On the Importance of Localized Electoral Work in Reproductive Rights

The following guest post was written by Mellie MacEachern, the SHARE (Sexual Health and Responsibility Education) organizer with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. She has been with the organization for 11 months.

For many Arizonans, the local political landscape seems foreign or abstract, distant from their individual lives. It’s almost as though we’ve been intentionally persuaded to ignore what’s happening next door while we rile in anguish about what’s happening in Washington.

Year after year, Arizonans who care about reproductive choice hear about bills being introduced that specifically target reproductive health care in minute but aggressive ways. But it’s not easy to muster a fervent view about reporting procedures in health clinics that you may not even visit if you’re hearing about them after they’ve been voted on, or if you don’t know your representative in the state Legislature and you’re unsure how you, as an individual, can hold them accountable.


In 2014, anti-choice candidates in Arizona won by around 170,000 votes. Meanwhile, 193,000 likely pro-choice voters didn’t show up at the polls.


The interim between election years is also disheartening for those who are interested in engaging in the local political climate but don’t know how to go about holding their national elected officials accountable for their votes on the national stage. How many times can someone call their senator before they burn out, before they lose hope?

Since 2016, we’ve seen an unprecedented interest in support for reproductive choice and access to care. An overwhelming number of people want to engage, help, show up, and make sure their voices are heard. But for the individual voter, constituent, or citizen, it can seem as though that hard work may not lead to an opportunity to be seen and heard by the people you work to elect.

That’s where Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona (PPAA) comes into play. Continue reading

Five Things to Know About the Morning-After Pill on Its 20th Anniversary

Medication portion of PREVEN Emergency Contraceptive Kit. Photo: Smithsonian Institution

In 1993, the New York Times Magazine posited that the morning-after pill might be “the best-kept contraceptive secret in America.” Even many doctors had no idea there was a fallback contraceptive that could be used shortly after unprotected sex or cases of rape.

In many ways, the morning-after pill had been right in front of U.S. doctors for decades. In terms of chemical composition, it was not much different from standard birth control, using the same main ingredients — synthetic hormones — in higher doses. Moreover, many of their colleagues in Europe and Asia had already been prescribing morning-after pills for years.


In 1998, years of research and advocacy led to the first FDA-approved morning-after pill.


Here, however, the secret was still largely intact. A 1994 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that two-thirds of American women had never heard of the morning-after pill or other forms of emergency contraception (EC). Less than 1 percent had ever used them.

There was an information shortfall in large part because there was no contraceptive that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for emergency use. Some providers worked around that absence by using the chemically similar estrogen and progestin medications that were approved for regular birth control. By upping the dosage, they created a suitable morning-after pill on their own. But drug makers couldn’t label or market those birth-control pills for emergency, post-coital use, since they weren’t FDA-approved for that purpose. It also spelled problems for federally funded clinics. Federal dollars couldn’t pay for an off-label medication hack, a makeshift morning-after pill that wasn’t officially approved. Continue reading

International Women’s Day: She Persisted

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1909 in the United States, and was officially designated as a worldwide holiday by the International Women’s Conference in 1910. The founders of this conference were socialists and communists who wanted equity for women’s contributions to the workforce, particularly in the garment industry, where women worked for 12 hours a day in hazardous conditions for very little pay.


Celebrate women who have fought winning battles for human rights.


International Women’s Day also praises women who have fought to gain voting rights around the world. Citizens of the United States are (or at least should be) aware of American suffragists like Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony, whose efforts culminated in the 19th amendment of the Constitution, giving American women the right to vote in 1919.

We should also honor the struggles of women in other countries to get the right to vote. For instance, Sylvia Pankhurst was a leader of the British suffrage movement, and was active in the labor movement as well. Many of us take the right to vote for granted, but let’s not forget that women in Saudi Arabia were unable to vote until 2015, and they weren’t even allowed to drive a car until the Saudi royalty decreed that women could start driving this year.

Past generations of women fought hard for the right to vote, and the current generation is an untapped source of power at the ballot box. For example, while only half of registered millennial voters cast a ballot in 2016, this level of voter participation was an increase from the previous election cycle. Collectively, more millennials and members of Generation X cast ballots than did members of older generations. That can be credited to the fact that members of younger generations outnumber members of the older generations, but it is also an indication of the potential young people have to create change when they exercise their right to vote. Continue reading

So Bad, Even Introverts Are Here: The Rally at McSally’s

Planned Parenthood supporters at Rep. Martha McSally’s office in Tucson, March 7, 2017.

The Women’s March on Washington, D.C., was an occasion for people to be creative and even humorous with their signs. Quite a few made me laugh — “Ugh, Where Do I Even Start?,” “We’ve Made a Yuge Mistake,” and “I Shouldn’t Have to Write Pussy on a Poster” were among my favorites at Tucson’s sister march. But there was one that not only made me laugh, it also resonated with me: “So Bad, Even Introverts Are Here.” Someone tweeted it from the march in New York City, and last I checked it had 94,000 “likes,” meaning I’m not the only one who could relate.

There has been some criticism leveled at people for whom the Women’s March was their first public protest. Things were already bad enough for us to be rallying in the streets, they say, so what took you so long? While I understand that line of thought, I get a little prickly at the suggestion that attendance at a march or rally is the only way to “do” activism. Yes, the Women’s March in Tucson was my first protest, but it was not my first activism.


I’m glad I expanded the boundaries of my comfort zone and allowed myself to be publicly counted.


As a teenager, I was happiest with volunteer activities that kept me far from the limelight, like stuffing envelopes for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Crowds, chants, spectacles — not my thing. I didn’t want to be interviewed by the local news, and I didn’t want my photo in a newspaper. I tried my hand at going door to door, but it filled me with so much anxiety that I never did it again. My activism, such as it was, waned as I buckled down on my studies in university, and it wasn’t until after I moved to Arizona that I started seeking out more opportunities — and explicitly looking for behind-the-scenes work where my introversion and dislike of crowds and cameras wouldn’t hold me back.

While there was plenty of work for people who didn’t mind making cold calls or canvassing neighborhoods, I found adequate demand for my skills — writing, data entry, and even the occasional stuffing of envelopes. I’m glad there are folks who can throw themselves on the front lines, changing hearts and minds on a one-on-one, face-to-face level. I’m glad there are folks who go to marches and wave signs, adding their bodies to the throngs of other people standing against injustice. We need those people. But I always felt perfectly content behind the scenes, contributing in my own quiet way.

Yet on January 21, I found myself in Armory Park in Tucson, joining thousands of Women’s March protesters. And on March 7, I made the split-second decision to show up after work at a spur-of-the-moment protest at Rep. Martha McSally’s office, waving signs to passing cars on Broadway Boulevard.

So what changed? 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

Continue reading

October 11 Is the Day of the Girl

hannah

Photo courtesy Hannah Hildebolt

October 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a United Nations observance begun in 2011. The day draws attention to the state of girls in the world, which is often a grim picture. Perhaps most important, it also involves girls directly in the work of making change.

In this country, the observance is called the Day of the Girl, and is a movement led by girls. Their website lists their central beliefs:

  • Girls are the experts on issues that affect girls. The solutions to these issues must come from girls. Their voices need to be centralized and elevated in social justice conversations.
  • Girls from marginalized communities must be central in conversations about social justice issues involving those communities.Truly effective social change cannot come without girls’ leadership.
  • Girls’ issues are intersectional. We must intentionally include people who are different from ourselves in our social change work. Otherwise we will not be able to make a meaningful impact — in fact, we could even do damage to huge populations of girls.

This list impressed me as I began my research, and I was curious to meet these girls who understood so clearly a process many of us are still learning. So I contacted them and asked if someone on their Action Team would be interested in doing an interview with me for the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona blog. I quickly got a reply from someone who said she would bring my request to their planning meeting.

A week later, I got the news that Hannah Hildebolt, age 17, of the Day of the Girl Action Team would talk with me. We made our arrangements, and I am happy to present that interview here.

How did you get involved with activism, particularly the Day of the Girl (DOTG)?

My activism stems from two things: my AP World History class and the camp I used to attend, the Center for Talented Youth (CTY). CTY is a very liberal community, and many of the attendees are activists, so I picked up a lot of interest in social justice while I was at camp. During the school year, this interest was heightened because I was taking a world history course over two years, and the teacher was quite clearly interested in axes of oppression and activism in general. You could say that CTY gave me the modern context for my activism and the history class gave me the historical one. In late 2015, one of my CTY friends recommended that I join DOTG as a way of turning my social justice interests into action. After checking out DOTG’s media, I applied and was chosen for an interview. The rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading

Despite Being a Red State, Arizonans Support Choice

Tabling with VOX at Terry Goddard's rally at the UofA

Tabling with VOX at Terry Goddard’s rally at the UofA

I started volunteering for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona when I moved to Tucson for my sophomore year of college. I was drawn to Planned Parenthood because I saw in the organization a combination of two things I wanted to be a part of: pro-choice feminism and political activism. My first event was a crowd canvass at a local street fair. I was not the sort of person who regularly spoke to strangers, let alone asked them for their signatures on pro-choice petitions. But I quickly got over the awkwardness and discovered I loved it. People were overwhelmingly supportive and grateful for our presence. There were those who ignored us and moved on, but they were few and far between. I remember the men and women who smiled, not the ones who rolled their eyes.

The next few events I attended were much of the same. People were friendly and supportive. I kept volunteering for the rest of the year and began attending VOX (Voices for Planned Parenthood) meetings as well.

This past summer I returned home to Illinois to spend the school break with my family. Bored and unemployed, I applied for an internship with Planned Parenthood of Illinois, and a few months later got the job. Continue reading