Abortion Rights


God Hates

God Hates

Dear M and S,

I do not ask for understanding, but comprehension.  You both have questions.  Some I’ve answered, insinuated, or obscured for the normal parental reasons.  I owe you, though, the story as I remember it so you may understand through comprehension how dangerous it is, even in the 21st Century, to contradict and undermine conventional thinking.  I hope our family’s historical facts illustrate our ongoing obligation to confront fundamental Pentecostal thinking so we move forward, not backwards.  I am now a mere four years younger than your grandfather when one blinded by fundamentalism and the hate it naturally engenders created a symbol of the man who you never knew.

I last saw my father on Sunday, 7 March 1993.  We did not see each other often, but we talked with relative frequency and were repairing a fairly entrenched rift in our relationship that began 10 years prior when he left our family for another woman after moving us—your grandmother, aunt, and I—to a shit small hovel of an antiquated old southern town in Alabama split between the poles of old blue blood southern aristocratic antebellum money and dirt floor poverty.  Dad came and stayed the weekend with me in Birmingham as he did infrequently.   Three days before his visit, I’d had my wisdom teeth removed.  He called, as he was want to do, late in the afternoon on Thursday or Friday and announced he was coming into town and would be staying with me.  It was a conversation like any other and I don’t recall any real detail other than he was coming.

I know he stayed over at least Saturday and Sunday 6 and 7 March 1993.  I have no memories whatsoever of Saturday night; yet, I do vividly remember Sunday dinner, can still see the round wooden table and mismatched chairs I took from home when I moved away in 1989, and know we grilled cow protein of some form or another—it was probably a New York Strip as I’d not developed an appreciation for the rib eye yet.  Due to the recent dental surgery, the steak, though cooked appropriately, was difficult to chew which made it more difficult to swallow.  We enjoyed our meal, some more than others, while Billie Holliday gently but huskily sang in the background.  Our conversation drifted from school, to my sister—she was 17 and in the final days of her senior year, to politics—President Clinton had just been inaugurated, to my progress in school, and to his work.

Dad explained the protesters were becoming ever more aggressive and confrontational. The few protesters I personally encountered a few years prior when I traveled the circuit with dad were the typical abortion porn sign holders and silent layers of hands. In my teen years, I found his weekly schedule nothing but normal though it took him from our small town hell to Columbus, Georgia then to Montgomery, Alabama, then to Mobile, Alabama, and finally to Pensacola, Florida only to resume anew the next week.  Other kids’ parents traveled so what was so different about his schedule?  I did not figure out until much later that he made this circuit because no one else would.  I certainly never took it a logical step further and deeper to ask why no other local doctor in Columbus, Montgomery, Mobile, and/or Pensacola serviced these clinics.  It was my normal and I was 14 when I first started driving him on some of his trips; yet, as we discussed the present situation, I noticed he seemed preoccupied.  We finished our meal, drained a few more beers, and awoke March 8 and said our goodbyes.

I was aware clinics were bombed in the past and even asked him once if he ever worried about one of the clinics he serviced getting attacked.  He reassuringly told me it did not concern him, and he went on with his day.  Over the weekend of his last visit, though, I thought about the heightened protests, and the ever increasing threats of violence; additionally I remembered my mom calling me one afternoon about a year before this final visit to tell me strangers were in town passing out wanted posters of dad which included his weekly schedule.  When that incident occurred, he again brushed off our concern and said he was not preoccupied with the actions of some crazies.

That Monday morning, prior to seeing him off for the last time, I confronted him about the posters, the renewed threats, and told him I was scared for his safety.  Dad finally told me he had been carrying a gun for a few years, that he suspected he was being followed frequently, and that a strange protester approached him that previous Friday (would have been 5 March) while he was in the car leaving the clinic in Pensacola heading my way.  He said this man had an eerie look about him and spoke to dad through his car window while staring deeply at him with glazed long staring maniacal eyes.  I remember asking when the stalking started, and he indicated it had been going on at least as long as the wanted poster’s origination about a year or so earlier.  I asked if he considered quitting the circuit and going back to less controversial OB/GYN care.  He told me if he stopped, it would be difficult to find a replacement and he was committed to his patients.  He left headed south, and for the first time I admitted to myself that he had a dangerous job and as anyone whose parent has a dangerous job, I wrapped myself in the warmth and security of “not mine”, “not this time”, and drank the Lethean water temporarily cooling my angst and trepidation.

I spoke with your grandfather again on 9 March 1993.  We did not discuss anything specific.  I was preparing for exams; he was in another of the endless line of hotel rooms and sounded lonely.  Sadly, our terminal conversation was brief and unremarkable.  He indicated he was well and heading to Pensacola, and I told him to be safe.  In retrospect he seemed to hang on the line as though he did not want the conversation to end; yet, neither of us could find a way to carry it forward.

I drove to class the next morning on what was, otherwise, an exceedingly peaceful and beautiful spring day in Birmingham.  I’ve always preferred living in Birmingham than other cities as it is big enough to provide some degree of needed anonymity; yet, small enough to retain remnants of its prior smallness which is both sides of the pole simultaneously.  As I was studying for a Semantics class, dad was driving to work.  As I got into my car to head home, he was very likely getting out of his for the last time.

You guys have never seen a real answering machine as far as I know since everyone has digital voicemail these days.  In ’93 you were lucky to have the kind with a microcassette (I’ll explain that later) that was the size of a stereo component.  I don’t recall who checked the messages on the afternoon of 10 March—my at the time girlfriend or me—but I remember thinking it odd to get a message from my grandmother in the middle of the week in the middle of the day.  It was an altogether cryptic but clear message.  She simply said “call me when you get home.”  Both of you are still too young to know there are certain messages you don’t want to return.  I don’t mean the messages from people you’ve left behind or don’t want to talk with at that particular moment, but the messages from family purposely ambiguous so you are intrigued enough, but not too scared, to return the call as soon as you hear the message.  Of course I sensed something was wrong, and, logically, I feared it involved dad.

Dad called me one night in January surprisingly upbeat and happy sounding.  It was the night of the 20th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision (Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion as you may or may not know when you read this; I’ll get to abortion proper later), and he actually to and was genuinely excited to share his day with me.  First, he said someone from Rolling Stone magazine contacted him recently looking to do a profile on his experience as one of the few Southern abortion providers; secondly, he told me how he had finally had enough of the protesters and their bullshit.  He then described how he sang “Happy Birthday to You” at the protesters outside one of the clinics in Montgomery and in the penultimate verse added, “happy birthday dear Roe v. Waaaade.” He subsequently aimed a small boom box at those gathered outside the clinic and played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” singing loudly along.

For some reason, I thought of this event as well as the suspicious protestor dad described over the weekend as I returned my grandmother’s call.  When she answered, I immediately knew what I suspected was true; yet, we had to play out the charade.  I asked her why she called.  She asked if I had seen the news.  I told her I had been at school studying.  She said good.  I asked why.  She then told me what I intuitively knew.  “Your dad was shot,” she said and I could hear her sadness as she said it.  I asked if he was ok thinking people survive gun shots routinely.  She told me he wasn’t and that he died e route to the local hospital.  She said she was sorry, that she loved me, and asked that I call my mom.

One day both of you will confront my mortality.  Let’s hope it is much longer than four years from now when I’ll be 47 which is how old your grandfather was when he died.  I know that seems old, but it is really very young, and when you hit forty, you’ll both realize how young it is.  My desire is you are prepared for it and it doesn’t pounce on you from behind a corner while you’re busy reading some goddamned semantics notes.

I drove to my mother’s house where some friends and my sister had gathered.  We hugged, cried, and watched cable news run the story of dad’s death and label him “the first abortion doctor to be murdered” ad infinitum.  You have to contextualize the nature of the event and times to truly understand.  On one really used the internet, e-mail was barely in anyone’s vocabulary, and few people had cell phones.  CNN was the only 24 hour news source (it’s hard to conceive of life without Fox, but it was pleasantly non-existent at the time).  Abortion clinic violence was still considered fresh news and had not yet matured and then expired.  In laymen’s terms, your grandfather’s assassination was a big fucking deal, and was the news for days, months, and years as more doctors and nurses in the abortion field died violently.  Cable news still had some decency about the images they showed, or they were simply too late to get images of your grandfather’s body.  The image I recall from that spring day is a shot of his bloodstained glasses disfigured and broken in the grass where his body most assuredly fell.

Within hours of the killing, my mother’s phone started an interminable ringing which would not abate for months.  On the other end of the line was a New York Times reporter looking for comment.  I considered whether or not we wanted to talk, I had mixed feelings of surprise and anger at being asked for comment on the day I found out my dad was dead, and I had no idea what to do given our family’s life capsized, up righted, capsized, and sank in the span of a few hours that afternoon.  We had large issues confronting us:  burial, finances, familial relations, loss, and grief, and it was overwhelming to add media and politics into the mix.  Initially, I wanted to simply hang up on the woman from the Times; yet, I remembered how joyful dad was when he thought someone was finally going to tell his story and write about the insane conditions under which he worked all at the hands of fundamentalists.  I also remembered his calm happiness when he relayed the events of 22 January 2010 and how he joyously sang in defense of his profession and services.  I made a decision, asked for the reporter’s name and number, and said I’d call her back later as we had other pressing needs to address.

I always wondered if the protester dad described to me the weekend before he died was Michael Griffin, the man who assassinated your grandfather.  If so, he looked into the eyes of his assassin five days before he struck, and it was the last time he looked into his eyes as Griffin attacked from behind too cowardly to face the person he hated, stalked, and still feels deserved to die.  I am still convinced others were involved in dad’s assassination.  There was an organized protest in front of the clinic the day

Griffin struck, and the organizer of the protest had witnessed to Griffin in the weeks leading up to the assassination.  This self styled minster had an effigy of your grandfather in his garage, and I do not doubt he influenced or seduced Griffin to take his violent action.  I will tell you more about these events as I continue the story.

To this day I cannot forget the image of his glasses. I also continue to celebrate his fine voice which was inspiring to me personally and has proven inspirational to others.  I am now the dad where I once was the son, and it is my obligation and duty to pass this history on to you so, perhaps, in some minor way, it helps  you understand the essence and roots of hatred as well as how one fine voice can make all the difference if you simply sing out.

With love

PS. The title was taken from Treblinka by Jean Francois Steiner

Abortion

Abortion

Speaking bluntly, I believe our nation is deeply conflicted about a woman’s body, especially her reproductive organs. While this conflict can be traced to a Platonic duality of mind and body whereby a man and his mind is valued as superior to a woman and her body, the ensuing cultural impact has situated man as subject/actor and woman as object/acted upon. In the United States, this duality is particularly curious because our nation embraces the value of autonomy as reflected in broad social and political changes of the voting rights for women, the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism and constitutional right to abortion for women. But, a cursory review of media research illustrates this duality in media’s ambivalence toward women who are too thin or too thick, casting them, respectively, as either deviant or normal or in media’s proliferation of make-over television programs for (mostly) women who fail to conform to socially constructed notions of beauty. Brenda Cowlishaw*  warns that we can easily fail to notice its controlling, limiting, structuring presence because of the ubiquity of the subject-object binary in modern western thought. Amused and amazed by entertainment, we often ignore the hegemonic forces that view white, heterosexual males as authority figures and render others as less. Her warning is relevant for the argument I want to make in this post. Despite years of progress toward full citizenship, women’s bodies are increasingly under the panopticon of male regulation and control regarding their reproductive organs, which, consequently, diminishes a woman’s subjectivity and full citizenship. Managing women’s reproductive organs is enacted through gender management called paternalism. As Gurevich**** explains, gender management, in the form of paternalistic body regulation and control, is a way to benevolently limit women’s freedom through social regulation for her own protection. And there’s historical precedence for regulating and controlling women’s bodies, much as we controlled the bodies of slaves, from popular culture’s expectations to the Supreme Court’s rulings to various presidencies and state legislators discourse. I’ll begin with an overview of the expressions of ambivalence toward women’s bodies and continue with a brief overview of the function of legal proceedings then move to Supreme Court’s paternalistic discourse in the Roe v Wade decision and then finish with current discourse about how paternalism impacts women’s bodies in the abortion war.

Ambivalence over Women’s Reproductive Organs

People often freely assert their opinions and policies about a woman’s bodies, particularly her breasts, her uterus, her ovaries and fallopian tubes, and her labia and vagina. Recall the local kerfuffles that have occurred in various municipalities over public breastfeeding or the intrusive school policies against young schoolgirls displaying excessive cleavage or the lingerie manufacturers’ padded bras designed to eliminate the stigmatized nipple. These kerfuffles are more easily recognized as absurd politics when framed against popular culture’s enthusiastic support of film and television representations of female cleavage and full frontal nudity or the tolerance of the multi-billion dollar pornography industry.

A woman’s labia and vagina are another part of anatomy for which there seems to be much conflict. While it’s hard to forget the public outrage and titillation when actress Sharon Stone revealed a crotch shot in Basic Instincts, it’s easy to recall the derogatory terms (like pussy, sugar jar, cunt, bearded clam, beaver, camel toe) people use describe this female territory. The current cosmetic surgery offering, labial reconstruction, illustrates the assumed flaw with a woman’s anatomy. According to most plastic surgery web sites, the procedure is meant to rejuvenate the structure and appearance of a woman’s genitalia.  But the message is clear: Your labia and vagina are disgusting. Despite this disgust, it seems important to point out that most of us have made the trip through a woman’s vagina on the first day of our life. Pardon my pointing out the ick factor of your birth.

As for ovaries and fallopian tubes, little media coverage, popular expressions or snarky remarks are made about them. Think about it. When was the last time you heard a joke about a fallopian tube? When did you share a snarky remark about some woman’s ovaries? But, let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that these body parts are unimportant. Two examples should suffice to illustrate their importance to my argument. First, if a young woman, say 24 years old, requests a tubal ligation because she has no interest in becoming pregnant, she will encounter resistance and, often, disappointment because physicians are disinclined to oblige believing that they know better than the woman knows herself. “She might change her mind about becoming a mother,” the thinking goes. Second, ovaries and fallopian tubes are key players in producing viable eggs and in transporting a fertilized egg to the uterus for implantation. This second action is all too often overlooked in the war of the womb, the site of normal implantation. So, let’s give accolades to the ovaries and fallopian tube then pause to ponder the common denominator in this national angst over these body parts.

The common denominator, I argue, is gender management through paternalism. In examining how legal strategies use gender narratives about defendants who are mothers, Liena Gurevich**** calls gender management a form of paternalistic body regulation and control to benevolently limit women’s freedom through social regulation for her own protection. We can look to the function and discourse of legal proceedings to unpack the power of paternalistic regulation and control.

Legal Institutions as Bastions of Male Power and Control

Consider that legal institutions and their proceedings are forms of governance and normalization to maintain the social and political order and advancement of the interests of professional groups. Simply put, they are bastions of male power and control So, to name two examples, legal decisions have drawn, in the past, on the standards of moral purity with the enforcement of the Comstock Laws against birth control for married couples until Griswold v. Connecticut invalidated the law. The decision that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade, is another example of male power. Often viewed as a legal decision to give women a choice about reproductive options, Roe v. Wade, written by Justice Blackmun, framed the decision as inherently and primarily a medical decision with basic responsibilities resting on the physician. As Katie Gibson** has noted, the decision has two central constructs that justified his decision: “a controlling ‘doctor knows best’ philosophy and the characterization of the ‘woman-as-patient’ in the apotheosis of medicine. Decades later, we see again the courts deference to male authority and the subjugation of women’s agency. In fact, in a more recent article, Katie Gibson*** claims that Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion in the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart conveys that majority decision was profoundly wrong and also exposed the law as an instrument of patriarchy led by the Roberts’ rightward leaning court.

Today, the discourse circulating in all levels of legislative activities denies agency to women (particularly if pregnant), confers rights to a rapist over the rights of a woman, compares the fetus to the slave who needs to be rescued while symbolically annihilating the woman, conflates consent to sex to consent to pregnancy and scorns the sexuality of women as shameful and deserving of retribution. In 2013, despite years of progress toward full citizenship, women’s bodies are increasingly under the panopticon of male regulation and control regarding their reproductive organs, which, consequently, diminishes a woman’s subjectivity. Comparing the man or woman who was in the involuntary servitude of the slave owner to women forced into involuntary servitude to the fetus, Kuswa, Achter & Lauzon**** conclude that the state has no justification to exert biopower. The paternalistic rhetoric, that slavery was good for the slaves, that slave owners were benevolent in exposing their superior culture, finds resonance in the management of women’s reproductive organs through the regulation and control to benevolently limit women’s freedom through social regulation for her own protection.

For Her Own Protection

Benevolently limiting women’s reproductive freedom through social regulation for her own protection is evident in targeted regulation of abortion providers that require ambulatory surgical standards such as wide hallways, hospital admitting privileges, drinking fountains and state-mandated (mis)information called counseling. The smokescreen, that these regulations are mandated to protect women, is bogus. These regulations do nothing to facilitate access to abortion, do nothing to ensure a doctor’s quality healthcare, do nothing to improve the lives of women, and do nothing to protect the universality of human rights for women. More to the point, laws against abortion are a form of sex discrimination, a heinous attempt to essentialize woman-as-womb and a de facto denial of women’s full citizenship.

Citations

* Cowlishaw, B. (2001). Subjects are from Mars, objects are from Venus: Construction of the self in self-help. Journal of Popular Culture, 35(1), 169-184.

**Gibson, K. (2008). The rhetoric of Roe v. Wade: When the (male) doctor knows best. Southern Communication Journal, 73 (4), 312-331.

***Gibson, K. (2012). In defense of women’s rights: A rhetorical analysis of judicial dissent. Women’s Studies in Communication, 35, 123-137.

****Gurevich, L. (2008). Patriarchy? Paternalism? Motherhood discourses in trials of crimes against children. Sociological Perspectives, 51(3), 515-539.

*****Kuswa, K., Achter, P., & Lauzon, E. (2008). The slave, the fetus, the body: articulating biopower and the pregnant woman. Contemporary Argumentation & Debate, 29, 166-185.

If you have been following my recent posts, you know I am supporting the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride set to kick off on 23 July 2013 in New York City and San Francisco.  I discussed this summer’s action with a number of people I respect, and there is a divide in the abortion rights community on whether or not it is wise to embark on this action.  I did not reach the decision to support and join with the Riders without giving the decision due diligence; nor, did I neglect to consider the multiple outcomes of the action.

When facing a dichotomous debate among two sides of the community, two camps who should be working together toward common goals, I ask myself now as I did in the past, What Would Dad Do?  Would he shrink back into the shadows, rely solely on private action and influence, or would he advocate, and actually engage in, direct action and response to those who tormented, stalked, and eventually killed him?  Obviously, we know the answer:  he did not back down!  As I wrote a couple of posts ago, I also cannot and will not back down.

Upon the 20th year after my dad’s murder by a Christian terrorist, as we face continued threat of violence, and as state after state passes draconian anti abortion legislation, I reflect not only on what my dad would do but also consider the words of Yeats:

Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.

Knowing I will be appalled by remaining silent, I resolved the vacillation by opting to support what I believe is the right course of action.  To that end, I co-authored a piece on the merits and need of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride with one of its primary organizers Sunsara Taylor.  I want to share with you our recent missive so perhaps more of us will come together on the need for direct, vocal, and mass support our clinics, our doctors, and our rights

Abortion Rights Are At a Crossroads:
This is NOT a Time to Lay Low – It is Time for Massive Uncompromising Struggle!

By Sunsara Taylor and David Gunn, Jr.
July 12, 2013

Across the country, people are waking up to the state of emergency facing the right to abortion. As legislators in Texas push hard to close down 37 of 42 abortion clinics statewide, new laws in North Carolina would close four of their five remaining clinics. Meanwhile, Ohio’s recently passed budget could close as many as three abortion clinics. North Dakota, on August 1st, may become the first state to effectively ban abortion. Already Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is merely an appellate ruling away from closure. We could go on.

If we do not reverse this trajectory now, we will condemn future generations of women and girls to forced motherhood, to lives of open enslavement, terror, and life-crushing shame. Women will be forced to have children they do not want, trapping them in abusive relationships, driving them into poverty, forcing them out of school, and extinguishing their dreams. Women will go to desperate and dangerous measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies, once again flooding emergency rooms and turning up dead women in cheap motels with blood caked between their legs.

We face two divergent roads: Either we seize control of the debate and reset the terms and whole trajectory of this fight; or we continue down the road of “established conventional wisdom,” only to awaken before long to an unrecognizable and untenable situation for women. What each of us does matters,and matters tremendously.

It is in this context that we initiated an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Our echo of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides is intentional and fitting. Women who cannot decide for themselves if and when they have children are not free. On the contrary, they are mere child-bearing chattel whose purpose is to serve and not actively chose their destinies.

Volunteers on this Freedom Ride will caravan from both coasts to North Dakota, traverse through the middle of the country into Wichita, and head due south to Jackson, Mississippi. Our aim is threefold: one, we must move beyond localized fights andlauncha national counter-offensive; two, we must radically reset the political, moral, and ideological terms of this fight so that millions understand that this fight is about women’s liberation or women’s enslavement; lastly, and of paramount importance, we must call forth the mass independent political resistance that is necessary to defeat this war on women.

As the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride evolved from conception to genesis, many have responded by with enthusiastic and unequivocal support. Regular people from across the country as well as those who have been on the front lines of the abortion rights struggle are joining with us in demanding abortion rights without compromise and thanking us for daring to travel to where women’s rights face harshest threat.

However, some who share our passion for the cause have raised concerns and even opposition to this action. They fear the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride will be too confrontational, too vociferous for abortion, and may turn off avenues of support.
Some have argued that it is wrong for people to come into local areas from the outside. Others argue that mass political protest will endanger the chances of winning important court cases and that it is better to rely on official channels of politics.

Because the future of women is at stake, we feel it is critical to address these concerns head on. In fact, it is exactly the faulty logic at the root of these concerns that has contributed to all of us finding ourselves in such a dire situation.

First, while local ground conditions are different and unique in some ways, the fact that every clinic and every state is facing heightened assault is not unique nor is it local. We all face a national assault on abortion rights which requires a national counter-offensive. Not only is it utterly immoral for us to abandon the women living in the states most under direct duress, it is delusional to think that what happens in states like Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Kansas will not come soon to a theater near you. Our futures are bound together and we all share the responsibility to take this on and turn the tide where the attacks are the most severe.

Second, while it is true that a great many people – including many who support abortion rights – are defensive about abortion, they should not be ashamed and this defensiveness and shame is precisely something we must eradicate.

Among the reasons many are defensive about abortion are decades of propaganda by those who oppose women’s equality but posture as defenders of “babies”; meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights have too often been conciliatory, muted, and compromising. This must stop. This fight has never been about babies. It has always been about controlling women. This is why there is not a single major anti-abortion organization that supports birth control.

If we want to turn the tide, we have to tell the truth: there is absolutely nothing wrong with abortion. Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators.

A great many people are hungry for this message. They are furious and searching for a meaningful vehicle to make their outrage felt. It is only by asserting the positive morality of abortion rights that we can call forth and mobilize the tens of thousands who already share our resolve. Only through direct action and a polemical shift can all of us stand together and change how millions of others are thinking. Shouldn’t this emergency situation awaken us to the need to change public opinion, not accommodate it?

History has proven that directly confronting oppressive social norms can be disruptive and scary; yet, it is a necessary and uplifting part of making any significant positive change. Many argued that it was wiser for LGBT people to stay closeted until society was more accepting; others counseled against the Civil Rights Freedom Rides out of fear that it would only rile up the opposition, but it was only when people took that risk and got “in your face” that broader public opinion and actions began to change.

We must create a situation where being anti-abortion is seen to be as socially unacceptable as it is to advocate lynchings, anti-LGBT violence, or rape (although, if you listen to some on the Right, rape advocacy is not necessarily off their table).When we reach that summit, we will be on our way to turning the tide.

Third, while court cases are important – even essential – it is only through truly massive independent political struggle that we stand a chance at defeating the truly unyielding and powerful foe we face. Every setback the anti-abortion movement experiences only makes them more determined and every victory only makes them more aggressive. They will not be appeased if we lie low. No court case or election or new law will stop them. Not only has the existing power structure proven unwilling or unable to do so, people who believe they are on a “mission from God” are not bound by human laws and do not yield to public opinion.

But they can be defeated. Forced motherhood is deeply opposed to the interests of humanity. If we get out there and tell the truth, if we resist, if we clarify the stakes of this battle, and if we mobilize wave upon wave of the masses to get off the sidelines and into the streets with us, we can win. There is a tremendous reservoir of people who can and must be called forth to join in this struggle. We have seen this vividly in Texas. Let us not underestimate the potential that exists in every state across this country.

We stand at a crossroads. For the future of women everywhere, let us refuse the worn pathways that have allowed us to lose so much ground. We must not lay low, hope these attacks will blow over, and allow women in some parts of the country to be forced into mandatory motherhood while hoping to preserve the rights of a shrinking few. We cannot continue to foster the attitude that abortion is the 21st Century’s Scarlet Letter while allowing abortion providers to be further stigmatized and demonized. We cannot recoil from the massive fight that urgently needs fighting at this moment in this time.

Now is the time for courage, for truth telling, for stepping out and launching an uncompromising counter-offensive. We have right on our side. We call on everyone who cares about the future of women to join with us in strengthening the national impact and influence of this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Join with us at our kick-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco in July 23. Caravan to meet us in North Dakota, Wichita, Kansas, and Jackson, Mississippi. Send a donation or a message of support. Reach out to individuals and religious communities that can provide safe passage to the courageous individuals who are giving up their summers and putting everything they have into winning a different and far better future for women. Most importantly, let us together take the rough road to victory. It may be less traveled, but only through struggle can we reap the benefits of love’s labor won.

To learn more about and get involved with the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, go to: http://www.stoppatriarchy.org/

Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution Newspaper (revcom.us) and is an initiator of the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org)

David Gunn, Jr. is the son of David Gunn, Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion gunman, and blogs for Abortion.ws

It’s hard to deny that we are becoming a visually mediated society. The power of visuals to (mis)inform, persuade and threaten is evident particularly when iconic photographs are considered for their power to expose the truths of local and global catastrophes, wars and social unrest. Nick Ut’s Accidental Napalm, and Kevin Carter’s Struggling Girl are images that produce certain truths but they also produce a moral conundrum. Showing these images are representations of reality but they also alienate the public. In fact, the circulation of Accidental Napalm has been considered a pivotal turning point against the horrors of Vietnam War while Struggling Girl forced the world to see the plight of the starving. More recently, Richard Drew’s September 11, 2001 Falling Man was subjected to criticism for being too offensive to publish and for revealing the immorality of the photographer and the news sources entrusted to uphold societal values. Falling Man is troubling because, while it reveals a truth about the World Trade Center attacks, it also exploits the human dignity and privacy of a man and moves us to question the propriety of such a display.  The representation of images have ethical implications in that they are a kind of truth that can be shown but can never tell the whole story. It is with this notion of  (mis)representations that I want to address three lessons about the power of visuals and recommend using visuals in a more provocative, yet enlightening campaign—as a proposal for the 21st century.

Lesson One

The first lesson addresses this tension between propriety and morality for photographers and for activists who choose to capture and use spectacular images of human beings. For example, for antiabortionists, any propriety about displaying mutilated human fetal images is easily set aside out of concern for a larger moral purpose. In fact, in the antiabortion movement, there are those who use grotesque fetal images that, while inducing both empathy and disgust, raise ethical questions about the public display of these dead bodies. Antiabortion activists promote and distribute these visual materials based on a premise that once Americans see images of abortion, they will reject abortion. And while legal debates over the right to display such images erupt on state-run university campuses, outside the walls of progressive churches and, of course, outside the perimeters of abortion clinics, the majority views these prurient displays as morally repugnant and potentially harmful to young children.

Lesson Two

GOP StupidA second lesson is drawn from campaign materials of the antiabortion activists’ use of mutilated fetuses and from the 2012 presidential election.  Both campaigns ignore an essential element—women. While Republicans fell on their collective swords with their anti abortion and rape rhetoric, the so-called prolife crowd (majority Republican) continued with their fetal fetish worship. In hindsight, the lesson is clear. Don’t ignore women and their rights.

Lesson Three

The third lesson addresses the failure of media to address some of the most fundamental and important issues that half the world’s population—women—face. Corporate media, held hostage by capitalistic greed, flourishes on a diet of sensationalism and entertainment. For example, recent news reports focused on Angelina Jolie’s mastectomies but ignored the science about environmental toxins (caused by unbridled, irresponsible industries) that are known causes of cancer. The news of her surgical decision also ignored the enormous costs of media’s relentless messages to young girls and women that their breasts are accessories for voyeuristic entertainment and men’s physical and sexual pleasure. Jolie’s story also ignores a very powerful human right—to be empowered to make a tough choice about her own body.

In another media ruckus over the accessibility of Plan B emergency contraception—political brouhaha about other-the-counter access, age limits and state-issued identification as proof of age—the stories failed to point out the cozy relationship that politics and pharmaceuticals play, failed to address the importance of emergency contraception to those who need it most, and failed to address the personal, social and economic consequences when emergency contraception isn’t available. As with Angelina Jolie’s story about making the choice to prevent cancer, the story about unfettered access to Plan B means women have the choice to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.  But corporate media seldom acknowledges a woman’s agency unless she’s a celebrity.

A Proposal

In the spirit of Jonathan Swift, I propose a 21st century campaign that speaks directly to real women’s lives—the on-the-ground reality of women as they attempt to hold up half the sky.  To begin, I suggest that legislators draft laws that require obstetricians, crisis pregnancy centers and abortion clinics recite narratives with accompanying displays of women killed by unsafe and illegal abortions, with displays of bodies that succumbed to pregnancy-related deaths, and with bodies who, devastated by post partum depression, committed suicide. While it may sound too far-fetched, consider that there are currently laws that dictate what doctors in abortion clinics tell their clients. In particular, there are numerous states that require that physicians provide specific information about fetal development, pregnancy options, abortion complications, and about voluntary, non-coercive decision making about abortion. Euphemistically called A Woman’s Right to Know, the law is the ironic work of conservative legislators—the very same conservative who cry “I don’t want big government coming in and telling me what to do with my healthcare” but actually want big government to tell doctors what they can do to women. So, the precedence is in place for legislators to continue practicing reproductive medicine without any education or without a professional license. Despite the long-standing tradition of fully accredited abortion clinics providing comprehensive counseling about pregnancy options, state legislators use their bully pulpit to impose their morality on others with these laws. What these right-to-know tactics ignore are the realities of illegal abortions and complications of pregnancy. So, it’s appropriate to suggest that legislators enact laws to more fully inform women with a new campaign.

A proposal such a mine would comb the world for images of the approximately 219 women who die worldwide each day from an unsafe abortion. With that many images of dead women, there would be plenty of material to use in pamphlets and in educational materials. Such a visual bounty would provide a deliciously, deadly assortment to post on blogs and to add to the Op Ed sections of local newspapers. As with the antiabortion activists who wear their fetal focused messages around their neck, counter protesters could sport an image of a woman in a blood-soaked bed with RoeEndWomenDyingthe words “Keep Abortion Safe” written in large letters. The thought of such a poster borders on pornographic, unethical and downright obscene. And while such a poster aligns with antiabortion impropriety, at least it’s honest in demonstrating the truth about women who want and need but cannot access safe and legal abortions. Perhaps we could further underscore the situation by showing all the children left motherless because safe abortion is not available.

At the very least, the displays should show the very real complications of illegal  abortions with up-close-and-personal representations of pelvic abscess, septicemia, lacerated cervix, perforated bowel, exsanguination, and gangrene. And should anyone charge that these images are obscene, recall that obscenity laws cover material that deals with sex in a manner appealing to prurient interest, i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts.  A dead woman’s gangrenous bowel or an exsanguinated body certainly cannot be considered titillating. In an effort to ensure a woman’s right to know, as so many conservatives are determined to legislate, a campaign such as this would more fully inform women of all the potential harms.

Let’s face it. The antiabortion activists use fetal images, as they claim, to expose the injustice of abortion. In reality, their images are a misogynistic attempt to shame women and to alter the realities of safe abortion for religious and political dogma. On the other hand, a display of women’s mutilated and dead bodies would expose the discriminatory, immoral violations of their human rights including the dishonorable reality, specific to the United States, that

  • this nation is 19out of 134 countries in terms of gender equality
  • this nation is 50th in world for maternal health
  • 68,000 women nearly die in childbirth annually
  • 1.7 million women suffer a complication that has an adverse effect on their health
  • the annual maternal morbidity is currently between 500-600 deaths

Equally important to my proposed campaign would be evidence of the endless attack on women’s reproductive rights through targeted regulations against abortion providers, through defunding of family planning services, through state-directed funneling of monies to (mostly religiously-affiliated) crisis pregnancy centers, through imprisonment and subsequent poor treatment of pregnant women (often resulting in miscarriage, preterm delivery and poor birth outcomes including neonatal death), through the rise of sexual assaults in the military and through the silent war being waged against poor women through cuts in Medicaid for abortions, cuts in state support (food stamps and welfare ) after one year and cuts in Head Start programs. Finally, a Google map of the United States using hyperlinks could locate the draconian politicians’ current laws as well as proposed legislation to further obstruct or outlaw access to abortion and contraception. Further details of such a map should include their political party affiliation, their religious affiliations and their financial supporters (such as PACs).

Religion_PoliticsMy modest proposal would visually depict the inexcusable health and human rights violations that occur due to the corrosive effects from religion, corporate greed, politics, military and government obstructionism for women of reproductive age, particularly for the poor in urban and rural areas, for minority women, and for those with limited or no access to health care. My campaign would be a much-needed corrective for media’s drive for entertainment and sensationalism, programming that’s foisted on the public as relevant and objective.  Moreover, my proposal would illustrate the true nature of the conservative, right wing as misogynistic, anti-science, anti-medicine and anti-woman.

It’s a modest proposal that I’d like to think Jonathan Swift would admire.

Dr. David Gunn

Dr. David Gunn

I met David Gunn, Jr. about ten days after his father was assassinated by an anti-abortion terrorist.

Doctor David Gunn performed abortions at several clinics throughout the Southeast.  He was what they called a “circuit rider,” driving every day through Georgia, Florida and Alabama to provide abortion services to women in need.  On March 10, 1993 his destination was the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services clinic.   After parking his worn out car, he climbed out and headed for the back entrance to the clinic to avoid the protestors out front.  But standing right there was Michael Griffin, a relatively new anti-abortion protestor, and as Gunn passed him Griffin took out a pistol and fired into Doctor Gunn’s back, killing him instantly.

The murder made instant national news because it was the first time that a doctor who performed abortions had been murdered because he was “killing babies.”

Abortion

Abortion

Of course, the news services put out a wide net to find anyone who was close to the players involved in this terrible tragedy.  And without hesitation, one of those people came forward:  David Gunn, Jr.  His message was very simple:  there was an anti-abortion conspiracy to kill abortion doctors and the Clinton Administration needed to do more to prevent this from happening again.

David was an instant “media star.”   His waist-length hair immediately caught your eye.  When he spoke to the camera, his soulful eyes enraptured the audience.  He was soft spoken, not a rabble-rouser and his pronounced stutter made him even more compelling when he spoke.  Over the next few weeks, he was a constant presence on all of the news shows.

Anti Choice Christian Terrorist

Anti Choice Christian Terrorist

I met David the day before we were scheduled to appear on “The Donohue Show.”  We had a nice dinner the night before and he struggled to talk about his Dad.  It was clear that by that time he was already exhausted from all of the media appearances, but he was willing to push on “for the cause.”   The next day we sat on the stage together, accompanied by Mr. Paul Hill, an anti-abortion activist who actually told David and the national audience that his father’s murder was “justified” because Michael Griffin was “protecting the babies from being murdered.”

Over the next few years, David Gunn, Jr. became a national spokesman for the pro-choice movement.  Indeed, pro choice organizations practically fought over him as they encouraged him to “endorse” their group.  He basically put his life on hold and he travelled the country warning the nation that there were more murders to follow.  And he was right.

David’s story is a story of relentless courage and persistence.  And I’ve always thought that his experiences needed to be shared with the public.   And that is why I am absolutely thrilled to announce that David Gunn, Jr. has agreed to become a “guest blogger” once a month on this page.  He recently told me that he always wanted to write about him and his father but, like so many other young people he got preoccupied with raising a family, getting a job, etc.   But now David will start writing that story in the form of a monthly blog.

We are honored to have David join us!

NoFetusDefeatUsSome of my detractors know that I teach in a private, liberal arts college. From comments collected over the years, it’s apparent that they worry about the negative influence I might have over young lives. In their uninformed perspective, they seem to imagine that I push a pro-abortion agenda (whatever that might mean) in every course I teach. In reality, I don’t worry about such an influence because my teaching aligns with our school’s mission statement. In particular, my goal in teaching is to help students become independent critical thinkers who are intellectually agile, who value vigorous and open-minded debate in a civil context and who challenge intellectual orthodoxy. Somehow, abortion simply does not figure into this goal.

So, in a course that examines mass media, students choose a controversial topic to analyze how it is framed in the media. This aim of this semester-long project is to provide them with the fundamentals of thinking like a scholar—to equip them with the resources and habits of mind to reflect critically about the impact of our media-saturated culture on issues that are often hotly debated in the media. The topics range from gun control to foreign policy, from funding the Head Start program to gay marriage, from immigration to the fiscal cliff and so on. The assignment is not to form opinions about a topic or to be persuasive in their end-of-semester presentation. It is to examine closely how media present the debates. For example, much of the gun control debates in contemporary media frame the issue as a second amendment issue versus and gun violence issue. As always with controversial topics, the media frequently does a poor job at providing much beyond the superficial sound bytes. The abortion controversy is no different. The media use humpty dumpty terms like prolife versus prochoice when in fact the controversy is much deeper.

This controversial issue project affords students the opportunity to look beyond the superficial by developing skills to research and evaluate resources and to see who and what is powering the ubiquitous media. The project also helps expand the awareness of how controversial issues are framed in the media and how these issues impact their thinking, their sense of identity as a citizen and their participation as a citizen in the global community.

In my classroom, students who believe abortion is murder, as some do, hear students who believe that abortion is a woman’s right. Both views are protected. My job is not to persuade them to choose sides. Education is not about competition or proselytizing, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. It’s about teaching them to think critically, to evaluate the validity of arguments, to recognize loaded language, and to identity the power inherent in any mediated text.

But if my sole concern was to push an abortion agenda, a fantasy of some of my detractors, I’d probably begin with video Slide1clips of protesters and reviews of prolife web sites. I’d invite them to consider the definitions of compassion, respect and civility. I would encourage them to think critically about ethics, religion and violence. I would address the rights of women vs the rights of men. With this imaginary abortion agenda, my courses would definitely change. In organizational communication, my abortion agenda would require students to study the mercenary aspects of organizations like Priests for Life, Operation Rescue or Life Dynamics. We’d compare the celebrity machinery of Hollywood to the celebrity machinery of the anti abortion industry, including the actors and the fans.  In Documentary Film-Social Justice, I would definitely focus on reproductive rights from a global perspective including family planning, abortion doulas, the women who die from illegal abortions and the impact of religious fundamentalism around the globe. I could go on and on. But I won’t. Abortion is a topic that is critically important for women. But I won’t let it interfere in my teaching. I’ll guide students to think for themselves and leave the proselytizing to the Taliban Club members wherever they live and work–whether it’s in the U.S. or Afghanistan.

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