Pro-Choice Supporters Rally as Reproductive Rights
are Challenged Across Country
By: Brian Woodward
The Oklahoma Capital
OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA -- On Monday July 15th, there were rallies held in cities across the nation in support of the reproductive rights of women. I attended the one on the steps of the capitol building of Oklahoma. Ever since the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973, conservative states have battled to limit that ruling by limiting abortion accessibility and implementation. The establishment of lawmakers in states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Kansas, Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin (the Washington Post ranks these as the “The 10 most important legal fights on abortion in the U.S.”) have represented the old worldview for too long.
After a brief introduction of the activities by a spokeswoman, internationally touring poet Lauren Zuniga opened up the speaking at the pro-choice rally in front of the Oklahoma Capitol on Monday evening. Her style, charm, and delivery are certainly a harnessed skill that serves as a persuasive factor. Her style was great but her substance lacked efficacy. She made some distinguishing points that carried a bit of shock value as she dramatically recited her own poetic lines such as “Give me the words to say to my parents when I come out of the bathroom with a plus sign on the stick... and he won’t even talk to me”.
However, the thoughts started to drift and infringe upon other areas of discourse at random. For example, during a poem titled “Personhood”, directed at the legislation that has been floating around certain very conservative states, she sporadically states it (personhood) should be “[written on] the tombs of soldiers who were killed for oil”. That is not the only line that deviates from the process. A little over a minute into her “To the Oklahoman Lawmakers” poem, which begins as, and effectively is, a repudiation of the illogical legislation to require an ultrasound prior to abortion; she asserts (in a sarcastic tone inflecting the typical activities of an Oklahoma state congressmen):
“I know it can get boring between the porker’s association breakfasts and the oil and gas industry lunch. And I know you need something to do, between screwing up our election system and passing off your racism as an immigration bill.” Both of these were read at the rally celebrating the “National Day of Action to Defend Abortion Rights” at the Oklahoma City Capitol. She was asked to recite her poetry, so I am not criticizing that it was not tailored especially to this event as much as I am that the underlying topics of concern in her two poems themselves cheapen their effectiveness by waywardly making provocative quips on peripheral issues. I understand that such arbitrary expression may not be particularly odd for the art-form but as an argument on this day it left the potential effects limited.
I caught up with Zuniga to express my concerns about her poems and ask her further thoughts on the pro-choice movement:
“The organizers asked me to say poems at the rally because of the poems I've written regarding Oklahoma's battle with reproductive justice that have since gained national attention. They are personal creative expression. The poems process how I have personally been affected by anti-choice legislation but they also look at the broader picture of patriarch/oppression and how all of that is connected. I am a poet for a living not a political speaker but I am always excited to lend an artistic voice to any event that raises awareness for these issues. It doesn't bother me too much that it seemed drifty or limited.”
“I think the event was small but important. For many, this is a much broader issue than just the choice to have an abortion. It is about ACCESS to abortions, contraceptives, exams, and comprehensive sex education as well as the liberty to make choices about our bodies. It is also about the message that we are continually giving female bodied people that they are unworthy of trust and personal decision making.”
Zuniga serves as an example of this mixture of younger generations in this country, ranging from those in their late teens to their early forties that are leading a social revolution. We are growing up as a country on certain social issues. This is evidenced by the striking down of section three of DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act), an act that was passed by Democratic President Clinton and affirmed by 84 senators in 1996, the act precluded legally married homosexual couples (in those states which it is legal) from being treated as any other married couple in relation to over 1,000 applicable federal regulations. This and the polling data that now shows more Americans are in favor than oppose same-sex marriage shows in part the swing in opinion on certain social issues has increasingly turned more progressive and libertarian.
However, birth control and abortion are issues where words like “murder” and “infanticide” get thrown around. This is when the self-righteous zealots that are protecting the rights of the “unspoken for” feel it incumbent upon themselves to dictate their morality upon others. Many of those who want to legislate the internal organs of women are strong adherents to a Biblical viewpoint. So, if the Bible happens to be a book that one abides by, let me invoke from the Gospels and the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1 (KJV) - “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” This should be an issue of help not hate. For many on the pro-life side the views are fueled by “Christianity” but not seemingly compassion.
Back at the rally, the second speaker, Martha Skeeters, a representative from the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, did a magnificent job in her short speech. She used a more diplomatic and traditional approach in her oral presentation. She first inquired as to why the crowd of 50 or so was standing at the state capitol on a rainy, dreary Monday night. After others chimed in, I patiently asserted “I am here because I am tired of the government infringing upon our privacy”. To me, that is the heart of the issue. The universal appeal of rallying for such a right is inherently that it stands for privacy and freedom. For some there I am sure there are much more personal reasons to come out and protest, I certainly know that the potential consequences of such legislation affects females much more than males. However, it is the idea that the government wants to come into every aspect of our life and even inside one’s body and tell a person what they can and cannot do, and be the force which becomes an arbiter of morality, and that infringes upon the privacy of the individual. This notion that the government knows best needs to be eradicated.
The legislation of individual morality is inherently immoral. What one does with one’s own body is her choice. If a woman decides to exercise her right to abortion she should be free to do so in the most medically safe, effective, and efficient environment. Certain laws continue to be proposed and passed that overtly break the “undue burden” requirement established by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. An undue burden is defined by the high court as "the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus." Requiring certain equipment and facilities that are unnecessary is done in order to force abortion providers to continuously jump through costly hoops or shutdown. These are done strictly out of animus for those who either provide or receive the procedure. They claim it is done to make women “safer”, but that in their dialect is synonymous with “carry the pregnancy to term”.
The demonstrations in major cities across this nation came on the heels of a now somewhat famous filibuster by Wendy Davis in the Texas State Legislature. The particular bill being considered in Texas that now passed via a special session reduces the legal abortion period to 20 weeks instead of the previous 26 week statute. Supporters of the bill and pro-life advocates will reiterate such assertions as are made by Billy Lowry, the Editor of the National Review, in his latest column. It includes polls that show the majority of Texans support limiting abortions to 20 weeks and explains the reasoning specifically for the determination of the limit of 20 weeks:
“The 20-week benchmark isn’t arbitrary. By then, the latest research suggests that fetuses feel pain. The respected University of Utah expert Maureen Condic recently testified before Congress that at 20 weeks, a fetus has ‘an increase in stress hormones in response to painful experiences’ and other reactions that ‘reflect a mature, body-wide response to pain.’ It is her view that fetuses ‘deserve the benefit of the doubt regarding their experience of pain and protection from cruelty under the law.’
The public basically believes the same thing. In Texas, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found 62 percent of people support the ban. Nationwide, even a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 59 percent support a ban after 20 weeks. A Gallup poll late last year found that 64 percent think abortion should be illegal after 12 weeks”
Texas State Senator Wendy Davis revealed that:
“State leaders don’t mention that they opposed and defeated an amendment to allow an exception to the 20-week ban when a woman has been raped or is the victim of incest. This exception is no small matter. Each year, about 25,000 American women — 30 percent of them minors — become pregnant through rape or incest.”
“I stood to oppose the bill because it rolled back constitutional rights and would reduce the number of women’s health clinics from 42 to 5, thereby threatening the health and safety of thousands of Texas women.”
The people of Texas do support, as the poll numbers indicate, stricter time limits on abortion but that is only a small aspect of the bill. Senator Davis (D) argues that less than 1% of abortions in Texas occur after the 20th week. This means that the effects of that limitation would be very minimal and that the real restrictions are being put on current clinics that would force them to close, thus precluding women access to proper care should they chose it, effectively preventing people from getting those abortions. Many argue this will lead to individuals seeking unsafe means to abort the child. This particular instance represents what has been for many a long and varied struggle to keep the government from legislating their bodies.
I think what has happened in Texas is a bit of a bait and switch. The Texas state legislature passed law under the disguise that its main and real impact would be limiting the time frame that a woman can have an abortion. Restricting late term abortion on the basis of certain studies concerning fetal pain is not the biggest impact this bill contains. Unfortunately, this is how bills get created, they are promoted as one thing but in reality they have a lot of moving parts and provisions buried in the text. Limiting abortions to either 26 weeks or 20 weeks could be brought up as an independent issue if that is what they were so deeply concerned with. That could be a separate thing that Texans could vote on if they like. If the concern is for the possibility of fetal pain, and a bill or a ballot initiative was created and the people voted and voiced their opinion in that way, that would be fair. Instead within that same bill the government mandates certain criteria for these clinics to meet. Bloomberg News reports that the new bill sets in motions guidelines:
“Requiring that abortion clinics become hospital-like outpatient surgical centers, with detailed rules for how the buildings are designed. Owners of the state’s 36 clinics, including five run by Miller, would need to spend millions of dollars to comply -- adding features such as showers, single-sex locker rooms and special airflow systems -- or either relocate or shut down.”
According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank and proponent of reproductive rights, fewer than 0.3 percent of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization:
“A wave of laws is now bluntly focused on driving providers out of business via a thicket of regulations designed not to benefit patients but, as some of their proponents admit openly, to make it impossible for many providers to come into compliance,” said Rachel Benson Gold, director of policy analysis for Guttmacher, in a report last month. The laws “are a solution in search of a problem.”
“A clinic is much less,” Miller said. “I just bought the Fort Worth clinic last year for $398,000. It is 4,000 square feet and in the same city, two miles apart, from where Planned Parenthood just built their surgical center for $7.5 million.”
I can think of no encroachment more gruesome and intrusive than that by which the government mandates what one must do to one’s own body. Pro-life advocates will push back here stating that it is not “only” your body, there is another human being in there, and is in some cases viewed by many to contain a soul. Fine, disagree with the decision, I disagree with what people do all the time, yet I do not think beliefs should be forced on others through the law. I believe that the proper thing is to leave the decision to each individual and her diligent deliberation.