Abortion is a controversial and emotional subject over which people are deeply divided. At this time--the last decade of the twentieth century compromise between contending factions seems to be impossible because of the passion with which conflicting views are held. Even the terms that the partisans of each position use to describe their views bear emotional freight. Anti-abortionists label themselves pro-life; they are not just opposed to abortion, they believe that the fetus is a complete, living person, deserving of legal protection. Those in favor of legalized abortion deny that they are pro abortion, for indeed most believe that abortion is undesirable, even though it is sometimes necessary. They call themselves pro-choice; they believe that women should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they should bear a child, and should not be subjected to the dictates of the government. The opinion of the general public, as measured by public opinion polls, appears to be neither wholeheartedly pro-life nor pro-choice. Since the 1970s, public opinion has been fairly constant in supporting legal abortion under some circumstances. But the polls show that the public also agrees that there should be some restrictions on abortion, and does not believe it should be completely unregulated. In reading public opinion polls it is necessary to look carefully at the questions being asked, as some questions are ambiguously worded and some are designed to produce the answers the pollster wants to hear. Abortion rights are in danger, the most serious since legalization in 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. Not only has the existing Court shown itself willing to strike at the very core of the Constitutional right to abortion, but every state legislature will have a shot at it. This is a crisis, but one which is full of possibilities. The ongoing attacks at abortion clinics and the gutting of Constitutional protections for abortion by the Supreme Court in the Webster decision (July 3, 1989) have created strong general support for "choice." Ironically, the willingness of the Supreme Court to seriously curtail abortion access may have been the spark needed to prevent further erosion. Thousands of women and men, many of whom have never been active before have become involved on the issue. The membership of large national groups like NOW (National Organization for Women) and NARAL, (National Abortion Rights Action League), as well as that of independent grassroots groups and coalitions, has soared. The public has been galvanized. But for what -- freedom of choice circumscribed by race and class, removed from feminist demands about women's autonomy, and shrouded in "privacy” or reproductive freedom for all women? Will it be a movement that confines itself to the legal right to abortion or one that fights for all of the rights needed to make reproductive choice a reality?What will be the politics of this movement? Body Answering these questions involves the society in turmoil, confusion, and political struggle. The society has an opportunity to move ahead with positive reproductive rights agenda. Doing so requires that it build the kind of movement it was not able to established in the past -- one that is broad-based in its membership, its leadership, and its politics; a movement that goes beyond reaffirmation of Roe to demand access not just to abortion, but to the full range of reproductive rights; a movement that is based on a class- and race-conscious feminism. There have been many activists in this movement for almost 15 years, and while they are all critical of much of the past, there is still hope about our future. For as long as the society will be able to broaden the base of the movement and widen the agenda, issues surrounding abortion will shed its own light. The society must likewise be convinced that in order to do so there is a need to change the strategies and the goals it has been doing. At the November 1989 "Mobilization for Women's Lives" in Washington D.C., amidst a sea of pro-choice banners and speeches, there has only been one physical testament to a broader agenda -- a T-shirt which read: "Abortion is not the only issue" and listed demands for access to safe, legal abortion, effective birth control, sex education and AIDS treatment, full economic rights for all women, an end to sterilization abuse, and reproductive freedom for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. Even that list is incomplete because needs such as child care, freedom from violence, good jobs, safe workplaces, and many more belong on that shirt that has been produced (Luker, 1984). The demands should be nothing short of everything the society need for every woman's freedom. Transforming the abortion rights movement from a relatively narrow one focused on defending the legal right to abortion to a movement for reproductive freedom, from a movement whose membership and leadership is predominantly white to an inclusive movement with a broad and diverse grassroots base, these are key political tasks facing reproductive rights activists. And these are the issues that motivated pro-choice. For too long, white mainstream women's groups have under-valued the participation of women of color in the reproductive rights movement, and, with the exception of abortion, have ignored the issues of primary concern to women of color. To paraphrase Brenda Joyner, long-time activist and co-director of the Tallahassee Feminist Women's Health Center this narrow vision of choice has prevented them from seeing that work with pregnant teenagers, and prenatal care advocacy; activism to reduce the high infant and maternal death rate for Black women; organizing to end hazardous workplaces, racism, sterilization abuse, and violence; AIDS activism, and the expansion of gay and lesbian rights and child care access are all part of the reproductive rights struggle.
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Perhaps the question is not really where women of color in the abortion rights and reproductive rights movement are. Rather, where is the primarily white middle-class movement in our struggles for freedom? Where was a white middle-class movement when the Hyde Amendment took away Medicaid funding of abortions for poor women? Faced with an unwanted pregnancy, women do what they must, constrained only by the circumstances of their lives. Themes on this issue include experiences of abortion both illegal and legal; the value of women's lives; women taking control through collective action; and the place of women in the abortion debate. The poems by Sharon Cox and Joan Fishbein invoke the fear, the shame, and the inequities which defined illegal abortion. ByllyeAvery describes her experiences helping women gain access to abortion both before and after legalization. Her article goes on to place abortion in the context of the survival needs of Black women and the empowerment strategy of the National Black Women's Health Project. Beverly Smith recalls the days of illegal abortion and the difficulties Black women have in choosing to take care of themselves. She also discusses the participation of Black women in the abortion rights struggle. Margaret Cerullo's article and the poem by Susan Tracy are first-person accounts of illegal abortion. Both remind us that the abortion struggle is over the value placed on women's lives. Just Call Jane is the story of an illegal, feminist abortion service, a story of women taking control of abortion and taking care of other women (Keown, 1988). This is the first time a former "Jane" has herself written about the experience. Another form of women's control of their reproductive capacity- self-help -- is the topic of Laura Punnett's essay. She discusses the politics of menstrual extraction and the importance of using it to enable women to control their own fertility as opposed to its being used as an instrument of population control. Lynn Chancer focuses on the way in which the current abortion debate is framed. She is particularly concerned about the defensiveness of pro-choice supporters. Sarah Buttenweiser and Reva Levine write about the toll anti- abortion politics takes on women who have had abortions. Ellen Willis is critical of the effort to disengage abortion from feminism and sexual politics. She demands those women’s lives and needs be seen as the central issue in the abortion debate. Loretta Ross focuses on the need for the Black community to break its silence on the abortion issue and to provide support for Black women who are making this choice. She also argues that alliances are needed between the civil rights, abortion rights, and feminist movements. Attacks on abortion access by the anti- abortion movement are part of an overall strategy which seeks, in the short run, to make abortion more and more difficult for increasing numbers of women and, in the long run, aims to criminalize abortion -- for any woman, for any reason. The articles in this section discuss these attacks and ways in which our movement has responded. The most vulnerable women in our society -- poor women, of whom a disproportionate number are women of color, and young women -- have borne the brunt of the legislative attacks on access. The Emergency Memorandum and the articles by Sabrae Jenkins and Angela Bonavoglia address the impact that the erosions in access have had on these women. Connie Chan talks about the interrelation of classism, sexism, and language barriers all resulting in lack of access to reproductive counseling, education, and abortion within Asian-American communities. The attacks on abortion clinics are very direct challenges to women's access to abortion. The articles by Ann Baker, D?zon Dixon, and Cynthia Peters discuss Operation Rescue and report on pro-choice responses. Judy Norsigian's article updates us on RU-486 as an alternative method of abortion. Brenda Joyner's article emphasizes the importance of fighting back against all threats to abortion access. Cox's poem The Female War Saga reflects the pain and anger of the battle and the determination to resist. Safe, legal, and funded abortion is crucial for reproductive choice. So too are many other rights which the society has never had. The struggle for reproductive rights takes different forms in different communities. The pursuit of a full reproductive freedom agenda is necessary if we are to build a movement of and for all women. Women's survival needs are being threatened in so many ways and women are mobilizing in their communities both to resist the attacks and to demand more. The reproductive rights movement must insure that abortion rights will not be won at the expense of the rights of any group of women (Glendon, 1987). The issue of disability rights to the struggle for abortion rights can be linked to be as important as the life of a fetus. This is because of the fact that when women who are suffering from a disability and got pregnant will have bigger problems when they will deliver their child. Their health will be placed in great detriment because of their sickness and disability. Hence, in this case, abortion is being used as the means to get rid of the detriment.
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