I don’t think any of my family members or childhood friends would be at all
surprised with how I turned out. When I was a youngster, I organized a
demonstration with the neighborhood kids against a woman who was going to cut
down our favorite climbing tree. I even took the civil disobedience route, tying myself to its trunk (until the street lights came on and I had to go
inside, leaving the tree’s "owner" free to chop it down while we were
at school the following day). In 6th grade, I partook in a sit-down
protest in the middle of a basketball court during P.E. We were
protesting our coach, who was not only regularly picking boys to
be team captains, but also turning a blind eye to their team
picking which, naturally, involved the choosing of only Y-chromosome carrying
team members; us girls were left on the sidelines to pick dandelions in the
Fast forward to 2009: a 25 year old college graduate of the feminist
persuasion, still frightfully unapologetic about the causes she chooses to take
up. Having a firm background in anti-war and impeachment-related
organizing through groups like the Campus Antiwar Network and the World Can’t
Wait, I’ve recently learned how differently a reproductive rights activist is perceived.
Sure, World Can’t Wait focused on abortion and contraception in its "Call
to Action," but the Call made us relevant to just about anyone who
opposed any facet of the Bush administration’s tirade against human rights. We
had the support, albeit sometimes superficial, of local churches and religious
organizations. Members of Quaker and Episcopalian groups alike consistently congratulated me on the important
work CAN and WCW were doing, mainly referring to our anti-war and anti-torture
activities (which were, all in all, what we focused on most explicitly). A
secular organization itself, World Can’t Wait received a great deal of support
from progressive religious groups locally and nationally alike. We agreed to
disagree on certain things (re: abortion), and united against the atrocities of
the Bush administration that we were equally appalled by.
These words of support from influential religious organizations all but
disappeared when I took up reproductive rights. The positive connections I
created with local religious folks have been severed, my pariah status amongst
moderates and pseudo-liberals established. Encouragement for the
"important work" I was doing by taking up human rights issues is
It’s not that these well-meaning people are at all against ensuring access to
comprehensive reproductive health… well, some may be. Regardless, none minded attending
rallies and events that focused somewhat on reproductive rights so long as the
focus was primarily on the war, the Military Commissions Act, etc. And this is
not to say acting against war and torture are not noble causes that shouldn’t
be supported, but when the same people that commend you for speaking
righteously about women’s rights later shy away from your invitation to attend
a CPC protest, you have to ask why.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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A dear-hearted acquaintance from the Society of Friends was kind enough to
clear this up for me. Quakers, she explained, are Christians… Protestants to
be exact. Like all Protestant sects, there are varying levels of commitment to
the church, different interpretations of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.
And while Quakers tend to be on the left side of things, there are of course
varying levels of liberalism as well. Some religious institutions specifically,
she explained, just might not feel comfortable supporting an organization with
such a, and I’m quoting her here, "hyper-focus on abortion."
Naturally, as an advocate for reproductive justice, I was speechless. For
almost a year now, I have worked to develop CPC Watch as a grassroots
organization that focused on all aspects of reproductive health.
Was I failing our mission statement?
"Don’t sweat it," my Quaker acquaintance told me, "you really
have no choice but to focus on abortion given the state of things."
And she’s right. I don’t think any reproductive rights activist would at all
disagree. I flipped through our website and found that we mostly address
myths and biases about abortion that are perpetuated by CPCs. Our News and
Action Alerts page addresses mostly (though not all) abortion-related laws,
etc. The time we spend merely refuting the claims by the anti-choice camp and
the radical right alike is undeniably focused on pregnancy termination. And
while the more extreme fringe has moved forward to attacking some of the most
common forms of contraception, the debate remains at the front lines of
abortion-related legislation and operational clinics. But maybe that’s not what
we necessarily want to focus on explicitly, and not just because we wish abortion weren’t
a political issue at all.
Don’t believe me? Ask any choice activist. The word "choice" is not a
euphemism. We really are
"pro-choice." Abortion, adoption, contraception, parenting, pre-natal
care… the only order here is alphabetical. We’d love to be able to work
solely on the nitty-gritty, the legislation that would increase access to
contraception and comprehensive sex ed. We’d love to see increased access to
reproductive healthcare, both preventative and pre-natal, without all the interference from the so-called Moral Majority. We’d love to live in a world where
unintended pregnancies just don’t happen, but to have access to a wealth of
positive options in the rare cases they do occur. (What’s more, we’re not the
ones who forced the term "choice" into a mold of "rampant
abortion" either, though to be sure we don’t want to perpetuate the
Clintonesque faux pas that abortion is a "necessary evil" or anything
What’s comforting is the number of people who realize why the antis make it
literally all about abortion: it’s the single most controversial aspect of what
we’re fighting for. It’s how they can build their ranks, by displaying pictures
of 12-week fetuses magnified 1000x, by showing grizzly images of nearly
full-term fetuses that, for whatever reason, had to be aborted. Then they themselves can
go for the "nitty-gritty" of reproductive limitations: contraception, for example, and the ever-looming myth of abstinence-only’s
effectiveness amongst the general population.
I remember sitting next to a moderate in an anti-war panel when asked why I
felt as though Roe was in danger under Bush when the limitations on abortion
that were being proposed were decidedly moderate and, they said,
"reasonable." I evoked, as I will do now, the "foot in the
door" metaphor. The sticky fingers of questionable legislation forcing its
way into an already narrow definition of a woman’s ownership of her own body.
First it’s the third term, then states begin chipping away at elective
procedures in the latter half of the second term, and suddenly states are
enacting "trigger laws" which will make abortion illegal in their
state the moment Roe is overturned (do they know something we don’t?). Suddenly
the culture is ripe for elected officials such as Representative Chris Smith of
NJ to publicity support ludicrous efforts such as The Pill Kills.com and
the many so-called "personhood
amendments" popping up around the country that would effectively
reduce a woman’s body to incubator status. The outlawing of abortion would not
only have disastrous consequences for women facing unplanned pregnancies, it
would create an "in" for the more radical factions of the anti-choice
camp to further restrict the reproductive options so many of us take for
So you see, it’s not that we’re just so freakishly obsessed with abortion that
we can’t possibly consider other avenues a woman might choose in her
reproductive life, it’s that we’ve been literally forced to maintain focus on
the issue that is by far most debated, the one we’re most at risk of losing.
Not just because we want to ensure access to safe and legal abortion for all
women, but because we realize the domino effect such a decision could have over
all facets of women’s lives, both reproductive and not.