For Women’s Equality Day, A Call to Use Your Right to Vote

On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and on August 26, 1920, it was certified: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

It had taken 72 years: In 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first women’s rights convention in U.S. history at Seneca Falls, this resolution was passed: “Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”


People in power would not be trying so hard to keep us from voting if our votes weren’t powerful. We must not give up that power.


Of 12 resolutions, it was the only one that was not passed unanimously. Although leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Mary McClintock, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass supported a resolution demanding women’s right to vote, many other attendees thought such a resolution might be a bridge too far. But by 1920, after women had marched, rallied, and faced abuse and arrest, several states had already adopted women’s suffrage.

In 1971, the newly elected Rep. Bella Abzug proposed observing August 26 as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate women’s suffrage, and a joint resolution of Congress made it so. But getting the right to vote cannot be considered a victory if we do not exercise that right. In the 2016 election, only 58 percent of registered voters actually cast a ballot. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, she trailed President Obama’s 2008 votes by 3.4 million. Continue reading

Happy Birthday to Emily Lyons, a Woman of Valor

Photo: Daily Kos

Today is the birthday of Emily Lyons, a nurse who was brutally injured when the clinic she worked at was bombed by an anti-abortion zealot named Eric Robert Rudolph. The homemade bomb was full of nails and shrapnel. Lyons lost one of her eyes and had multiple injuries all over her body. She had to have several surgeries, and was forced into early retirement.

Lyons was the director of nursing at the New Woman All Women Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. The bomb exploded at 7:30 a.m. on January 29, 1998, just as Lyons was opening the clinic for the day. Robert D. Sanderson, on off-duty police officer who was a part-time security guard at the New Woman All Women Clinic, died in the explosion. The clinic had previously been a target of anti-abortion protesters, and other women’s health care clinics in the U.S. had been bombed, but this bombing was the first time someone had died as a result.

The New York Times interviewed people who lived near the clinic to find out how they felt.

Maegan Walker, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, called it “an awakening” to the threat the clinic workers live with. “They say abortion is murder,” Miss Walker said. “What do they think they did to that police officer?”

Before the bombing, Lyons considered herself to be a quiet person. However, the incident motivated her to become an outspoken advocate because “it flipped a switch in my mind and things just had to be told.” Lyons says:

To hide in fear, to be silent, to be consumed by anger and hate, or to not enjoy my life, would be a victory for my attacker. It is a victory I chose not to give him. Every time I smile is a reminder that he failed, and I enjoy constant reminders.

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Stenberg v. Carhart: “Partial Birth” (NOT)

Dr. Leroy Carhart

Dr. Leroy Carhart sued Nebraska for outlawing a specific late-term abortion procedure, and won.

Seventeen years ago today — June 28, 2000 — the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law banning “partial birth abortion,” which the letter of the law described as “an abortion procedure in which the person performing the abortion partially delivers vaginally a living unborn child before killing the unborn child and completing the delivery.” *

Pause here a moment.

Is there any doubt in your mind that these words, quoted from the statute, were chosen by lawmakers to sound like infanticide, the killing of a baby between birth and one year? Are you horrified yet? Read on.

By a 5-4 ruling, the majority struck down the law in Stenberg v. Carhartsaying Nebraska’s ban was unconstitutionally vague and lacked a needed exception allowing the procedure to be used to protect the health of the pregnant mother. What? Huh? Infanticide is OK with the Supremes? How could that be? (Dissenting justices used the word infanticide 13 times in their dissents.)


Instead of outlawing abortion in one fell swoop, opponents are going after it one procedure at a time, stigmatizing lifesaving care in the process.


First, what banned procedure are we talking about? In 1992, Dr. Martin Haskell developed the “D&X” procedure, intact dilation and extraction (the medically appropriate name), calling it “a quick, surgical outpatient method” for late second-trimester and early third-trimester abortions. Outpatient is a key word here because the patient does not require an expensive, overnight hospital stay and, as we know, many hospitals do not allow any abortion procedures at all. Dr. Carhart, a surgeon and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, wanted to, and ultimately did, adopt this technique in his medical practice as the best and safest abortion option for some women.

As I read through all 107 pages of the court’s opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer and including three concurring opinions and four dissents, what struck me was one basic fact: The Nebraska law prohibited previability abortions** in which a fetus had a zero percent chance of ever being born — no matter what procedure medical professionals used. At that point in its development, the fetus could not survive outside the uterus. The Nebraska law that the Supreme Court struck down, then, had been a tool to demonize and criminalize physicians who decided the best interest of the woman was served by a procedure defined in the medical literature as “intact dilation and extraction,” and by anti-abortion politicians and agitators as “partial birth abortion.” Continue reading

STD Awareness: Prevention vs. Punishment

Before antibiotics, syphilis could kill and gonorrhea was responsible for most cases of infertility. Both diseases could spread from husband to wife to baby, potentially destroying families. So you’d think medical breakthroughs in prevention and cures would be welcomed with open arms.

The actual history, like the humans who create it, is much more complicated.


Compassion, rather than fear and guilt, should guide medical practice.


During World War I, sexually transmitted diseases were a huge problem — second only to the 1918 flu pandemic in the number of sick days they caused (7 million, if you’re counting). The Roaring Twenties saw a sexual revolution, and by World War II, the military was once more fretting about losing manpower to debilitating infections that drew men away from the front lines and into the sick bays.

The armed forces did what it could to suppress prostitution and distract soldiers with recreational activities. But the human sex drive could not be contained: The vast majority of U.S. soldiers were having sex — even an estimated half of married soldiers were not faithful to their wives during WWII. Victory depended on soldiers’ health, so during both WWI and WWII, the military provided its sexually active soldiers with “prophylaxis,” medical treatments that could reduce risk for venereal disease — or VD, as sexually transmitted diseases were called back then.

Anyone who thinks condoms are a hassle or “don’t feel good” should read medical historian Allan M. Brandt’s description of a WWI-era prophylactic station, which soldiers were instructed to visit after sexual contact: Continue reading

Looking Back at Loving v. Virginia: The 50th Anniversary of a Landmark Case

Richard and Mildred Loving

Bettmann/Corbis via New York Times

When Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving started dating in the early 1950s, the idea that their relationship could change history could not have seemed more remote. When they decided to marry, Richard knew plenty of other people in Central Point, Virginia, had skirted the same legal barriers that stood in their way. Those Central Pointers had always been able to resume their lives afterward with no controversy or consequence. He and Mildred expected the same for themselves.


Loving v. Virginia upset one of the last strongholds of segregation.


Instead, Mildred and Richard would become the subject of numerous books and articles, a made-for-TV movie, a documentary, and a feature film, as well as the plaintiffs in a landmark Supreme Court case that turns 50 today. Their reluctance and modesty, even as their legal battle took on national significance, were captured in what Richard told LIFE Magazine in 1966: “[We] are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”

An Illegal Marriage

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter met in 1950, seven miles from Central Point, at a farmhouse where the seven-member Jeter Brothers were staging a bluegrass show. Richard loved listening to bluegrass. That night, however, it was not the performers, but their younger sister, Mildred, who captured his attention. Mildred was a few years his junior and known for being shy and soft-spoken. She thought Richard seemed arrogant at first, but her impression changed as she got to know the kindness he possessed. The two dated for several years, often spending time together at the racetrack, where Richard and two close friends won numerous trophies with a race car they maintained together.

What would have otherwise been a familiar story of romance in rural, 1950s America was complicated by race, at a time when segregation was deeply entrenched. Richard Loving was white, of Irish and English descent, and Mildred Jeter was black, as well as part Cherokee and Rappahannock. For Richard and Mildred, though, Central Point provided an unusually safe space, one that stalled the expectation that their relationship could invite legal troubles. Continue reading

I Am Woman, Hear me Roar

In July 1978, I boarded a bus in Cleveland for the overnight trek to Washington, D.C., to join the herd of feminists marching to get the Equal Rights Amendment off the dime. In November 1989, I showed up there again to protest state and federal legislative attempts to undercut a woman’s right to an abortion. Did we send powerful messages? I think so.

Many of you will not remember the early 1970s or Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem “I Am Woman” (“hear me roar … in numbers too big to ignore”), but it strikes me that her lyrics still ring true today.

Just as throngs of protesting American women made waves in the ’70s and ’80s, now masses of women marching elsewhere on the planet are setting an example for us.

Witness what is happening around the world …

Poland "Black Monday" protest. Photo: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Poland “Black Monday” protest. Photo: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Thirty-six hours, that’s how long it took the Polish Parliament to reject a proposed near total ban on abortion last week.

Parliament had, apparently, been “taught humility” by women across the country, who brought the eyes of the world onto the streets of Poland when tens of thousands thronged the streets in a mass strike clad all in black, for their self-styled “Black Monday” protest.

The Government’s swift and grovelling change of heart, was a resounding victory for people power that will go down in the history books.

The New Statesman, October 10, 2016

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“You Have No Idea How Important This Is”: Anita Hill’s Testimony and the Arizona Attorneys Behind the Scenes

Anita HillWhen Justice Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court in the summer of 1991, it didn’t bode well for women. Marshall, the first African American appointed to the court, was best known for his expertise and influence on civil rights law, but he had also been a defender of reproductive rights during his tenure in the nation’s highest court. He was among the court majority that legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, and he again stood up for abortion rights in two later cases, Harris v. McRae and Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.


The impact of Anita Hill’s testimony went beyond the question of Clarence Thomas’ appointment.


Marshall’s decision to leave the Supreme Court was announced during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, who had campaigned on an anti-abortion platform in his 1988 presidential bid. Predictably, Bush used the opportunity to replace Marshall with a more conservative judge. At a press conference on July 1, 1991, President Bush named Clarence Thomas, who was then one of the few African-American judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals, as his nominee.

Thomas had only served 19 months as a federal judge and, at 43, was relatively young for an appointee. Of the justices currently serving, he was the youngest at the time of appointment. Nonetheless, he had a record of statements and judgments that was enough to satisfy the Republican base. Though he had spent eight years as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), he had been critical of affirmative action and school desegregation initiatives, and he questioned the very idea that the government should take action to address racial inequality. A product of a Catholic upbringing and Catholic schooling, Thomas had called the right of married couples to use contraceptives an “invention.” Groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) immediately spoke out against Thomas’ nomination, expressing concern that his presence on the court could put Roe v. Wade at risk. Continue reading