The Common Ground Honor Code

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The Common Ground Honor Code

Malika Saada Saar

Despite its worthy mission, the White House common ground agenda needs some serious tweaking. There is a need to reframe the agenda in a larger discourse of honoring motherhood and honoring the sacredness of women and girls’ lives.

Despite its worthy mission, the White
House common ground agenda needs some serious tweaking. There is a need
to reframe the agenda in a larger discourse of honoring motherhood and
honoring the sacredness of women and girls’ lives. The current
discourse on teen pregnancy reduction and abortion reduction, without
the larger context of honoring women and girls’ lives, reifies the
calcified vocabulary of gendered control and judgment.

So let’s recast the Obama Administration’s
common ground language and agenda to ensure that we are moving the pro-choice
and pro-life collective efforts to a higher plane.  Here is what
that might look like:

Honoring Women and Girls Lives 


Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Approximately 50-60% of adolescent girls
who become pregnant have a history of childhood sexual or physical abuse.

Girls in high school who reported experiencing
dating violence were four to six times more likely to have been pregnant
than peers who had not experienced dating violence.

The shared work to reduce teen pregnancy
must then be pursued in the larger context of violence against teen
girls. A common ground agenda that recognizes the interrelationship
between gendered violence and teen pregnancy moves away from a discourse
of control and judgment and unearths the unacceptable levels of violence
against teen girls and how that violence denies girls the fulfillment
of their full personhood and aspirations.


Violence against American women and girls
exists at levels that are simply unacceptable. At least one out every
three women has been beaten, sexually coerced or otherwise abused in
her lifetime, here in the United States and worldwide. Girls ages 16-19
are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of
rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and
12% of girls in grades 9-12 report that they had been sexually abused.
Women who experienced childhood molestation are more vulnerable to mental
health disorders, suicide, substance abuse, and obesity.

A common ground agenda must include ending
violence against women and girls. The experience of physical or sexual
violence is, unfortunately, the too often shared narrative of being
female in America.  A common ground agenda on ending violence against
women and girls includes supporting services and programs that keep
women and girls strong and safe; public square discussions on the intolerably
high rates of gendered violence (we need you First Lady Michelle Obama);
and a media campaign that promotes women and girls’ sacredness, against
the backdrop of popular culture’s systemic denigration of our bodies.


Honoring Mothering, Especially in
Vulnerable Communities


Presently, most U.S. jails and prisons
shackle incarcerated women during labor and delivery as a matter of
course. In June 2007, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
(ACOG) released a statement calling for an end to the practice of shackling
mothers in labor and delivery due to the potential harm posed to the
mother and unborn child.

In response to the draconian practice
in jails and state prisons of shackling incarcerated mothers during
labor, delivery and post-delivery, national and state-wide coalitions
of faith-based and reproductive health organizations have emerged to
urge for reform that is just, moral, and safe for mothers, their unborn
babies, and medical and correctional staff. As members of the faith
and reproductive health communities, these persons possess a shared
concern for the well-being and health of the mother and unborn baby,
and a shared belief that all mothers are entitled to birth their children
with dignity.

The end of shackling mothers during labor
and delivery ought to be a common ground issue for the White House.
Specifically, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood
Partnerships and the White House Council of Women and Girls should:

1) Convene a meeting with clergy,
advocates, and other stakeholders to explore opportunities to support
the end of the shackling policies in state prisons and jails.

2) Disseminate a moral plea to states
to follow the lead of the Bureau of Prison and state legislatures and
reform the practice of shackling in a manner that provides health and
safety to mothers, their unborn children, medical staff and security


Most substance abuse treatment programs
deny access to pregnant and parenting mothers. Mothers are forced to
make an untenable choice between treatment and their children. Honoring
the sacredness of the mother-child relationship in vulnerable communities
means that mothers ought to have access to family-based treatment programs—although
very few exist—where mothers and their children can heal together
as a whole family. A common ground agenda should be dedicated to expanding
family treatment capacity.

There is so much good work to be done
here–and the Obama Administration’s belief in carving out a common
ground agenda allows a post-Roe, reproductive justice-minded, younger
generation to finally emerge.  But let’s create a common ground
agenda that is rooted in the dignity of women and girls’ lives, especially
those women and girls at the margins. Of course, there will be many
areas in which convergence of thought and action between the pro-life
and pro-choice communities is simply not possible. And there will also
be many opportunities to forge a new vision for women and families that
is not marred by entrenched ideological positions nor played out politics.
Are we ready for that?

UPDATE: Action Alert! Join the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Correctional Association of New
York at a rally
and press conference outside Gov. David Paterson’s Manhattan office
urging the governor to sign legislation that would restrict the use of
shackles on pregnant inmates during labor and after delivery. Go here for more information.