Book Club: Her Body, Our Laws

By 2014, law professor Michelle Oberman was no stranger to El Salvador. She had already spent four years making research trips to the Central American country, but that June she would need a local guide during her travels. An activist had volunteered to accompany her on the interview she needed to conduct, a task that required a two-and-a-half-hour trip outside the city to an area that is not well mapped — in fact, to a village where there are “no signs or numbers” to help visitors find their way among the cinder-block houses and the patchwork of land where the clucks and lowing of livestock punctuate the silence.

Paid maternity leave, monthly child allowances, and affordable day care and health care decrease demand for abortion.

Once in the village, it took Oberman and her guide an additional 45 minutes to find the house they needed to visit. Inside, a curtain was all that separated the main room from a small bedroom in the back. A bucket and outdoor basin served as a shower, and an outhouse completed the bathroom facilities. The living conditions there were not uncommon — not in a country where roughly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.

That poverty was both the cause and consequence of a conflict between left-wing rebels and government forces that lasted from 1979 to 1992. In many ways, that conflict set the stage for the abortion war in El Salvador, the subject of Oberman’s recently published book, Her Body, Our Laws: On the Frontlines of the Abortion War from El Salvador to Oklahoma (Beacon Press, 2018).

From Civil War to Abortion War

In the early 1980s, the small republic of El Salvador was in the grip of civil war, while in the U.S., debates raged over the emerging Sanctuary Movement that was aiding Salvadoran and other Central American refugees. The movement began in 1981, when Quaker activist Jim Corbett and Presbyterian Pastor John Fife, both of Tucson, pledged to “protect, defend, and advocate for” the many people fleeing warfare and political turmoil in El Salvador and neighboring countries. Tucson was at the forefront of the movement as refugees crossed through Mexico and arrived at the Arizona border. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 2: Race and Abortion from Roe to the Reagan Years

This article is our second installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined how fears of immigration — and racist notions that associated abortion with the barbarism of so-called “savage” races — fueled the opposition to abortion that led to its prohibition in the late 1800s. This installment examines the social forces that helped racism and opposition to abortion converge again in the first years after Roe v. Wade.

Replica of a banner used at NAACP headquarters from 1920 to 1938

A principle of democracy holds that while majority rule should serve as the guiding force of government, at times it must be reconciled with the rights of individuals and minorities. It was an idea Thomas Jefferson captured in his inaugural speech of 1801:

All … will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail … that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect.

With that understanding, the framers wrote the Constitution to include provisions for a judicial branch, composed of judges whose lifetime appointments would free them from the pressures of elections and afford them greater independence in their decisions. The branch would serve as the nation’s highest judicial body, above state and local courts.

Before his obsession with abortion and Tinky Winky, Jerry Falwell fought civil rights and integration.

For much of U.S. history, local, state, and federal judicial systems existed alongside another judicial system, one far less formal and conceived not in the interest of protecting minorities, but often in meting out the harshest possible punishments for them. It was the vigilante justice of lynching, sometimes known as Lynch law. Named after the Virginia plantation owner Charles Lynch, it was a form of mob justice that took root in the Revolutionary War era, before an official court system was fully established. It came to mean quick trials that ended in public hangings.

Though lynching was initially used against British loyalists, eventually Southern blacks became the overwhelming majority of its victims. Many Native Americans, Asians, Jews, and Mexicans were also lynched. According to the NAACP, between 1882 and 1968, in the period of racial tension in the post-slavery and civil rights years, 4,743 lynchings took place, and 3,446 of its victims were black. Rather than taking place under the cover of night or in countryside seclusion, many lynchings were staged in broad daylight, even in front of courthouses, and they were often advertised beforehand in newspapers — a blunt assertion of their existence as a separate judicial system for people of color. Though associated with the South, they took place in the North as well. In fact, only a few states — Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island — had no lynchings between 1882 and 1968. Continue reading

The Racial and Reproductive Justice of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, 1967. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president, almost half a million people descended on Washington, D.C., in what the Washington Post called “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history.” The Women’s March was held to protest the election of a highly unpopular president, who had been exposed in the months leading up to the election as someone who insulted the appearance and intelligence of women, boasted of his aggressive sexual advances toward others, and vowed to nominate a Supreme Court judge who would roll back women’s access to abortion. In D.C., and at solidarity marches around the nation and the world, people arrived for a massive show of support for women’s rights and reproductive justice.

Thurgood Marshall was a “great champion of intersecting struggles against racism and sexism.”

Actor Chadwick Boseman, who was on the set of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, a movie based on the first black superhero featured in mainstream comics, took a break from filming that morning to tweet, “Shooting Black Panther on a Saturday. But my heart is at the Women’s March.” It was a fitting sentiment for an actor who had also been cast to star in Marshall, the recently released biopic about the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

While Marshall was known foremost for his role in important civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education, as well as for becoming the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice some 50 years ago this month, he was also an influential figure in the history of reproductive justice. While the biopic focuses on his early career, when he handled a 1941 case involving a black defendant facing racially charged allegations and a prejudiced criminal justice system, it was not until more than three decades after that case — and more than five years after his swearing in to the Supreme Court — that Marshall became a fixture in the history of abortion rights in the U.S. 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

No Sporting Chance: LGBTQ Inequality Under Gov. Ducey

For many Arizonans, Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address on January 11 suggested that with the new year, we would be seeing a new, more compassionate course of action from the state’s executive branch. His address before a joint legislative session had the boilerplate promises of a conservative stump speech, including deregulation and lower taxes, but he also promised funding for a backlog of untested rape kits and improved access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It was hardly a 180-degree turn, but it was a gesture of even-handedness.

If Arizona’s governor won’t fight for LGBTQ rights, it’s time for citizens to put pressure on their legislators.

Hopes, though, were quickly dashed. Two weeks later, Gov. Ducey gave dismissive responses to the media about Arizona’s legal protections for members of the LGBTQ community. Questions were prompted by Ducey’s comments at a kickoff event for college basketball’s NCAA Men’s Final Four tournament, which Glendale will host in April. Last year, the NCAA withdrew events from North Carolina in response the state’s notorious “bathroom bill,” which required transgender people at government facilities to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex ascribed at birth, not the sex with which they identify. The law, House Bill 2, also blocked cities and other jurisdictions from passing anti-discrimination laws that exceed the protections offered by the state.

While Arizona has never passed a law modeled quite like North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the state has had its own controversial bills that were hostile to LGBTQ rights. In 2013, the Arizona Legislature considered a bathroom bill of its own — one that ultimately didn’t pass — which would have granted businesses the power to deny bathroom access to people based on their gender identity or expression. In 2014, Gov. Jan Brewer responded to pressure and vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers, as long as they claimed their actions were motivated by religious beliefs. The Human Rights Campaign gives Arizona a mixed review on its scorecard, noting support for same-sex marriage licenses and gender changes on government-issued identification, but not for transgender health care and other important policy matters. In fact, a bill currently under consideration, House Bill 2294, would remove coverage for gender-affirming medical procedures from AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

Won the popular vote by more than 2 million. Just sayin'.

Won the popular vote by more than 2 million. Just sayin’.

I hate being the bearer of bad news. Unfortunately, it feels like I’ll be showering our dear readers with doom and gloom for the next month, as well as the full 208 weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

First, let’s get the worst out of the way:

  • We at Planned Parenthood are now in grave danger of being defunded. The president-elect has promised this and the Republican-controlled Congress will likely be more than gung-ho to gut us once and for all. I don’t shill for donations often (at all, really) on this blog, but if you can find it in your heart (and wallet) to help us, we and the millions of women we serve would be so thankful. (NY Mag)
  • Trump’s pick for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is a creep who espouses radical beliefs about “personhood,” thinks women should have no control over their bodies, doesn’t support insurance coverage of birth control, and is on the “defund Planned Parenthood” train. (The Daily Beast)
  • He’s also a Lying McLiarFace who asserts that “not one woman” ever struggled to afford birth control. (The Atlantic)
  • As of now, Hillary Clinton has trumped The Donald in total votes by more than 2 million (and counting). That isn’t a small margin. It’s “YUGE” and “bigly” (as the president-elect would say). Our soon-to-be commander in chief is not taking kindly to the news that he LOST the popular vote by such a large margin: The reckless, thin-skinned toddler in a 70-year-old body hopped on Twitter (his favorite platform) to assert that, had “millions” of people not voted illegally, he would have won the popular vote.

    First of all — this is a highly dangerous statement as there is literally ZERO evidence of “millions” of people voting illegally. However, if there were even the slightest possibility this could be true (it isn’t), how in THE WORLD can he take the giant leap to posit that everyone voting illegally voted for Hillary Clinton? Couldn’t it be equally possible that these millions of (non-existent) fraudulent voters voted for him, which calls into question whether he REALLY won the election? Funny how he only tosses out accusations of widespread voter fraud when it threatens his ability to claim victory and deem himself the winner. (NBC News)

  • Hillary Clinton wasn’t just failed by the Electoral College. Widespread voter suppression tactics (enacted by Republicans in 2010, right after Barack Obama’s history-making win — coincidence, I’m sure!) closed down at least 868 polling places nationwide and kept potentially millions of people (mostly minorities … probably another coincidence!) from voting. (WaPo)
  • Texas: Epicenter of anti-choice, anti-woman malarkey. They stay on the front lines of the War on Women! The abhorrent legislators there have decided that beginning December 19, all fetuses surgically aborted must be buried or cremated, regardless of gestational stage. Gov. Greg Abbott is claiming this measure is being taken for the “enhanced protection of the health and safety of the public.” Yet this mandate doesn’t apply to women who have miscarried in their own homes? How is this related to health and safety, then? Jeez … I’m sure their aim is not to SHAME women or make them suffer for choosing to abort, right? And I’m sure it’s definitely NOT meant to make abortion providers jump through potentially insurmountable obstacles in finding nearby funeral homes willing to provide fetus funeral services, which can cost upward of $2,000? Oh, and I must mention, Mike Pence did this in Indiana during his tenure as governor. (Broadly)
  • Speaking of vice president-elect Bad Hombre, he is practically dancing on Fidel Castro’s grave and had the gall to refer to him as a “tyrant.” Friendly reminder — Gov. Pence is the man who supported putting a woman in jail for having a miscarriage. #PotMeetKettle (ITV)
  • Could the orange menace known as Donald Trump ax our copay-free birth control unilaterally with no help from Congress? Unfortunately, yes. (Vox)
  • The megalomaniac in chief’s ultra-petty Twitter account is a frightening death spiral into madness. This man is not OK mentally, and that should terrify us all. (Mother Jones)
  • And his cabinet is a crapshow too! It’s shaping up to be the most conservative in decades. (Politico)

Speaking of Trump’s cabinet, I can’t “get the worst out of the way” until I introduce you to our future attorney general: Continue reading

From Phoenix to Washington — And the World: A Short History of the Transgender Pride Flag

Monica Helms (right) holding up her Transgender Pride Flag

Monica Helms (right) holding up her Transgender Pride Flag

November is the month for transgender pride and awareness events. In some communities, it’s one day in November: One of the most widespread observations is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which is held every November 20. In others, TDOR is part of a longer observation, Transgender Awareness Week. Elsewhere, the whole month is devoted to the theme. Noteworthy, too, have been grassroots efforts organized at to make the first Sunday in November a celebration of transgender parents.

Phoenix, Arizona, is the birthplace of the Transgender Pride Flag.

However they’re timed, these events share common themes. They are occasions for transgender people and their allies to remember victims of transphobic violence. They are opportunities to assert rights, dignity, and a place in society — to demand the visibility and respect that transgender people are too often denied.

Transgender visibility has also been strengthened by a powerful symbol that first made its appearance at the Phoenix Pride Parade in 2000. Since the creation in the 1970s of the rainbow flag, a symbol shared broadly by LGBTQ people, several newer flags have appeared, each representing sexual and gender identity groups within the LGBTQ community. In 1999, Michael Page, the creator of the Bisexual Pride Flag, suggested to longtime Phoenix resident Monica Helms that she create a similar flag for the transgender community. Continue reading