Archive by Author

Book Review: ‘One Kind Word: Women Share Their Abortion Stories’

22 Aug

I was so happy and excited to receonekindwordive a copy of One Kind Word in the mail. I had not heard much about it so was doubly excited to see the faces (and stories) of a few people I knew included in the collection. How lovely to see my wonderful friends’ choices validated – celebrated! – in such a beautiful collection.

One Kind Word is the product of arts4choice, an artistic project by Martha Solomon and Kathryn Palmateer in response to a 2007 Ottawa Citizen article about abortion wait times. The goal is to collect stories of people who access abortion in Canada as part of the ongoing efforts to share stories and in so doing, to combat stigma and normalize abortion as a healthcare choice.

Canada is viewed by much of the world as a progressive haven in regards to abortion access, because we do not have a law governing it and so are therefore seen as having ‘no limits’ on abortion. However, the reality is more complicated: healthcare is provincially mandated, so services are determined more by the political bent of the provincial government than by the lack of federal law. Added to the economic disparity of the provinces are additional barriers that limit access: regional disparity in services, long wait times, long travel times, and systemic inequality and indifference to issues of reproductive health. Canadians are subject to the same stigma and alienation around abortion as are Americans and others around the world; the work of making abortion accessible – and contextualizing it as healthcare – is still important here.

Arts4choice approached the project in an artistic way, illustrating each of the 30+ people’s stories with a black and white photograph of the story teller. The result is a bold, brave, unapologetic presentation similar to the attitude behind imnotsorry.net. Each story teller has different feelings and ideas about her abortion, but even those with ambivalence look straight into the camera as if to say, I am not ashamed of this.

Palmateer’s photography is gorgeous, challenging, and definitely the highlight of the book and what sets it apart from other compilations of this nature. I believe this project would be a compelling visual art exhibit as well, which would perhaps make it accessible to a different demographic. Meanwhile, many of the portraits (and stories) are available to be viewed at arts4choice.com.

In the right context, abortion story-telling can be a powerful tool for activism. This book provides a space for that in a beautiful and stylish way that I greatly appreciated – and will be a great conversation starter on your coffee table!

You can buy the book from Three O’Clock Press.

Midwife-run Birth Centre Opening in Toronto

22 Jan

Inherent in the struggle for reproductive justice is that “choice” without access is no choice at all. This obviously applies to abortion, but is also true of the spectrum of reproductive and sexual health issues under the reproductive rights umbrella, including contraception, sterilization, sexuality, gender identity, childbirth and parenting, to name but a few.

 

That’s why it’s good to see small steps towards making a range of choices available, especially to people who are not rich or could otherwise not access those choices. This week, the Toronto Birth Centre announced the imminent opening of its brand new facility in Regent Park, a neighbourhood on the east side of the city with a history of poverty.

 

The Toronto Birth Centre is a pilot project by the Ontario Ministry of Health. It is aimed at people with low-risk pregnancies, and run entirely by midwives (although obviously there are strict safety protocols in place in the event of complications). What it means for Toronto residents is provincially-funded access to midwifery in a dedicated centre for birthing; they are estimating 450 births per year.

 

I recognize that midwife-only births are not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who are trying to access them, this is huge. The parallels to abortion clinics cannot be ignored; funding, staffing and regulating lends legitimacy to the endeavour in the view of the public, and allows visible access to services that are otherwise difficult to find. And hosting the centre in the Regent Park neighbourhood is no accident; the ongoing “revitalization” of the area smacks of gentrification, but services that make childbirth easier and more accessible for folks living in poverty are probably good news.

 

Of course I do feel only cautiously optimistic about the endeavour. There is no indication of how access to the midwifery services are regulated, ie who gets to use the Centre? It is my hope that they will reach out to underserved populations and make an effort to move away from the stereotype of midwifery as something that only white middle-class crunchy-granola types want or can afford. I also hope that the focus of the centre will go beyond birth, and work with pregnant people to help access other services that they need.

 

A centre with just midwives is such a promising alternative for folks who – for whatever reason – cannot or do not want to deal with doctors throughout their pregnancy and childbirth. It is my hope that the TBC will take advantage of its location and the great need in marginalized communities to move that one small step towards access, and eventually, choice.

If you’d like more info on the centre, please see the following link: http://www.torontobirthcentre.ca/

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen Tweets and Posts to Help You Shut Up and Listen

16 Aug

The big news in online feminism this week is the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag, created by Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia), by which the frustrations and righteous anger of women of color is being directed, with a side of (justified) snark, at Big White Feminism. The catalyst for this eruption may have been the latest Hugo Schwyzer flounce off the internet and subsequent fallout, but the wounds go much deeper, as 65,000+ tweets will attest.

Here at Abortion Gang we – white folks and people of color alike – are struggling to put words to our varied reactions. In the interest of being allies we wish to amplify the voices of women of color who have spoken out through this hashtag by highlighting some of their work on these topics in the past. Here are some #solidarityisforwhitewomen tweets with links to relevant writing on race and feminism by the tweeter:

Sydette @Blackamazon / My Machete Never Faltered

BlackAmazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lauren Chief Elk @ChiefElk / An Open Letter to Eve Ensler
Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace @graceishuman / 10 thoughts…on mental illness, abuse, and survivors

Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flavia Dzodan @redlightvoices / Yes, this is about race

Flavia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rania Khalek @RaniaKhalek / 40% Of White Americans Have Zero Non-White Friends

Rania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aura Bogado @aurabogado / A tale of two best friends

Aura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angry Black Fangirl @TheAngryFangirl / On Hugo Schwyzer’s defenders

ABF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shanelle Matthews @freedom_writer / On #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen; Feminism Is Not Black And White

Shanelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child of Zora @EvetteDionne  / The Burdens of Black Motherhood

COZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ayesha A. Siddiqi @pushinghoops / You, Me, & Chris Brown

Ayesha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feminista Jones @FeministaJones / While My Sisters Gently Weep

Feminista Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For brief background on the hashtag and on the history of racism in the feminist movement, see this great HuffPost Live segment with Mikki Kendall & Tara Conley. For more on the history of racism within online feminism, see brownfemipower’s tumblr.

Goodbye, Dr. Morgentaler

29 May

This morning Dr. Henry Morgentaler died of a heart attack in his Toronto home. He was 90 years old, in increasingly failing health these last few years, and with a lifetime – many lifetimes – of work behind him. May we one day win a world where all abortion providers can safely die of old age in their own homes. Thank goodness Dr. Morgentaler was allowed that.

I know that everyone will be talking about who Dr. Morgentaler was, what he did and why he was important. That information is easy to find. All I know is who he was to me – a very human hero, a real person who did a remarkable thing; after escaping with his life from a concentration camp, he willingly put that life at risk to make the world a better place for women.

Dr. Morgentaler exemplifies allyship. He was willing to sacrifice everything he earned – his reputation, his medical licence, his practice, his family, and his freedom – to improve the lot of a group he didn’t belong to. He saw injustice and saw his own power to make change and he did it.

In his early life, Dr. M. had the good fortune to escape darkness, but then he had the courage to spend the rest of his life attempting to bring others up into the light. His work in Canada literally saved lives – directly, for many of the women to whom he provided abortions (particularly when it was illegal), and indirectly for thousands of people, by being instrumental in striking down the abortion law.

The only time I ever met Dr. Morgentaler was two and a half years ago, at an end of year staff dinner when I worked at his clinic here in Toronto. For his toast he said a few humble words of gratitude, and then immediately turned the attention back to the roomful of people and insisted the true credit go to us. He was not a perfect person – nobody is – but as far as heroes go, we could have done a lot worse.

Though I didn’t know him, Dr. Morgentaler’s work changed my life for the better. Because of him, abortion is legal in this country and even though there’s a long way still to go, if I get pregnant that’s a pretty significant hurdle I don’t have to jump. Not to mention the two amazing jobs I’ve had because of him, and everything that brought me – spirited allies, lifelong friendships, life-changing experiences and a sense of purpose. His fight set this country on fire; he never set his torch down for a second, so damned if I will either.

In my mind I see Dr. Morgentaler as having given birth (ha!) to generations of feminist activists, I guess sort of springing fully formed from his head like Athena from the head of Zeus. In illegally performing abortions in defiance of an unjust law, he not only challenged the idea of the law as a standard of morality, he also freed us up to fight for justice in our own way. We pay tribute to Henry when we expand and push beyond abortion rights and into sexual and reproductive justice for all people, in every way. For all his great heroism, Dr. Morgentaler was just the spark. We are the powder keg.

Anyway, what I know is that Dr. Henry Morgentaler changed Canada for the better, and showed us who we truly could be in this country; he was an immigrant who, through hard work, became a respected doctor, and then refused to enjoy the rewards of a hard-won life when he could see that others still suffered. He represented the best of us.

Thank you Dr. Morgentaler, and goodbye – you have truly earned your rest.

The Permanence of Children and Tattoos

10 Apr

For a short period in the early days of my pro-choice activism, I had a nemesis. The fact that she didn’t know about it may have lessened the impact. My nemesis was a young woman who was heavily involved in a pro-life organization that did some protesting of the abortion clinic where I worked at the time; I found out her name and used to creep her on Facebook, but truth be told it wasn’t that interesting. She was a standard, young white Christian type, super involved in vanilla stuff like music or Sunday school or whatever, saving herself until marriage with some equally non-threatening young man.

The one thing that was edgy about my nemesis (at least as far as her peer group went) was that she had a tattoo – a Bible quote that could be interpreted as anti-abortion. I remember thinking smugly to myself how silly she was to get such a strong statement tattooed on her so young; what if later she figured out the complexities of the issue and changed her stance? Or what if it just became less of an issue for her?

I know now that I was being kind of an asshole, after a few years of being a woman and having my own permanent choices (including, but not limited to, tattoos) being questioned. It makes me think of the double standard around having children that I have been coming up against lately: folks who don’t ever want to have kids seem to face a lot more questioning and condescending “oh you’ll change your mind someday” bullshit than the people actually having kids, which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. (Obviously this is based on my own experience and is probably different for folks of different colours/ages/culture backgrounds/sexual identities/etc.).

Anyway this is all coming up because I got a tattoo this week, and unlike my two previous tattoos it is a. political, and b. almost always visible. I have been thinking about this one for almost five years, and when I look at it I feel 100% awesome about it, but I know there’s a chance that won’t always be the case. But it’s the chance you take, just like my nemesis took a chance that she would always be against abortion and a Christian. You can’t really know how things are going to go in life, but it’s too short to hold back, I think. Peggy's tattoo

Next week I am getting my second IUD inserted, a five year placeholder on the road to whenever they finally let me be permanently sterilized. I’ve known I don’t want kids for way longer than I’ve known I wanted this tattoo, but I still hear this junk about maybe changing my mind – more than I’ve ever heard about maybe regretting that tattoo. I know it’s not really the same, but I feel like they’re bound together by the horrible kinship of policing women’s bodies, choices and lives. The only person who gets to give my new tat the side-eye is my mother, and that’s only really because it’s inevitable. And the only person who gets to question my decision to never be pregnant is exactly no one.

I am the expert on my own life. My body is part of that. Trust my decisions, because I’m the one who has to live with them; but more importantly, because it’s none of your damn business.

Abortion in a “civilized society”

19 Mar

Recently, because I am an idiot, I agreed to go on a Christian television talk show and “debate” a well-known national (Canadian) newspaper columnist on the relative merits of MP Mark Warawa’s proposed Motion 408, which would “condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination”.

One of the many things that really bugs me about this motion is that Warawa doesn’t even want a change in the law; he just wants the Government of Canada to condemn this particular choice. It’s unclear what form this official snubbing would take, but the idea that people would want to simply codify our disapproval, as a nation, of this choice is almost worse than just making it illegal (in principle, anyway).

The talk show experience was an absolute gong show, but that’s another story. What really surprised me was my debate opponent’s perfectly clear and confident assertion that sex-selective abortion was the immigrant community’s problem, and that it is our duty as Canadians to teach them Canadian values like gender equality. After I was done sputtering in shock at the explicit xenophobia, I managed to respond that we do not, in fact, value gender equality in Canadian society. Both my debate opponent and the host of the show seemed genuinely shocked that I would believe such a thing.

The whole exchange was so strange, so surreal. I felt very conscious that I had said something impolite – that it was uncivilized to talk about gender inequality in Western culture, just as it was uncivilized to engage in sex-selective abortion. We must greet such transgressions with the very strongest, WASPish disapproval we can muster. I am certain that the two very civilized ladies sitting on that set with me would not have opposed a motion to condemn speaking up out of turn to accuse one’s elders of obliviousness to inequality.

I feel the historical context of the word “uncivilized” perfectly encompasses the mindset behind wishing to condemn a practice that is mostly carried out, in this country anyway, by women of Southeast Asian origin. Being civilized has been a cage both for women – in the way we are expected to behave – and for people of colour, in the way their cultures do or do not align with Western standards of order and propriety. A civilized society does not speak about vulgar things like sexuality or reproduction. A civilized person does not veer from the path prescribed to her based on her station in life.

I am thinking about this because in North Dakota, Republican Rep. Bette Grande – the prime sponsor of a bill banning abortion based on genetic defects and gender selection – said that such abortions have “no place in civilized society”.

I wonder about civilized society. Is a society civilized, that cedes control of women’s bodies to the government? To be civilized, must a society force women to carry to term pregnancies they do not want, of children whose needs they cannot afford to meet, without providing a sufficient social safety net to facilitate care for those children? Does a civilized society include poverty? If it does, does that mean it also excludes talking about it?

Can one even talk about what makes a civilized society without being, oneself, somewhat uncivilized?

The positive connotation of “civilization” to many of us is progress. Surely a civilized society would abhor the enslavement of its citizens, in body or spirit. Surely a civilized society demands forward movement.

Surely a civilized society can do better.

Childfree Reflections on Your Terrifying Choices (or, Best of Luck, Pregnant Friend!)

6 Mar

ast week I went to the doctor for an IUD consultation (my last one came out but I really want them to shove another one up there regardless). Two days later, at a small gathering at their house, friends of mine who have been married for a year told us they were expecting a baby.

It was then I realized that my first reaction to this news is always sheer, unadulterated terror. Sympathetic terror, you understand – I feel terrified on their behalf, because somebody needs to, because they are just sitting there smiling like idiots when A TINY HUMAN is about to be completely, vulnerably, irreversibly in their care. WHY AREN’T YOU TERRIFIED I want to yell, which is not only socially inappropriate but also somewhat unfair. Firstly because they may in fact be terrified, but just have the common courtesy not to show it (and/or it is outweighed by happiness and other positive emotions), and secondly because really it’s none of my business.

Why does this news always lead to vicarious terror? Really I am happy for my friends – not just happy, but that perfectly pleasant place where your love for someone, and them having something they want that you don’t at all, intersect; no jealousy, just pure vicarious excitement. But I think of that tiny uncontrollable human that will soon be in their care; that little beast with its feelings, at the mercy of other, perhaps more terrible humans out there in the world.

On the way home my friends and I talked about what extra challenges the child might face, being mixed race. But we live in a big urban centre, in 2013 – it couldn’t be so bad, could it? We peered cautiously at the question from behind our whiteness. How bad is it? Certainly not bad enough that our beautiful, happy friends, with their own middle class backgrounds, strong support networks, and blossoming careers would even have second thoughts, right? But those terrifying conversations happen behind bedroom doors, and sometimes not even there. I thought of that same couple’s trip to visit a mutual friend attending school in the southern USA; the kinds of things they had to consider, as an interracial couple, would never have crossed my mind – but then, that’s my privilege, to not have to consider those kinds of things if I don’t want to.

What positive thing can come from my vicarious (maybe?) terror? A supportive ear, a cautious eye. I could be the clingiest babysitter there ever was. I want to follow my friends’ kids around and yell at people who give them a hard time; defend with my oversensitive heart the bodies they inhabit. I guess this is what happens when you and your friends get old enough to look out for yourselves; suddenly a new generation springs up and your loyalty and fear spreads out to encompass them. If I wanted to be a mother, I think I would be a terrible one. My child would never be allowed to take a risk; my poor heart wouldn’t allow it.

So I’m going to go ahead and get that IUD as soon as I can, but for me that’s only half of being childfree; the other half is offering my support, love, and absolute awe – and, if needed, a surplus of pure terror – to my beautiful friends and their upcoming tiny human on this next great adventure.