Splitting the Health-Reform Baby: What Women Lost by Winning

This is part two in my three-part series about what the Affordable Health Care Act means in tangible terms to each of us. The first post in the series was Barbara O’Brien’s optimistic “Health Care Reform Will Help Everybody.” Today, in a post that originally appeared in the Women’s Review of Books blog, I address women’s health specifically in both a personal and political context.

Remember, that the Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website, HealthCare.gov, on July 1 to help consumers wade through the new law’s provisions and how they will affect our access to health care. So do check that out, and as always, your comments and ideas are very welcome here.

Let me be clear: Had I been a member of Congress, I would have pressed the “yes” lever for the health-reform bill when it came down to the vote for final passage. It was incredibly important that we start somewhere to make health care accessible and affordable to all Americans. And we can celebrate, as Ms. magazine recounts in “What the Health Care Bill Means for Women,” that contraceptives will be covered, gender rating that discriminates against women has been eliminated, and preventive services such as pap smears will be covered without co-pay under the new plan.

But sometimes when you win you lose. Continue reading “Splitting the Health-Reform Baby: What Women Lost by Winning”


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

What were your thoughts, feelings, worries when the Senate passed the health reform bill?

What were your thoughts, feelings, worries this morning when the Senate passed the health reform bill?

This is the question I asked on Facebook this morning and there were so many thoughtful and interesting responses

that I just had to share them here. Please add yours too!

I was thinking that we deserved better than a gift-wrapped Christmas present for the health care industry. This is
neither health, nor care, nor even reform.
Patricia M Sears

Patricia M Sears

It felt good to have 60 votes for progress towards health care reform… and we Must point out that the opposition
votes are against any health care reform as they did not even offer an alternate plan.

We Must Remind Americans that we’re FOR reform (albeit it’s not a pretty sausage at the moment) and the

opposition (39/40) is Not! Be clear, be consistent in communicating this important point.
Jan Rodak

Jan Rodak

This is not progress towards reform. It’s the opposite.
Sammie Moshenberg

Sammie Moshenberg

betrayal and sadness — because I should have been celebrating an historic victory but, as history has shown us,
victories are often at the expense of women
Bob Simpson

Bob Simpson

We have a helluva lot of work to do fixing this monstrosity.
Jan Rodak

Jan Rodak

If there is any benchmark that shows what a disastrous bill this is, it’s the 50-year high in stock prices for the
illustrious insurance industry this past week. Seriously, ’nuff said.

Pat Elliott

Pat Elliott

Angry. Defeated. Worried for future generations. Skeptical of comments about how a little bit of progress was all that was possible and better than none.
That they have lost their minds.
Suzanne Petroni

Suzanne Petroni

Really wish I could say “Thrilled and excited!” but they lost me at Stupak and no public option.
Jan Rodak

Jan Rodak

.. and no price caps. Did they not take Econ 101?
Kelley Bell

Kelley Bell

Change happens, but is measured in centuries, not decades. -We’ve been working on this since Truman was in office. We are so close. We can’t stop now. We must get it passed, THEN work on the amendments needed to make it right. (I know
thats a hard pill to swallow, but its the way these things work.)
Jan Rodak

Jan Rodak

The reason those analogies don’t work is that the incremental moves toward SS and Medicare shifted power AWAY
FROM the private sector, not TOWARD it. If we couldn’t get solid reform with the huge majority and Dem WH we
have now, it’s naive to believe we ever will. Face it: The corporations, and the Blue Cross Dems, have won.
Alan Herzog

Alan Herzog

Mixed feelings. Recognizing the shortcomings yet thinking that in spite of the vicious opposition, the hateful scare
tactics, etc, there was a vote for change–be it real or imagined.
Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt

One thing I am worried about is that people will think it’s all done, whereas the reconciliation process between the
House and Senate versions starts immediately and behind closed doors. Very important to stay engaged and keep
the pressure on for improvements in the final bill.
Cassandra West

Cassandra West

While it’s true Obama didn’t “fight” for the public option, we the public didn’t fight hard enough for it, either.
Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt

Cassandra, I never thought the public option made sense in the first place. What we really need is single payer
universal coverage, and that’s where thought Obama should have started. Not that I ever believed we’d end up
there this time around, but we’d be a lot closer to the system we are inevitably going to have to create if we are
really serious… See More about controlling costs and making quality care accessible to all Americans. It’s that vision
that is missing and only the president can lay it out so that the public will fight for a bold goal. That’s the key job
of the executive.
Jan Rodak

Jan Rodak

Agreed, Gloria. More and more this president shows his deference to Congress. If he truly feels it’s the most
important branch of government, he ought to have stayed there.
Kelley Bell

Kelley Bell

So true. Our HC system is fraught with profiteers and red tape. Trying to eliminate that will be so hard, as people do
not let go of their money streams without a fight.

For example: When I went for my yearly physical, I decided to look at it from a business perspective. My Dr. sent

me for blood work, a mammogram and a pap smear. -All pretty standard stuff.

I wrote down a list of every person involved in the process: The secretary who made the appointment, the insurance

person I called for pre-approval, the blood tech, the mammogram operator, the secretary in that department, the
doctors who read the results, etc. … See More

Final count: 43 people.

43 people for my doctor to tell me Im perfectly healthy.

How are we going to fix that? and what happens to all those much needed jobs if we do?

Bob Lamm

Bob Lamm

Excellent statements, Gloria. I agree completely with your analysis. And with your view that we must all stay
engaged and work for the best possible changes in the congressional reconciliation process.
Candice Feldt

Candice Feldt

Gloria Feldt for President! 🙂
Jan Rodak

Jan Rodak

An unmentioned issue about public option/Medicare is that its internal controls involve heavy compliance burdens to make sure the government isn’t getting ripped off. I work on that side of it, representing nine critical-access hospitals. The Medicare compliance requirements are enough to keep an army employed. It’s a pain in the you-know-what, but… See More what choice does the government have? When some providers commit fraud against taxpayers, protection is needed.

Private insurers don’t see nearly the volume of fraudulent claims, and their internal controls involve arbitrarily denying claims as a means of controlling costs. So, Kelley, if we shifted to a government-controlled system, there would be plenty of jobs left .. It may seem wasteful, but it’s a necessary evil to monitor providers and make sure billing is on the level.

Even still, after all the compliance headaches, it would *still* be more cost-effective, and efficient, to administer health delivery services at the government level.

5 hours ago ·

Marla Krull

Marla Krull

“I second that”, Candy!!!!!
4 hours ago ·

Larry Feldt

Larry Feldt

Interesting series of comments. Kelly, passing a flawed bill hoping to change it later is like marrying a flawed person
hoping to change them later – it usually turns into disaster. Alan, you perceive this bill as being change “real or
imangined”. If this bill is real it is change for the worse (I think we all agree on this). If imagined change is… See
More acceptable to us, then it is we who are flawed. Cassandra, if “we the public” did not fight hard enough for a
public option, it simply means that “we the public do not want a public option”. Candy, I would certainly vote for
Gloria for President and think she should run. I do not always agree with her politically (although I many times do)
but respect her intellegence, experience,judgement, and ability enough to think she would make a great President.
I also think Alex would be a great “First Gentleman”.

Happy holidays to you all.

Marla Krull

Marla Krull

And Candy could be “first sister” and we could be “first cousins”:):):) Can you just imagine a White House full of Feldts!!!!!!!!!!LOL

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt

And have you noticed it’s only the Feldts who have the presidential idea? Just want to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom?

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Time for Women to Drive Our Own Health Care Bus

Check out this new video from new Women’s Media Center website notunderthebus.com. You can also follow @notunderthebus (or check out hashmark #underthebus) on Twitter, and please become a fan on Facebook. It’s going to be a long drive, but together we can turn this bus around starting today. 

YouTube Preview Image

The Senate passed its version of what they are now calling “health insurance reform” in the snowy dark of the winter solstice night, moving Majority Harry Reid’s (D-NV) bill (stuffed into its sausage casing) toward likely final Senate passage later this week. The so-called compromise to Sen. Nelson’s (D-NE) Stupak-like language in there, banning abortion coverage unless a woman turns herself into a pretzel, and over in the House, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) is still yammering that’s not stringent enough. The fight will continue this week and then go to conference committee. Ample time remains for more mischief to be done, or for improvements to be made. Get the latest information and take action daily at notunderthebus.com.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Possibly the Most Idiotic “Common Ground” Discussion I’ve Ever Heard

Just because every generation has to speak in its own tongues doesn’t mean any generation will find that elusive common ground between pro-and anti-choice points of view when they frame the questions poorly.

One of those conversations is going on now over at RHRealityCheck, a website I respect and love, but that I think has allowed itself to be led down the primrose path to nowhere on this issue. For example, check out this utterly ridiculous bloviation about the merits of paying women to carry pregnancies to term by–as they adorably acknowldege–“two men, no uteruses”: Will Saletan, who never misses a chance to pontificate about how pro-choice he is while capitulating to anti-choice arguments and Beliefnet’s Steven Waldman.

Remind me, how do you spell “c-o-e-r-c-i-o-n”? How much money would it take to make you carry a pregnancy to term against your will?

The entire lineup of “voices” RHRealityCheck has put together to parse through the common ground rhetoric is lilly white, though gender balanced. They seem not to have done their due diligence about previous such attempts, and the framers of the questions have fallen into the trap of placing the entire focus on abortion– which is just the tiniest tip of a huge ideological iceberg that has primarily to do with worldviews about the nature and purpose of human sexuality, gender roles, and who has power over whose childbearing.

Now, I’ve been privileged to participate in some very profound structured conversation among people on various places on the pro-and anti-choice continuum. Though these explorations probably didn’t change minds, they did help us understand one another better. Plus, as long as people are talking, they aren’t shooting one another. I’m in no way saying that people with opposing views about reproductive rights and justice shouldn’t attempt to have dialogue.

But I am saying that the real common ground is preventing unintended pregnancy, and it is logically incorrect not to start with that framework. I am also saying that common ground can’t be reached until those who oppose abortion truly respect the moral positions of those of us who support safe, legal abortion, just as we have always respected their right to hold their views.

That’s what pro-choice means after all, and why it is the middle, or “common” ground, position in the first place.

But back to those bloggingheads without uteri. As RHRealityCheck’s own senior political editor, Jodi Jacobson has argued compellingly, we ought to be considering the needs of women first, as opposed to speculating upon how many dollars must dance on the head of a pin to coerce women into childbearing with no thought to how those women or their children are going to be supported after the birth.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Penetrating Sotomayor’s Judicial Philosophy: My Interview With Diane Walsh

The Glass Wall: The People vs. Obama’s Supreme Court nomination
by Diane Walsh
Penetrating Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy is proving no easy task. Will we get the information we need to properly evaluate the merits of the US President’s ambiguous choice for the high court – before it’s too late? The media is in a frenzied state over this nominee – Judge Sonia Sotomayor. One would expect this, given the stakes that her nomination holds for the fate of abortion rights – which are currently hanging in the balance.

What is Sotomayor’s view about a woman’s right to make childbearing decisions? Oddly, there is nothing concrete that we know about her actual judicial philosophy. No one seems to know exactly – because there is no clear answer being laid bare.

This is creating much unease on both sides of the political spectrum. There is a fundamental lack of information flowing. This is unacceptable. I decided to seek out Gloria Feldt, former president of US Planned Parenthood, to get her take on the Sotomayor nomination. She’s the quintessential trailblazer of the pro-choice lobby.

Gloria initiated the Prevention First Act and reintroduction of a new, improved, Freedom of Choice Act. Her “fight forward” mission is further exemplified on her blogs and through her speeches and writings, all accessible through her website: www.gloriafeldt.com, including 30 years on the frontline. So, needless to say, she’s in a position to evaluate the ‘threats’ that Sotomayor presents, if any, should Sotomayor be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice.

Diane Walsh: Have you managed to find out whether Judge Sotomayor believes that Roe vs. Wade is “settled law” (under the precept of stare decisis)?

Gloria Feldt: Based on her previous rulings and past approach to judging, it is reasonable to assume that she will say Roe is settled law, but then so did John Roberts and Samuel Alito and we have already seen how meaningless that was in the Gonzales v Carhart ruling. The Court has and can continue to make abortion less and less accessible while maintaining Roe as “settled law”. So even if Sotomayor issued a notarized statement that she believes Roe is settled law, it would be cold comfort to women. The question I want answered is: what is her judicial perspective on who has the right to make childbearing decisions? Roe is almost useless now as a basis for reproductive rights, though privacy remains an important principle and I wouldn’t want to see Roe overturned–as I wrote here, though, we must get beyond Roe and on to human rights for women.

DW: What have you found out that could make us confident that she could be counted on as someone that would ‘definitively and always’ rule essentially pro-choice?

GF: I am not confident at all for two reasons. First, Obama’s spokespersons say he didn’t ask her the questions. That raises a big red flag. Why didn’t he ask, since he said during the campaign that he wouldn’t appoint a judge who would not support a woman’s right to choose? Second, both of her rulings related to reproductive rights have come down on the side of those who will stop at nothing to strip women of the human and civil right to make their own childbearing decisions. Doesn’t [the] murder of Dr. George Tiller [on May 31st, 2009] chillingly remind us of why we must not appease them?

DW: Ditto. Here’s a snapshot of Sotomayor’s climb up the ladder: As an assistant District Attorney (in NYC), early on in her career, she happily threw the book at, as it were, thieves and prostitutes and other so-called ‘undesirables’ of the times; but, later, she is seen to get involved with social housing issues dealing with the poor. Then, later again, she becomes involved with corporatist-leaning projects suggesting that overall she doesn’t necessarily sit on the left side of the political spectrum. You can say if you agree with the characterization, of course. But keeping her ‘history’ in mind, and, also, tracking back to the time of Robert Bork’s nomination, and the grandstanding that he, at that time, was allowed to do – when it was ‘right’ for Republicans to hear about ‘their’ Justices beliefs – I ask you this [following] question, in the context of today’s political climate: Do you not think it is reasonable to hear the political philosophies of Supreme Court nominees?

GF: If we could only get straight answers about judicial philosophies – that would be a giant step forward!

DW: Have we seen a pattern of ‘deciding Justices in secret’, culminating in the present state of affairs? Let me frame this question in more detail: As a public, we don’t even truly know where Sotomayor stands on abortion, strictly speaking. For instance, the last info release NARAL put out to its list members is to encourage us to push to get a fair hearing to be able to ask Sotomayor questions! That is to say we are practically begging to even be able to ask questions of her. How does this work? Is there not something wrong with this picture, that we feel we are in a state of not-knowing?

GF: It’s been said that the role of advocacy is to make it impossible for those in power not to do the right thing. I am more deeply concerned that most of the pro-choice groups aren’t asking their questions pointedly enough and vigorously enough to get meaningful answers. This does not augur well for how much our concerns will be addressed in future appointments, for we all know the squeaky wheel get the attention.

DW: Apparently, President Obama personally knew four other possible nominees – but not the vetted Sotomayor – and she is the one chosen. Does this strike you as a little odd? Janet Napolitano, of the Department of Homeland Security, when questioned, showed extreme ignorance about US-Canada border issues. Yet she was put forth.
What does this say about President Obama’s judgement?

GF: I asked myself this question too as a former CEO. Often I’ve seen a tough decision get made like this: there are many competing recommendations each with good supporting arguments, but none is perfect. The leader is stuck. Then late in the game, someone comes in with a completely new idea, and it is chosen with minimal vetting but great relief. I am not saying this is what happened—I wasn’t in the room. But from the scenario described in the press, I wouldn’t be surprised.

DW: Who would you, Gloria, have liked to see nominated?

GF: I am thrilled at the idea of the first Latina justice. And I think it was essential that he nominate a woman. Fortunately, we now have a deep bench of highly qualified women on the progressive side. I would have preferred to see one of the women whose deep scholarly roots in liberal judicial philosophy might have served to pull the court back toward the center. Someone like Kathleen Sullivan or Pamela Karlan. Both, I believe are Stanford professors. We seriously need someone on the left who can balance Scalia on the right both intellectually and with the same strength of conviction. I am enthusiastic about a Latina and another woman on the court. We’re all best served when our legislatures and courts look like America. But I have expressed concerns about Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy on reproductive rights.

DW: There is a brewing conversation about Sotomayor’s 2002 decision, a case involving the Centre for Reproductive Law v. Bush whereby she upheld the then Bush Administration’s implementation of the Mexico City Policy, that says that “the United States will no longer contribute to separate nongovernmental organizations which perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.” – and thought by many, on the left, to be quite ghastly. In brief; apparently Sotomayor contended that the policy did not constitute a violation because, she argued, “the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds. Clearly this is fraught with difficulties. What is your view about this? What are your feelings about this decision? Does it take away from Sotomayor’s credibility as far as her being someone the Pro-choice lobby can rely upon to defend the rights of women when it comes to reproductive choice?

GF: To refer back to your fist question, she will claim this was stare decisis, that she stood on precedent, and that is likely to be viewed positively by both Senate Republicans and many Democrats. But several aspects of this decision concern me:

First, she wrote it. So it must illustrate how she approaches such cases. Given that most of the significant cases interpreting Roe since 1973 have been steps backward for women, stare decisis these days means trouble for reproductive rights—not just abortion but also contraception and pregnancy rights.

Second, the ruling rejects CRR’s claim for standing, which would have perhaps allowed them to raise new questions about the gag rule that had not been considered in previous cases, and thus might have allowed even a stare decisis court to relook at some of the issues involved.

Third, often if a judge feels compelled by precedent to uphold a law she feels is unjust, she will write the ruling in a way that suggests to the appellant how to ask the question differently in the future to have a better chance for the court to reconsider the issue. Sotomayor not only didn’t do that; the ruling’s language is clear and simple, offering no wiggle room or invitation to further challenge the gag rule which violates both medical ethics and the first amendment.

DW: What can we do to make things more certain?

GF: We can’t. You never really know what a justice will do until he or she has been on the bench for 5, 10, 20 years. Who would have thought the rather conservative Republican Harry Blackmun would have become the architect of Roe v Wade? But please see my answers to questions 5 and 13 for additional comment on this question.

DW: The Judiciary Committee will of course screen her. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Democrats rejected her and Republicans were seen to support her? Shouldn’t that make progressive Democrats suspicious? Wouldn’t that speak volumes but by then be too late? What would the consequence of this slap to President Obama?

GF: Oh the irony of politics. But this is too speculative to answer right now. In any case, I predict she will sail through, for good or ill, barring the release of some damaging personal information.

DW: Should Obama’s remarks about the need to look for “common ground” not make us all into skeptics given what is frankly, an all-out warring terrain governing pro-life versus pro-choice? Especially since he has said outright that he personally doesn’t like abortion but of course understands that it needs to be available – as if he’s doing us all (on the pro-choice side) – a favor! Because he personally opposes abortion – theoretically, that is – as far as he, himself, is concerned; he cleverly manages to remove any kind of ownership over the issue when advocating the need to make some abortion service available – qualified by programs and abstinence and what ever else he can say to deflect the spotlight. More over, what’s even more shocking is he apparently never asked Sotomayor what her position was on abortion before choosing her. So what he’s asking of us is to trust him. It’s not good enough.

GF: It is infuriating that Obama demonstrates so much leadership and courage on other issues, but when it comes to these most fundamental of women’s rights he demurs, deflects, looks for “common ground”, when on reproductive rights, health, and justice issues, the prochoice position clearly is the common ground. He should just declare it so and move on with a positive agenda such as the Freedom of Choice Act.

DW: What do you know about Sotomayor that could make the rest of us more comfortable with her?

GF: We should not be comfortable. We must continue to ask the questions and persist until we get the answers. And even if we get the answers we want, we must continue to demonstrate grassroots political strength at the ballot box and in legislative policy if we want our views on equality and justice for women to prevail in the courtroom


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Heads We Win, Tails They Lose: Why Obama’s Plea for Civility on Abortion Helps Pro-choice

Early this morning my daughter called to ask me what I thought about President Barack Obama’s comments about abortion yesterday in his commencement address at Notre Dame. She worried he’d been too soft and that by not stating his moral support for reproductive rights had instead signaled that he would not stand firm on policy related to abortion. Take a look at what he said and tell me what you think:

I replied to her that it was as good as we’d get from Obama, who clearly wants everyone to get along and doesn’t like confrontation. I wish he’d wax as eloquently about sexism and women’s human rights as he did about racism during his campaign. The controversy about race ignited by statements Obama’s minister made had threatened to be as divisive as the one he confronted at the Catholic university, and he used the first occasion to teach about race as well as to “tamp down the anger” as he has said he wants to do with regard to abortion. The disappointment for me was that he failed to elevate women’s reproductive self-determination to a similar moral high ground.

But in the realm of public discourse, Obama did women a great favor. The fact is that it is always a pro-choice victory when the debate is civil. Most Americans had rather not think about it, thank you very much, but when they do they tend to reason that decisions about childbearing are their own, not the government’s.

Similarly the opponents of choice lose when they marginalize themselves by extreme actions, such as carrying posters of full term stillborns and calling them abortions, splashing red paint on dolls, or committing violent acts.

Still, it’s ultimately not enough just to say we should respect one another, though I agree we should. Respecting those with opposing views isn’t hard for those of us who are pro-choice; in fact it’s what choice is all about. But eventually we have to get on with policy making.

It’ll be up to pro-choice advocates to keep a pro-woman and proactive agenda in the president’s sights. We have to make it impossible for him not to do the right thing when it comes to supporting both preventive family planning and full reproductive justice, including abortion and choosing Supreme Court justice.

Obama’s plea for civility in the ensuing debate will help the pro-choice cause whether those opposed to abortion and reproductive rights are civil and respectful in their responses to the political agenda ahead or not.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Where Common Ground Gets Shaky

First, please read for yourself Rachel Laser’s “Conceiving Common Ground” over at the website RHRealityCheck (btw, if you don’t already have RHRC on your bookmarked blog list, do it now; they provide exellent information and provocative articles like this one every day. Dozens of times through the 30 years I worked for Planned Parenthood and in the several years since, there have been efforts to find the so-called “third way” or “common ground.” I’ve had the privilege to be involved in some profound conversations with people who come from a wide range of pro- and anti-choice perspectives. I learned a great deal from them and they helped me shape or sometimes deepen my own convictions by questioning them.

Somehow, though, these efforts fail on three points, and the quest for the third way becomes a fool’s errand.

  • Blogger Amanda Marcotte

    First, they overlook the fact that the movement for reproductive rights, health, and justice has always started with initiatives to get universal access to birth control and related preventive health services. So, as Amanda Marcotte pointed out in her post to Rachel’s article and some of the comments it engendered, the “third way” is “standard issue pro-choice”.

  • Second, they fundamentally break off at the point where those who oppose abortion must make the leap to respect the moral view of those of us who are pro-choice just as they demand we respect theirs. Yes, we have a moral view, and for many of us it comes straight from our religious views too. Respecting other people’s moral views is also standard issue pro-choice.
  • And finally, speaking of respect, (why do I want to don Aretha’s hat here?), the common ground they find inevitably seems to require that women are in some way shamed or demeaned, and that abortion be deemed ipso facto a bad thing. Which begs the question of why so many women say it saved their lives, and indeed begs the question of whether women’s lives have value in the first place.

I responded to Amanda’s post and Rachel’s article as follows, and I’d be pleased to know whether you agree–have at it:

Indeed, Amanda. Thank you for saying what needs to be said with clarity and conviction.

Who the heck do they think invented the idea of prevention anyway? It sure wasn’t the people who lambaste abortion and/or self-righteously suggest women should be shamed for choosing abortion.

The rhetoric used against abortion today is the same as was used against birth control in the early days of the movement before abortion was legal. In fact, the rhetoric is quite similar to that used to oppose women’s suffrage and women’s equality in general if you probe history a bit. That’s why we need to make women’s human rights central to the conversation and quit all this dancing on the head of a pin.

I appreciate RHRealityCheck giving a platform to a wide range of people expressing various prochoice positions, but I must say I find Rachel’s article enormously disrespectful of women and (her own included) moral agency as well as far out of touch with the realities of women’s lives and the decisions they make in all good conscience for themselves and their families. I’m speaking from the frontline, having heard thousands of women’s stories. They made me humble enough not to judge


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Liveblog: Pro-Choice Messaging for a New Era

2:52
AmieN:

Welcome everyone to RH Reality Check’s second in our monthly series of live-chats on the reproductive health and rights issues facing the country today.

Of course, today is the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and President Obama is at the helm. We have a lot about which to be hopeful (and thankful) when it comes to global reproductive justice!

Today’s discussion is titled Pro-Choice Messaging’s New Wave or Passing Ship?   And I thank everyone for coming, participating in the discussion and asking your questions! We are so honored to be joined by two experienced, passionate, thoughtful leaders in the journey towards reproductive justice!

Former Planned Parenthood Federation president, author and activist, Gloria Feldt, and Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota’s president Sarah Stoesz, one of the leaders in the successful fight against the abortion ban in South Dakota this past November.

Gloria and Sarah will discuss, and debate, what kinds of messaging worked in the unique fight in South Dakota – an extremely conservative state – and what kinds of messaging may be overall more harmful to the larger movement.

Please submit your questions whenever you’d like and we will try to get to as many as possible.

The chat lasts for one hour and soon after we will have the transcript available on the homepage of our site.

Thursday January 22, 2009 2:52 AmieN
2:58
AmieN:

With that introduction, we can start. We’ve already received some reader questions which we will get to shortly! My first question to start things off is for Sarah.

Thursday January 22, 2009 2:58 AmieN
2:58
Gloria Feldt:

I want to start out by extending my empathy, sympathy, and courage to Sarah after the violent attack on her clinic this morning.

Thursday January 22, 2009 2:58 Gloria Feldt
2:59
Sarah Stoesz:

Thank you, I appreciate it, Gloria. As a veteran leader of our movement you know all too well what these experiences feel like.

Thursday January 22, 2009 2:59 Sarah Stoesz
2:59
AmieN:

Thanks, Gloria. As we all do, absolutely. Are you all safe and is the clinic okay?

Thursday January 22, 2009 2:59 AmieN
2:59
Sarah Stoesz:

Fortunately no one was hurt, and services were uninterrupted, but it does underscore how much work we have to do in our community and nationwide.

Thursday January 22, 2009 2:59 Sarah Stoesz
3:00
Brady:

(For readers wanting to know more about the attack on Sarah’s Planned Parenthood clinic in Minnesota, click here.)

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:00 Brady
3:00
AmieN:

Absolutely, Sarah. You all have done a lot of great work. Can you talk a bit about why you think the South Dakota campaign’s messages and stories used to challenge Measure 11, the abortion ban that was defeated in November,   resonated with South Dakotans? In other words, as Kay wrote in her article on RH Reality Check about the defeat, how does a state in which most voters would probably still identify as pro-life manage to defeat abortion bans twice?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:00 AmieN
3:02
AmieN:

And for our readers, once again, thank you for your questions and we will get to them in the order we receive them or as they are relevant. Thank you so much!

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:02 AmieN
3:02
Sarah Stoesz:

You’re right, Amie. Most voters in SD, by a sizeable margin, do still self-identify as “pro-life”; however, people are capable of complex moral reasoning, and what I’ve learned is that treating people with respect, especially when we are in disagreement, is essential to establishing mutual trust and conversation.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:02 Sarah Stoesz
3:03
Sarah Stoesz:

So, when we listen to the voters and understood their concerns, and approached them with open mindedness and respect, they were willing to do the same for us.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:03 Sarah Stoesz
3:03
Sarah Stoesz:

It’s more than a messaging strategy, it’s a political strategy that involves allowing people to be morally conflicted about abortion, while at the same time asking them to keep abortion legal.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:03 Sarah Stoesz
3:04
Gloria Feldt:

More than anything, I think, voters respond to authenticity and moral clarity.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:04 Gloria Feldt
3:04
AmieN:

Do you think the pro-choice movement is afraid of keeping this idea of being morally conflicted about abortion as part of our strategy – whether political or messaging wise?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:04 AmieN
3:05
AmieN:

And as an extension to that question: What kind of moral reasoning did you see? How were voters able to explain their positions to themselves? “I oppose abortion morally, but … “

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:05 AmieN
3:06
Gloria Feldt:

I think that when people are under seige for so long, there is a tendency to close ranks as self protection. But in truth, the moral breadth of our position is what is so powerful and what ultimately wins almost every ballot initiative we have fought.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:06 Gloria Feldt
3:06
Sarah Stoesz:

I wouldn’t say afraid. I would say inexperienced with this idea. It’s hard for all of us to let go of tried and true language that we’ve relied on for many years. But in point of fact, our refusal to acknowledge genuine moral ambiguity is not helpful and does not move the conversation forward.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:06 Sarah Stoesz
3:07
AmieN:

Marcy Bloom asks, then, Hi, Sarah and Gloria. When you discuss moral clarity and conflict. ho you believe it is successful and “appealing “to use the concept of women as moral and ethical decision-makers? Does that resonate?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:07 AmieN
3:08
Gloria Feldt:

I want to clarify something–appreciating moral ambiguity does not mean moral relativity, or that we don’t have moral values/beliefs.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:08 Gloria Feldt
3:09
Gloria Feldt:

Marcy, yes, emphatically.The secret of the anti-choice efforts’ success has always been rooted in their moral clarity. That gives them a simple and authentic argument. We have that ability too. We shouldn’t be flippant (eg, phrases like rosaries off our ovaries, Bush stay out of mine, etc). But elevate the debate to a higher moral plane of women’s human rights, justice, moral agency. Then justify that position with stories, illustrations of healthy happy families, drawing the bigger map about childbearing choices that includes birth control, prevention, health, etc.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:09 Gloria Feldt
3:09
Sarah Stoesz:

Good question, Marcy. I would say that is not an argument we would take to the voters of SD if we want to win these ballot campaigns.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:09 Sarah Stoesz
3:11
Sarah Stoesz:

Gloria, I think those are fine arguments in certain parts of the country but they do not work in places like South Dakota, and that is unfortunately where these battles are being fought.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:11 Sarah Stoesz
3:11
Brady:

Thanks Sarah.   Ok, next question comes from Deborah Kotz of US News and World Report…   Is there any way you see (in terms of the messages you send) that can unite most Americans when it comes to abortions? The vast majority favor a woman’s right to choose but also believe there should be some restrictions on abortions. I’m not sure how many will be in favor of using their taxpayer funds to pay for abortions–which would occur if the Freedom of Choice Act passes. Do you have any message to unite yourselves with those in favor of choice but personally against abortions or using their tax dollars to pay for them?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:11 Brady
3:12
Gloria Feldt:

Sarah, I would agree with you in part and disagree in part. fighting ballot initiatives is a very particular skill. But I would suggest that even in those localized situations, our responsibility as movement leaders is to start where people are and move them to where we want them to be. Ballot initiaves can be a great teaching tool.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:12 Gloria Feldt
3:13
Gloria Feldt:

I just want to give my red state bona fides to those who don’t know.We’ve always had an axiom in the movement that everybody thinks she lives in the most conservative state. Certainly SD would be a contender. So would Arizona and Texas, the two places where I led PP affiliates for 22 years. I understand red states better than blue ones, to be honest. In AZ in 1992, we defeated a ballot initiative to ourlaw abortion except for rape and incest by 67% to 33%, the highest margin of any initiative to tha date.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:13 Gloria Feldt
3:14
Gloria Feldt:

I lived almost all my life in the most conservative areas first of Texas and then of Arizona. So I do understand how hard it is to be in that crucible.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:14 Gloria Feldt
3:14
AmieN:

Yes, Gloria. And while Colorado was blue this time around it certainly hasn’t always been and the personhood amendment there went up in flames this year. Sarah, as Gloria says, how can we meet certain people where they are at but also teach and work towards change. We dont’ want to tell someone they are flat out wrong but that discrimination is wrong, that ownerhip of womens’ bodies is wrong. In other words – the person’s opinion isn’t wrong but the underlying issues. Anna Clark asks: How can pro-choice activists support each other in recognizing that moral complexity of the public–rather than letting ourselves be defined as the simple “opposite” of those opposed to legal abortion?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:14 AmieN
3:16
AmieN:

Readers and participants – your questions are fantastic and we hope to be able to get to as many as possible! Thank you!

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:16 AmieN
3:16
Gloria Feldt:

To me, the egg debate in CO has a huge silver lining. After decades of defending Roe, the women’s movement must address the question it has long avoided: the value of a woman and her life. Roe was a meaningful and necessary advance, but its grounding in privacy rights portended that it could not stand forever. So though it feels scary in a way, it is a great time to set a bold new agenda based on justice and human rights and secure the policies and social support that make rights meaningful. Maybe Marcy can comment on how they get the human rights basis in Mexico…we should really watch how things continue to unfold there.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:16 Gloria Feldt
3:17
Sarah Stoesz:

To get back to Deborah’s question – what we did in SD can be done elsewhere. We started by respecting people who see the world differently than we do and listened to their concerns. We didn’t ask them to abandon their moral opposition to abortion. We just asked them to keep it legal.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:17 Sarah Stoesz
3:18
AmieN:

Thank you, Sarah. We have another question for you. Also, we’d love to get Marcy’s vision in response to Gloria’s question. Marcy Bloom is a consultant with GIRE, a reproductive rights advocacy organization working in Mexico for abortion rights.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:18 AmieN
3:19
AmieN:

For Sarah: Hi Sarah. I was in the Rapid City office volunteering with Healthy Families during IM 11, and had a question about the messaging that I was told to use on my canvassing trips. We were told explicitly not to focus on women or choice; why do you think that was necessary for a victory in South Dakota? Also, there was talk of a hidden pro-choice movement that I, personally, didn’t see much evidence of. Can you expand on that idea at all?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:19 AmieN
3:19
Gloria Feldt:

Deborah, thanks for that excellent question that goes right into the political realities. To answer it, I need to separate out what I think a movement should do to keep advancing toward full justice for women and the realities of moving a piece of legislation forward. We have to go on two tracks.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:19 Gloria Feldt
3:20
Sarah Stoesz:

If we had used pro-choice rhetoric in South Dakota, we would have lost. No question about it.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:20 Sarah Stoesz
3:20
Gloria Feldt:

The FOCA can be a teacher. It can provide the platform for us to talk about why abortion coverage is fair and just–two more great American values. Note i said “coverage”, not funding, because that is accurate.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:20 Gloria Feldt
3:21
Sarah Stoesz:

To further answer your question, there is not a hidden pro-choice movement in SD. There is a movement to keep government out of personal decision making, and that means no abortion bans.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:21 Sarah Stoesz
3:21
[Comment From Marcy BloomMarcy Bloom: ]

Thank you, Gloria. When the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in August that abortion is a constitutional right, they emphasized the critical aspects of women’s human rights, equality, discrimination, and unique health needs of women that were key to their lives and survival..so different from the limitations of Roe’s privacy right.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:21 Marcy Bloom
3:22
Gloria Feldt:

But FOCA as it is curently written is so much more. It is a human rights-based civil rights bill that says teh government can’t discrimimate against you if you decide to have or not have a child. Two sides of the same coin. That’s what reproductive justice is. So having an agenda that gives us the opportunity to talk about these issues even if the bill doesn’t pass in the near future is valuable.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:22 Gloria Feldt
3:24
Gloria Feldt:

Sarah, how do you define “pro-choice rhetoric?” I want to understand better what you are referring to.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:24 Gloria Feldt
3:25
Sarah Stoesz:

We didn’t use the words “pro-choice” in any of our campaigning because to “pro-life” voters in SD, choice is not the point. And it’s the “pro-life” voters that we needed to convince.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:25 Sarah Stoesz
3:25
Brady:

Gloria, the way the anti-choice leaders are framing FOCA though, is by saying that it is the most “pro-abortion” legislation to ever be introduced. They have seized on FOCA as an all powerful piece of legislation and it’s hard then to go back and frame it, on our side, as something that isn’t that. Is part of our challenge the pro-activity with which we approach legislative and other fights?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:25 Brady
3:28
Gloria Feldt:

Oh, thanks for that clarification, sarah. Re choice, it remains a positive value for the public but as currently understood it would never trump life. It seems hard to remove it from the lexicon—I tried and failed—good luck if you can do it—it seems to be a handy code word for a larger philosophy of less government intrusion, and people take it to include birth control, abortion, and other childbearing issues. I think the word could be rebranded to be what it is—the basis of all morality. But that would be enormously expensive and a very difficult leadership heave for whoever has to make it happen.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:28 Gloria Feldt
3:29
Sarah Stoesz:

You’re right, Gloria, and fortunately we don’t have to make it happen. We can move on.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:29 Sarah Stoesz
3:29
Brady:

Kristen Sherk asks… Hi, Sarah and Gloria – You raise the important point that one message can’t work for every audience. But as a movement, how do we embrace both those who are morally ambivalent about abortion without invalidating the experiences of women who have chosen to have abortions?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:29 Brady
3:29
AmieN:

And as a related comment: Judith Steinhart says, The issue of abortion is so emotionally charged. I don’t think anyone likes it, which is why prevention is so important, but to be able to have the option is critical, for a woman to be able to make a choice and to have qualiity healthcare rather than take it upon herself

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:29 AmieN
3:30
Gloria Feldt:

Brady, of course we knew that’s how they would try to frame it. All the more reason why we need to keep saying what it is, educating people, and at all times using language that reflects the highest moral principles.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:30 Gloria Feldt
3:31
Sarah Stoesz:

Thanks Brady. Why can’t we just say “you have a right to your moral ambivalence, and we understand and respect it.”? At the same time, government should not be the decision making agent for women.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:31 Sarah Stoesz
3:33
Gloria Feldt:

Hi Kirsten. ah yes, the great conundrum. A college student in the course I am teaching came to me after class yesterday and expressed her dismay that we always talk about women’s stories when they were victims, but never about women who simply make what they think are responsible decision about their own lives and aspirations for themselves and their future children. This troubles me, as it troubles her. she said it made her feel very bad…I don’t know her personal story, but I can imagine.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:33 Gloria Feldt
3:34
Gloria Feldt:

Sarah, but let’s add to that formulation: I feel equally strongly about my moral position and I ask you to respect me in the same way I respect you.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:34 Gloria Feldt
3:35
Sarah Stoesz:

In fact, Gloria, that’s what we did. And the voters of SD, twice in two election years, did respect us.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:35 Sarah Stoesz
3:35
Gloria Feldt:

We don’t serve ourselves so well when we just acknowledge the other side’s right to their moral view and balance it with moral relativity. I suggest that our message is stronger when we start from our own moral clarity and acknowledge that many people are ambivalent, hold differing positions, etc. and in a pluralistic society, we need to respect that.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:35 Gloria Feldt
3:36
AmieN:

Sarah and Gloria – there are more and more publications and groups that are doing that – presenting the moral ambiguity, the varying experiences of women and I think it is critical that we recognize and validate all womens’ experiences. But, unfortunately, there cannot be ambiguity when it comes to public policy. As an example, the HHS regulations. We simply cannot allow some to use their own moral code as a way to prevent others from receiving and accessing services. This is where they ambiguity gest difficult, no?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:36 AmieN
3:36
AmieN:

I’m sorry about my typos!

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:36 AmieN
3:37
Gloria Feldt:

Amie, thank you for your typos. they make me feel less dorky.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:37 Gloria Feldt
3:37
AmieN:

That’s what I’m here for!

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:37 AmieN
3:38
AmieN:

And, relatedly from a reader:   It seems that the pro-choice movement is also critically concerned, though, with “outing” anti-choicers as anti-contraception, too — in other words, they’re opposed to women’s reproductive and sexual freedom, and their moral hesitation around abortion is a convenient smokescreen. Sarah, is that an entirely distancing and disrespectful way to cast their position?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:38 AmieN
3:38
Sarah Stoesz:

No it’s not difficult, because people who have moral ambiguity about birth control should not work in a clinic, and we should be able to hire people in our clinics who support our mission. We’re not asking all voters to work in our clinics, we’re just asking them to allow us to provide health care to women.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:38 Sarah Stoesz
3:40
Sarah Stoesz:

To respond to the reader’s question, the leadership of the anti-abortion rights movement/anti-contraception movement are not reflective of the mainstream voters in SD who have defeated abortion bans. There’s a clear disconnect between the leadership’s agenda and the voters on the ground.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:40 Sarah Stoesz
3:40
Gloria Feldt:

To go back to Roe on this 36th anniversary, it is both the solution to and the cause of some of our problems, especially the one Amie raises. This is just a tad radical, but I propose (as Justice Ginsburg has always said) we now must shift the legal framework from one based on privacy to one based on equal protection such as FOCA. The language of the debate must be elevated accordingly, and advocates must create a steady stream of policy initiatives to protect and expand reproductive rights, health care access, and justice. No time to rest after the great celebration Tuesday!

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:40 Gloria Feldt
3:41
Gloria Feldt:

I couldn’t agree more with Sarah re the contraception issue. I delineated the connection clearly in The War on Choice.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:41 Gloria Feldt
3:42
AmieN:

Sarah, excellent point and one with which I agree. Unfortunately, though they are not representative of most voters they wield enormous power. And so, as Gloria wrote, is now the time to be as pro-active as possible in both our messaging and political strategy? Julia, a reader, writes:   I find it’s often difficult to attract people’s attention to reproductive justice issues because financial, housing, food security, etc. concerns are more immediate in people’s day-to-day lives. How do we get the general public to understand that legal abortion and, more generally, reproductive justice are core human rights issues that affect everyone? What kind of messaging can we employ to capture people’s attention?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:42 AmieN
3:42
Gloria Feldt:

That said, there are many pro-birth control, anti-choice people with whom we can work very effectively–and should.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:42 Gloria Feldt
3:44
Gloria Feldt:

To Julia’s Q: I am jazzed that the U.S. Senate is today debating the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. economic and reproductive justice, as many women of color especially have beeen telling us for years, are inextricably linked. That’s why the words “barefoot and pregnant” have always resonated.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:44 Gloria Feldt
3:45
Gloria Feldt:

Oops, to complete my thought to Julia, I am jazzed that Ledbetter is being debated on Roe Day.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:45 Gloria Feldt
3:46
Sarah Stoesz:

Amie, it depends on what you mean by being proactive. I certainly think that now is the time to push as hard as possible to ensure universal access to birth control and inclusion of abortion in the health care reform debates that are raging across the country in state capitals and in Washington. I think that our electoral victories have demonstrated to politicians that they need not be afraid of the abortion issue and that they need not turn away from it. In the past abortion has been used as a wedge issue to divide the progressive coalition and we’ve now demonstrated in South Dakota that abortion can be a unifying issue.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:46 Sarah Stoesz
3:47
AmieN:

Sarah – how did younger voters differ from older voters in SD on Measure 11? And Gloria and Sarah, are these messages resonating with younger people? Mia, a reader asks, How can those of us interested in the protection of reproductive rights best appeal to the younger generations to care about this issue as well?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:47 AmieN
3:48
Gloria Feldt:

Amie, to answer your queston about geting the public’s attention, Religion Dispatches had an excellent piece today about the importance of the relitious vioces. Especially note Carleton Veazey’s words, prophetic a always.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:48 Gloria Feldt
3:49
[Comment From Sarah StoeszSarah Stoesz: ]

Post-election polling tells us that our messages resonated equally with all demographic groups including church goers and non church goers, young and old.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:49 Sarah Stoesz
3:51
Brady:

Gloria, In your article, in the December 10th issue of Democracy Journal, you write about the history of Roe and the problems with arguing for choice as a “right to privacy” issue. Of the legal battles that have ensured choice, you wrote, “these very victories carried within them the seeds of their own demise, for they were not grounded in women’s moral and legal agency.” Can you tell us more about what you mean by this?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:51 Brady
3:51
Gloria Feldt:

To take an example from recent political events: I suggest that Obama’s messaging beat Clinton’s because it elevated people’s moral vision and made them feel good about themselves. It wasn’t carefully parsed to diferent constituencies. It was or at least seemed to be authentic, not to shy away from controversy, and to appeal to people’s higher selves rather than their fears.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:51 Gloria Feldt
3:51
[Comment From jenjen: ]

i really hope someone’s writing a book about how the SD abortion bans were faught, i’d love to know more about it

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:51 jen
3:53
Sarah Stoesz:

One final point is that for too long the reproductive rights movement shied away from electoral battles, and this was at the expense of building a movement. Litigation doesn’t build movements. Actively engaging ordinary people in debates about important issues does. The most important achievement in SD is that we now have a movement where one did not exist prior to 2006. With this movement we have defeated two bans and we can defeat more if we need to.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:53 Sarah Stoesz
3:53
Gloria Feldt:

BRady, Shameless self promotion here: http://www.gloriafeldt.com.previewdns.com/heartfeldt-politics-blog/2008/12/9/beyond-roe-toward-human-rights-for-women.html , in case anyone wants to read the article– I reviewed legal history and interviewed Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine and legal expert for xx. Seems that in 1965 when the Supremes took Griswold v Connecticut (which legalized birth control), they had no gender-based civil rights precedents on which to base their ruling. So they used the precedent that there is an unwritten but implied right of privacy in the Constitution. (more in next post)

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:53 Gloria Feldt
3:54
Gloria Feldt:

That right of privacy then logically formed the basis of the Roe v Wade decision. The 14th amendment, equal protection, was given a nod but it wasn’t the central rationale. Justice Ginsburg, as I noted previously, has long said that in her view this was a big mistake for women’s reproductive rights, and she has been proven correct. Roe has been subjected to successful attacks since it was decided. At this point it is a mere shell. Any restriction that doesn’t cause an “undue burden” is upheld by the court which finds almost no burdens undue. So in Beyond Roe, I say we have to start over, create a new movement for women’s human and civil rights to make their own childbearing decisions. That’s my challenge to the next generation.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:54 Gloria Feldt
3:56
AmieN:

Thank you Gloria and Sarah! Extremely inspiring words from both of you. Sarah, you have built a strong and powerful movement in SD clearly built on an allied vision and one that it seems is mirrored, somewhat, in teh common ground movement PResident Obama is also trying to build. Gloria, the challenge now is certainly to work wtih a younger generation on these issues while making sure they know and understand the history.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:56 AmieN
3:56
[Comment From MandyMandy: ]

I guess I would disagree with Sarah on her last point about a movement not existing until 2006+. I’m an activist in SD and myself and many others think that these bans and the way they were handled actually hurt our already-existent movement.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:56 Mandy
3:56
Gloria Feldt:

Sarah, you are so right. Litigation strategy is helpful in many ways, but especially now when the courts are owned lock, stock, and barrel by the right, litigation has limited value. The next wave is person by person, vote by vote, state by state.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:56 Gloria Feldt
3:57
[Comment From Marcy BloomMarcy Bloom: ]

Could we hear more from Mandy?

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:57 Marcy Bloom
3:58
Sarah Stoesz:

Thanks Gloria. It’s great to hear your voice through your words. Keep up the good work.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:58 Sarah Stoesz
3:58
Gloria Feldt:

So my parting shot to the younger folks in our movement is to keep true to your convictions and never stop fighting forward proactively. At the core of opposition to abortion and birth control is opposition to women’s independent moral agency. It’s our responsibility to move people toward greater support for women’s equality and justice. . That’s not easy. I know the temptation to narrow the argument is strong. But then if it were easy, they would have sent less capable people to do the job, right? JFK said about going to the moon,”We do this not because it’s easy but because it is hard.’

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:58 Gloria Feldt
3:59
AmieN:

Thank you, Gloria. Sarah do you have any parting thoughts? Thank you to Sarah and Gloria for their excellent work on behalf of the reproductive rights movement, for agreeing to spend part of the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade with us – at this moment in history. We clearly disagree in some ways on messaging and strategy but we all have a larger vision for a world in which women’s lives are respected and our status elevated. I hope we can continue the debate and discussion, respectfully and productively!

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:59 AmieN
3:59
Gloria Feldt:

And thanks Sarah for your kind words but more so for your leadership. It is truly a pleasure to share this conversation with you.

Thursday January 22, 2009 3:59 Gloria Feldt
4:01
Sarah Stoesz:

The important lesson is that we should never shy away from an attempt to have a debate about abortion before the electorate, even in conservative parts of the country. Abortion may be morally uncomfortable for some people, but very few want to ban it. We should embrace debate about abortion with our neighbors wherever we live, and never, ever be afraid to talk about it publically, as long as we are willing to listen to those who disagree with us.

Thursday January 22, 2009 4:01 Sarah Stoesz
4:02
AmieN:

And thank you to our readers and all who submitted questions and participated in the discussion. We are still working through the technology for these live-blog chats monthly. If you have questions, comments, complaints, suggestions, feel free to email us at editor@rhrealitycheck.org. We do want to hear from you! Gloria and Sarah, stay safe and thank you again for sharing your time and expertise with all of us!

Thursday January 22, 2009 4:02 AmieN
4:03
Gloria Feldt:

Thanks to all who participated. Onward.

Thursday January 22, 2009 4:03 Gloria Feldt
4:03
Sarah Stoesz:

Thanks so much.

Thursday January 22, 2009 4:03 Sarah Stoesz
4:04
AmieN:

A transcript of this discussion will be available shortly on the homepage of RH Reality Check! Thanks again, all!


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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.

And even more chilling, how about those anti-choice activists who trace the names and addresses of clinic patients–whether they are there for abortions or not–and send shaming letters to them at home? Or those who send threatening letters to the homes of pro-choice advocates who, say, use their freedom of speech to write a letter to the newspaper editor, or serve on the board of a pro-choice organization?

That’s why the richest irony for me was to see that James Bopp, formerly general counsel to the National Right to Life Committee, whose resume reads like a right-wing, anti-choice playbill, is now crying crocodile tears. Apparently, he thinks that sauce created by the goose should be outlawed when applied to the gander:

James Bopp Jr., a lawyer from Indiana who filed the lawsuit on the behalf of Protect Marriage, said the harassment of Proposition 8 supporters violated their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.

“The cost of transparency cannot be discouragement of people’s participation in the process,” said Mr. Bopp, who has argued several prominent cases challenging campaign-finance laws in California and other states. “The highest value in the First Amendment is speech, and some amorphous idea about transparency cannot be used to subvert those rights.”

Nuf said. Justice sometimes comes in like the fog, on little cat feet, silently reminding us that this extraordinary moment in our political history was worth all the travail, hard work, and sheer persistence that led up to it. It also makes clear that the job isn’t finished; there is yet more to be done to assure equality for all.

Now back to the pre-inauguration patter. And tomorrow, back to work.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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: a Journal of Ideas. DJ asked me to write the review as an essay about reproductive rights. I’m reprinting it here with their permission. It’s longish, but stay with me and let me know what you think!

Privacy Goes Public

Author Jane Smiley rightly observed that pregnancy is the most public of conditions. Check-out counter magazines flash baby bumps as routinely as they offer ten-minute meals. Whether Angelina Jolie or Bristol Palin, bump watch is rampant. Yet abortion, which in my experience of three decades on the frontlines of the reproductive justice movement is as much a part of making families as childbirth, rarely elicits so forthright a pop culture mention. The wildly popular movie “Juno” boasts hip, smart dialogue that glosses over the reality that a young woman’s life is unalterably changed by a pregnancy, no matter what option she chooses. The film “Knocked Up” reinforces the narrative that all a woman needs to find her bliss is any jerk of a man to get her pregnant and take her away from a meaningless high-powered professional life (abortion, meanwhile, is hardly mentioned—literally: The film referred to it euphemistically as “smashmortion”).

But if the realities of abortion are often overlooked, its potency as a political weapon for the right remains strong, despite well-deserved post-election euphoria that Americans—thanks to an seven percent female-tilted gender gap–elected a pro-choice president, 26 additional pro-choice members of Congress, and defeated three anti-choice ballot initiatives. We deserve to celebrate for about five minutes. Then there is much work to repair the Bush administration’s damage and continue the long march toward reproductive justice. Here’s the landscape.

Today, nearly half a century since the birth control pill arrived in 1960, contraception was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Griswold v. Connecticut decision in 1965, and pre-viability abortion was legalized by Roe v. Wade in 1973, the purposefulness of pregnancy among most women in America is sure evidence that many victories have been won. Yet these victories carried within them the seeds of their own demise, for they were not grounded in women’s moral and legal agency for which the law should provide protection equal to men’s—the right to one’s own life—but in a right never deemed an absolute value by the Court or the court of public opinion, the right to privacy.

Paradoxically, personal freedoms to make childbearing decisions privately had to be won through the political process. That’s how the state of a woman’s uterus became the most public of political battlegrounds. Griswold and Roe didn’t end the fight for dominance over women’s sexual and procreative lives; they started a new round. Look no further than the stringently anti-choice Sarah Palin to see how the right’s assault on reproductive privacy hoists even its own zealous advocate on its petard. Mother Palin insisted we respect her family’s privacy concerning her Down Syndrome baby and her 17-year-old daughter’s “choice” to continue her pregnancy and marry her high school boyfriend, while Candidate Palin campaigned on the draconian Republican platform to strip other women of their childbearing choices.

Like water on porous stone, the right has slowly eroded the vulnerable legal protections of Griswold and Roe. A cascade of more than 30 post-Roe Supreme Court decisions—starting with 1980’s Harris v. McRae (upholding the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on Medicaid abortion coverage) through Planned Parenthood v. Casey (allowing legislatures to restrict abortion in any way that does not create an “undue burden”)—laid a smooth path for 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart decision, which upheld the first ever federal abortion ban (misnamed the Partial Birth Abortion Act). The Roberts Court reversed its often-reaffirmed precedent that women’s health is paramount in abortion law, and it used anti-abortion code language to signal that it will likely allow states and Congress to limit women’s reproductive rights further. Even Barack Obama’s presidency can’t soon change the reality that lower Federal Courts are now dominated by anti-choice judges and the Supreme Court stands one unreliable Anthony Kennedy vote away from eviscerating Roe entirely; plus the oldest justices, most likely to retire to make way for Obama appointments, are those in the pro-choice bloc.

Roe has been de facto, if not technically, overturned. Carhart’s language drips with such disrespect for women that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg charged it “reflects ancient notions about women’s place.” Those ancient notions are alive and well today.

This year, emboldened by the juridical trend, abortion foes in Colorado revealed their endgame, proposing a state ballot initiative to create personhood rights for fertilized eggs from the moment of fertilization, flouting the medical definition of pregnancy (implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus) and making this fertilized egg more important in the law than the woman upon whose body it is wholly dependent. It would have outlawed not just abortion but also most hormonal birth control and IUD’s, since they can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. The measure was roundly defeated, helped by fissures between anti-choice groups that advocate incrementally chipping away at abortion and those that pitch the battle at its logical extreme, and by the extraordinary wind beneath Obama’s voter turnout wings. But if experience is any teacher, such measures will return and return again,

The egg debate has a silver lining. After decades of defending Roe, the women’s movement must address the question it has long avoided: the value of a woman and her life. Roe was a meaningful and necessary advance, but its grounding in privacy rights portended that it could not stand forever. It is well past time for the women’s movement, not just policy makers, to set a bold new agenda based on justice and human rights and secure the policies and social support that make rights meaningful.

Our Bodies, Our Crimes
Within this political context, society’s perverse focus on women’s reproductive capacity makes the subtitle of Jeanne Flavin’s book Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America ring very true. The book’s exploration from a feminist perspective of what lies beneath our baby-bump fixation could not be more timely. It’s easy to get mired in debates about abortion techniques, the fetus, or who is “fit” to be pregnant or to mother in the first place. But in reality, the argument, as Ginsburg pointed out, has always been about whether women will have an equal place in the world, and who controls the means of reproduction. Flavin pushes the reader to peel back layers of rhetoric. She lays bare what’s at stake for all women in this seemingly endless debate.

The book’s major sections are organized in reproductive terms: “Begetting,” “Bearing,” “Mothering.” Flavin documents how the maltreatment of women through judgments placed on their reproductive capacity, though frequently reduced in common parlance to the single word “abortion,” actually extend on a continuum from pre-conception through motherhood. This is an important framework within which to ask why such scrutiny, so often translating to oppressive gender-based policies and intrusion upon women’s bodily integrity, has pervaded our history.

To convince readers that “the patriarchal regulation of motherhood” deems a woman’s value to society to come mainly from her sexuality and reproductive capacity, Flavin uses the criminal justice system’s most extreme examples as measure and metaphor. “Our formal systems of criminal justice and public welfare,” she writes, “maintain invidious distinctions between bad women and girls and good ones, welfare recipients and workers, offenders and mothers.” The chapter entitled ‘“Liars and Whiners’: Incarcerated Women’s Right to Reproductive Health” tells one horrendous story after another, of legs shackled together during delivery, tubal pregnancy misdiagnosed as constipation or pelvic inflammation resulting in near death of the inmate, a delay of 18 months between breast cancer diagnosis and starting chemotherapy. Flavin documents the system’s poor reproductive health care practices, especially the lack of preventive care for pregnant women, as a case study of how society devalues women, punishing rather than supporting their reproductive capacity, and in the process harming the fetuses and children the system is supposedly protecting. She also illustrates, with powerful numbers, the system’s inherent racism: Black women are more than twice as likely as Hispanic women and over three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, and thus more likely to be subjected to deficient reproductive health care.

Few women have been to prison, to be sure. But the criminal justice system merely magnifies the disrespect for women’s ownership of their own bodies that permeates society as a whole: lack of access to basic reproductive health care, including contraception and screening for reproductive cancers for millions of uninsured women; barriers to finding and getting a safe abortion, especially if you are young, poor, or live in one of the 87 percent of counties that have no abortion providers; insurance plans that still don’t cover contraception; and the Supreme Court’s assumption that women are incapable of determining when they should carry a pregnancy to term so the state should decide for them. No other civil right is divisible by popular will. Americans either have the right to freedom of religion or they don’t. We don’t vote on this state by state. Why is it so different when it comes to women’s rights to their own bodily integrity?

As a description of what ails us, Our Bodies, Our Crimes offers convincing arguments. But it falls short of prescribing a cure. Though Flavin sounds a ringing plea for women’s empowerment as the desirable outcome, the book does not attempt to create a coherent action framework to get there. That left me morose rather than energized to right these wrongs. The package’s appearance exacerbates the depressing message of the author’s effectively made case: the dreary cover of a woman in handcuffs, the title and chapter titles (“Bad Mothers,” “Innocent Preborn Victims,” “Baby Killers”) repeat anti-choice images of women as criminals just for being women. To what end?

Time to Elevate the Debate

Interestingly, Our Bodies, Our Crimes is itself measure and metaphor for the most vexing strategic mistake made by the reproductive rights movement today: It does not effectively challenge the intellectual framework of those whose mission is to advance the patriarchal regulation of motherhood by stripping women of the hard-won right to make childbearing decisions. (Start with their usurping the term “pro-life,” a complete misnomer.)

As a result, pro-choice political leaders are failing to elevate the debate to a higher, human rights and justice-based value set. When Barack Obama was asked “at what point does a baby get human rights?” during a nationally televised interview with Reverend Rick Warren, he demurred, saying the answer was “above my pay grade.” In doing so, he illustrated the self-inflicted wounds incurred when a movement bases its arguments on the narrowest portions of justice that must be meted out to women to remain legal. Though Obama later acknowledged his answer had been too flippant,he uttered not a word about the woman’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, nor did he elevate the discussion, as he had done so eloquently with racism, to an examination of the sexism that puts all responsibility and blame for unintended pregnancy on women. And while he did allude to prevention, it turned out he meant helping women with resources to continue pregnancies and encouraging adoption. This despite being a cosponsor of the omnibus prevention bill, the Prevention First Act, and the Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify the right to decide whether or not to have a child (there are two sides to the procreation coin, after all) as a civil right, while tracking Roe’s guidelines for restrictions on post-viability abortions.

Such legislation is badly needed not only to restore liberties systematically carved away out of Roe, but also to shift the legal framework from one based on privacy to one based on equal protection. The language of the debate must be elevated accordingly, and advocates must create a steady stream of policy initiatives to protect and expand reproductive rights, health care access, and justice.

We might have John McCain to thank if these initiatives move forward in the new Congress. When he denigrated the notion of “women’s health” (the quotation marks represent his hand gestures as he uttered those ewey, nasty words during the final presidential debate), even complacent pro-choice and mushy middle voters were offended; it drove home how real the threats are to their own personal, ostensibly private, reproductive decisions. But such concern will only propel action if the movement is reinvigorated and courageous enough to take on core justice and equality issues so long submerged under the more palatable privacy and health concerns.

Privacy Good but Not Good Enough

In proposing the movement return almost to its beginning, it is important to take a step back and review why history unfolded as it did. Abortion wasn’t illegal during the early days of our country, and nostrums for pregnancy prevention and termination were widely advertised until, gradually during the nineteenth century, they became illegal state by state, largely to wrest control of women’s medical care away from (mostly female) midwives and give it to (mostly male) physicians. Opponents of birth control argued it would cause promiscuity, sterility, the demise of the family, and the end of the existing (male-dominated) social order.

The American birth control movement began early in the twentieth century, but was largely pamphleteering until Margaret Sanger committed civil disobedience by opening the first clinic in 1916. “No woman,” she said, “can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not become a mother.” Though the law was against her and she was promptly arrested, Sanger’s bold action began an era of step-by-step progress in birth control laws, technology, and public acceptance.

I entered the movement in 1974 as executive director of the fledgling West Texas Planned Parenthood affiliate, just as those who had been involved for years thought all the battles had been won. A woman could still be denied, or fired from, a job if she were to sport that telltale bump; still, it was a heady time. The second wave of the women’s movement was creating firsts for women in jobs, professions, and public life. All this was made possible by reliable birth control, symbolized by The Pill (always referred to in capital letters: The little pink contraceptive’s impact was that profound). It seemed so clear that when people can make babies as a conscious decision, then babies, and the women who birth them, become more highly valued by society. Or so we thought.

I learned on the job the admonition “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” applies to social movements as well as democracies. There were two near-fatal flaws in the otherwise rosy situation. First, the political mistake plaguing all social movements: they suffer the wages of winning. In a pluralistic democracy, no victory is safe from the next wave of activists who organize to champion competing policies. The energy tends to be with insurgents. And it’s an uphill battle to maintain the passionate advocacy that brought about reproductive rights victories.

Second, the platform of legal precedents upon which the Supreme Court built reproductive justice has always been less than sturdy. When the question of whether to legalize birth control came before them, the Court based Griswold v Connecticut on a penumbral right to privacy within the marital relationship, something not explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine, explains that since the Court hadn’t yet taken up gender equality issues in the early 1960’s, privacy was the best precedent it had to go on. It turned out to be a haunting rationale: Privacy is highly valued, to be sure, but pit the moral scales of privacy against life, and there is no contest (same with “choice,” though I have always thought the word “choice” could and should be rebranded to convey that choice is the basis for all morality). Roe v. Wade built upon that same right to privacy, sowing the seeds of culture wars so visceral they led Toobin to observe that since Roe, the Court has basically had only two kinds of cases, those about abortion and those not about abortion.

Despite a ringing affirmation of Roe’s notion of privacy concerning consensual gay sex in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas, both the rhetoric and the laws on women’s reproductive rights have been pushed so far backward that Roe’s remaining, fragile shell affords limited real protection. Privacy is a highly valued principle and a cornerstone of modern understanding of the limits of government intrusion, but it does not provide the same affirmation of the value of human life that reproductive self-determination and justice deserve.

In other words, there must be something more than privacy. And there is. A woman’s right to her own life and body has to be elevated to the moral position that supports a human rights framework. This framework must be translatable into civil rights-based legislation that gives access to relevant healthcare, education, supportive counseling, and economic justice, through policies that will be upheld by courts reshaped by presidents who speak without apology about the legitimacy of women’s reproductive self-determination,

What Obama’s Leadership Can Do

America stands at a crossroads for reproductive rights. It remains to be seen whether President Obama will take the way toward a proactive reproductive justice agenda. A pro-choice president does not necessarily equal pro-choice initiatives; Bill Clinton rescinded George H.W. Bush’s executive orders such as the Global Gag Rule, but he never aggressively pursued proactive legislation to expand access to reproductive health care or rights (at least without a great deal of prodding).

Obama should assume leadership on the new reproductive justice agenda, including but not limited to the Freedom of Choice Act, Prevention First Act, and inclusion of the full range of reproductive health care in any expanded or universal health plans. That will only happen if women’s movement constituencies demand it, supply a constant flow of sensible policy measures, and organize to support lawmakers and the president to pass them.

American society has changed dramatically since Roe, almost 36 years ago. What was once considered private is a very public issue again. The next phase of our long trajectory toward women’s full personhood requires that we build a movement anew from the ground up—person by person, state by state, vote by vote, step by step. . With an Obama administration in the lead and Congress tilting pro-choice, there’s a window of opportunity to declare, “Yes, we can!” achieve Flavin’s positive vision for “empowered women” who have real choices. Still, only we the people can determine whether the response resounds: “Yes we will!”

(c) Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Winter, 2009


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.