their right to a safe and legal abortion. I support abortion rights because I know that I could be one of them.

 

  • My exposure as a teenager to conservative, right-to-life Catholicism that is anti-woman. There is no justification for male clergy of any religion (or religion) to dictate women’s reproductive choices. Religious extremism is inextricably bound to misogyny.

 

  •  I trust women. There is no better reason to support abortion access and rights than this.

 

New Evangelical Christian group advocates for family planning

It’s not everyday that I hear evangelical Christians loudly proclaim their support for contraception during a Washington D.C. press conference, and urge other evangelicals to follow their lead. But that’s exactly what happened Oct. 15 at the National Press Club when The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good released its new report, “A Call to Christian Common Ground on Family Planning, and Maternal, and Children’s Health.”

Based in Tennessee, the New Evangelical Partnership (NEP) is an organization that espouses a Christian advocacy and public engagement that cares for the good of humanity by standing for human rights, Muslim-Christian dialogue and nuclear disarmament, among other issues. The organization views itself as an alternative to the culture-war evangelicalism that damaged the American church’s evangelism. Partnering with public health experts, the NEP wrote the new report to create discussion among evangelicals at home and abroad on the importance and significance of family planning. It lays out the argument that contraceptive use is linked to, and necessary for healthy families, maternal and child health and abortion reduction. For feminists and women’s rights advocates outside of the evangelical community, this is a well-known position. Promoting contraceptive use is also a good common ground where religious communities, feminists and women’s rights advocates can meet.

Dig deeper into the report’s framework, and there are some major stumbling blocks to creating more common ground, particularly in determining who should use contraceptives, the definition of family and the marginalization of abortion. It’s expected that as evangelical Christians, the NEP’s report acknowledges but doesn’t condone pre-marital sex, narrowly defines marriage between men and women and understands sex as “intrinsically procreative.” The report doesn’t include abortion in its definition of family planning. (In response to an audience member’s question on the topic during the press conference, a doctor on the panel unequivocally stated that contraception is not abortion. Thank you, doctor, for publicly setting the record straight!) As another selling point for wary evangelicals, the NEP links the use of contraceptives to preventing and decreasing abortion.

It’s clear that the NEP’s report defines and condones women’s contraceptive use within the confines of the heterosexual and married family. The language of “family planning” instead of “contraceptives” or “birth control” underlines its family-centric, procreative focus. I could go on about why limiting contraceptive support within heteronormativity and marriage is not good policy and healthcare. What’s troubling me more about this report is the marginalization and complete erasure of abortion as a necessary and legitimate part of women’s reproductive health care and maternal health. It’s understandable and acceptable that abortion for some religious people goes against their faith. You have your beliefs, I have mine. However, whether you condone it or not, abortion, like pre-marital sex, exists and is connected to the complicated reality of women’s lives within their families, relationships and communities. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 6 out of 10 women seeking abortions in the U.S. already have a child. They’re mothers and many describe themselves as religiously affiliated. Women have abortions for many different reasons, from finishing school to being unable to financially support another child, to rape, incest and to save her own life. Not discussing abortion because of the fear of further alienating evangelicals from supporting contraceptive use further stigmatizes abortion and hurts women’s access to a safe, legal and necessary medical procedure. Supporting women’s right to only prevent pregnancy (not during) is not giving women full control of their bodies and denies them autonomy as persons. It’s simply irresponsible and callous to ignore abortion when tens of thousands of women around the world die from unsafe, illegal abortions. Here in the U.S., women are finding that their right to a safe, legal abortion doesn’t mean much if they can’t access it because the closest clinic shut down, the cost is too high, the state’s mandatory waiting periods are too long or some GOP lawmaker wants to legislate transvaginal ultrasounds.

Considering the consistent, virulent attacks on birth control in the past year –  from Rush Limbaugh’s slut-shaming of Sandra Fluke to Catholic bishops opposition to healthcare plans covering contraceptives – it’s refreshing to see a religious community voice full-throated support for birth control. It reaffirms that some religious communities in the U.S. are willing to stand up for women’s rights. As feminists and women’s rights advocates, we should support them for taking a controversial stand in their communities. But it’s not enough. Advocating for contraceptive use is a basic, elementary position. Progressive-minded evangelicals must continue to push the envelope on women’s reproductive health, including abortion, no matter how difficult and painful it is within the evangelical community. Women’s lives depend on it. What’s also desperately needed and not discussed is evangelical support for comprehensive, scientific sex education in schools. Without education, women and men will not know how to use contraceptives, plan the size of their families and reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. Talking about one part of the picture (contraceptives) is not enough. It’s just a start in the right direction toward the common good of all women and men.

No One Wins a (Tug-of) War on Women: From Uteri to Personhood, Why Feminists Must Reframe the Debate

Yesterday, Fem2pt0 published a piece that I co-authored with my colleagues at Feminist Friends!

Click here to read the article, “No One Wins a (Tug-of) War on Women: From Uteri to Personhood, Why Feminists Must Reframe the Debate.”

We worked collaboratively on the piece for months through many edits and interviews with Maternity Care Coalition, a reproductive health organization in Philadelphia, and Steph Herold, founder of IamDrTiller.com. The response has been positive and we at Feminist Friends couldn’t be more excited.

Let us know what you think on Twitter (@FeministFriends) and be sure to follow us!

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Katherine Mullen:

My newest post on Rep. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin for Rhyme et Reason.

Originally posted on Rhyme et Reason:

Just when I thought 2012 couldn’t get any worse in the right-wing attacks on women’s bodily autonomy, Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri proves that we haven’t hit rock-bottom of the GOP’s misogyny.

How can you top transvaginal ultrasounds and upstage Rush Limbaugh? Easy! Let’s recap what happened on Sunday when Akin “misspoke” and blatantly spread the false, unscientific garbage that: 1. a woman’s uterus has the magical power to shut down a rapist’s sperm so she doesn’t become pregnant; and 2. rape, by Akin’s definition, only exists and is “legitimate” if there’s a penis involved.

I laughed and tweeted about my newly discovered magical uterus and its secret powers, but all jokes aside, Akin’s comments are shockingly medieval. Not only do his comments place the burden and onus of preventing rape on women, they also insinuate that a uterus – a fist-sized muscular organ – can instinctively react to…

View original 230 more words

“Trust Women”

“There are a lot of people in the United States that don’t like what we do…Our response was and continues to be, ‘Hell no, we won’t go.” -Dr. George Tiller, speaking to Feminist Majority Foundation in 2008.

More news + blogs on the 3rd anniversary of the murder of Dr. Tiller:

  • How can the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements better support the people who have later abortions and providers who perform them? (a call for collective blog remembrance by Abortion Gang)

Writer’s guide to Reproductive Justice

I had the amazing experience yesterday of attending NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition’s first Reproductive Justice Media conference in Manhattan. Listening and learning from the organizing, research and writing of reproductive justice activists and writers like Pamela Merritt, Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, Jamia Wilson and Belle Taylor McGee, was a rare opportunity for me to delve more deeply into a movement that is gradually reshaping my own thinking of women’s health. It’s also incredibly inspiring and enriching to be in a room full of badass, smart women who are making things happen. Being able to meet them outside of Twitter was even better.

NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition, an outgrowth of SisterSong NYC, organized the conference in collaboration with Women’s eNews in order to reframe the discussion of what reproductive justice means, how to create messages and communicate them to the media and public. In this spirit, the coalition created a Tumblr stylesheet for writers, activists and media folks to use when discussing reproductive justice. One entry, “Reproductive Justice, Reproductive Rights (difference),” states:

Reproductive justice is the theory, practice, and movement to ensure that people are supported in their decisions to create families—or not—in the most optimal situations possible.

Reproductive rights concentrate on fighting to keep abortion a safe, legal, and accessible reproductive choice with some discussions on birth control and and family creation. It also centers the sexual and reproductive capabilities of cisgender women to the exclusion/erasure of trans people and non-binary/genderqueer people because it defines the ability to give birth as a hallmark of “womanhood.”

Use it and share it! NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition is also live tweeting the entire conference (@NYC4RJ) (#RJmedia2012).

Today on Capitol Hill: Trading women’s autonomy for D.C.’s

The House subcommittee on the Constitution is holding a hearing today without the presence of the city’s elected Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, on a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Columbia. Oh, you know, just another day on Capitol Hill!

Based on similar bills modeled and promoted by the National Right to Life Committee, the bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) is a standalone bill in legislative talks that would grant D.C. autonomy over its budget. The bill – “District of Columbia Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” – is based upon the disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks gestation or older. Although the AP reports the bill has no chance becoming law this year, six states have passed similar legislation.

In case you’re confused about what this debate is really about – fetal pain? D.C. budget autonomy? abortion? – let me save you the mental frustration. Republicans are trading D.C. women’s autonomy over their bodies and healthcare decisions for the city’s budget autonomy. Their asking price is a restriction on D.C. women’s healthcare and constitutional right to abortion. I’m sick and tired of the continual attacks on our healthcare and reproductive rights. And I’m sick of the undemocratic, oppressive tactic of baiting one group of Americans’ rights against another. Enough! On the Rachel Maddow Show last night, Holmes Norton forcefully called the bill out as a bullying tactic. Well done, Rep. Holmes Norton.

Note to U.S. Catholic Bishops: My body is not your battleground for ‘religious liberty.’

We no longer need to worry about U.S. Catholic bishops holding our right to affordable, no-cost contraceptives hostage in the name of “religious liberty,” thanks to the Obama administration’s new decision today to shift the cost of providing women with contraceptives to the insurance companies. Read RH Reality Check’s synopsis of today’s news.

This appears to be a win-win for both sides, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s gratifying to see the Obama administration remain firm in protecting and standing by women’s health for once. It preserves women’s expanded access to health care and allows religiously affiliated institutions to uphold and not compromise their antiquated, anti-woman beliefs.

What has concerned me about this intense debate in the past week is the argument that requiring Catholic universities and other institutions to cover their female employee’s birth control was an infringement on religious liberty and freedom. Last time I checked, religious liberty or freedom as enshrined in our Constitution, allows us to freely practice and follow the faith we choose without discrimination and government interference. Every faith has its core beliefs and teachings that make it undeniably Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. But it’s man-made rules, not holy, divine decrees, commandments and scriptures that control and dictate women’s reproductive choices.

I refuse to believe anything else when I see a small, elite group of celibate (I assume) Catholic bishops hold so fiercely to “church teachings” and ignore the reality that 98 percent of Catholics have widely used contraception (including myself, if you count lapsed Catholics). And never mind that Catholic hospitals and universities have had to provide contraceptive coverage for their Catholic and non-Catholic employees in 28 states. Oh, and having health plans that exclude services that only women use is discriminatory.

Anyway, I digress. For some religious folk, contraceptives will always be morally unacceptable. But what about the rest of us women who are religious, secular or atheist and don’t believe that controlling your fertility is a morally abominable act punishable by God? Is it not hypocritical that the small, mostly male minority of Catholic bishops who cry “religious liberty” are infringing on the rest of the faithful’s religious freedom to think otherwise by preventing them from getting the health care they need? Including the 98 percent of Catholic men and women who obviously don’t follow their church leaders’ teachings?

We live in a complex, multi-faith country where women have diverse, personal beliefs and faith about how best to make their reproductive decisions and futures. (And it’s worth pointing out that not all women who take oral contraceptives are taking it to prevent pregnancy. Women take birth control pills for a variety of hormonal and medical reasons.) If we’re going to argue and defend religious liberty and freedom, then a small, extreme group of right-wing Catholic bishops imposing their view of contraception and women’s bodies on the rest of us – 98% to be exact – is the opposite of religious freedom. It’s religious tyranny. My body is not your battleground for “religious liberty.”

39 years of Roe v. Wade

This blog post is a part of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s “Blog for Choice Day 2012,” in honor today of the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This year’s question is “What will you do to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012?”

“What will you do to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012?” is a question I have been thinking about for the better part of the morning and I still don’t have a good answer that completely satisfies me.

Here’s what I know for sure:

Today marks 39 years since abortion became legal in the U.S. I have never known a life where I didn’t have a legal right to an abortion and I know I never want to find out what it’s like without that right. The attacks on reproductive rights had been relentless in 2011, and this year looks no better.

Here’s what I’m unsure about with regards to NARAL’s question-of-the-day:

Obviously, I vote for the pro-choice candidate. But it’s not enough to elect pro-choice candidates. We must elect pro-choice candidates and then we must hold them accountable and speak up in defense of women’s reproductive rights when they falter. President Obama was (is) a great candidate for protecting women’s right to safe, legal abortions until the fight over health care, the budget and debt ceiling when he stepped aside and let Congress throw women’s reproductive health care under the bus. (I don’t have to consider the alternative to know that having Obama in the White House is better than a Newt, Mitt, Rick or Ron.)

However, as feminists and reproductive rights activists, we need to do more than work to elect pro-choice politicians, sit back on our heels and say, “job well done.” We need to educate and inform young women and men about the importance of including abortion in the spectrum of women’s health care, to teach comprehensive sex education in schools and seriously think about the framing and impact of our discourse of “choice” versus reproductive justice. (See my previous post on this topic). The work of protecting the legal right to abortion is on many fronts, and not only about electing pro-choice candidates in 2012.

Which leads me to my next question – What if there aren’t any good pro-choice candidates running in your local and state elections this year? Then what do you do? Do you hold your nose and vote for the pro-choice candidate anyway on this one issue even though you might not agree with the candidate on other equally important issues? Do you throw your money and time into a campaign in a neighboring state for another pro-choice candidate?

This election year, the chance for me to help elect a pro-choice candidate boils down to one Congressional race, and I have no idea who the pro-choice candidate is, or if there is one. I live in a mostly red county in a blue state that is supportive of reproductive rights. I’m lucky. I have a Democratic governor who is Catholic and pro-choice and presides over a state legislature that is packed with liberals. I have two pro-choice allies in the Senate. And then there’s my Republican representative in the House – dear, old Roscoe Bartlett, who has managed re-election wins every two years since the early 1990s with the help of Republican Western Maryland. But this year’s election isn’t looking too good for Bartlett. Maryland has adopted a new redistricting map that redraws Bartlett’s District 6 south into liberal Montgomery County.

Nevertheless, the indefatigable Bartlett has decided to run for another term and there’s no shortage of challengers including state Senator David Brinkley (R); state Delegate Kathy Afzali (R); Charles Bailey (D) of Washington County; John Delaney (D) of Montgomery County; state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown; Milad Pooran (D) of Frederick County; Robert Coblentz (R) of Washington County; Robin Ficker (R) of Montgomery County; Joseph T. Krysztoforski (R) of Baltimore County; and Brandon Orman Rippeon (R) of Frederick County.

I don’t know who any of these challengers are, and I have plenty of time to figure out what their positions on abortion and reproductive rights are before Maryland’s primary on April 3.

So, here’s my final answer to NARAL’s question today, on the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade: I’ll do what I’ve always done. I’ll vote for the progressive, pro-choice candidate when I can, and assuming she/he wins, I’ll hold her/him accountable. I’ll continue to write and speak out in defense of women’s legal right to abortion. As one person, this is all I can do.