The fetal tissue issue has once again put winds in the sails of opponents of a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, the breath of fresh air in the mainstream press of Katha Pollitt’s recent response to this offensive in the New York Times (“How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood,” Aug. 5). I applaud Pollitt’s unabashed pro-choice stance on the right to abortion while also offering constructive criticism of Planned Parenthood and its leadership’s decisions to take a more reactive stance toward defending a woman’s right to choose abortion rather than proudly defending a woman’s right to her privacy and to control her own body. She also called out the huge numbers of women (one-third of all women) and men who have benefited from this right who do not speak up and defend it.
I was 16 and pregnant in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that women have the right under the Constitution’s privacy clause to abortion for the first two trimesters of pregnancy. I chose this option in 1974 and received services through the militant physician activist, Dr. Mildred Hanson at the Teenage Medical Center on Chicago Ave. in Minneapolis then and later, again, at Planned Parenthood. It does not matter how or why I got pregnant; I was simply not ready or equipped to go through childbirth. I never regretted it or felt ashamed.
Women in the United States won the right to abortion and to control of their bodies through mass actions, on the shoulders of the most important and militant battle in the last century in this country — the fight for black liberation. All advancements for rights and political space has been won in the streets.
Katha Pollitt alluded to that truth when she said, “… the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves – that one in three – look on as if the struggle
has nothing to do with them. Without the voices and support of millions of ordinary women behind them, providers and advocates can be too easily dismissed as ideologues out of touch with the American people.”
Time for mass action
This is the time for mass action to defend reproductive rights. Given the extraordinary mass actions of our black, brown and working-class brothers and sisters protesting cop killings and the racist reality of the so-called criminal justice system, we too should be inspired to return to the streets. Just because a woman’s right to choose exists as law doesn’t mean it exists in fact; only mass actions can ensure that right.
I am on the mailing lists of Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women and am increasingly disgusted with their “solutions” to the attacks on women’s rights. It is either a plea for donations to lobby or to support a “pro-choice” politician, a call to vote for a “sympathetic” candidate, or to sign on to some petition du jour. My various letters to both, calling for mass actions, have, needless to say, not been responded to. As self-proclaimed leaders and advocates for women’s rights, they have the resources and clout to organize or endorse such actions. I regularly attend the local St. Paul Good Friday Planned Parenthood Clinic defenses and was appalled at one point when it was strongly suggested that we not use the word abortion on our placards, but use the words “defend women’s health.”
I’m afraid that Planned Parenthood and NOW’s strategy of relying on well-intentioned politicians and the Democratic Party to defend women’s rights has actually enabled the anti-choice offensive and the chipping away of the historical gains women have won. And for that reason, we cannot blame our younger sisters and brothers, as Pollitt seems to do, for not knowing that it took a struggle to get these rights. The electoral strategy pursued by Planned Parenthood and NOW have helped to effectively erase that history from popular education.
Restrictions hurt working people and the poor the most
I shudder to think of the millions of women who, through states’ and federal government restrictions, have been denied the right to abortion and even birth control. As usual, these restrictions have affected working people and the poor the most — women who cannot afford out-of-pocket payments, travel to far-off clinics and to stay overnight or days to jump through the hoops of sonograms and waiting periods.
Personally, I know countless women who have chosen abortion and have taken many women through the simple and safe procedure. I personally have never known one who has regretted this decision.
My mother was a strong advocate of a woman’s right to choose abortion born of her personal experience as a teen seeing numerous young women forced to quit school, relocate, marry against their will or die or become maimed by back-street abortions. My father, until his death at age 88, regularly contributed money to Planned Parenthood. Thus, my criticism of the organization is not that of an opponent but of someone who is truly supportive of its goals.
No true equality without family planning
Women can never have true equality to participate in the work force or join in social struggles, especially working class and poor women, without family planning based on their choice.
As a woman, I am simply grateful and proud of the women who fought for the right to abortion. I also fought against the Hyde amendment that denied public funding for abortion, and for an Equal Rights Amendment for women. I am stronger for my ability to decide if, when and how many children I want. We should all be so fortunate.
Kudos to Pollitt and her call to action!
Natalie Johnsen-Morrison is a native Minnesotan raised in North Minneapolis. She has actively participated in struggles for human/civil rights, local, national and international since her teens.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.