Archive | March, 2012

Somewhere Between Unintended and Intended – On Pregnancy Ambivalence

30 Mar

I have never taken as many pregnancy tests as I did when I worked at an abortion clinic. I peed on a stick after not having sex for weeks, or when I’d had sex that day, even though I knew the results wouldn’t be accurate. Pregnancy felt contagious—in the air in the clinic waiting room, on the seats in my counseling office. When you hear a dozen stories a day about birth control failure, about women getting pregnant even when they have an IUD and their husband has a vasectomy, you worry.

I wasn’t the only one who was constantly on the alert, but as a newer employee, I was the most obvious. One of my co-workers, a perceptive lady, noticed my jitters and told me not to worry, that as an employee, if I wanted one, I could have an abortion covered completely by our insurance, I could have my partner with me, the whole staff would support me, and on and on. I appreciated this compassion, but she assumed one crucial thing: that I would have an abortion at all. She didn’t push it on me by any means, but assumed, as I had before thinking I was constantly pregnant, that abortion would be my automatic and obvious decision.

Part of my new employee training to work at this clinic was shadowing a patient all day through her abortion experience. I went with her to get her labs checked, her ultrasound, her counseling session. I was with her during her procedure, where I held her hand and we talked the whole time. She told me about her kids, about how she was going to hug them extra hard when she got home, how having this abortion made her value her kids all the more, how she wanted to give them so much and couldn’t afford to sacrifice that for another child. It made me feel vindicated in my work, being present for this woman’s abortion experience.

With the patient’s permission, I went into the lab room for the next part of the training, examining the aborted fetus to make sure the procedure was complete. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to see, but was very curious. Would it really look like the gory posters that the anti-abortion protestors had outside? Would it just look like a period? I had seen abortions through the first trimester. This particular patient’s pregnancy was almost 15 weeks, the last point at which my clinic offered the option of local anesthesia instead of mild sedation.

As usual, I also thought I was pregnant at the time. I was constantly nauseous, had a heightened sense of smell, and my breasts were tender. The pregnancy tests I took were all conveniently too blurry to come out one way or the other.

The lab tech showed me the fetus. I was surprised to see that I recognized some of the parts—not fully developed by any means, certainly not what I would call a baby, but recognizable nonetheless. What I saw didn’t match the anti-abortion posters outside, far from it. But it also didn’t fit my preconceived notions that a 14-to-15 week fetus would look like a few blood clots. It looked more or less like an alien with see-through skin and insect-like eyes. Not a baby, but not nothing.

When I got home that night, I told my partner about my day, something we did every evening. I confessed to him that I thought I might be pregnant, and I didn’t know how pregnant, and I was crying and also happy but mostly epically confused. I knew we weren’t ready to be parents (most of the time I didn’t even want to be a parent, ever). We used reliable birth control.  Did I want to be pregnant? What would it mean for us?  I remembered an incident earlier in our relationship when 24 hours after a condom broke, I took emergency contraception, and I was sad about taking it, but I also knew it wasn’t the right time to take that risk. This felt like that all over again, except the stakes were higher. It felt like my body, my brain, and my heart were all turning on me, but in separate directions.

I thought about my potential pregnancy, about the possibility of our freaky alien floating comfortably in my belly, how it would look in the lab tech’s office, if I even wanted that, or if that would break my heart. And then another thought occurred to me: was I a bad feminist for feeling so conflicted? Was I going to be kicked out of the pro-choice movement for not knowing absolutely one way or the other if I wanted a baby?

Luckily for me, I hadn’t caught pregnancy from my patients. I got my period a few days later, and was both relieved and disappointed.  In the research world and the pro-choice advocacy world, we talk a lot about unintended versus wanted pregnancies. As it turns out, about a quarter of US women identify as ambivalent about pregnancy, that is, neither trying to become pregnant nor trying to avoid it. How can we create a movement that enables us to talk about our deepest emotional concerns and desires related to pregnancy without shaming or pressuring each other? Is it possible for us to encourage each other to use birth control and have open and honest conversations with our partners, while also acknowledging that sometimes these issues go beyond the logical?

The Day the Condom Broke

28 Mar

Yes, this is a real thing. Yes, I am going to tell you ALL about it. Traumatizing. True story.

I am a historically avid proponent of hormonal contraception, as in, I loved me the pill. Long before I started having sex, pain from my period was so bad that it was actually crippling. I was 13 years old, on my back in the nurse’s office at school once every few months, crying and barely able to breathe. Some periods were fine, others were incapacitating. Some could be cured with far more than the daily recommended dose of Advil for a grown adult; others required me to simply lie still and pray for death. When I was 16, the school nurse suggested that I go on birth control, because this awesome little pill could alleviate cramping. I was deeply enthusiastic. My mother was suspicious.

“If you go on the pill, you might think it’s ok to just have sex, and you might not think it’s so important to use a condom.” To her credit, she had a very real concern that sex would be better without a condom, and I would be at risk for pregnancy and STDs. I would describe my mother’s attitude towards talk of sex when I was growing up as vaguely repressed, but she was a former Catholic schoolgirl blessed with a queer, kinky Jewish daughter. She was like the world’s most adorable, chattery mouse who gave birth to the weirdest of all birds. She didn’t know what to do with me, but she did her best, and in this case, I still think about that conversation. It was important.

Still, the pain was awful, and the nice school nurse had thrown me a lifeline. I begged to be allowed on the pill. Mom folded, but not without hesitation and dire warnings.

The experiment was such a resounding success that she put my sister on the pill only a few months later, at the age of 14, and chirped to anyone who would listen about what a GREAT invention it was, this magic pill. This is what comes of being the oldest. My battles were everyone else’s automatic wins.

I stayed a virgin for a few more years and stayed on the pill for 9. The first 2 years were on a fancy name-brand drug, and then I switched to a generic version for 7. I was the happiest kid, you have no idea. The pain was virtually gone, I always knew when my period would come, life was a friggin’ breeze. I continued to use condoms because STDs and not stupid. The pill and I skipped gaily through fields of daisies, holding hands, etc.

I moved home after losing my job and had to switch insurance companies. They kept me on the pill, but switched me to a different generic version of it. I thought nothing of it, until one day, I went insane.

I mean crazy. It had built up for a few weeks, but I chalked up the growing depression, sudden mood swings, and psychotic public crying jags to the job loss and move home. One day, however, I had a minor psychotic break, and it became clear that something was WRONG. It took us a few days to realize that it might be the change in medication, but when I went ahead and googled the new birth control I’d been put on, it turned out sudden mood swings and suicidal tendencies were not as uncommon a side affect of that medication as one might, you know, prefer. I went off the pill. For a long time, I was not in a relationship and saw no need to go back on it. I’m a little titchy about the whole thing, honestly. Hormones. Possibly going crazy again. Now, in a relationship, I am evaluating my options and using the almighty Condom with a religious fervor.

Which brings us to the time the condom broke.

When I told my friend about this, she actually bust out laughing. “I thought that was just a story people tell when they don’t want to admit they weren’t using a condom!” she exclaimed. Nope! Nope. The condom broke. This is a true story. I FOUND A PIECE OF IT LATER I WON’T GET MORE SPECIFIC. Traumatizing. I did say that.

So the condom broke, but I remained calm. Because as a member of the reproductive justice movement, I am privy to, and contain within my head, a lot of information about contraception of various kinds. As a result, I knew that, in the city of New York, where I was When the Condom Broke, I could get emergency contraception over the counter.

Think about that.

Over the counter.

Over. the damn. COUNTER.

I got dressed, walked out the door, went to the nearest pharmacy, and ordered me some whore pills.

I’m serious. The pharmacist knew what I’d been doing. She knew why I was there. She was an older, married woman, and I felt her disapproval. I did not care. I did not care, not one little bit, what she thought about any of it, because she had no concept of my options. I was in a brand-new relationship in the middle of grad school and unready and unprepared for children. No need, no thank you.

And you know what else? I didn’t want an abortion. Not personally, not just then. I wasn’t in a place where I felt that would be the right decision, either.

And because I could walk a few blocks and get EC, I never had to worry about it.

EC is birth control. EC = BC. I know we’re trying to hit that point home.

Because I could walk down the street and pick up EC, I simply never got pregnant, the same as if I had been on the pill.

I can’t tell you the relief.

There were no side effects from the pill, although the experience itself scared the ever-loving crap out of me and led to some serious conversations with what I call a God. The pill itself brought on my period early and elicited yet more prayers, this time expressing fervent gratitude.

When I stood defiantly in the pharmacy, under the disapproving gaze of the nice lady pharmacist, a girl behind me was buying condoms. She saw what I was buying. I think she paled a little, as the potential consequences of our actions – our actions being sexy times – settled on her. We discussed various BC options, and I advised against Durex, the brand that had caused the trouble in the first place. We marveled at a world in which we had not just so many options, but access - a world in which we could get to the things that would make our lives better.

I’m not someone who believes that sex doesn’t have consequences. Frankly, I believe everything has consequences. (I mentioned I was Jewish. Wash your hands.) I believe that those consequences, like the consequences of most anything, differ depending on who you you are, who else is involved, what is at stake, and a score of other circumstances. I also believe that we live in a world where we can control what some of those consequences and are, and pregnancy simply does not have to be one of the many consequences, or outcomes, of consensual sex, be it between stupid teenagers, stupid twentysomethings, or fully mature married people, since once people get married, they are awarded the “fully mature” certificate, like Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

In short, EC is awesome, and I hope it is available at a corner store near you – if not today, then soon.

How to Win at Activism in Texas

27 Mar

I live in the great state of Texas, and it’s completely separate capitol, Austin.  As Kaitlyn highlighted last week, state wars on reproductive rights are raging. Texas, unfortunately, is far from a peace zone. A week ago, Texas’s political war against contraception and abortion access became violent. The firebombing of Texas Senator Wendy Davis’s office, an outspoken advocate for Planned Parenthood, evokes the unmistakable fear of targeted attacks on abortion providers. The firebombing should not to be taken lightly or taken out of context. Make no mistake, this is part of a large-scale “pro-life” tactic to scare supporters from providing and advocating for contraceptive and abortion care.

If you read the tweets from some of the most outspoken advocates in Texas, you could feel the impact the “pro-life” violence has—@meadowgirl on Tuesday: “@scATX i just can’t with all of this stuff. it SCARES me. like, can i be out as pro-choice and stuff & not end up DEAD or on FIRE?”  The pro-choice community is too familiar with the terror the prolife violence inflicts, we feel it all the time, and acutely when we remember the murders of Dr. Tiller, Dr. Gunn, Dr. Britton, Dr. Slepian, and all clinic staff who face daily harassment and intimidation from anti-abortion protesters.

The intention of anti-choice violence is to create a culture of fear and to pressure the pro-choice community into backing down. But in the face of mounting abortion restrictions, TRAP laws, and violence against supporters of reproductive health, we can not afford to lose any more ground. The firebomb attack on Senator Davis’s office comes after a persistent, long-standing war on reproductive rights in Texas, which, sadly, went largely unchallenged  in traditional media, social media, or grassroots resistance until recently. Over the past three weeks, pro-choice rallies, Planned Parenthood events, and media coverage of the Texas’ reproductive rights crisis have soared. And while the current grassroots reaction feels a little too new for comfort, we must take this momentum and run. The pro-choice, pro-uteri, pro-freedom movement in Texas is just starting, and it needs to get more connected, more organized and louder.

We are just now, in 2012, seeing a grassroots response to the multiple violations on reproductive rights in Texas, which went full throttle in mid-2011. The grassroots response here has taken the form of Seeing Red rallies, which are well attended and inspiring, but feel uncomfortably new. I believe that in order to evoke change, we must stand up for change, as strong collectives of individuals; I see that collective in Texas building, but it’s still loose and weak. I am not implying that the lack of activism or rallies in any way caused the violent attack on a pro-choice community member; the attacks are never our fault. I also understand that pro-choice Texans are at a serious disadvantage with the ignorance and misogyny of our leaders, the lack of traditional media coverage of our state, and the general political climate here. But I am certain that Texas and Texans can do great things, and if a cohesive, connected army were ready to go before the forced ultrasound legislation bill left the capitol, I am certain we could have accomplished more.

It’s never too late to take hold of a conversation you want to influence. So, if you’re in Texas, or any state battling for reproductive freedom with a need for a cohesive movement, I ask that everyone make an effort to connect with each other, and work together to change the terms and outcomes of activism. We need to build state-centric networks that will be prepared instead of reactive; we need to build a listservs of likeminded individuals that are willing to work a bit to get adequate attention on the issues in our states; we need to expand from our reliance on Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and others to lead events and connect with individuals. We need to know each other by name at rallies, and know who are our allies and resources are within our State’s community. This is just the beginning of a long battle, and if we are not prepared as a connected, unified front, we will lose.

Misogyny in Motion 312

26 Mar

Canadian politicians have recently become emboldened enough to revisit the “abortion debate.” Kitchener-Centre MP Stephen Woodworth has been granted 1 hour of debate on April 26, and another hour in the spring or fall, after which there will be a vote on Motion 312. Motion 312 is a back door attempt to regulate abortion by convening a committee to decide when a fetus becomes a human being. Currently in Canada, a fetus becomes a human being once it has left the birth canal, whether or not the umbilical cord is cut. Mr. Woodworth couldn’t even come up with a name for his motion, so I’ve dubbed it Motion 312: When a Woman is Stripped of her Autonomy. Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has started a name-that-motion poll, so email them a suggestion.

After the 2 hours of debate, the House of Commons will vote on whether to send it to a committee made up of 12 MPs. No, ‘MP’ is not short for ‘Medical Professional.’ This committee will be made up of 12 politicians, most likely the majority of them will be men, unlikely to contain many, if any doctors (there are 2 female doctor MPs that I am aware of), and the majority of them will be from the Conservative Party. They will debate amongst themselves when the law should give humanity to a fetus, and strip a woman of hers. Canadians, please write your MP a letter telling them that you oppose this Motion and that they should too! ARCC has provided a sample letter. ARCC has also prepared great counter-arguments to the motion.

You have likely already heard of the Government Free VJJ project. The group is neither pro-choice nor anti-choice, but simply wants to provide men in government with their very own plush uterus or vagina so they can butt out of ours. If you can knit, they have patterns for knitting a uterus or vagina to send to your local uterus-obsessed politician. If there is a knitter who would like a sponsor, let us know because Abortion Gang would like to sponsor a uterus so we can raise some money for a local abortion fund in honour of an anti-choice politician. This is a great project for Canadians as well and there is a facebook group you can seek to join, Womb Swarm: Textile Artists Against Motion 312.

If you are interested in sponsoring a uterus, let us know and we’ll figure out a system. It would be awesome to send anti-choice, uterus-obsessed politicians a plush uterus and let them know some money was donated in their honour to Planned Parenthood or an abortion fund. So let’s turn a bad situation into a money raiser and piss off some antis!

Fighting for PEI – How You Can Help!

21 Mar

You may recall my previous writing on Prince Edward Island, the only Canadian province where there are absolutely no abortion services, and currently no bus service going off the island. Women in PEI are having a really difficult time accessing abortion right now – and in Canada, abortion is something we all have a right to under the Canada Health Act. The difference in access across this country is a prime example of why it isn’t enough to fight for our right to reproductive healthcare; we must also push for equality in access, or we don’t truly have choice.

Inspired by the PEI Reproductive Rights Organization’s co-founder, Kandace Hagen, and her recent tie for first in the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation’s Active-8 youth campaign, I am launching a little campaign of my own to match the prize money ($1000, of which Kandace received half) to put towards PRRO’s work helping PEI women access abortion, and lobbying for abortion services on the island.

I started the campaign on March 9, hoping (ambitiously?) that we could raise the thousand dollars in a month. Just over a week in, we already have 45% of our goal – but I need your help to boost the signal!

PRRO is a real grassroots organization; their mandate is to bring PEI up to the standards outlined in the Canada Health Act and align the province with the rest of Canada. The Maritimes is a politically conservative, economically depressed region that struggles to support youth initiatives; Maritime activists make it happen for themselves. These folks are awesome, inspiring people, with jobs and families and lives outside of this work. They are working tirelessly to make sure PEI residents have the bare minimum of reproductive health care.

If everyone reading this gives a couple bucks, we can reach our goal in no time. If you can’t give, please consider sharing the link with your networks. If you have fundraising ideas, or do not want to donate over PayPal, feel free to contact me at pedgehog [at] gmail [dot] com.

I am confident we can raise $1000 for PRRO – it’s such a small amount, but it will go a long way towards helping PEI women access the health care they need.

The Current “State” of Reproductive Rights

20 Mar

When I lived and worked in DC, federal legislation was everything. All the big gains and losses for the progressive movement were being made at the federal level. Federal legislation – probably thanks in large part to Aaron Sorkin – is sexy. Federal legislation draws attention and big headlines. And over the past decade, while progressives have been winning some battles in DC, the groundwork for the reproductive rights armegeddon of the last few years was being laid at the state level by the anti-choice movement. It has been backed by re-districting pushes that may give more seats at the state level to conservatives, and new voter ID measures that will most certainly make it harder for young people, poor people, and people of color to vote. Frankly, it’s been brilliantly conceived and executed, in the same way that Pearl Harbor was brilliantly conceived and executed.

What this means is that reproductive rights activists, those with female reproductive organs, and anyone who ever wants to be able to access birth control for themselves or their partner need to get organized at the state level. Pay attention to the way yourstate representatives vote. Call their offices. Feel free to stop by, if you have a way to get to your state capitol. Write letters. Prepare to get out the vote in November. Find out if legislators who voted in favor of anti-choice bills in your state have any challengers. If they don’t, run against them.

Seriously, do it. You think you can’t do their job? Have you seen John Boehner?

Here’s a quick run-down of some of the Current “State” of Affairs:

Kansas: Kansas has gotten itself into a bit of a bind. The state has been passing wild anti-choice laws left and right for two years, and was one of the pioneering forces in TRAP laws, Targeted Regulations against Abortion Providers. TRAP laws, which are nit-picky laws that do such helpful things as dictate what temperature a clinic waiting room needs to be at all times, almost closed down every provider in the state overnight. Now the House has approved a budget amendment that would, among other things, prohibit state employees from providing abortion care. Since medical students at the University of Kansas are considered state employees, they would not be able to study abortion as part of their training. However, the medical board has warned the school that it must offer the training as part obstetrics and gynecology to remain accredited in those fields. Students can opt out for religious reasons, and the abortions are not performed at the school. So… good luck with all that, Kansas.

Virginia: Now that Virginia has passed a mandatory ultrasound law, Democrats in the state legislature are just wondering who is going to pay for it.

Idaho: Idaho would really like to join Virginia, and several other states, in requiring that women seeking abortions be forced to undergo an unnecessary ultrasound because the state says so. Soon they, too, can wonder who is going to pay for all of these bright ideas!

Tennessee: I try to maintain a sense of humor about the “state” of things, when I can; it keeps the drinking to a minimum. But there is nothing funny about the law being proposed in Tennessee right now. Nothing. The law would require the state to put detailed information about every abortion performed in the state online. The name of the doctor who performed the abortion, and where they performed it, as well as detailed information about the patient, certainly detailed enough that it might make identifying the patient possible in rural Tennessee. This is incitement. This is absolutely an invitation for an angry and abusive spouse to figure out that a woman had an abortion and hurt or kill her or the doctor. I am absolutely not exaggerating. I would be shocked if that were never the outcome of this bill, if it passes. To understand why that might be, reference my post on domestic violence and abortion and pregnancy here.

Mississippi: Heartbeat Bill (Heartbeat Bills would ban an abortion after the fetus develops a heartbeat, which is not a sign of health, and can occur as early as 18 days into the pregnancy).

Wisconsin: Wisconsin just passed an under-the-wire, last-minute assault on reproductive rights to go before embattled Gov. Scott Walker, who is sure to sign. The wide-ranging bill requires a 24 hr waiting period. Before the 24 hr waiting period, a physician must “determine” if a woman is being coerced into having the abortion – by interrogating her privately (seriously, you can read the bill here). The bill threatens any doctor who doesn’t properly invade their patient’s privacy with a heavy fine. If abortion is drug-induced, the woman must return for a follow-up visit, which will require more time off from work and more childcare for any children she already has, in a state where services are difficult to get to to begin with. If doctors are too busy to offer the follow-up, women may have to have unnecessary surgical procedures. The far-reaching implications of this bill really suck. Remember when I said Gov. Walker was “embattled”? I mean he’s fighting a recall. Go get him recalled. Get out the vote. If you live in Wisconsin or have a couch to crash on there, make getting this jackass recalled and a pro-reproductive rights candidate to replace him your mission.

Oh, yeah – and run for office.

New Hampshire: Live Free or Die now meaning “live the way we tell you to,” NH has proposed some new restrictions on abortion and rolled back some old access to birth control. The latest law would require that a woman seeking an abortion hear a “detailed” description of the fetal development, and then undergo one of those popular 24 hr waiting periods (Are we noticing some themes here? There’s a reason for that.) Non-compliance would be a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

All told, Guttmacher just declared that more than half of women live in states that are “hostile” to reproductive rights. Do you? Do you know someone who does? The answer to at least one of those questions is yes. GET ORGANIZED. Organizing at the state level has an impact. It is sexy and very bad-ass, and it terrifies state legislators who want to hold on to their jobs but are accustomed to an extremely compliant, lazy voter base that isn’t informed about state politics. Get informed. Make a sign. Put some glitter on it!

Oh yeah, and run for office.

Pro-Choice Communications 101

19 Mar

I do not enjoy “Communications” as a field. I think, honestly, it’s manipulative. The whole point of communications is to frame your issue in such a way that an audience sees it the way you want them to. Communications, PR, advertising, marketing and branding are all – no matter what anyone says to the contrary – intimately entwined. These fields are getting it on, if you know what I mean, and they’re reproducing, and who knows what they will spawn next? Facebook timeline. I rest my case.

Despite having no interest in communications, I stumbled into a job at a communications firm when I graduated college, and I have been trying, without much success, to stumble my way back out again for years. Working in communications has taught me two important things. One, communications is critical, absolutely critical, to getting anything done in any other movement or field. Two, I do not like it.

I guess the third would be: Three, most people and movements really suck at it.

To generalize in a pretty extreme way, there are two schools of thought in communications. The first school of thought is the “Product” school of thought, and it involves thinking. What is my product, brand, or message? What kinds of people am I targeting with it? How will those people react? What reaction and audience do I want? How do I achieve that? The “Product” school of thought involves building an entire communications plan with multiple, interrelated aspects. It requires your team to establish and stick with a tone and core messaging. That tone and core messaging needs to extend from traditional media placements like op-eds and press releases through social media such as Twitter posts. This kind of communications plan is meant to build and keep an audience or membership over time. In the tortoise vs. the hare, the “Product” school of thought is the tortoise school of thought. Confession: this is absolutely the school of thought to which I subscribe.

The second school of thought is the “Get it Get it” school of thought. In that school of thought, all press is good press. All attention is good attention. While the “Product” school of thought thinks, “Hey, a thing has happened, in the media! It is related to things we do. It makes sense for us to comment. People should listen to us. We know about these things,” the “Get it Get it” school of thought thinks, “A THING HAS HAPPENED. WE CAN DIMLY RELATE IT TO US, PROBABLY THROUGH OUTRAGE. COMMENT OH MY GOD COMMENT NOW RIDE THAT WAVE.” This school of thought will have big surges of attention, followed by almost no attention, because jumping up and down demanding to be heard is only interesting in the short term. This type of communications strategy will attract a large audience at times, but that audience is fickle and unreliable, with very little loyalty. This kind of strategy does not attract a dedicated membership that will be their for your company, organization, or brand through good times and bad, because your company, organization, or brand does not offer consistency. And if you are not consistent, your membership won’t be.

Having spent the last year actually working in the reproductive justice/prochoice movement, I have seen organizations employ both of these strategies. I have recently seen an upswing in long since established organizations, with dedicated followings of millions of hard-working members, alienate people across that membership by chasing the dragon of BIGGER NUMBERS and MORE ATTENTION. Here is what I say to younger people in the prochoice and reproductive justice movements:

Do not do this.

Do not do this, and what’s more, fight back when other people do it.

When you decide to work for an organization and you will be in any way part of their comm team – even if you simply contribute research that the comm team uses – look at their communications strategy. Listen to what they talk about. Do they know their audience, their membership? Do they understand how to talk to them? Are they willing to tell them things they don’t want to hear, because they can rely on their loyalty? Do they want to expand beyond that audience and continue to grow and reach out to other people? The answer to all of these things should be yes. If you and your friends are starting your own movement, group, or organization, ask yourselves these questions, and make sure the answers are all “yes.”

It can be hard when someone comes in with big ideas and changes the messaging in a way that makes you uncomfortable, because odds are, those changes will, in the short term, yield some big numbers. Suddenly, your organization may be receiving attention it didn’t get before. It’s hard to caution against that, because everyone likes attention. Here’s the thing: fight back any way. Recognize that sudden surges of attention based on drastic changes in messaging hit like bouts of hysteria, or like a night of heavy drinking. You’re in for manic highs in which everything seems so amazing you could shit rainbows followed by a terrible low alone at the police station waiting for your folks to pick you up and you don’t know where your friends are.

If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at the Susan G. Komen debacle trajectory. It’s not a perfect example, because they weren’t looking for attention – in fact, they hoped no one would notice – and it wasn’t exactly a communications shift, although shifting communications was part of what happened. But the basic outline was familiar. A company that does one thing very well, with a wide membership base and lots of support, decides to make a drastic change to the way they do business. Many people within the company object and try to reason with them; those people are ignored. The Big Move is carried out anyway. Exeunt ship – sinking.

Communications are key to your piece of the movement you believe in, however tiny you may feel that piece to be. Commit to slow and steady growth to win the race. If your voice is young and spontaneous, don’t confuse that with erratic. If your voice is mature, don’t confuse that with immobile. Stick to a few key messages and talking points, and comment on current events where appropriate. I would love to see complementary pieces of the reproductive justice and prochoice movements working in beautiful tandem, where everyone feels they can find a place for themselves and their work. And we bring that about by communicating effectively what groups and organizations believe, in an honest and accessible way, and letting audiences and memberships find the place where they feel most comfortable.

Spring break!

12 Mar

We’re taking this week off for some much needed rest and relaxation. Check back the week of March 18 when we’ll resume our regular schedule of reproductive justice badassery.

Love,

The Abortion Gang

 

Why we can’t get “tired” of each other

8 Mar

The women and men in the pro-choice movement can be some of the most uplifting, wonderful, caring people that I have ever met. And most of the time, we are tirelessly patient with antis, political leaders and fence-sitters. The patience that we project can be inspiring and impressive, because, as a movement, somehow, WE have been tasked with always being the “reasonable ones.” We are the ones who double- and triple-edit our comments on blogs and in papers for tone, accuracy, and -isms (sexism, sizeism, racism, etc.). We are the ones who have to calmly and patiently walk through gauntlets of antis screaming and harassing women outside of clinics. We have to police ourselves constantly for any whiffs of “crazy.” Because we’ve been branded, we are always needing to prove ourselves.

But I’ve noticed that our patience is being worn thin. The constant pressure to be something other than human; to be the ones who are always logical, calm, cool and collected, is getting to us. We are starting to get tired. And in our tiredness, we are starting to go after the ones who are the closest to us: each other. On the blog, we consistently receive hate mail from antis (I simply do not understand how Steph handles it on a regular basis. I would go insane.) This is, at the very least, expected. But on some of our more recent posts, the hate mail was coming from other pro-choicers. Simply because we disagreed with something that was said by another pro-choicer. We did not intend to attack that person. In fact, we went to lengths to avoid that very thing. It backfired, and we are still feeling the sting.

Somehow, amongst ourselves, we have unintentionally created an environment where there we can’t disagree with each other or ask for help from each other. We will gladly band together against a common enemy, but we have ostracized our friends. Just a few days ago, two important women in our movement disagreed with each other publicly, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. I’m not going to link to articles, because that would be fanning the flames, but I have to admit that I am frustrated by this.

We are often forced to use up our compassion on those who would work against us. This is exhausting. I would suggest that when we find ourselves trying to be compassionate with each other, it’s the opposite. It’s fulfilling and rejuvenating. We should be critiquing each other and the movement on a regular basis. How else can we improve? How else can we become more effective? But we need to try to do it with respect and care. Sometimes we’ll be really good at this, and sometimes we’ll be really bad at it. There will be a learning curve, to be sure, but it would be great if we could get a place where we are more good than bad at it, so that we can redirect our energy elsewhere.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, but I feel like it’s becoming more common as more and more women’s rights are coming under fire. I’m begging that we stop and consider the fact that we are all tired. We are all tired of fighting for things that should be or already are legally our rights, we are tired of having to be patient with the other side, we are tired of reading hate mail, we are tired from the million other things that are happening in our daily lives. We are tired. But we have to remember that we are a family, and we will always be there for each other, even when we disagree or don’t particularly like some other person for the moment. And that is something special, that we need to cherish, especially when we are at our wits end and our most exhausted.

Women are already waiting

7 Mar

A bill that recently passed in the Utah house would triple the current required waiting time for an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours. One of the supporters of the bill, Rep. Steve Eliason, stated:

“Why would we not want to afford a woman facing a life-changing decision 72 hours to consider ramifications that could last a lifetime?”

But 72 hours is just the time between clinic visits. Women are already waiting far more time than that when they make decisions about pregnancy.

I recently saw a woman who had done a lot of waiting. I’ll call her Maria. She realized she was pregnant as soon as she missed her period, but I didn’t meet her until over a month later. Maria had spent that month hoping she would reconcile with her estranged husband, hoping her Section 8 application for housing would go through so she and her 2-year-old daughter could move out of her mother’s cramped 1-bedroom apartment, and hoping her hours as a home health aide would be increased so she would have a little more money in her monthly budget. But none of those things happened. She spent a month waiting for her life to change in such a way that she could imagine
going through another pregnancy and caring for another child, but it didn’t. So she decided to have an abortion.

Maria had waited a week for an appointment with me and was entirely certain of her decision. She was 9 weeks and 1 day pregnant when I met her. Unfortunately, that one day ended up meaning more waiting for her. Had she been exactly 9 weeks or less, she could have had a medical abortion that day. Since her pregnancy was more than 9 weeks, I had to make her an appointment for another day when she could have an abortion procedure. When I broke the news to her, she immediately burst into tears. Because it was the day before a holiday weekend, the soonest I could get her in for the procedure was a week later. Because our medical system is not set up to meet women’s needs, Maria would once again have to call out of work, once again find a baby-sitter for her daughter, and spend another week feeling exhausted and nauseous.

Maria waited 4 weeks for her life to get easier, 1 week to see me, and another week to have her abortion. This waiting is not uncommon. Even if she had decided to have an abortion as soon as she was sure she was pregnant, she would have had to wait a few days, or possibly as long as a week, for her clinic appointment. All this in a state with no waiting period at all, with Medicaid paying the cost of the abortion for her, and with a clinic down the street from where she lived. I think about Maria’s challenges and then imagine what life would be like for someone in a similar situation in a state like Utah where insurance is banned from paying for most abortions, where 97% of counties have no abortion provider, and where, soon, all women will have to wait an additional three days to have a legal medical procedure, just because their legislators think maybe they haven’t waited long enough already. It’s a frightening thought.