Abortion: 1 in 3 Speakout

Here we stood, a score of women at the U.S. Capitol, there to share our personal abortion stories privately with lawmakers and online with the public on March 21, 2017. We were storytellers in the fifth annual “1 in 3 Speakout: Stories from the Resistance.” Our goal — to put a human face on abortion; said in another less ladylike way, to get in our representatives’ grills. We were all darned tired of being characterized by ignorant anti-abortion advocates as shadowy, irresponsible, hypothetical women.

“Hey, talk to us,” we demand of our lawmakers. “We’re real people.”

First, we took our rally to the Capitol steps. Just as crowds began to gather, no doubt curious about our megaphone and pointing to our “I HAD AN ABORTION” and “I STAND WITH 1 IN 3” signs, we were shooed away by police to the more distant location shown in the above photo. We had been in the path of — you guessed it — President Trump’s motorcade. He was making his last-gasp attempts to salvage the Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare. How appropriate to see, just days later, his plan aborted. Continue reading

Book Club: Living in the Crosshairs

CrosshairsLiving in the Crosshairs is an important and terrifying book that was published last year by Oxford University Press. Its authors are David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University who also sits on the boards of the Women’s Law Project and the Abortion Care Network, and Krysten Connon, who graduated from Drexel Law School in 2012, and is now an attorney in Philadelphia. In it, they look at targeted harassment of abortion providers. This is different from the protests we may think of outside abortion clinics, which are aimed at the clinic, or the women seeking abortions, or the issue in general. Targeted threats and attacks are aimed at individuals who work in the clinics. They are personal.

The title comes from a story of one provider’s dealings with the legal authorities. He describes one protest at the clinic where he works, where:

… a new sign displayed Paul’s picture in crosshairs. “I was just shocked that that was legal. I just can’t see how that’s fair.” Paul contacted the FBI about the targeted protest, particularly in light of the sign with the crosshairs. “They said it’s perfectly legal. The protesters could do that, and they could do worse.”

This incident shows the way abortion providers are targeted, literally and figuratively, by anti-abortion activists, and is a representative example of the stories told by the people interviewed for this report. In all, 87 providers were contacted, and 82 of them agreed to be interviewed at length. The authors included doctors, administrators, and other medical and non-medical staff who work where abortions are performed. Non-medical staff are also targets; as the authors point out, of eight providers murdered by anti-abortion killers, four were doctors; the others included two receptionists, a security guard, and a volunteer escort. And more recently, we’ve seen in Colorado Springs that people unrelated to a clinic can also be killed in anti-abortion violence. The danger is great; almost all of those interviewed chose to use false names, and to have details that could identify them changed as well. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • birth_control protesterEsquire has a stellar piece on the work of Dr. Willie Parker, a resident of Illinois who flies to Mississippi twice a month to provide abortions to women in the state’s last abortion clinic. It’s a lengthy piece but worth your time. (Esquire)
  • Rand Paul is a lying, liar-faced liar who tried to downplay his and other GOP members’ efforts to diminish women’s access to birth control. (Jezebel)
  • As a matter of fact, the anti-contraception agenda of conservatives has only become more extreme. (RH Reality Check)
  • Texas’ abortion clinics are closing at an alarming rate. (WaPo)
  • As a result of the disappearing clinics, women are increasingly resorting to unsafe methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies. (Cosmopolitan)
  • The last abortion clinic in Toledo, Ohio, is fighting the good fight to remain open. (Toledo Blade)
  • How much do the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” matter in 2014? Bustle investigates. (Bustle)
  • Circumcising men cuts HIV risk among women. (MedPage)

Parental Notification Laws: What’s the Harm?

parent teen communicationIf, in 1987, you had asked Bill and Karen Bell if minors should be required to obtain permission from their parents before receiving an abortion, they would have been all for it. It didn’t seem like an extreme or dangerous position — after all, shouldn’t parents have a right to know when a surgical procedure is being performed on their underage children?


Lack of access to effective contraception and safe abortion hurts women.


That all changed in 1988, when their 17-year-old daughter Becky died unexpectedly — 25 years ago today. Becky’s mysterious plea at the hospital, just before she passed away, was for her parents to “please forgive me.” Later, they found a letter that said, “I wish I could tell you everything, but I can’t. I have to deal with it myself. I can do it, and I love you.” Her words made sense when Becky’s death was determined to have been caused by a bacterial infection brought about by an illegal abortion.

In Indiana, where the Bell family resided, minors needed parental permission in order to obtain an abortion. Becky Bell, for whatever reason, didn’t feel she could confide in her parents about her unwanted pregnancy, and while judicial bypasses were technically an option, the judge in her district had never granted one.

The parental-consent law couldn’t force familial communication: Becky either obtained a back-alley abortion or attempted to self-abort — and the unsterilized equipment that was most likely used caused an infection that raged for six days before taking her life. Her grief-stricken parents wrote, “We would rather have not known that our daughter had had an abortion, if it meant that she could have obtained the best of care, and come back home safely to us.” Continue reading

A Conversation With Faye Wattleton: Part 3, Family Planning and Race

Faye Wattleton (left) with Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson, 1992

Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. She was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ll be sharing her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. This third installment covers questions of racism, especially as aimed at Planned Parenthood and its founder, Margaret Sanger.

Faye Wattleton is clear that women’s autonomy is at the core of the reproductive rights debate. Her philosophy regarding the struggle for reproductive rights, as she said during our interview, “gradually evolved to the conclusion that this is still really about the fundamental right and values that women are held to. That our reproduction is still a proxy for the larger question of our full status as human beings and as citizens.” The question is whether the government will seize the power to make decisions about women’s bodies.


“Racism has a very deep vein in this country and our culture.”


Ms. Wattleton, as the first African American president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was often asked how she could work for an organization founded by Margaret Sanger, a woman who allegedly saw birth control as a tool to eradicate the Negro race, to use the language of Sanger’s time. For example, when Ms. Wattleton debated Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, on the Phil Donahue Show in 1991, he accused her of being a traitor to her race by working for Planned Parenthood: “Margaret Sanger … wanted to eliminate the black community,” Terry said to Ms. Wattleton. “You have been bought.”

Ms. Wattleton responded, “I do not need you to tell me what my choices are about my life and my body because I am a black person. I can make that choice for myself, just as every black woman can make that choice for herself.” Reflecting further on Margaret Sanger during our conversation, Ms. Wattleton added, “I could never understand why Margaret Sanger was hauled out. Maybe she was racist. George Washington had slaves. What am I supposed to do? Give up my American citizenship for that?” Continue reading

A Conversation with Faye Wattleton: Part 1, Historical Perspectives

Faye Wattleton reflects on her career in the family-planning movement. Image: Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, 1981

Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. At 34 years old, she was not only the youngest and the first African American to head PPFA, but was also the first woman since Margaret Sanger to hold that position. She had already been executive director of the affiliate in Dayton, Ohio, for seven years, and is still PPFA’s longest-serving president.

Ms. Wattleton received her nursing degree from Ohio State University in 1964, and a master’s degree in maternal and infant care, with certification as a nurse midwife, from Columbia University in 1967. Working in obstetrics, she saw a wider world than she had known and was exposed to the choices women in other circumstances needed to make. She saw the results of illegal abortions when women were desperate to end unwanted pregnancies, and saw the judgmental attitudes of many of the doctors and nurses who treated them. These experiences, along with her religious upbringing by a strong mother who was a preacher in the Church of God, led her to a career in the movement for reproductive rights.


“What is different today is that the element of violence is much less of a factor in the struggle” for abortion rights.


Ms. Wattleton was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ll be sharing her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. In this first installment, she speaks about the battle for women’s reproductive rights as it has evolved over time.

In the years since Roe, states have been passing more and more restrictive laws, such as Arizona’s strict 20-week cutoff for abortions, and mischaracterizing some birth control methods as abortifacients. I asked if it had been difficult to watch the worsening attacks against reproductive rights since she left Planned Parenthood — and was surprised when Ms. Wattleton said she does not think the struggle for reproductive rights has gotten more difficult. In some ways, she said, things have gotten better. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Book Club: Abortion In the Days Before Roe

For as long as people have been practicing medicine, rudimentary as it might have been for most of history, people have been performing abortions. In the United States, abortion was outlawed in the mid-1800s, the reason being that the procedure was too dangerous; before then it had been legal until quickening. This rationale dissolved as techniques improved and the procedure, when performed in sterile settings by a knowledgeable practitioner, became safer than childbirth itself, and abortion was legalized with the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. For the century or so during which abortion was prohibited, women continued to seek them out. We’ve all heard the horror stories about the injuries and deaths that could result from illegal abortions. This image was widespread during those years as well, which makes it all the more telling that women still sought illegal abortions — a woman’s need to control her own destiny could outweigh a genuine fear of death.

The Abortionist: A Woman Against the Law by Rickie Solinger (1996) tells the story of Ruth Barnett, an abortionist in the Pacific Northwest who practiced from 1918 to 1968. Barnett’s success as an abortionist — she served tens of thousands of patients and never lost a single one — stands in stark contrast to the caricature of the back-alley butcher. Although incompetent, sloppy, and predatory abortionists did exist in the pre-Roe years, there were many, like Barnett, whose skilled work ensured that some women could obtain safe, albeit illegal, abortions. Continue reading