Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Choice matters

(Update: Check out the op-ed piece about reproductive rights and Bush's new restrictive health care regulations in the New York Times by Senator Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards (President of Planned Parenthood): Blocking Care for Women)

I grew up in a very liberal household and for that I am extremely grateful. I was also lucky to grow up in a fairly liberal city, where my parents’ interracial marriage and my biracialism were barely worth remarking upon, where my parents really did have gay friends who we regularly spent time with, where the biggest social divide in the public schools I attended seemed to be whether or not you liked sports or were in the honors classes. (This is, of course, not quite true, but I don’t want to go off on a long tangent about race and class in my school(s). Perhaps in another post. Suffice it to say that, in my personal experience at least, there was never any racially-motivated hostility between students, and I had both black and white friends. Things may have changed in high school, but I didn’t attend high school in my hometown, so I don’t know.)

We had comprehensive sex education in seventh grade—although it was called “health” class and quite dull—and, even in elementary school, my fourth grade teacher once responded to a complaint that my friends and I were reading a book with “naked pictures” (we were reading The What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls) with the comment that “different people are mature enough to handle information about their bodies at different times” and that she wasn’t going to ask us to stop (although she may have asked us to be a bit more discreet). I had an openly lesbian pediatrician, for goodness sake—she later became my gynecologist and her partner, also a doctor, once treated me for a particular nasty throat ailment—and I distinctly remember attending a huge Planned Parenthood fundraiser with my parents when I was eleven or twelve.

So, given this charmed existence of liberalism—I realize I was quite privileged to grow up this way; it has inexorably shaped my worldview and I feel very lucky—you can imagine my shock and horror when I stumbled across the 1996 HBO movie If These Walls Could Talk.

I don’t remember how I came across the film. We didn’t have HBO when I was a kid, and my television viewing was pretty restricted (an irony now considering that I now adore TV and recently conducted an “experiment” wherein I watched television for twenty-four hours). Maybe it was rebroadcast on another channel. Maybe my parents had a tape of it a friend had given them. I don’t know. But it totally rocked my worldview.

I’m fairly certain anyone reading this has probably at least heard about the movie, if not seen it, but just in case…If These Walls Could Talk chronicles three women’s experiences with abortion in the 50s, 70s and 1990s (starring, among others, Demi Moore, Cher, and Sissy Spacek). It’s pretty harrowing, as you can imagine, and was nominated for a number of Emmys and Golden Globes. The 1990s segment ends in the insanely bloody bombing of an abortion clinic, which haunted me through much of my adolescence.

So, it’s no wonder that in 8th grade, when we were asked to write a short speech taking a stance on some controversial issue, I chose abortion. I recently came across my speech while cleaning out boxes (I just moved last month), and thought I’d quote a bit here. It’s not Shakespeare or anything—I mean, I was fourteen—but I was pretty proud of it at the time and so I haven’t edited it from the original:
Picture this: a young girl, maybe 14 or 15, sneaks down a dark alley to have a dangerous operation performed without correct supervision and under unsanitary conditions that may cause AIDS and many other disesases. This is what will happen if abortion is made illegal. Not only will women continue to have abortions, but it will be life-threatening to them. Abortion is one of the most controversial issues today in America. As in all controversies, there are at least two sides to the abortion issue basically under the headers, “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

I happen to be advocating the latter. Pro-choice doesn’t mean, as some people think, that abortion should be used as a method of birth control. It simply means that women should have the right to make a decision that concerns their body on their own. The first point I’d like to make is that aborition was illegal in most states between 1880 and 1973, and many women who had illegal abortions performed were put at serious risk or even died. In countries where aborition is illegal it is the leading cause of maternal death. […] The so-called “pro-life” advocacy is also ironic considering that there have been over 1000 reported acts of violence towards abortion clinics including bombings, death threats, kidnappings, and shootings since 1977. In fact, in 1984 a part-time abortion consultant came home to find her cat decapitated; in 1993, Dr. David Gunn who performed abortions in Florida was murdered after withstanding years of harassing letters and death threats, and there have been several more bombings, shootings, and even murders by anti-abortionists since. […]
It goes on, as I try to address as many issues as possible in two pages (religion, when life begins in the womb, etc.), and hence it ends up being pretty formulaic in terms of rhetoric, and not the impassioned narrative I remembered it to be. However, the research I did and the sentiment I was trying to express have stuck with me through the years. Granted, I now have a much more nuanced understanding of reproductive rights and abortion issues, not just information gleaned from an HBO film and a few newspaper articles and websites (I’m not even positive I had all my facts right). Still, I think my younger self would be as horrified as I am that there’s a serious risk these days that Roe v. Wade could be overturned. And, so, I wanted to dedicate this post to reproductive rights, and finish up by sharing a few links.

RH Reality Check: Does Personhood Start At Fertilization? from RH Reality Check on Vimeo.
  • And last, but not least, check out the What to Expect When You’re Aborting blog. Some people might find the blogger—who’s been posting almost in real-time about her experiences with her own abortion—a bit…er…provocative (some might say offensive, but I wouldn’t), but I think her blog is incredibly fascinating, engaging, intimate and real. Very much worth a read.

What about you all? When do you first remember learning about Roe v. Wade and the pro-choice versus pro-life debate? Have your feelings about abortion changed over the years or stayed the same?

Also, please feel free to include more links to other useful/interesting articles in the comments.

No comments: