Blog

  1. May 3, 2015
    Open Letter to the Reproductive Rights Movement  – 2
  2. January 22, 2015
    Open Letter to the Reproductive Justice Movement on the 42nd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade  – 1
  3. November 7, 2014
    “Choice” versus “Reproductive Justice”
  4.  October 18, 2013
    Why “After Tiller” Is a Must-See Movie
  5. June 5, 2013
    Everyday should be Int’l Day of Action for Women’s Health!
  6. March 29, 2013
    Hidden History Before Roe v. Wade
  7. March 8, 2013
    Take Action on International Working Women’s Day
  8. August 31, 2012
    Debating a right-to-lifer, up close and personal
  9. July 23, 2012
    Speak up for our right to abortion!
  10. April 20, 2012
    Women need contraceptives — that are healthy, effective, accessible, and free!
  11. March 16, 2012
    Women need love

 

Dear Sisters:

The status of reproductive justice in the U.S. is worse than in the previous 42 years since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. According to recent Guttmacher statistics, states have passed 231 abortion restrictions in the last four years. More than half the women of reproductive age (15-44) in the U.S. live in states that are hostile or extremely hostile to abortion. In 2014, 27 states were hostile, with 18 extremely hostile.

What can we do about this deplorable situation?

I suggest we look to the past for proven agents of change. People marching in the streets demanding their rights and opposing wrongs are the most impressive, effective force for change. Just think of today’s #Blacklifematters movement or the historical struggle in “Selma” or the many marches and demonstrations in the stunning documentary about the beginning of the Second Wave of the feminist movement, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.”

Even though there have been strong local or regional demonstrations in recent years, notably in Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, there has not been a call for a national demonstration since 2004. While such mobilizations used to cost pots of money — for flyers, ads, long distance phone calls, transportation — such costs have been significantly lessened with the widespread use of social media. Just look at how activists in Ferguson, Mo., have set up a national network since August that has initiated marches in cities both large and small all over the country. Estimates are that up to 400,000 people were in the streets proclaiming “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” before the holidays, and thousands came out on Martin Luther King Jr. day on Jan. 19.

With all the resources and communication networks available to the major organizations in the reproductive justice movement, it would only take a conference call to pick a date, agree on an agenda, call a press conference, and use social media to publicize a march in D.C. and other areas around the country. How about Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day, or another Sunday in March during Women’s History Month? How about the slogan ”Access to legal abortion matters,” “Black and brown children’s lives matter” and “We can’t support families on $7.25.”

Young women feel the humiliating stigma that demonizes abortion today. This is intolerable. In the 50s there was plenty of secrecy and fear when women were risking their lives to have abortions. Legalizing abortion was supposed to change all that. But secrecy and fear are still with us in today’s openly racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, unequal, unjust society, so anti-sex, anti-women, anti-working-class, anti-poor. Though those who oppose abortion claim to be defending fetal life, we in the reproductive justice movement know only too well they do not lift a finger to change social and economic conditions or public policy to help women or families.

The majority of women who have abortions already have at least one child. The economic pressures on single mothers are enormous, which is why many leaders of the low-wage movement in the fast food and retail industries are women. These women  need to know that the reproductive justice movement is allied with them. And women of color need to know that the RJ movement is marching with them to end racist terror and police violence because all families matter.

Do the right thing. Women of all colors and our allies need to be united and visible in the streets demanding what is rightfully ours — access to the myriad things that are essential to guaranteeing human rights for women.

In sisterhood, sincerely,

Sue Davis

An activist since 1967 in the movement for social and economic change, focusing particularly on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights and now reproductive justice. A founding member of CARASA (1977), the New York Pro-Choice Coalition (1985) and WHAM! (1989) and currently volunteer with Haven and work with the International Working Women’s Coalition. Published a pro-choice novel in 2011, which can be sourced at lovemeanssecondchances.com

  1. All* Above All
  2. American Civil Liberties Union, Reproductive Freedom Project
  3. Catholics for Choice
  4. Center for Reproductive Rights
  5. Civil Liberties and Public Policy, Hampshire College Conference
  6. Feminist Majority
  7. Feministe
  8. Feministing
  9. Jezebel
  10. Ms. Magazine
  11. NARAL Pro Choice America
  12. National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
  13. National Network of Abortion Funds
  14. National Women’s Health Network
  15. National Women’s Law Center
  16. Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center
  17. NOW
  18. Our Bodies, Ourselves
  19. Planned Parenthood
  20. Physicians for Reproductive Health
  21. Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
  22. RH Reality Check
  23. Sister Song
  24. Women’s Media Center
  25. November 7, 2014
  26. “Choice” versus “Reproductive Justice”
  27. It’s been over a year since I last wrote a blog. The topic was a passionate defense of the award-winning documentary “After Tiller.” The movie profiles the four doctors who were inspired to follow Dr. George Tiller’s example after he was gunned down on a Sunday in 2011 in his church — of all places, by a religious zealot, no less. Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors in the U.S. who performed third-trimester abortions, and the movie shows, with such humanity and compassion, how the four are carrying on in the spirit of his motto “Trust women.” If you haven’t had the good fortune to see the movie (which was shown on PBS this September and is available on Netflix), I urge you to do so. And if you need motivation, read my blog at lovemeanssecondchances.com. There’s also a review at workers.org.
  28. Please note that my blog has been on hiatus — that makes it sound so professional (wink, wink) — since last fall when I had to clear up some financial issues about selling the book on Amazon and I wanted to post yet another corrected version of the text via Lightning Source. It’s amazing to me, the compulsive copyeditor/proofreader, that I continue to find sneaky little typos. Now that both issues have been resolved, I’m back to promoting my novel via this blog.
  29. I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Susan Robinson, one of the four doctors in “After Tiller,” at the 28th annual conference “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom” at Hampshire College in April. She’s just as down to earth, genuine, and dedicated as she appears in the movie — a real-life, totally unpretentious, genuine hero. It was exciting and delightfully gratifying to meet her.
  30. There, I also met Dr. Melissa Madera, founder and director of The Abortion Diary Podcast, who subsequently interviewed me. Her concept for the podcast diary is that one way to end women’s shame about having an abortion — and to break the silence resulting from the current viciously anti-abortion atmosphere — is to share our stories openly, publicly, proudly. Please check out Melissa’s wonderful project at theabortiondiarypodcast.com. My story, entitled “I knew I couldn’t be a single mother,” is  #53. And if you can make even a small contribution, please do. Every effort to affirm abortion as a woman’s human right helps build the movement for reproductive justice for all women. Onward!
  31. Last winter-spring, I wrote a series of articles for Workers World about the Hobby Lobby case, delving into its many complicated aspects — an overview of the issues, especially the fraudulent claim of “religious liberty”; why the free contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act is essential for woman’s health and well-being as well as that of her family; and what political forces were behind the law suit. You guessed it, several far-right religious groups as well as the Kochs (whom I have since daubed “the kings of the oligarchs!). More recently, I’ve been writing about the attacks on poor women’s right to access abortion in Texas for WW.  If you’re curious about those articles, and a review of “Obvious Child,” you’ll find them under my byline at workers.org.
  32. Words matter, terminology matters
  33. Over the summer the New York Times ran a very provocative article that claimed the concept of “pro-choice” was outdated, no longer necessary. I disagree. In a nutshell, the essence of choice is that every woman should have the means to freely choose whether or not to have children with whom she pleases. I call “Love Means Second Chances” a pro-choice novel because that immediately identifies it, setting it apart from other novels. I see “choice” as a useful shorthand for the whole constellation of factors — economic, social, gender/sexual, religious, cultural, political, environmental  — that comprise the umbrella concept of reproductive justice.
  34. At the Hampshire conference, Loretta Ross described how the term RJ originated 20 years ago when a group of Black women got together after attending the U.N. conference on women in Cairo. They were frustrated because they felt the term “reproductive rights” didn’t go far enough. They wanted  women’s control over their own bodies to be viewed as a human right that must be guaranteed like all other human rights defined by the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hence reproductive justice. But RJ is a very sophisticated, comprehensive concept and most people may not immediately understand the totality of what it encompasses: that every woman has the human right to experience the many aspects of her life freely and fully. So for now, I’m continuing to use “pro-choice” as an easy identifier when that’s appropriate.
  35. But the concept of RJ is essential when discussing some issues. One of the most far-reaching aspects was articulated this summer in several articles posted on RH Reality Check (a wonderful resource with daily material on all aspects of RJ). Katherine Cross summarized points made in a few of them and then added her own analysis in “The Price of Our Blood: Why Ferguson Is a Reproductive Justice Issue” (Aug. 26).  She writes:
  36. “Far from being a ‘separate issue,’ as some would like to imagine, what happened to Michael Brown is as much a profound indictment of our lack of reproductive justice as it is our lack of racial and economic justice.
  37. “If reproductive choice is about deciding whether or not one can have a family, or how large one wants her family to be, then structural violence imposed on a community is a constraint upon that freedom. If a woman like Marissa Alexander, for instance, cannot defend her own life and her children from an abusive parent, that too is a violation of reproductive freedom.
  38. “The issue is not only the tragic loss of a child, or an unjustly incarcerated mother. It’s the fact that for the entire Black community in our society, there is a calculus to be made about one’s children that’s not prevalent among whites.” Later she adds: “All lives must be valued as equal. There can be no reproductive justice without racial justice.” And I would add economic, social, gender/sexual, cultural, political and environmental justice — every aspect of life that affects all women’s existence. Cross then goes on to discuss how this same lack of equality is played out in Native, Latina, and other people-of-color communities.
  39. I urge you, if you haven’t read this article, to read it at tinyurl.com/lj4dml2.
  40. I’ll be posting this blog more regularly from now on!
  41. October 18, 2013
  42. Why “After Tiller” Is a Must-See Movie
  43. Five stars for filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson for their new documentary “After Tiller,” released commercially in late September. It makes the most compassionate, heart-wrenching, behind-the-headlines case for why women need third-trimester abortions and the four doctors in the U.S. who currently provide them.
  44. But the film ultimately goes beyond its immediate premise to reveal why women need abortions in the first place: why access to abortion is a vital, necessary component in women’s overall health care. Because of that, this powerful, persuasive film deserves to have the widest possible showing – in movie theaters, on TV and cable, in high school and college classrooms.
  45. The film’s title refers to Dr. George Tiller, who courageously and defiantly continued to provide abortions after 24 weeks even though his clinic was firebombed in 1986 and he was shot in both arms in 1993. He was assassinated on Sunday, May 31, 2009, while serving as an usher in his church in Wichita, Kan. The anti-abortion fanatic who pulled the trigger is now serving a life sentence.
  46. That tragedy so motivated four doctors, who worked with or were close friends with Dr. Tiller, to pick up the torch he held with the words “Trust women.” The man is a bona fide hero – and an unfortunate martyr — in the ongoing struggle for reproductive justice.
  47. Each of the current doctors, whom the movie eloquently profiles, is equally inspiring as you see them risking their lives on the job and seeking sanctuary and support in their personal lives. Dr. Shelley Sella was trained as a midwife, then by Dr. Tiller and now works in Albuquerque, N.M. You see her walking in her California neighborhood with her lesbian partner, who supports her but worries about her safety. The husband of Dr. Susan Robinson, who also worked with Dr. Tiller and alternates weeks in Albuquerque with Dr. Sella, shares his worries about her as they prepare a meal together.
  48. Dr. Warren Hern, who practices in Boulder, Colo., discloses how anti-abortion violence destroyed his first marriage, but he shoulders on with the support of his mother. Happily, later in the movie, you see him in a new marriage that makes him a proud stepfather.
  49. Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who practiced for years in Bellevue, Neb., until a state law banned abortions after 20 weeks, relocates to Germantown, Md. There’s a picture of him with Dr. Tiller, their arms around each other’s shoulders, as Dr. Carhart explains that because they were both trained in the military, their philosophy was “We must complete the mission.” Seated next to his spouse, Mary, Dr. Carhart says, in a soft but firm voice, that he could not continue without the daily support of his childhood sweetheart. Mary’s shy, proud smile says it all.
  50. While these dedicated, daring doctors defy the hatred and violence of anti-abortion terrorists to care for their patients, the stories of the women grab your heart and make you weep. One couple that Dr. Sella patiently and tenderly counsels were born-again Christians discussing a wanted pregnancy (you hear only their voices). There is anguish as the woman explains that she knows “abortion is wrong” and she feels terribly guilty, but she has no choice because her son would be born without a brain.
  51. Dr. Robinson explains why she refuses to take a patient from France who is 28 weeks pregnant – because she does not feel she could do the procedure safely. Yet when a clinic counselor shares her worries that a 16-year-old in deep denial about her pregnancy, who is from a devote Catholic family, is not a good candidate, Dr. Robinson decides to go ahead after carefully questioning the young woman to make absolutely sure she wants to proceed. Along the way, she admits, “Nobody wants to have an abortion.”
  52. Dr. Hern counsels a patient after an abortion that she is duty bound to report the man who violently raped her, lest he do it again. After she agrees, he gives her a big, reassuring hug. In fact, there are lots of loving hugs in this movie, as doctors support patients who make hard decisions after sonograms and tests reveal life-threatening abnormalities.
  53. All these doctors are honest-and-true, real-life, 3-D heroes, but so are their patients who agreed to let their stories be told. And so are filmmakers Shane and Wilson, who had the vision and the courage to explore the modern-day, homegrown terrorism that stalks these health-care providers and their patients every day.
  54. I have never before experienced, since I became an activist in the women’s liberation movement in 1970, such a profoundly moving, articulate, compassionate exploration of what the right to choose abortion truly means. Having to abort a wanted pregnancy is so much harder than aborting an unexpected one, though that is not easy for many. It wasn’t for me. Yet, this movie directly confronts why the 1 percent of procedures takes place in the third trimester and what supporting women and upholding their right to life really means in that context.
  55. If I had a fairy godmother, I would ask her to stage mandatory screenings of “After Tiller” in giant auditoriums behind locked doors for all the politicians in Congress and in the state legislatures and for all the anti-abortion folks who picket clinics and all the women who exercise their legal right to abortion. After that they would all have to talk in a respectful manner one on one about what a right means in a democracy and why it is not fair or just to impose personal or religious beliefs or class, racial, and gender biases on another human being. And no one could leave until they wholeheartedly agreed that human rights must include the comprehensive constellation of rights neatly summarized in the term “reproductive justice.”
  56. OK, so I’m dreaming. But a girl’s gotta dream. Someday that will happen. And filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson have brought that day closer with “After Tiller.” (aftertillermovie.com)
  57. See this movie!
  58. Everyday should be Int’l Day of Action for Women’s Health!
  59. June 5, 2013
  60. I’m dedicating this blog to my dear sister-in-spirit, June O’Hanlon-Eagle, who died on June 5, 2005. June suffered a massive brain hemorrhage on April 5, 1975, because she took the pill after 40, smoked and was disabled from birth with a curvature of the spine. All three factors, noted in a government health warning about the pill issued about six months after June’s hemorrhage, were reported to lead to hemorrhage or stroke. I wish June had read Barbara Seaman’s historic book, The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill (1969), which could have prevented her hemorrhage and subsequent disability. I’m just glad to be a member of the National Women’s Health Network, founded in 1975, which is carrying on Seaman’s effort to inform women about what is their best interests when it comes to health. (To learn more, visit nwhn.org.)
  61. June was given the pill without a prescription by a pharmacist whom I’m sure she charmed. That was part of what I miss everyday about this loving, caring, smart, witty, talented, dynamic woman, who was the first person in my life to truly love me unconditionally and to challenge me frequently! June lived 30 years in a wheelchair with most of her brain intact and was a life-long activist for peace, justice, civil and human rights, and reproductive justice. She is one of many loved ones who continue to inspire me to be an activist in the movement for women’s rights.
  62. Did you know that May 28 has been designated International Day of Action for Women’s Health? I didn’t, but I intend to commemorate it from now on. (Besides, it’s the birthday of my good friend and staunch reproductive justice advocate and superb writer, Eleanor J. Bader, so I better not forget it! More about her later.) The Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights established the day to demand that “all governments provide the full range of contraceptive methods and options, access to accurate contraceptive information, and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for all women.” Way to go, sisters. Almost all governments around the world need to be pushed to take action to legalize full reproductive rights for all women.
  63. The most glaring impetus for that recently was in El Salvador. If only the Supreme Court of El Salvador understood the meaning of “comprehensive reproductive health services for all women.” Then Beatriz, the 22-year-old mother of a one-year-old child, whose life-threatening illnesses had seriously complicated her pregnancy, would not have been denied an abortion to save her life. The court’s statement, “The rights of the mother cannot be privileged over those” of the fetus, is outrageously illogical when you consider that the fetus had a severe birth defect — parts of the brain and skull were missing — so it has practically no chance of survival after birth. Yet logic and women’s right to life did not compel the court to overrule the state’s total prohibition of abortion.
  64. However, just hours after that court denied Beatriz a potentially life-saving abortion, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered El Salvador officials to allow her medical team to take all necessary steps to preserve her life, personal integrity, and health. Said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the global legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights: “The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling has finally brought some measure of justice to Beatriz and underlined what human rights advocates have been saying throughout this case: Denying women necessary medical care is a violation of their fundamental human rights.” Beatriz was given a Caesarean on June 3 after she began having contractions. The fetus lived a mere five hours. As of June 4, Beatriz was recovering in an intensive care unit. Please, if you don’t already support the Center for Reproductive Rights, which contributed to the fight to protect Beatriz’s life, please put your hard-earned dollars where your politics are and make a contribution to CRR at reproductiverights.org.
  65. According to the BBC’s website, there are only two countries in Latin America where women have access to legal abortion to protect a woman’s health and after rape or incest – Uruguay and Guyana. Abortion is legal in Puerto Rico under the same conditions as in the U.S. and in Cuba with much broader considerations, including the woman’s mental health and economic situation. According to World Health Organization statistics, abortions in 95 percent of Latin America are said to be unsafe. (bbc.co.uk, June 4) That contributes to Guttmacher Institute’s statistic that globally 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions annually. What an indefensible waste of women’s lives!
  66. What is behind such hard-hearted, anti-woman laws in Latin America? Hands please. You’re right – it’s the Roman Catholic Church’s bigoted, institutionalized, rampant misogyny. The church would rather protect the right of pedophile priests who molest young people than recognize the human rights of women. OK, I’ll get down from my soapbox – for now.
  67. Back in the good ole U.S.A.
    The lack of logic and respect for the women’s rights does not matter to many politicians closer to home. Take Rep. Trent Franks (R.-Ariz.), for example. (Please take him! Sorry, couldn’t resist that old joke!) On May 23, he held hearings on HR 1797, the “Pain Capable Unborn Protection Act,” which prohibits abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation because the fetus is said to be able to feel pain then. But an undisputed medical fact seems to have escaped Rep. Franks – whose professional experience as an oil executive, I hasten to point out, gives him no street creds when it comes to health care. Rep. Franks is totally unaware of the medical fact that many abnormalities in a developing fetus cannot be determined until after that point. But this is not the first time that zealot Franks has tried to keep women from exercising their constitutional rights. A quick background check shows he initiated a constitutional amendment in 1992 to ban all abortions in Arizona, which, fortunately, was defeated by 65 percent of voters. Let’s all hold hands and fervently hope HR 1797 goes the same route.
  68. This summer “Operation Save America,” the equally misnamed spin-off of so-called “Operation Rescue,” has picked certain cities for its annual anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-woman campaign, according to an article Eleanor J. Bader wrote for RH Reality Check (May 1). Calling their actions “gospel raids” in Jackson, Miss., Washington, D.C. – where they’ll unveil an “Emancipation Proclamation for the Pre-born Child”— and North and South Dakota, OSA will also pay a week-long visit to my hometown, Rochester, N.Y. That’s down the road apiece from the National Women’s History Museum in Seneca Falls, which is where the first women’s rights meeting was held in 1848. And it’s where anti-slavery leader Frederick Douglass and women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony lived and worked. (However, please do not mistake this brave, far-sighted pioneer with the recently established SBA List, a viciously anti-abortion organization that tries to co-opt and, in the process, sully Anthony’s name.) OSA has a small grouping in Rochester, which routinely stages picket lines at two local Planned Parenthood health centers and also conducts annual “Life Chains” and protests orchestrated by 40 Days for Life.
  69. However, the pressing political reason for targeting Rochester is that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is sponsoring the Women’s Equality Agenda, a ten-point program that includes the Reproductive Health Act, which will codify the protections in Roe v. Wade and permanently grant women the statutory right to choose abortion. Furthermore, it will allow abortions after 24 weeks if the woman’s health – and not just her life, as currently stipulated in NYS law – is endangered by carrying the pregnancy to term. Bader reports that pro-choice forces in the area and from around the country are planning on doing clinic defense to protect women’s access to needed health care from OSA attacks. Down with anti-abortion bigots and bullies now — whether in Congress or in the streets!
  70. Good news: I’m happy to report that I met the most phenomenal group of youth (as well as a few elders like me), mostly women but a goodly number of men, dedicated to reproductive justice at the 27th annual conference sponsored by Civil Liberties and Public Policy, “Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” at Hampshire College in Massachusetts April 12-14. I was there to promote Love Means Second Chances, but in the process I soaked up all the energy and excitement of the 1,200+ attendees who participated in a speak-out, two plenaries, and about 85 workshops organized into five sessions over the three days. Topics ranged from “Racial justice 101” and “Queering reproductive justice” to “At your cervix: A self-exam workshop,” “Organizing working women in a period of austerity,” “Challenging abortion stigma on campus” and “Understanding new radicalized attacks on reproductive justice and how to fight back.”
    What was phenomenal was the diversity not just of race and ethnicity, but of gender expression, with a good number of transmen and transwomen. If applause was any indication of the overriding political views of the young people, they were overwhelmingly progressive, anti-racist, -sexist, -capitalist and proudly pro-LGBTQ. Such a heartwarming, united community was created that I’m happy to report the newest generation of pro-choice activists is ready to continue the fight. (If you want to learn more about the CLPP conference, go to clpp.hampshire.edu.)
  71. However, there was one area of heartbreak, which demands concern and attention. During the speak-out a number of young women spoke about how they felt demonized, isolated, ashamed, traumatized, alienated from friends and family when they elected to have an abortion. My interpretation of that was that the right wing’s extreme anti-choice legislative attacks and profoundly misogynist rhetoric, which are trumpeted 24/7 by media outlets like Fox, have seeped down into the consciousness of some young women, even those who support abortion, and are having a profoundly demoralizing effect. This must be countered vigorously and publicly. My novel is dedicated to promoting a positive attitude toward abortion (and sex!) and to showing why women’s right to choose is a fundamental, basic right of all women. That means I’ve got to do more to promote Love Means Second Chances and find more ways to reach young people with its message. If you’d like to share your ideas and join me in this effort, please be touch at lmsc.4ever@yahoo.com.  
  72. March 29, 2013
  73. Hidden History Before Roe v. Wade

    By Guest Blogger Barbara Mende

    It was hard to be a working mother in the sixties. Day care consisted mostly of mothers watching a few children in their homes. The practice of importing live-in au pairs from Europe was just taking hold, usually with contracts that locked families in for two years.

    But it was even harder to be unmarried and pregnant. Abortion, of course, was illegal. If you knew your way around and could afford it, you could go to a pricey doctor in New York or pay even pricer airfare to Puerto Rico. Not easy for a young single woman whose parents didn’t know or wouldn’t cooperate. Then there were the illegal practitioners whose patients often died.

    Contraception was technically illegal too in many states, including Massachusetts where I lived. Doctors wrote prescriptions for diaphragms and The Pill, but some drugstores wouldn’t stock them and didn’t even sell condoms. And how many young single women could find a doctor who would keep their confidence?

    Enter the Crittenton Hastings House. The outgrowth of a merger between the nationwide Florence Crittenton shelters and the Boston Female Moral Reform Society (such blame-the- woman self-righteousness!), the “Crit” hid pregnant women away until their babies were born. They lived at the house, received medical care and counseling, and didn’t have to reveal their last names to their housemates. The Crit helped to arrange adoptions if the women wanted that. Afterward they’d return home with prescriptions for The Pill (“to regulate their metabolism”) and whatever cover story they’d concocted.

    They couldn’t stay at home, of course. Being single and pregnant, in the face of the prevailing myth that all respectable single “girls” were virgins, was a disgrace. Raising a baby without a husband was almost unheard of.

    The Crit farmed out “Crit girls” as cut-rate au pairs. Suburban families paid them a tiny sum plus room and board to babysit and do light housework. They had to return to the House when they were seven months along, so they never stayed for more than three months. That was a selling point for us; we had friends who had had to buy off incompatible au pairs, and figured we could stand anyone for three months. The big selling point, of course, was the price. I was working because we needed the money. I wasn’t quite liberated then.

    The Crit tried to pick homes that they thought would give the girls a glimpse of the ideal American family. That meant no working mothers and no traveling fathers. They also wanted to avoid households with babies and pregnant mothers. But either the Crit especially liked our family or there weren’t enough homes that met the criteria, because we broke all those rules and still got nine girls.

    We had to bring them to clinic every Tuesday, give them another day and a half off each week, provide a private bedroom for them, and make sure they ate at the table with us. We weren’t allowed to ask their last names (ours always told us) or state an opinion on whether they should keep their babies.

    One girl didn’t work out. She was only eighteen and hated being away from home. She eventually married her boyfriend. The others had been in college or working. They weren’t much younger than we were; people started their families young then. They all claimed to have, or have had, serious relationships with the fathers. They generally loved our kids, and the kids reciprocated. Some of them stayed in touch. Six of them gave their babies up for adoption.

    One of the two who didn’t was Cathy (not her real name), a poor girl who had become involved with a rich boy. She saw him as a way out of her miserable life. Her father wasn’t in the picture. Her two brothers had both done jail time. Her sister had “had to get married.” The rich boy’s family made it clear that this wasn’t an option for her.

    Cathy planned to keep the baby and let her mother help her raise it. I think the mother, after all her failures, wanted another chance to get it right. Unfortunately, several months after the baby was born, Cathy appeared on our doorstep alone. She’d married the first guy who’d come along to get away from her mother, and he was already abusing her. She eventually went back to him, unfortunately, and we lost track of her.

    The other girl who kept her baby had a happy story, the flip side of that one. Jenny (not her real name either), our last Crit girl, had been attending a Seven Sisters college. Her family owned a successful retail chain, and her boyfriend Chuck was a business school student from a family that wasn’t as well off as hers. Jenny and Chuck had wanted to get married, but Jenny’s parents thought that Chuck’s motive was getting into the family business.

    The solution Chuck and Jenny devised was the pregnancy. They were sure that Jenny’s parents would eventually give in. They did, but it took them months, during which Jenny went through the Crit girl scenario because of course she couldn’t be seen in her home town in “her condition.” During her last week with us, she was happily addressing wedding announcements and baby announcements.

    Roe v. Wade spelled the end of the Crit girls. The Crit became an abortion clinic, and later turned to other endeavors to better women’s lives. The Crit girls were useful for me, and fun to know, but I’m glad they’re not around anymore.

    Barbara Mende is a Cambridge, Mass., journalist, editor, and my expert copyeditor for Love Means Second Chances. She coordinates volunteer activities in the Grievance and Contract Division of the National Writers Union, where she is also a national officer. Her grandsons are the third generation of her family raised successfully by working mothers.

    Take Action on International Working Women’s Day

March 8, 2013

One hundred five years ago today, hundreds of women workers, mostly immigrants in what was then called the needle trades, marched in New York City from their tenement homes on the Lower East Side to Union Square, demanding higher pay, better working conditions, and the right to vote. Their courage and determination so inspired progressive women in Europe that at a women’s meeting during the 1910 Socialist Conference, they succeeded in having March 8 designated International Working Women’s Day. And ever since March 8 has been commemorated by women the world over who strive for equality, freedom, and liberation.

Though IWWD had fallen out of the public eye in the U.S. by the 1950s and 60s, it took the newly emerging women’s liberation movement to revive IWWD in 1970. I’m proud to say I was in the women’s group that revived the tradition of IWWD with a rally in Union Square that year. After that, March soon morphed into Women’s History Month, when marches and meetings are dedicated to demanding what should be ours by birthright.

We thought our cause so righteous in 1970 that we could change the world in no time. Having abortion legalized three years later was proof that we were on our way. But after that victory came the backlash. And the start of the current avalanche against legal abortion, which makes access increasingly difficult for the 99% of working and poor women.

And it ain’t gonna get better with this sequester! Or whatever fancy name is used to disguise the austerity measures dictated by the 1% who control society’s purse strings. Cutting 600,000 vouchers for WIC, the supplemental nutrition program for mothers and kids, sure won’t put a dent in the deficit, but it will endanger the health and lives of those women and children.

How is that fair? We know it’s not.

That’s why we need to rededicate ourselves to political activism this month. Will knowing that it’s the centennial of Harriet Tubman’s death on March 10 inspire you? She was one of the most amazing freedom fighters in this country’s history. Not only did she personally escort scores of slaves to freedom by following the North Star via the Underground Railroad, but during the Civil War she was the first and only woman to lead a major armed expedition behind enemy lines to South Carolina, where her Combahee River Raid is credited with freeing 700 slaves. I like to remember this fearsome/fearless liberator when I need inspiration.

I’m requesting that you take at least one action in honor of IWWD and Harriet Tubman this month. A terrible travesty of justice has been going on since 1977 when the Hyde Amendment ended access to funding for abortion for millions of women, except in cases of rape, incest, and medical threats to a woman’s health. That legislation, which has been renewed every year since then, penalizes poor women who rely on Medicaid for their health care, disproportionately women of color; federal employees and women in the armed forces; women who rely on the Indian Health Service; and women in prison; among others. Hyde divided women into two classes: those who can afford to pay for abortions and those who can’t. And the number of those who can’t is growing. Recognizing the increasingly urgent need to help poor women gain access to abortion, the National Network of Abortion Funds was founded in 1993 and now, with 100 affiliates in cities all around the country, gives thousands of women the financial means to exercise their constitutional right to abortion.

But that doesn’t begin to cover all the women who need help. A couple of years ago, NNAF started a campaign to overturn the Hyde Amendment, but now it’s even more imperative, with nearly 47 million people living below the poverty line as of 2011 and nearly 40 percent of them children. Educating people about how Hyde discriminates against and penalizes poor women is critical. And creating a movement to overturn it is another. Take the first step and sign the petition addressed to President Obama: “End bans on abortion coverage” on www.fundabortionnow.org.

I thank you in advance for continuing the spirit of IWWD!

On a personal note: I was delighted to see the following tagline on NNAF’s site: “Getting an abortion means getting a second chance.” I like to think that maybe the title of my novel, Love Means Second Chances, inspired that. But even if it didn’t, it confirms that great minds like alike!

P.S. Please share this with friends. If you haven’t yet bought a book, please buy one via the website: www.lovemeanssecondchances.com. Or send me an email requesting an autographed copy.

  1. January 10, 2013
  2. Starting the New Year Right
  3. January 22, 2013, is a milestone. It’s the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The vote was 7 to 2 — five of the seven justices who voted for it were Republicans. Even Harry Blackmun, the justice who wrote the decision, was a lifelong Republican.
  4. How times have changed!
  5. Republicans at all levels of government need a history lesson. Blackmun, who became an ardent spokesperson for women’s right to abortion, summarized it this way:
  6. “Few decisions are more personal and intimate, more properly private, or more basic to individual dignity and autonomy, than a woman’s decision — with the guidance of her physician and within the limits specified in Roe — whether to end her pregnancy. A woman’s right to make that choice freely is fundamental.”
    (Greenhouse, Becoming Justice Blackmun, 2005)
  7. If Blackmun were alive today, he’d be shocked at the anti-abortion measures passed by the states that do not recognize women’s “dignity and autonomy” and do not allow free choice as a fundamental right. According to 2012 statistics published Jan. 2 by the Guttmacher Institute, the number of restrictions on abortion totaled 43 in 19 states − which is the second highest number passed in a year, only surpassed by 92 in 2011. (guttmacher.org, Jan. 2)
  8. The good news is that some of the most outrageous restrictions, like the Virginia law mandating “transvaginal ultrasounds” for women seeking abortions, were loudly protested and eventually rewritten to be less invasive.
  9. But 2013 will only see more of the same.
  10. For example, legislators in some states are still hoping to pass “personhood” amendments, which would bestow all the rights of a living person on an embryo from the moment of conception — despite the fact that such amendments have not passed when put to a popular vote in such states as Mississippi and Colorado. And Michigan’s lame-duck law, signed Dec. 31, has such strict requirements for stand-alone women’s health clinics where more than 120 abortions are performed every year that it’s only purpose is to severely limit women’s access to needed health care. Though Gov. Synder claimed the bill was intended to protect women, one Republican legislator spoke the truth, “This is about protecting fetuses.” (alternet.org, Dec. 31)
  11. An example of going to extremes to protect fetuses led to the death of Dr. Savita Halappanavar in Ireland on Oct. 28. At 17 weeks pregnant, the Indian dentist, who was told she was miscarrying by doctors at Galway Hospital, was denied an abortion after she requested one. After suffering for three days in extreme pain, Dr. Halappanavar died of blood poisoning. Such a needless death, which has brought sorrow to her family and protests from Ireland to India. If she had been in India, which legalized abortion in 1971, Dr. Halappanavar would still be alive today — and have the chance to have children in the future. (womensenews.org, Dec. 3)
  12. Limiting women’s access to needed health care is a blatant form of discrimination against women. It should be viewed as a hate crime, a violation of women’s human rights. Such restrictions are outrageously patriarchal, rooted in raw, unadulterated, up-front misogyny — hatred so extreme it seeks to exert omnipotent power over women.
  13. Electing to have an abortion is empowering. It’s a woman’s ultimate act of self-defense. It gives her the freedom to control her own life as she wishes. Justice Blackmun understood that when he wrote, “A woman’s right to make that choice freely is fundamental.”
  14. But freedom is not a hot topic these days, not with threats of “fiscal cliffs” and austerity programs driven by the 1%. Combine that with endless everything — war, racism, sexism, LGBTQ oppression, unemployment, poverty, foreclosures and evictions — and what do you have? A society that is not able to meet the basic rights, needs, and aspirations of the 99%.
  15. I vow in this new year, just as I have for the past 46 years, to defend and fight for women’s rights and the rights of all people to live freely. Let’s find a new way to create a global society based on peace and justice, rooted in respect and love for each other, and valuing all forms of life on this amazing planet and in this universe. At the same time let’s celebrate our cultural differences, collective ingenuity and creativity, and the joy all the arts inspire.
  16. Please join me this year in protest and in love.
  17. P.S. Please share this with your friends. If you haven’t yet bought a book, please buy one via the website. Friends can send me an email for an autographed copy.

August 31, 2012

Debating a right-to-lifer, up close and personal

I had just turned in a rental car after attending a high school reunion in Rochester, New York, in mid-August, and my bus to New York was due to leave in 25 minutes. So when the young man from the rental company, who knew I needed to make that bus, began chatting and he asked me what I did, I said matter-of-factly, “I’m a writer and an editor. I just published a pro-choice novel.”

“We’re all pro-choice and pro-life, aren’t we?” he said, with a slight assertiveness in his tone.

“Sure,” I answered obligingly, wondering what would come next.

“Every woman needs to make her own choice, but giving a baby up for adoption is a real gift for a couple who wants a family but can’t have kids. Don’t you think?”

“Yes, it certainly is,” I said, knowing exactly where his was headed. But that made me think of two friends from high school who gave their babies up for adoption in the 1960s before abortion was legal and before “respectable” unmarried young woman didn’t keep their babies.

“So wouldn’t you say that it’s the best choice for women to go through with their pregnancies and give couples the ultimate gift?”

“No, I wouldn’t. A woman has to go through all kinds of physical, emotional, psychological changes during a pregnancy, and it’s often not easy to give up a child after carrying it for nine months.”

I was remembering the many heartfelt conversations I’d had with both friends, who had grieved for their children year after year. One has since happily reconciled with her daughter, who sought her out, but the other hasn’t, even though she’s registered her desire to reunite with her daughter. The loss continues for her, trapped in a deep, dark emotional cavern, rarely spoken of, but very real – like a bleeding wound after a limb has been amputated.

“But it’s so important to cherish and revere life. That should be every woman’s choice,” he stressed, as he swung into the bus station parking lot.

“But you’re only thinking of the potential child, not of the tremendous cost to the woman who has a right to her own life.”

“But studies shows that women who have abortions suffer terrible remorse and guilt and have trouble getting pregnant again.”

“That’s not true,” I retorted, eager to have the last word before hopping out of the car and racing to the gate. “The Guttmacher Institute, which studies such things, says there’s no scientific evidence of that.”

“But….”

“Thanks for driving me,” I said, opening the door. “I’ve got 15 minutes before the bus leaves and I need to buy lunch.”

He offered me his hand after lifting my suitcase out of the trunk, and I shook it, wondering if I’d made a dent in his carefully constructed pro-life armor. I doubt it. He had been obviously coached to use pro-choice lingo to disguise a pro-life message. I doubt he’d heard what I said about a woman’s right to life.

The experience of supporting one of my high school friends who left home after she started showing and moved to her aunt’s farm about 40 miles from Rochester in the spring of 1961 – to avoid the shame of being an unwed mother — had a profound effect on me. The injustice of that —  and the emotional, physical, and psychological pain that my friend experienced and that lives with her still — stayed with me, motivating me in the late 1960s to become an activist for women’s rights and particularly for reproductive justice.

Whose life takes priority? The woman’s life. Consciousness of that is what’s profoundly missing when misogynistic, self-righteous, anti-abortion hardliners like Rep. Todd Akins in Missouri — and the entire Republican Party for that matter — seek to deny women our right to make the most fundamental decisions about our lives.

July 23, 2012

Speak up for our right to abortion!

“I want to publish my novel at the time when it will do the most good,” I repeated like a mantra over the many years it took me to write it. That’s probably why I published it at this time last year. Because the novel is needed more than ever to show, through the intimate lens of family life, what being able to have an abortion means to a young woman who becomes pregnant when the contraceptive she uses fails. And, let’s face facts, all forms of birth control fail at one time or another. Nothing is fail-safe — except abstinence. Which is not an option for people with a healthy sex drive.

I was delighted when Terri O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said July 1 at its national conference that NOW has to go on the offensive on issues as well as being on the defensive. Because that’s exactly what’s needed now. We must assert and affirm women’s right to abortion — which means coming out publicly in support of it.

Just like Darcy Burner did at the Netroots Nation conference on June 15. During her keynote speech where she dissected the “War on Women,” Burner, who is running for Congress in Washington State, asked all the women in the audience who’d had abortions to stand up. A number of women rose. Then she asked all those who support women’s right to abortion to stand with them. And the entire audience rose with thunderous applause. Wow! What a dramatic way to affirm a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Now is the time for women who’ve had abortions — and their male partners, I hasten to add — to lead the charge in its defense. I’m certainly willing to talk about why I had an abortion in 1985. Very simply, my partner at the time didn’t want to be a parent again, and I didn’t want to be a single mother. I wanted to write a pro-choice novel, and I knew I couldn’t do that and raise a child. I had no illusions that I could be Superwoman. Besides, I’d had a difficult time with my mother, who was the primary parent in our family, and I was afraid I was too much like her to be the kind of tender, loving mother I would want to be.
I will never forget the relief I felt walking out of the clinic knowing I was no longer carrying the lifelong responsibility that comes with a pregnancy. That relief, so profoundly freeing, was quite exhilarating, like the cold wind on my face that March afternoon. I was free to lead my life my way. Having an abortion made me appreciate life more, not less. All life, but especially my life — and the lives of all my sisters. Now I really had to write that novel!

Make no mistake: Having an abortion deepened my understanding of the issue and helped me write this novel. I am grateful for that real-life experience. But would I have chosen to have abortion if I hadn’t had to? Of course not.

“Respect women.” That was the motto of Dr. George Tiller, the courageous abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, who was viciously murdered in church on May 31, 2009, by an anti-abortion sociopath. Respecting women is what’s missing in the current political climate. Instead, self-righteous, mostly male legislators treat women like an alien species, incapable of making ethical, moral decisions about our lives. I have to commend the women legislators (whose names I unfortunately can’t remember at this moment) who stood up in several states over the past year and talked openly about why they had elected to have second-trimester abortions — because they had learned that medical abnormalities meant their wanted pregnancies would not lead to healthy children.

Love Means Second Chances unequivocally asserts women’s right to abortion. That’s clear from the book title: Love is essential in all human interactions. Abortion is the ultimate second chance.

    1. April 20, 2012
    2. Women need contraceptives —
      that are healthy, effective, accessible, and free!

      While my days of contraceptive use are history (thanks be!), I am reminded of how essential they are to women whenever I serve as a host for Haven.* (havencoalition.org)
      During the last five years, I’ve probably hosted at least 25 women who’ve come to New York City to have second-trimester abortions (which they can’t obtain in their home state or Canada and which necessitates an overnight stay). I pick them up at a health care clinic, take them home, feed them, and give them a place to sleep and shower before taking them back to the clinic early the next morning. Because all of this is anonymous, I can’t ask direct questions, but I do let them know that I’ve had an abortion and I’m willing to talk and give them as much TLC and hugs as they need. Each one has a unique, heart-renting story. Some are already mothers and aren’t in a position to care for another child. Some women have come with their mothers (I’ll never forget two very young ones); some have been accompanied by sisters or friends. (Since I live in a studio, I can’t take couples.) And some have come alone. Those are always special.

      One 20-year-old college student from Massachusetts stands out. Because she knew her parents wouldn’t approve of her having an abortion, she made an arrangement to have her student health care insurance pay for her abortion at Bellevue Hospital. After making the appointment during a week when her parents were on vacation, she drove to NYC, intending to stay in her car. When the social worker at Bellevue found out that the night before her appointment she had stayed in her car, Haven was called, and I took her in. She was so together, so sure of the righteousness of what she was doing, so convinced that she had to finish her degree and get on with her life. She was so mature, such an inspiration.

      A 16-year-old who lived in NYC was equally impressive. She had arranged for an abortion through the guidance counselor at her school. Why? Because her 18-year-old sister had just had a baby and she knew her mom would freak out if she found out that she was pregnant. Since she was so young, my role was to pick her up at the clinic after the abortion and escort her home. Her boyfriend had accompanied her in the morning – wonderful! She was so sure she was doing the right thing, so independent, so proud. She was truly a teen role model.

      Last week I hosted a 26-year-old from Pennsylvania with a 5-year-old son. She was struggling on so many levels. The first problem she talked about was her relationship with her mom, who did not know she was in NYC having an abortion. She was convinced she couldn’t tell her mother because she wouldn’t approve, which made her feel guilty and frightened. It turned out the mother had been in a very bad car accident as a teen and had been told she would never be able to have children. But in her thirties the mother was able to have two. Consequently she viewed all children as precious and did not support abortion. As we talked, the young mother listened and nodded when I said that her mom would surely not want her to bring another child into the world while she was trying to get her life together and that I was sure her mom, if she ever found out, would ultimately agree with her decision. The young woman, who frequently shifted emotionally from adult to child, was so exhausted that she fell asleep at 6 o’clock when we got to my place and slept until 5 in the morning. By then she was not as upset, just focused on getting through the procedure and going home.

      She raised another problem when I escorted her to the train station. What to do about contraception? Every politician who has or ever will vote for bills that put restrictions on women’s right to abortion and to birth control should hear her story! She had tried every type of birth control currently on the market. Nothing worked. She had gotten pregnant with her son on the pill. Depo-Provera and Norplant made her sick. She got an infection from an IUD. The diaphragm didn’t fit properly and was painful, and she had an allergic reaction to condoms. She was in despair. She threw up her hands and began crying, “What am I going to do? Will I just have to keep going through this?”

      My heart went out to her and to women like her – like my characters Carole and Christy – who are able to get pregnant very easily. They need all kinds of support, medical and otherwise, to try to balance their reproductive capacity with other parts of their lives and their dreams.

      Having real-life experiences like I had last week only confirms for me how totally unjust the current attack on contraceptives is. Ultimately it comes down to an attack on sex – which is so essential to the human condition. Now that’s a subject for another blog! But to stick to my topic for today, I must ask: Don’t those who oppose free access to contraceptives realize that can only increase the demand for abortion? How short-sighted is that!

      *Haven Coalition is a network of volunteers who provide a meal and a safe place to sleep for women who are forced to travel to New York City for second-trimester abortions. Since our inception in June of 2001, Haven has hosted close to 700 women for over 800 nights. We always need volunteers, so if you have a couch and the desire to make a direct impact on women’s lives, or if you are interested in more information, please email us at havencoalition@gmail.com.

    March 16, 2012

    Women need love

    I wanted to start this blog by talking about love and sex. I am a sucker for romance and all things related to it. But you’d know that if you’ve read about Christy and Ramon, Carole and Jimmy, and Mary Louise and Jim in my novel Love Means Second Chances (shameless plug!).

    But because of the current political scene, the love I’m concerned about today is not romantic. It’s the kind of big-picture love that involves compassion, empathy, understanding, tolerance, and respect for women in public life. The Greeks called it philia, though they conveniently neglected to apply it to slaves. (Hold that thought; I’ll get back to it.) That kind of love is totally missing in today’s war on women.

    All the attacks on reproductive rights, freedom, and justice — the many state laws designed to restrict, punish, demean, humiliate, and control women; and the scurrilous name-calling of a young woman who dared to admit publicly that she is sexually active — reflect the most perverse backwardness and obvious misogyny that is totally out of touch with the lives of the 99% of people who are struggling to get on with their lives in an uncertain, unstable economic and social scene.

    Those attacks are forcing women to fight old battles for the right to contraception, won nearly 50 years ago; to safe, legal, accessible abortion, won nearly 40 years ago; and the right to be sexual – which you’d think was won eons ago given how women’s bodies are excessively flaunted in advertising.

    But obviously the mostly male politicians – in both parties, I might add – could care less about women. They are out of touch with women’s lives: the stress of needing to work even for low wages to cover the family bills and to juggle taking care of kids while prices rise for everything from childcare to cereal to contraceptives. Politicians in places like Texas, Kansas, Virginia, and Congress are treating women as a class like the Greeks treated slaves — like their property! They are using their power to try to ruthlessly, viciously, brutally subjugate women.

    But they’re going too far.

    Just like the people of Wisconsin stood up to Gov. Scott Walker in defense of working people’s right to organize collectively — and helped inspire the Occupy movement which popularized the concept of the 99% versus the 1% — women are rising to counter the attacks on their right to life. And as the old political adage goes “repression breeds resistance.”

    Which brings me full circle. I confess to being a dyed-in-the-wool, 1960s’ political activist who was inspired to write Love Means Second Chances to try to bring about political change outside the hullabaloo of real-life politics. I wrote a pro-choice novel so that people could view abortion in an intimate setting of a family drama. So the lives of three generations of Catholic women would provide examples of women striving for love and for control of their lives. I choose the title deliberately because women need love and we deserve second chances.

    Follow my blog and help me get out the word about my novel so it can be used to bring about a more humane, caring, better world. So that women of all races, sexualities, classes, ages, ethnic backgrounds, religions, abilities, immigration status — and any other things used to divide us — will feel supported, understood, and, yes, respected. So that all women can flourish as fulfilled human beings.

    Susan Elizabeth Davis

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