Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NOW IS THE TIME: A Statement of Support for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride: Ground Zero Texas

[Re-post from stoppatriarchy.org]

by Carol Downer

I totally support the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride that will take place through Texas this August and possibly through September, and I hope that everyone who values women’s reproductive freedom will support this beginning of a new chapter of the Battle for Women’s Reproductive Rights.

I was there in the mid-1960’s, when abortion was still illegal in much of the United States and women were forced to travel to states and cities where abortion, legal or illegal, was available, or to subject themselves to procedures done by unknown abortionists. I was one of them. I had taken no action to stand up for my reproductive rights, and I didn’t know anyone else who had.

We’re in that same position today. There is a splash of newspaper coverage when one more defeat of the so-called “pro-choice” movement takes place in the courts or the legislatures, or when clinics in Texas close, but mostly life goes on as though nothing significant is happening. Perhaps we send in a few dollars to Planned Parenthood, which has positioned itself as the champion of women’s rights, although that championing is strictly limited to lady-like tactics, not grass-roots organizing.

But, something significant is happening.

Suddenly, ridiculous regulations that have been proposed in State legislatures for the last 40 years and quickly quashed, have now gained traction. The Supreme Court has even refused to stay the Texas law that requires a clinic to have a doctor on staff at a hospital within 30 miles. In general, hospitals have not wanted to touch abortion with a 10-foot pole, ever. That’s why abortions are provided in clinics. There are extremely few complications from abortion that require hospitalization, and when they do, hospitals have staffs who are equipped to deal with them and are already required by law to do so. Forty years of providing legal abortion shows that this regulation is bogus, but it is being treated as legitimate by legislators and jurists.

If the U.S. Supreme Court finds that these regulations are constitutional, it is just a matter of months or a couple of years, for State legislators around the country to emulate Texas and Mississippi. Clinics will scramble to somehow get a doctor on staff if they can. Perhaps those abortion doctors who presently have staff privileges will lose them. Clinics will close. We will find ourselves in a patchwork situation of abortion access similar to pre-Roe v. Wade.

You may think, “Well, that’s when women will wake up. We’ll take to the streets.” Or, you may think, “Well, thousands of abortion clinic workers know how to perform abortions safely. Clandestine clinics will come into existence.” Or, you may think, “Well, there will be an underground supply of abortion pills.” If you’re really dreaming, you’ll think, “Heck, women did it themselves before Roe v. Wade. They’ll do it again, and the law will collapse of its own weight.”

None of these solutions is going to occur, at least without the dedication and organization of those activists who will make them occur.

Why? Because, history shows that Richard Wright, who wrote “Native Son” was right when he said, “Oppression oppresses.” As the new status quo is established, people will be even less optimistic, less willing to take a chance.

Most people in the late 60’s and early 70’s took no active interest in abortion, beyond inviting a NOW speaker to come talk about abortion. Public opinion polls showed, as they consistently show today, that a small percentage of people are very concerned about the issue, either pro or con. The majority of people are in the middle. Most of these people are uncomfortable with abortion. Many believe it to be immoral, and would never have an abortion or want their loved one to have one. And, many believe that abortion should be regulated or limited in some fashion. However, all but those at the extreme anti-abortion end of the continuum, do not want abortion to be illegal.

I believe that the Freedom Ride will awaken those at our end of the continuum who care passionately about women having reproductive freedom. It will form networks, draw attention, support abortion providers, raise consciousness, inspire the future Lana Clarke Phelans and Pat Maginnises. It will be raucous but non-violent; it will be confrontational and enlightening.

Social change in regards to women’s reproductive rights is not measured by the changes in the law. For example, the Comstock Law, which forbade the mailing of information on birth control, stayed on the books until the 70’s, but it was not enforced. The Freedom Ride will build on the fact that most people are with us. “Abortion should not be illegal!” will resonate with almost everyone. “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!” will thrill some and start many others thinking about this in a new way. Openly talking about it will keep the dialogue going and reduce the shame. These changes cannot be accomplished on the internet. The internet can coordinate activities and make us aware of each other; the websites where women can talk about their abortions or those that raise money to help women get abortions perform a valuable service, but daughters talking to their moms, and speakouts and demonstrations is what’s going to change the climate around abortion. Social change is not going to come by getting on or watching the Anderson Cooper 360 or Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room. These programs follow the changes in public opinion; they articulate them.

No one can predict how far-reaching the impact from the Freedom Ride will be. For sure, it will break down isolation and it will bring grass-roots voices to the debate. It certainly will nourish the spirits of those who go on the ride and those who benefit from its actions and programs. It may inspire other projects, other Rides. It could even awaken the potential leaders of mass movements, or even it may itself lead a mass movement.


Carol Downer is a feminist, lawyer, and co-founder of the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Los Angeles which started providing abortions in 1971

Friday, June 20, 2014

By Holly Grigg-Spall

[Originally Published in Society for Menstrual Cycle Research]

The recently released rom-com ‘Obvious Child’ has been discussed far and wide for its mature, sensitive and funny approach to the topic of abortion and yet I have not seen one comment on the fact that this movie also makes mainstream (and yes, funny) the topic of cervical mucus.

In the opening scene stand-up comedian Donna (played by real-life comedian Jenny Slate) is performing on stage at her local open mic night. She wraps up with a joke about the state of her underwear and how, she describes, her underpants sometimes look like they have “crawled out of a tub of cream cheese.”

She claims that they often embarrass her by looking as such during sexual encounters, something she feels is not sexy.

Of course, by “cream cheese” I immediately assumed Donna meant cervical mucus. Unless she is supposed to have a vaginal infection – which seeing as it is not discussed amongst the other myriad bodily function-centric conversations in the movie, I doubt to be the case – then it’s clear she is detailing her experience of cervical mucus.

Later on that night, when Donna meets and goes home with a guy, has sex and then wakes up in bed with him the following morning, she sees that her underwear is laying next to the guy’s head on the pillow. Not only that, but this is one of those situations she finds embarrassing as the underwear is actually covered in the aforementioned “cream cheese” or cervical mucus. She cringes, retrieves the underwear and hastily puts it back on under the covers.

At this scene we can assume that the presence of visible cervical mucus indicates that the character is in fact fertile at this time during the movie. Even if we didn’t know this movie was about unplanned pregnancy, perhaps we would know now. Apparently Donna is not on hormonal birth control, and she’s not sure if, in their drunkenness, they used a condom properly. So, I speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile and that the “cream cheese” in her underwear was actually one of the handy signs of fertility her body provides, then she may have taken Plan B and not had to worry about an abortion. But, then, of course, we wouldn’t have had the rest of this movie. We would have had a very different movie – a movie someone should also make.

But it goes to show how some body literacy might go a long way in helping women make more informed choices. The abortion sets her back $500 and causes some emotional turmoil. A dose of Plan B is cheaper and easier to obtain, although not without some side effects. Maybe even, we can speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile she might have avoided PIV [Penis In Vagina] sex that night.

It’s great to see a movie approach the choice of abortion as though it really were, well, a choice. But isn’t it interesting that in doing so it shows how women can be hampered in their choices by a lack of body literacy?

We often see women in movies discussing their “fertile time” in regards to wanting to get pregnant – and so meeting their husbands to have sex at the optimum time in usually funny, crazy scenarios. Sometimes we have seen women taking their temperature or using ovulation tests and calendars to figure this out. However, I think this might be the first mention of cervical mucus in cinema.

I had the honor of seeing this movie with longtime abortion rights and women’s health activist Carol Downer and getting to discuss it with her after. Carol pioneered the self-help movement and self-examination, adding much to our collective knowledge of our bodies. 

This is what she had to say:
"I enjoy the genre of romantic comedies with all their faults; I’m not as critical of them as I am of other genres, and ‘Obvious Child’ more than met my expectations.
I particularly liked ‘Obvious Child.’ I liked the uninhibited tipsy lovemaking scenes that showed casual sex at its best. Then, the complications that arose when she found out she was pregnant and needed to have an abortion and when he continued to be very interested in having a real relationship rang absolutely true to me. It’s just our luck, isn’t it, to get pregnant when there’s no realistic way to continue the pregnancy? The women, married or unmarried, who get abortions have some variation of this experience. When we have such bad timing, it’s the pits! I loved that their relationship grew in facing the regrettable necessity of the abortion and the recovery together, and you get the feeling that the relationship has a good future ahead of it. A darned good story."

Friday, June 13, 2014

Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull, road map of the Christian Patriarchy Movement

By Carol Downer

I recommend that you leave the frothy page-turner at home when you do your summer reading. Instead, read Quiverfull by Kathryn Joyce--every single word of every single page, with my comments about Joyce’s antinatalist bias in mind, as though your reproductive freedom depends upon it, because it may.  Joyce (a contributing writer for Nation Magazine) does an excellent job of reporting the self-labeled Christian Patriarchy Movement, a counter-culture which lives the values of sixteenth-century Calvinism, where the father is the spiritual and earthly leader of the family. 

Through her interviews and participant observation, Joyce found that Quiverfull families model themselves on the white settler families of pre-Revolutionary English colonies in North America whose economy was based on forcibly exploiting the natural resources of the indigenous people, the slave trade and slave labor.

You will get a glimpse of how women in this movement see the shortcomings of our feminist movement, and you may be uncomfortable with how well the shoe fits.  Hopefully, rather than dismissing these womens’ criticisms, you’ll ask whether our feminist movement has stayed true to its goals of liberating ourselves, and if present-day mores have improved women’s lives or created a more equal society.

Reading Joyce’s description of the movement in the first 12 chapters prepares you to understand Chapters 13 through 18.  Starting with “Trust and Obey” and “Blessed Arrows”, Joyce gradually introduces the reader to the foundational beliefs underlying pronatalism, “the policy or practice of encouraging the bearing of children, especially government support of a higher birthrate.”

Chapters 15, 16 and 17, “The Natural Family”, “Return to Patriarchy” and “Godly Seeds” digs a little deeper into history and politics, presenting an excellent review of nationalists’ and nativists’ use of social policy to advance national interests through tax policies favoring large families, and their use of strategies, such as homeschooling, home businesses and home-based churches to spread the ideology and the theology of patriarchy.  Denying racism, the Christian Patriarchy Movement, seeks to “be fruitful and multiply” to increase white Christians, but at the same time accepts converts to Christianity and recommends that white Christians adopt children of color.

Studying these chapters provides the basis to understand Chapter 18, “Demographic Winter”, the blockbuster centerpiece of Joyce’s book.  The various strands of history, politics, and religion are pulled together to showcase the Christian Patriarchy Movement’s vision of the death of Western Civilization unless the United States and Europe start producing enough babies to the replace the old and dying.  And, they have the cold, hard demographic facts to back them up.  It’s being called, “the baby bust,” “the birth dearth”, “the graying of the continent”.  Joyce attributes this to a “race panic” as low fertility among white couples coincides with an increasingly visible immigrant population across Europe.

As one reads this book, one begins to conjecture that perhaps the current race of State legislators to pass TRAP laws (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers), and the increasingly reluctance of the Supreme Court to rule regulations that raise barriers to women seeking abortion as unconstitutional is this fear of “demographic winter”.  Joyce seems to be implying that this is “just a prelude for a new cold war, a ‘clash of civilizations’ to be fought through women’s bodies, with the maternity ward as battleground.”

So, Joyce has done a brilliant job of observing, describing, quoting and analyzing the pro-natalist underpinning of the Christian Patriarchy Movement, and she has educated her readers about all the dry-as-dust pronatalist tax policies and the demographic realities internationally.  We will be wise to understand the gravity of her message; pronatalists are determined to encourage the Western world to make more babies, therefore they respect women’s reproductive rights only as long as those rights are to have as many babies as possible.

BUT, we feminists will never start to effectively fight this battle to control our own sexuality and reproduction if we forget that there are two sides to this battle.  It is not the right-wing versus the feminist and their liberal friends.  It is the right-wing pronatalists versus the wealthy and influential anti-natalists.  These are the families, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the Rockefellers and Warren Buffet, and other capitalist friends who have no more regard for a woman’s freedom to control her body, than the right-wing, pronatalist Koch Brothers, et al.  They just favor a different way of solving social problems, such as global warming and poverty.  They believe that these problems are caused by too many people.  They don’t put their efforts toward changing consumption patterns, having a more equitable distribution of the wealth and allowing the occupants of the land, rather than corporations, to use resources to benefit their own people.  They are doing everything possible to discourage women from reproducing.  They’re against “teen pregnancy”.  They’re for any social trend that reduces women’s fertility: gay and transgender lifestyles, women going to college and having careers, later marriage, and the use of contraception such as the Pill, abortion, and sterilization.  (The Christian patriarchal right opposes each of these social trends).  There is a anti-natalist equivalent policy to those pronatalist policy listed in the book.

And, for every bombastic quote of a pro-natalist leader, such as Yasir Arafat’s “the womb of the Arab woman is my best weapon” can be matched with a quote from an antinatalist, such as Paul Ehrlich, who wrote the “Population Bomb”.

I hope I’ve encouraged people to read the book.  It’s time that feminists who oppose policies that control women’s reproduction, whether it be employed by the pronatalists or the antinatalists start developing our own strategies, independent of the anti-natalist-controlled “pro-choice” movement.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Home Made Menstrual Period for Game-Playing With Doctors” by Holly Grigg-Spall


I’m sharing this blog by Holly Grigg-Spall, author of Sweetening the Pill because, like Holly, I think The Abortion Handbook, written by Lana Clarke Phelan and Patricia Maginnis, is as timely today as it was when it was published over forty years ago (with some outdated sections, of course). 

Holly’s comments about how Lana’s and Pat’s tips on “faking our periods” fit right in with women’s performance art work designed to bring menstruation out of the closet.  This reminds us that our work on our reproductive and sexual health cannot be divided into departments of menstruation, birth, birth control, abortion, menopause.  All these aspects are interconnected, and if we’re working for reproductive and sexual control, all our projects must be interconnected too.


Friday, May 2, 2014

We need to take back the Campus!

This article has an exciting title, “Take Back Your Campus”.  Unfortunately, even though it is a beautifully written expose of the epidemic of campus rape, it’s “call to action” is in fact an invitation to get on our computers and ask universities, governments and the police to continue their ineffectual policies. 

In the late 60’s and early ’70’s, college women were forming groups to stop rape on campus.  Actions included confronting a man identified as a rapist en masse, outing the same with leaflets posted strategically and forming all-women escort groups to take women through sections of the campus where rapes were occurring.

What was patriarchy’s response to the blatant actions of “strident” feminists?  They studied the problem.  They created task forces.  They devised new rules and structures, combined with educating men to respect women and women to take precautions.  The U.S. Law Enforcement Assistance Agency was funded to replace community-controlled women’s projects with professionally-run rape crisis centers where rape victims would answer questions, submit to pelvic examinations to make rape kits (many of which would languish on police departments’ shelves).  Women were pressured to become complainants; the goal was to arrest and imprison perpetrators. 

Almost fifty years later, The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Assault is continuing in patriarchy’s efforts to “protect” women rather than giving them more power. The Task Force has found that, (after having co-opted authentic action by the women themselves), their paternalistic, police-state programs have not improved the situation.  In fact, it seems to be worse.

Chandler McCorkle does urge readers to engage fellow students and citizens, presumably multi-gendered, to help change the way campuses are run across the nation.  Let’s learn from history.  If we want to recapture the outrage and the energy of the Second Wave, we females will organize ourselves, whatever gender we identify ourselves as, to fight against our common problem.  Collectively, we can demand better policies, such as using university or government budgets to fund our collectively controlled projects. 

We demanded sexual liberation in the 70’s; instead we got license to like sex, to want sex and to have sex, but we have not achieved the ability to exercise that freedom to have sex without fearing rape.  Why not?  What happened to those many thousands of women who took to the streets and who made these outrageous demands.  Did they all just give up?  Is it that women aren’t interested anymore?  No, from the moment we started raising our voices, patriarchy has been using all its weapons-- its universities, its foundations, its publishing industry, its police powers, to quell our movement.      

But, besides the benign takeover of women’s projects by government's pale imitations and strings-attached funding and academic jobs, independent women’s organizations have been hounded and harassed, many out of existence.  We at the Feminist Women’s Health Centers, one of the most successful and influential of outspoken women’s groups working for female control of sexuality and reproduction, were arrested for looking at our own cervixes in 1972.  Even though American women were given permission by the U.S. Supreme Court to have abortions and risky, medically-controlled methods of birth control at our clinics, our centers were not allowed to use cervical caps, herbal remedies or other women controlled methods of safe birth control or to have participatory clinics in which non-licensed health care workers shared self-examination skills with groups of women. 

Women are licensed to get abortions, but we don’t have the freedom to seek abortion without going through a gauntlet of screaming fanatics.  The government refused for several decades to enforce simple “disturbing the peace” type laws to restrain protestors from accosting women who try to use abortion facilities.  Finally, the reign of terror culminated in burning and bombing clinics, killing abortion doctors and their staff and supporters.  Our clinics have been repeatedly investigated for such things as use of guns and non-doctors to do abortions.  We’ve been charged with fraud.  Payment for medical services rendered at the clinic have been withheld due to suspicion of overcharging.  In all of the above situations, the investigations have found nothing.  Charges have been dropped and payment for services has been restored. 

We need to take back the Campus!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Emergency Actions to Stop the War on Women

Dear Friends:

I’m inviting you to come to a program, “Emergency Actions to Stop the War on Women” on April 11, 2014. This program will be presented in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago.  If you cannot attend this program in person, you can watch the New York City Program webcast on StopPatriarchy.org at 7-9:30 P.M. EDT

In Los Angeles, you are invited to participate in a Bloody Coat-Hanger Street Action at 1:00 P.M. on April 12, 2014.  This action will be at the Santa Monica Pier and Ocean Avenue.

I agree with StopPatriarchy.org that the time is now to raise our voices to protest the state regulation that is forcing the closure of abortion clinics in Texas right now, and may soon be forcing the closure of abortion clinics in Mississippi if the 5th Circuit Court finds the same clinic regulation (clinic doctor has to be on staff of hospital within 30 miles of clinic) to be constitutional on April 28th.

Even if this particular regulation is found to be unconstitutional, the War on Women is raging and the time is now to organize protests and other types of events or social actions to push back against the offensive.

I hope that StopPatriarchy.com’s call for action will spark many women and men to become involved.  Right now, they’re the only group that is putting their computer aside for a few hours to leaflet, organize, hold programs and get out in the streets. 

When I started working to get abortion repealed in 1969, there was a lively interest in the broader community in decriminalizing abortion, but we had to go out to speak to various groups, hold demonstrations and even learn how to do abortions ourselves, so I know only too well how much has to be done.  I see that after 40 years, we need to rekindle the fire!

Hope you can attend either a program or the webcast.

Carol Downer

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hyde Amendment Alert

By Carol Downer

This September, President Obama will be presenting next year’s proposed budget to Congress. Last year, he included the Hyde Amendment language! This year, we must not let this go without objection. He needs to submit a “clean bill”. We have 6 months to plan campaign. 

More specific information about the Hyde Amendment and what women are doing about it coming soon with my report on the Women’s Policy Summit.