The Following is a Personal Reflection by Laura Hadden
I have no shame about my abortion. I do not regret it or carry with me some cliche sorrow of what could have been; because I can also imagine what could have happened.
I did what I believed was the right thing for me and my family at the time. I am lucky I didn’t have to struggle with any of that.
I’m grateful for what became possible and what I have now.
I was raised here in a liberal progressive community by humanist parents, so my abortion story isn’t the sad story for the reasons that are most common for women.
I was raised knowing that it was wrong for a woman to not have a choice about her own body. I knew women who had abortions, including my own mother.
I was given comprehensive sexuality education and the freedom to express myself. I was given all the tools we could think of to not end up pregnant or with an STI.
~Like I educated my peers. I handed out condoms in high school; kids I didn’t know came to me in private so they could be safe. I brought handfuls to prom and surreptitiously decorated a table.
I was, prepared. I knew the science and the statistics. I
But what I was not prepared for was the embarrassment of having ignored all that on a full moon. To disappoint so many.
I couldn’t believe I was now that girl, alone in the least possible “alone” a women can be.
I was 19, breezing my way through community college, being an adult. I was also pregnant.
I did not want to be pregnant then for many, many reasons.
So, I called my Gyno doctor's office and I told the receptionist. It was less than 14 days since the full moon, I was barely pregnant, I needed just a little abortion. I needed the pill that was in the news…it just came to the US the year before. “…we don’t do that…”
So, I called my health insurance, cause that’s how you find a doctor that takes your insurance, one to write me that little Rx. I learned then that I would have to be financing this, because this was for sure not covered by my policy.
See, these are totally rational things to do, or so I thought, because I existed in a bubble of liberal rational thinkers. In theory, I knew so much about the awful past and how the world should be, but not as much about how the world would actually be for me. I was sheltered in a different way than many. I had all the theoretical and none of the practical.
Totally unaware that I just found myself in the middle of a moral debate about women's rights and human rights. And those stem cells President George Bush just declared we weren’t allowed to use to help “Superman” actor Christopher Reeves in our research.. were now in me. I just wanted to undo what I let happen and make, you know, a choice.
I called planned parenthood, they somehow apparently didn’t do them and suggested I look in the phone book. Seriously?!
So I found one, the cheaper of the 3 abortion clinics I called from the yellow pages. Thankfully, the crazy “pro-life” bait-and-switch “clinics" weren't quite as savvy back then. There is one just outside the entrance to the community college now.
Mine didn’t go well, but that’s both another story and the same.
I went from having to go through what should have been an accessible unstigmatized private medical procedure to feeling like I got a back-alley-abortion and ending up in the hospital.
But I’m lucky. I’m white, educated, I had a car, kind-of a partner, I could find the money- privileged in almost every sense, and a clinic within reach.
I am so heartbroken for the others.
On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision in favor of Norma McCorvey ("Jane Roe") holding that women in the United States had a fundamental right to choose whether to have abortions without excessive government restriction and striking down Texas's abortion ban as unconstitutional. I have read on numerous blogs and other social media that many people are afraid this is the last time we will be able to acknowledge and celebrate this revolutionary day in the history of this country. While I do not think this, I am all too aware of the governmental pushes, in many state legislatures and at the Supreme Court, to all but erase reproductive rights that all women should have.
Culturally, I know I felt a woman's reproductive rights were a done deal, despite the continuous push over many years to limit or extinguish this right. So many people in this country have just come to accept that women have the right to make decisions about their health and bodies. And yet, with a bounty on people trying to help women get an abortion in Texas and on Wednesday of last week a15-week abortion ban bill passed its first hurdle in Florida legislature--a bill the governor has said he will sign—a woman's reproductive rights are in jeopardy.
Perhaps the culture in this country has not come so far as we might think. We heard Laura's experience earlier in the service and I know I learned a few things that I didn't know. Despite the legality of abortion in the country, it is still not easy to find the resources to get one, nor do all health professionals assist in this process, a medical procedure, a medical right that women have. And while Laura did not feel shame about getting an abortion, she did end up feeling like she got a back-alley-abortion and ended up in the hospital. I know you might say her experience was many years ago, but I will tell you as someone who stood outside of Planned Parenthood in Naperville, Illinois, 4 years ago, both as someone who escorted women in and as someone who rallied in support of Planned Parenthood in front of one of their clinics, going inside a clinic for an abortion is like running a gauntlet of verbal abuse and shaming. Most women covering their heads so not to be seen by the Pro-Lifers shouting at them and holding prayer circles for them in hope that a woman going for a medical procedure will change her mind.
Some 10 years ago, I was on the Board of the Iowa Abortion Access Fund. We raised funds for women to be able to afford an abortion. Despite it being a medical procedure, insurance companies wouldn't pay for it. This fund was started by Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist in Cedar Rapids. The fund was the initially called the Iowa Medical Aid Fund because they were afraid of using the word abortion in their title or in any of their brochures. Instead saying: "we remain committed to ensuring financial access to safe reproductive choice for women in Iowa." During my time of the Board, we decided abortion needed to be in our literature and in our name, to reduce the cultural shame and to encourage people to use the word abortion, not make it some sort of taboo words that people only talked about in behind closed doors and only with the people who were performing the procedure. We hoped that more men and women would talk openly about abortion and reproductive justice and that the word abortion wouldn't have such stigma.
I have been using the word Reproductive Justice and have yet to define it. The term Reproductive Justice was coined in 1994 by 12 Black women in Chicago and it centered on the people most at risk of reproductive oppression. I always thought I knew the definition of Reproductive Justice, you know helping women have the right to an abortion and birth control. But last week I was at a presentation co-sponsored by the UUA Side with Love Campaign, LREDA—UUA religious educators, and the UU Minister's Association titled "Our Calling to Reproductive Justice". During the presentation Jeryl Haye told us that the definition of Reproductive Justice is "an essential transformation of the systems and institutions that perpetuate oppression into structures that realize justice, and a future when all people can self-determine their reproductive lives free from discrimination, coercion, or violence." And that the tenets of Reproductive Justice are the right to have children, the right to not have children, the right to parent the children you have in a safe and healthy environment and the right to bodily autonomy. As I heard all this I more clearly understood that Reproductive Justice was so much more than protecting Reproductive Rights. It also encompassed reproductive health and the real systemic change.
Reproductive health and rights includes contraception, sterilization, abortion, parental care, labor and delivery, postpartum care, STI/STD prevention, testing, and treatment as well as comprehensive sex education. I, as a Unitarian Universalist, have always supported reproductive health and rights. As you heard from Laura, she was offered comprehensive sex education in a Unitarian Universalist setting. And I offered the same to my children, their friends, my nieces and nephews—though sometimes, I got a little push-back from one of my sister-in-laws when I gave her teenage children condoms and lubricant for a stocking stuffer at a Christmas years ago.
Reproductive Justice includes these issues as well as food deserts, affordable housing, quality education, livable wages, safety net programs, reliable and safe transportation, climate change, and freedom from state-based and domestic violence. All the systems that suppress and oppress people in our country. Before we go too much further, think about who will be most affected by laws limiting abortion. Women of color, women who are poor, women who are immigrants and their families. White women, while they will still have difficulty getting abortion services, generally have the financial and social resources to get one regardless of where they live. But those who don't know the systems, don't have the money, don't know people who can help them, and/or don't know the language will be unable to get reproductive health or reproductive choice. They will not be able to get an abortion regardless of whether the pregnancy is due to incest or rape, whether it threatens their health, or if they are unable to raise a child for any of a number of reasons.
One of the things, I have been hearing as I have been attending Reproductive Justice workshops over the past couple weeks is that we have to look at Reproductive Justice through a racial justice lens, focusing on the system fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. "We must actively question who is being directly and indirectly affected, evaluate intent vs impact, dig deeper to identify who benefits and who is harmed, bring intersectional identity factors into the conversation, and understand the different levels of oppression. Justice is multi-dimensional. There is no one-size fits all solution."
Part of this process of making Reproductive Justice happen is coalition building, developing a collective vision and goals based on shared values, and building trust. This means that we must not silo Reproductive Justice issues; we need to look at the bigger picture of all that is included. We will need to center our work on those most impacted. Identify here, in the community around us, in Miami/Dade, in South Florida, the systems that oppress and discriminate, fight against explicit and implicit bias, educate each other and the greater community on systemic change, not just specific laws. And we need to acknowledge the work of people of color and other marginalized groups, and how they have been impacted by injustice, oppression, and discrimination.
I know our focus right now is on the restrictive laws being passed in Talahassee—House Bill 167 which "requires [a] physician to conduct [a] test for, & inform [a] woman seeking abortion of, [the] presence of [a] detectable fetal heartbeat; [detection of the heartbeat] prohibits [the] physician from performing or inducing abortion… or if [a] physician fails to conduct [this] test to detect fetal heartbeat; [this law] authorizes private civil cause of action for certain violations; [and] provides for civil remedies & damages", in other word another its another Bounty law with a 6 week limitation on abortion access like in Texas And there are 90 such abortion restrictive law in state capitals around this country, an all-time high. While we must fight against these laws, our vision for Reproductive Justice needs to be so much more than that. We need to ask questions like: How can we make it easier for women to have reproductive health and rights? How can we make it easier to find the resources to get their health needs met and to have reproductive choice? What systems and resources need to be in place so women can raise healthy, safe, and thriving children? How can we reduce the harm being done to people of color, marginalized communities, and the poor? How can we create a just, equitable, compassionate, and peaceful country? These are all Reproductive Justice questions that we need to consider together.
I want to talk about two very different approaches to Reproductive Justice going on right now. One is being done through the First UU Church of Dallas and being fully supported by its minister Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Kanter. They are raising money, finding abortion clinics around the country with appointments available, and transporting women seeking an abortion to those clinics. They started out using buses, but the women couldn't take that much time off—days to get to the clinic, a day of rest, and days to get back home. Now they are transporting them by airplane with at least one member of the congregation going with them. Kanter, a very busy minister of a 1000 member congregation, has made this a priority in his life, going with these women at least once a week to clinics in different states.
And here is a very different approach. During one of the workshops I attended, I was introduced to Rebecca Antwone, a birth doula and Midwife. She says that one issue that people should consider supporting, is getting insurance to pay for Doulas and Midwifes to care with women prenatally and postpartum. A doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting, is experiencing labor, or has recently given birth. Their purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable, and empowering birthing experience. She is a woman of color who works primarily with women of color. She keeps up with the resources available and where those resources can be found for women of color. She says having Black doulas and Midwifes in churches, neighborhoods, and communities can help women of color in making their decisions about reproduction, will decrease infant mortality, and will provide a cultural conscience reducing the stigma in the Black community surrounding reproductive choices. I had never thought about this. I wondered how I might help the oulas and Midwifes of color get the resources they need to make a difference to the people who know and trust them.
I know I have shared a lot today, but this is the work of Reproductive Justice, to see the complexities and be open to possibilities, to consider the lens we might need to look through as we consider where to put our time, treasure, and talent to make a difference, and to let those people truly impacted lead the way. As we do this Reproductive Justice work, let it be an answer to the call of love, with our hearts guiding us, embolden and strengthen by our faith and this faith community. Let us look forward to a new day dawning when love will not divide and reflections of grace will be in every embrace, fulfilling the vision of a just and equitable world, a vision of the world divine.