Roe v Wade Anniversary Thank-You to Sarah Weddington

Today, on the 36th anniversary of Roe v Wade, I salute Sarah Weddington.

I first met Sarah, the lawyer who successfully argued Roe v Wade before the U.S. Supreme court when she was just 27 years old, in a church meeting room in Midland TX. Yes, the heart of George Bush country where we both had roots. It was around 1975, I was the relatively new executive director of Planned Parenthood of West Texas, then called Permian Basin Planned Parenthood, and the topic that brought together a number of family planning providers from the wide expanse of West Texas was legislation to allow nurse practioners to work in our health centers so that more women could get birth control and related health services to prevent unintended pregnancy and plan wanted ones. The demand from women desiring to plan and space their childbearing was clearly outstripping the supply of services available to them.

As a state legislator, Sarah continued her commitment to women by working tirelessly to make sure they could get access to reproductive health services. She understood that legality is one thing; access can be quite another, and rights without access are meaningless.

Sarah continues now to speak, write, teach, and work on behalf of women. Her accomplishments are legendary and too numerous to mention. But the most striking thing about Sarah is that she is such a great friend and a generous, devoted colleague in the continuing movement to secure the human rights of women to make their own childbearing decisions.

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Turnabout After Prop 8 Offers Delicious Irony

While I’m riveted like rest of the nation and indeed the world, watching the events leading up to Barack Obama’s inauguration tomorrow, a news item buried deep in the national news section of the New York Times today nearly caused me to fall, laughing wildly, off the treadmill where I was reading it.

Yes, multitasking three things at once always makes me feel like I am using my time wisely. But I digress.

The article, “Marriage Ban Donors Feel Exposed by list”, reports a lawsuit filed by supporters of California’s Proposition 8, passed last November, that made same sex marriage illegal by overturning the State Supreme Court’s May, 2008, ruling that same sex marriages are legal under the California constitution.

Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind the proposition, alleges that gay rights groups are checking out the names and addresses of donors to the Prop 8 campaign. “And giving these people a map to your home or office leaves supporters of Proposition 8 feeling especially vulnerable. Really, it is chilling,” Schubert said. So they’ve filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court seeking to prevent release of the names of donors who contributed late in the campaign and have not yet been revealed in campaign filings.

Well my, my. I do empathize even if I don’t sympathize, given that the same groups that supported Prop 8 also oppose reproductive rights for women. For the 30 years I was with Planned Parenthood, they dogged me personally, stalking, picketing me at home, and often sending threatening notes. Their harrassment of doctors who provide abortion services escalated over the years to violence; as a result 87% of U.S. counties have no abortion provider.

Chilling indeed.

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Trading in “Barefoot and Pregnant” for Economic and Reproductive Justice

As Congress works through the economic stimulus package, representatives need to keep in mind the connection between a woman’s need to determine her reproductive life and her ability to benefit from and contribute to economic recovery and growth. (This is an exclusive commentary I wrote for the Women’s Media Center.)

Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem got a roaring laugh in 1963 at the then all-male Optimist Club when he railed at women lobbying to improve educational opportunities for African Americans. He said his home county’s solution would be to get an uppity woman an extra milk cow. “And if that’s not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.”

Fast forward to January 2009. The relevance of barefoot and pregnant remains central to an inclusive and just America. Economic parity and reproductive justice are still intertwined, not only in the lives of individual women; they are indivisibly connected to our economic recovery as well.

While the 111th Congress awaits President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration for action on his proposed $775-billion stimulus plan, it’s considering two important pieces of legislation not included in the recovery package. Each is treated in isolation as “women’s issues.” Yet both are integral to the success of Obama’s economic stimulus.

The Prevention First Act, sponsored by Representative Louise Slaughter and others to expand access to family planning and reproductive health care, was introduced January 13 to virtually no fanfare and little media coverage. Two gender pay equity bills—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act—passed the House of Representatives with a bit more hoopla a few days earlier. Here’s how they work together and with the economic recovery.

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Lilly Ledbetter’s Courageous Acts Pump Up Your Pocketbook

Hey, Women: Want to earn a cool half million?

That’s about what the average woman loses over a career lifetime due to gender inequities in pay for the same jobs as men.

So click here to Speak Up and demand the Senate pass two crucial pieces of legislation so that Barack Obama can sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, as he has said he would do. In a historic vote, the House of Representatives on Friday passed both bills by substantial margins, largely along party lines. A Senate vote could come as early as this week.

No, these bills aren’t another financial bailout for ailing industries that don’t deserve them. They’re not a get-rich-quick scheme from late night television infomercial-land. Nor are they part of the badly needed but very expensive stimulus package—but they should be. Here’s why:

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Obama’s Tunnel at the End of the Light

I had a bet with myself about how long it would take for the top Washington pundits to go from slathering adulation like butter on Barack Obama’s every move to finding a snarky way to spin the exact same actions.

By bright and early January 6, after Bill Richardson had withdrawn from nomination as Commerce secretary due to financial scandal back home in New Mexico and some folks had objected to CIA director-nominee Leon Panetta, NBC’s Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd told the awakening nation on the Today Show, “The 2008 transition was smooth; the 2009 transition is already rocky.” Shortly, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz beat the “Obama has had a bad week” drum, adding that the flap over putting Roland Burrris into Obama’s senate seat was getting in the way of Obama’s desire to move his economic package swiftly—and (oh, they love this) the Republicans stood Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid down on Burris, hoping to taint the president-elect with Blagojevich slime.

I mean really, the guy hasn’t even been sworn in yet. I thought they’d give him till at least January 15.

Still, I know from my experience as a movement leader that it doesn’t take long in Washington for those who were singing your praises to start chewing you up. Sometimes simultaneously. Beltway culture is fueled by conflict, and the voracious media has nothing to chew about if there’s no political pugilism. But a leader can’t be deterred by this; in fact, he or she is beter off to embrace it as a fact of life.

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What Are You Looking Forward to in 2009?

Heartland and host of NPR station KALW talk show “Your Call”, to a diverse (except for shared relief that George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency is almost over) panel of guests, with global to local expertise ranging from bugs to books, health to wealth, the arts to politics, war, peace, and everything in between. I was privileged to be among the large lineup that included Marian Wright Edelman, Founder & President of the Children’s Defense Fund, Antonia Juhasz, Author of “The Tyranny of Oil” & “The Bush Agenda”, David Kipen, Director, National Reading Initiatives, National Endowment of the Art, and David Cay Johnston, former NY Times tax reporter and author of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill).

You can listen to the program in full.

Then tell how you’d answer the question, “What Are You Looking Forward to in 2009?” by posting your comments here.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to

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An Irresistible Explanation of 2008 as We Welcome 2009

I don’t know who this Uncle Jay guy is, but he summed up 2008 rather well. Enjoy. And have a Heartfeldt Happy New Year!

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An Inconvenient Debate: Caroline Kennedy and the American Dream

Who says we have no royalty in America?

I’ve waited to weigh in on Caroline Kennedy’s come-lately bid for political office because I’m fascinated by the competing arguments. I almost don’t want them to end in the decision about who’ll fill Hillary Clinton’s seat as the junior senator from New York, once she’s confirmed as secretary of state. But decide Governor David Paterson must.

So what are the narratives of his choice?

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Ask Obama to End the Global Gag Rule

A brief history: The U.S. government has been playing ping pong with women’s lives globally for almost three decades, ever since Ronald Reagan first declared the “Mexico City Policy” by executive order (without a Congressional vote). Bill Clinton reversed the …

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Beyond Roe: Toward Human Rights for Women

With a new Obama administration about to begin, timing couldn’t be more perfect for a fresh look at reproductive rights, health, and justice policies. I reviewed the book Our Bodies, Our Crimes, by Fordham sociology Professor Jeanne Flavin, for Democracy: …

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