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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since January 2012

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Blog for Choice 2012: Why I'm Pro-Choice

January 22, 2012 ·

I was young and living in the Bay Area, age 23. I was trying to find my way in the world, professionally. I loved to write, cared passionately about social justice, but wasn’t sure how I was going to make a living. And so I had taken a variety of internships and volunteer jobs to try on different careers. One dream I had had at the time was of one day being a counselor, helping others with their pain. And so I took an opportunity to volunteer at Planned Parenthood, as a pregnancy counselor.

Nearly 27 years later, much of my time there is a bit of a blur. But one client I remember vividly. I remember her face — the face of a young girl, about 13. I remember her grandmother’s face — the face of someone who had seen more than her share of hard knocks. I remember how she cast her eyes down as she walked into the room with her grandmother, how she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I remember how they both waited in another room while I ran the pregnancy test. I remember sadly watching the band turn the familiar turquoise blue before my eyes. I remember returning to the room, and beginning to utter the words, as we always did with a pregnancy: “You are pregnant, and you have three choices…”

But the grandmother was adamant: the girl was going to have an abortion, and that that was that.

I had never been in a situation like this: A woman much older than me and a young girl, about a decade my junior, in the same room, with the older woman doing all of the talking.

And so I asked the grandmother to leave.

It was then that I coaxed the information out of the girl. I asked the girl if she knew who the father was. Yes, she nodded. I asked her if she wanted to keep the baby. No, she shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes. And so I asked her why. “The father is my father,” she said, looking me in the eye for the first time, terror in her eyes.

After she left, I thought of how few options that girl had. She couldn’t drive. She couldn’t have known much about birth control. She probably couldn’t have had any say with her father. Her mother was either dead or had disappeared. The grandmother may have known about the abuse and allowed it to continue. I didn’t know. Nor did I know if the grandmother knew that the perpetrator was her son. I feared for the girl’s safety. Later, I filed the necessary paperwork to report possible incest.

It is one reason among many why I remain an avid supporter of choice. For many girls like this, there are no options but Planned Parenthood, no options but abortion. There are few places where they can feel safe enough to discuss their needs, needs and rights which they have been taught at a young age to are not as important as a man’s.

I wonder about that girl, who would now be about 40. How did she ever recover from that trauma? Did she get placed in foster care? Was her father incarcerated? I don’t know. I do know she did the right thing.

Blog for Choice 2012: To Sever the Stitch of Shame

January 22, 2012 ·

To say I am not sad is to say I am a monster.
*
And in this world is a village of women
whose houses are full and fragrant They grieve

in private and carry a sack of ashes to their graves
*

Twice a year I have the privilege of choosing poems for the online feminist quarterly, On The Issues Magazine. Each issue has a theme, to which the poems should also adhere, at least in the way that poems do, which is to say, in all sorts of ways.

Susan Bee artwork, via On The Issues Magazine. This winter, the theme is abortion rights. When I heard, I was anxious. I wondered if my sister poets could contain it all, the history of women’s struggles; the personal stories of women who’ve had abortions; the complex feelings some women carry; the resistance to the Right’s attempts to control women’s bodies through intimidation, legislation, and outright violence.

And then I wondered why I thought that the poems needed to carry it all, when they’d be surrounded by insightful essays and analyses by some of the sharpest thinkers on this issue we have.

Oh me of little faith. I put out the word and the poems that came in response do it all.

In “Women’s Liberation, 1971,” Judith Arcana brings us right into the underground circle of activists who counseled women needing abortions before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing them: The next card is/Terrelle, who’s thirty-two and angry. Her/doctor gave her an IUD that didn’t work;/he says there’s nothing he can do/they lived far away, had no one but us,/no one to tell, no one to help, no money.

The language is simple, the story less so: true stories of scared women, angry women, hurting women. And of the determined women who quietly helped them when no one else would.

Sonya Renee Taylor speaks from the other side of the equation, from the experience of having an abortion. Her piece, “Why We Held Our Tongues,” is a manifesto to sever the stitch of shame. First she names the names that others give to women who’ve made the decision to end their pregnancies: monsters, liars (if they say they are not sad), lepers, heartless as tile.

Then, with a propulsive rhythm that does not quit, the piece takes us through the abortion itself and out the other side, celebrating the decision, the choice, not as a regret, not as a shame, but as the exact right thing:

To say, the doctor's face was a blur of soft cotton, 
his voice a crisp steel speculum is to free the pigeon of truth
from its cage so it might return dove. To say,
in the recovery room I smelled twenty shades of crimson escape 
fleeing down all the women's thighs is to say, I am seer and historian, 
conqueror and scared teenage girl 13 credits shy of statistic.
To say, I have never spent $350 dollars more wisely

Johnna Schmidt’s “Red Rover” reminds us that abortion rights can be about the question of not whether, but when, to have children, as the speaker laments the mess of her life when she was pregnant at 25. How then later, motherhood bounces back,/catches me in its shining snare.

Poetry dwells in contradiction and complexity, too. Melissa Tuckey’s poem, “Abortion,” resides at the nexus of gratitude and sorrow:

And somewhere in this world is a village of women
who wear only black They confess their joy
in private and carry a sack of ashes to their graves

Finally, the poems came full circle, as they came to my inbox. Katherine Anderson Howell, who works as a clinic defense volunteer outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, shows us in her poem, “Things to Know When Walking to the Abortion Clinic,” that abortion rights are still under attack, 40 years after Judith Arcana’s women gathered in clandestine solidarity.

Thanks to the speaker in Howell’s poem, however, and to so many other activists, health care workers, and volunteers – female and male – the clinic is still open.

Sarah Browning is the director of Split This Rock, poetry co-editor of On The Issues Magazine, and an associate fellow of The Institute for Policy Studies.

Interview with Roe v. Wade Lawyer Sarah Weddington

January 20, 2012 ·

January 22 marks the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. That ruling has been called the most significant of the 20th century. Certainly it was the most significant for women.

The case was argued by a 27-year old female lawyer from Texas — Sarah Weddington, in her first appearance before the Court. Female lawyers were so rare in those days that the Supreme Court lawyers lounge didn't even have a ladies room. There were no female Supreme Court justices. Weddington faced a wall of older white men.

Almost 40 years later, Sarah Weddington is still a tireless advocate for women. She now teaches leadership at the University of Texas at Austin, writes and speaks nationwide, and continues to educate young women and men on rights and responsibilities, and the fragile nature of progress without vigilance. I took a look back (and a look forward) with her last week on my radio show, Equal Time with Martha Burk. Here are some highlights:

Sarah Weddington. Photo by Daily Texan.

MB: When you argued the case, you were a young inexperienced lawyer. Were you scared?

SW: Well, yes. I cared so much about the result. I was the only person that would be allowed to speak to the Court for the plaintiffs, asking them to overturn the restrictive Texas law. So it was fear-invoking, awe-inspiring, and something you just want so much to win you can taste it.

MB: You won the case 7-2. It seems like every decision that comes out of the Court now is 5-4. Is the Court more politicized now than it was then?

SW: I think it definitely is, particularly on the issue of abortion. Now you have several judges who are very strongly in favor of Roe v. Wade, but you also have several who are strongly against. We have two women judges that we're not absolutely sure what their position is going to be. They didn't really talk about it in their confirmation hearings, and the Court hasn't had a case [on Roe] since they've been on it.

MB: You did something very unusual when you testified against Clarence Thomas. You brought a picture of a pregnant Thomas to the confirmation hearing.

SW: Yes. He had made some comments that were so outrageous and controversial, and I was trying to say that if he had ever been in the position to be pregnant, he would have much more sympathy and understanding of the way women feel when they're pregnant and don't want to be. There are so many in such dire economic straits — many couples who both have to work to take care of their families, and there is no day care. If Thomas could appreciate the position so many are in, he would understand why it should not be his decision, it should not be the government's decision. They should have a right of privacy on when to continue and when to terminate a pregnancy.

MB: Did the case hang primarily on the right to privacy?

SW: Yes. We had in our Supreme Count packets these documents from previous cases where the Supreme Court had said there is a right to privacy in the use of contraception. We were trying to get them to pull that rubber band a little wider, and say it also covers the decision of whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy. But when you argue a case before the Supreme Court you will argue anything that you think might be possible, so we had many [other possible arguments], in other words several parts of the constitution that might apply.

MB: It seems the opposition is no longer attacking the right to abortion head on — they're concentrating more on onerous restrictions — waiting periods, mandatory sonograms, clinic size requirements and the like.

SW: There is a real split in the opposition. Most of the opposition in recent years has not concentrated on making abortion illegal. They're waiting for the Supreme Court to change so they can win. [In the meantime], they want to make it unavailable. [These restrictions] belittle women and their families who try to make the best decision for their own situations.

MB: Given the Roberts court, do you believe a successful challenge will be argued on the privacy issue or will it be "fetal rights" or even "fertilized egg bills" trying to declare that eggs have the same rights as everyone else?

SW: Even that would probably have several [affirmative] votes on the Court. But the voters have turned down similar laws, most recently in Mississippi. So the voters have said there are some things you should not have the government deciding. I trust the voters on those cases more than I do the U.S. Supreme Court.

MB: Do you see the fervor in young people today? Or do they think we've got their rights won?

SW: I do see young people trying to help, supporting Planned Parenthood. But I'd say far greater numbers are having such a hard time just going to work, getting money for school and the like. So it's harder for them, but I wish somehow we could get their attention. Part of it is for young people to know what they have now that women didn't have before. We never want to go back to the way it was. And we really need the help of voters and of younger people to save their ability to make their own choices.

MB: You teach leadership at the University of Texas. If you could give only one piece of advice to young people today, what would it be?

SW: Leadership is about leaving your thumb print — a concept of trying to leave the world a better place for others. So I would say to young people, ask yourself, what can I do and how can I leave the world a better place than I found it.

Listen to Weddington's full interview here:

OtherWords contributor Martha Burk is a political psychologist, women's issues expert, and director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO). Follow her on twitter at @MarthaBurk.

Republican Presidential Race: Comedy or Farce?

January 19, 2012 ·

“Oy,” sobs the old woman. “Oy! Oy!”
“What’s the matter, grandma?” asks a man passing by.
"Oy, I’m so thirsty!”
He returns with a glass of water. She drinks it and says: “Oy!”
“What’s the matter now?”
“Oy, was I thirsty!”


Watching the Republican presidential debates has turned me – into an “Oy-ster.” Did a perverse talent agent find actors in an insane asylum by asking the inmates: “Anyone want to play a Republican presidential aspirant on TV?”

New York Times SyndicateI’m inundated by power-hungry individuals supporting troops, loving country, God and anything else that will get them the votes of the foolish and the ignorant. Billionaires understood: the average tax cuts received by the richest 1 percent under the Republican plans would amount to 270 times the cut received by the middle class.

Most of the TV Republicans deny climate change, some as a liberal plot, although most scientists predict momentous and enduring global alterations. Debates continue over how much change is due to man-made (greenhouse gas emission) behavior, but an overwhelming consensus has emerged "that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called climate change “the single most important challenge the world faces.” In a November 14, 2011, speech in Bangladesh, a country that could literally go under if the ocean level continues rising, he called on world leaders to confront this life-or-death challenge. “The severity of cyclones, floods and other consequences of climate change are increasing,” he warned.

Most Republican candidates scoffed at such liberal ideas. Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami that devastated Japan and led to a nuclear meltdown, floods and droughts, unusually hot and cold temperatures, rises of the ocean level and the disappearance of certain species due to climactic conditions provoked them to chant: “Drill Baby Drill!” Oil and gas companies, coincidentally, have no problems with the major Republican candidates. Indeed, Rick Perry claimed divine will caused BP’s catastrophic oil spill. “From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented,” said Perry.

The focus of much debate about “who qualifies most for President” amounted to: who most hates same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Not one suggested: “If a man doesn’t want to marry another man or a woman wed another female, they don’t do it.” And “if a woman doesn’t want an abortion, she shouldn’t have one!”

Was this comedy? Emphasizing those issues when the economy has collapsed, over 20 million are jobless, war vibrations rattle the Middle East and nuclear proliferation remains a frightening concern?

Newt Gingrich offered child labor as one solution to unemployment and poverty, and then explained his serial adultery and two divorces from seriously ill wives as acts of love for his country. "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate." Passion for country led him to cheat on his first two wives? What country did he live in? Watch out Calista!

Newt also claimed Palestinians were an invented people (did Edison discover them?) and got rewarded from a highly moral and Israeli-lobby linked Jewish casino owner with a $5 million contribution to his campaign. Long live gambling – and the Israeli lobby! If God had not intended people to lose their money in casinos he wouldn’t have allowed casino owners to stack the odds against the players, or permitted states to license them.

Before returning to her asylum (House of Representatives), Michele Bachmann explained she qualified for the presidency because she raised 23 children, and thus needed to save the nation from “Obama’s plan for socialized medicine [that] will threaten the very heart of the U.S. economy and endanger the national security of our nation as it drains valuable resources away from a strong national defense.” Huh? The law is paid for and reduces the national deficit. But not to worry! Successful buyer of campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts designed the state’s health care model for “Obamacare,” promised to eliminate the very system he successfully initiated. The flip-flop as symbol of virtue?

Mitt also liked “being able to fire people who provide services to me," referring to his health insurer. One person enjoys cutting off another’s livelihood? Is this Mitt’s idea of exercising judicious power?

Ron Paul demands major defense cuts, the closing of U.S. overseas bases, and cutting all foreign aid. He opposes the Patriot Act and Homeland Security. He doesn’t fit the mold. He would return to a different (ethical) asylum for opposing Social Security and Medicare and calling for strict adherence to an 18th Century Constitution.

Most of these TV actors playing candidates would name more Scalias to the federal courts – if they won. So, like tens of millions, I’ll vote Democrat. To assuage my angst I’ll suck on a new candy with Obama’s picture on it: The Disappoint-Mint. “Oy!”

So Long, Rick Perry

January 19, 2012 ·

Rick Perry is out of the race.Texas Governor Rick Perry will announce today that he is no longer seeking the Republican nomination for President. Perry, who entered the race in mid-August and immediately shot to the top of the polls, came undone with error-prone debate performances.

Perry did all he could to appeal to the most rabid of right-wing voters, promising to shut down many departments of the federal government (when he could remember them), and even proposing to send troops back into Iraq.

Perhaps more than any other candidate, Perry inspired the Institute's writers to take on the GOP race and handicap the potential disaster a new Texas Republican would have brought to the White House. Here's a timeline of Perry's quixotic candidacy, as documented by IPS commentators reacting to some of his many outrageous statements:

  • Before he was running to preside over the Union, Perry was proposing his state should abandon it. Donald Kaul wrote about Perry's secessionist impulses on a July column, Loose American Screws.
  • Perry's entire exploratory process seems to have consisted of a seven-hour prayer marathon in Houston dubbed "The Response," held on August 6th. Jim Hightower wrote: "I'm fairly certain that God doesn't want anything to do with this goober's show"
  • Before he entered the race, Perry tried to pre-emptively undo any damage his friendliness to immigrants might have caused among conservative primary voters. Jose A. Reyes called Perry a lousy amigo for presiding over what his rivals called "easily the most anti-Latino agenda in more than a generation."
  • Once he declared his candidacy, Perry tried to paint himself as a former Air Force pilot who had spent his life serving the American People. Hightower set this fact straight: Rick Perry had been on U.S. taxpayers' dime for most of his life.
  • When the debates started, Rick Perry started to explode. He called Social Security a ponzi scheme, rallied against Palestinian statehood, and released a tax plan that basically consisted of taking from the poor to giving to the rich, making him the Reverse Robin Hood.

As for me, I'll always treasure having the honor of playing Perry at the IPS holiday skit. I hope I did my best to honor the man with the swagger and bravado to finish fifth in the race to lose to Obama in 2012.

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