Everyday should be Int’l Day of Action for Women’s Health!

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.)

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.