Response to Time: What Choice? *Our* Choice


It is always exciting when one of our colleagues is featured in an important article such as Time Magazine’s Cover article What Choice? Many thanks to Abortion Care Network member Tammi Kromenaker and all her staff and patients at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, ND for inviting this journalist into their daily routine and letting her see firsthand both the caring provided by an independent abortion provider, and the ridiculous hoops that patients have to jump through. Tammi made sure that the journalist understood some of the complex reasons that women choose abortion. Pickert noted that when a patient wasn’t sure about her choice she was given more time to consider what she wanted to do. She shared many statistics that the public may not be aware of, for example that independent clinics provide the majority of abortions, and that most of the women who have abortions already have children.

But I was sorry to see that, like so much journalism, this article seemed determined to focus on conflict and failure, rather than on the extraordinary energy and transformative gifts of the movement for women’s reproductive choice have yielded over these past forty years.

I know Kate Pickert had access to another perspective of the movement because I had a lengthy interview with her. I shared the fact that there is really nothing new about the Reproductive Justice concept—that what the early women’s movement worked for was a panoply of changes including access to excellent child care; health care; housing; freedom from violence; access to credit; equal pay; progressive divorce laws; an end to forced sterilization; access to understandable consent information for any medical procedures; safe birth control; and, yes, safe and legal abortion. Of course we didn’t see abortion as separate from other aspects of women’s’ lives. What we wanted is what we still want—a society that supports the ability of women to make real choices about their lives—not one in which women have children they don’t want to have because they don’t have access to abortion; or have abortions they don’t want because they can’t afford to have children. I acknowledged that over the years political and legal attacks on abortion have backed us into a corner in which we have often felt we have to protect the most fundamental right to an abortion, and the movement for Reproductive Justice reminds us that we cannot sacrifice any of our fundamental rights without putting them all in jeopardy.

I shared the reality that women have been bombarded by a well-funded 40 year old campaign to shame and control them, no matter what their choices. Women face stigma when we have children at what someone thinks is the wrong time or in the wrong circumstances; when we don’t have children; when we have abortions; when we place children for adoption; when we have miscarriages for which we can be blamed; when we want to give birth with dignity and autonomy regardless of the edicts of the medical establishment; and when we struggle with motherhood under impossible circumstances without the support anyone would expect in a civilized society. Every far right wing faction from the Tea Party to the Taliban seeks to control women by shaming them and creating rules for every aspect of their lives, beginning with their sexuality and reproductive lives.

I was dismayed to see Pickert give space to the idea that “…a rebellion within the abortion rights cause—pitting feminists in their 20’s and 30s against pro-choice power brokers who were in their 20s and 30s when Roe was decided—threatens to tear it in two.” Obviously there are profound changes in any movement from generation to generation. It is the deep caring about these issues from people of all ages that is the enduring story. What I see is an extraordinary working together of feminists of all generations, especially in clinics and statewide coalitions. What I see is a movement that has room, and a need for all of us. The Board of the Abortion Care Network is made up of the voices of young women who bring their perspectives of political change and ways to harness the power of current technology and social networking, as well as the wisdom and experience of those who have been in this movement for four decades. We benefit from all these perspectives. But the movement is much more than the organizations that have battling for women since Roe. It is also the bottom-up power of people who will not be controlled or silenced by politicians. An example is the extraordinary outpouring of human outrage at the antics of the right-wing dominated legislatures in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, that represented women and men of all ages and cultures. I dispute unequivocally the idea that those who support illegal abortion “are more where the American people are.” We who provide abortion see every day that Americans of all ages, nationalities, cultures, and religions vote for legal abortion by the choices they make.

I also must take exception with the idea that illustrating that abortion is normal is counterproductive, as Frances Kissling is quoted as saying. We are not ‘normalizing’ anything—as if that is somehow making up a story. We are simply pointing out that abortion is normal and has been since the dawn of time. Women yearn to be able to determine when and whether to bring new life into the world through their bodies. The fact that it is normal doesn’t mean it is trivial. And because it is not trivial, most women consider their decisions very carefully. Because it is not trivial, women don’t choose to have children when they feel that cannot nurture them properly. No matter what accusations could be made that the ‘movement’ is afraid of the nuances around abortion, it is clear that most abortion providers are not just aware of the complexity of pregnancy issues, but have worked hard to assist women to come to their own choices working through those nuances. The Time article didn’t share the movement to challenge stigma, or the powerful message of ACN’s You Are a Good Woman, or the Pregnancy Options Workbook or the Guide to Spiritual Resolution After Abortion. I was disappointed that this voice of abortion care didn’t have a central place in this piece. Women and men deserve to know that we who provide abortions are their partners and allies—not another ‘side’ that they have to negotiate in order to make their own decisions.

The idea that trusting women to know whether or not it is best for them to have a child in their circumstances is ‘hard line’ makes no sense to me. Whom else can we trust to make this most fundamentally personal decision? Abortion providers know very well that even the women who have been picketing our clinics the day before their abortion are very clear that their situation is special and no restrictions are appropriate. Which woman’s choice should we give up on —the young woman? The poor woman? The woman who feels she can’t bear a child with profound handicaps? The woman who had an affair? The woman whose reasons aren’t ‘good enough’? The woman who was raped in a way that some politician thinks wasn’t legitimate? And when we care about and support women, we are also supporting their children. This fact has been invisible in the national conversation on abortion.

With the election of 2012 we have turned an important corner. We watched as abortion and birth control became topics of conversation in every news media and political race, and hence at every kitchen table. Secrets were told and women claimed their rights, and the world didn’t fall apart. Men and women from all walks of society became more comfortable demanding that women must have authority over their own health options. The antis have been clever and found ways to align themselves with political power. But no movement can truly call itself ‘pro-life’ when it has wantonly murdered doctors and others in the abortion care community. No movement can truly call itself ‘pro-life’ when it seeks to make abortion illegal, thus ushering in illegal abortion as has been shown all over the globe. And no movement based on tactics of spreading stigma, fear, and shame can prevail in the long run. This is our time to reach out to all our partners and allies who understand that what are dismissed as ‘social issues’ affect us economically and politically, and emotionally, and spiritually. Our strength comes in our honesty; our respect for women and all those who care about them; and our deep recognition that all the issues of our lives are connected.

What Choice? Our choice!

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  • dr-suzanne-poppema

    Charlotte, this is so very eloquent!  I, too, was brought up short about the term “reproductive Justice” being new!  I hope you submit a version of this piece to TIME magazine, they MUST publish this important commentary!  Thanks!

  • merwolf

    Thanks so much for this piece addressing the most troubling aspects of the Time piece and honestly, accurately portraying the state, and interests, of the movement and the real experience of both women and abortion providers. 

  • sonicnylon

    Did Ms. Pickert appreciate the irony of her words, “… shot and killed by a pro-life activist …”?!

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