Abolish all barriers to abortion, including cost, Campus NOW speaker says
The following speech was given by Destry Taylor, the Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action Team chair for Campus National Organization for Women (NOW) at a commemoration of the 27th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in the U.S. The speak out was held on the Plaza of the Americas at UF on January 21.
I used to think that Roe v. Wade gave women the right to abortion. Nothing was given to us. The right to have a safe legal abortion in America was won by women rallying, speaking out, committing acts of civil disobedience, and most of all ORGANIZING. The laws in America were changed because of the rise of the feminist movement and the combination of the feminist perspective and the mass organizing of many people. Make no mistake, it was a long hard organized fight that won us the few rights we have today. Rights that are constantly being challenged by an increasingly conservative, anti-woman government. And Roe v. Wade was a compromise of what we really wanted. Now Roe v. Wade did grant most women the right to an abortion. But it made abortion an issue of privacy between me and my doctor. It did not grant my full control over my body. So in the year 2000, I still do not have the right to control my body unless the state AND my doctor say it is okay.
I know all of us have heard the horror stories from women who were forced to seek illegal abortions but I think that is important that we not forget how terrifying and awful America was before the women's liberation movement won us the right to legal abortions. My grandmother sought an illegal abortion in 1945, in Chicago, because she got pregnant by a man to whom she was not married. She almost died. That man was my grandfather and he left her when he found out she was pregnant. He later came back to her after she had the abortion and they were married. But I don't want us to get so complacent with the rights we have today with the fact that abortion is legal that we forget that abortion is still unavailable to many of us. The same desperation felt by women needing an abortion in the time before it was legal is the same desperation felt by me when I needed an abortion and had to struggle to figure out how I was going to pay for it or if I had lived in one of the 85% of counties who have no abortion provider without a car, or my sisters who are under 18 living in a state with parental notification laws. Abortion might as well still be illegal for us.
It was the summer of 1992 and I was preparing to attend UF and looking excitedly to the future when one night during sex it happened, the condom broke and I knew I was pregnant. I had never heard of the morning after pill. In fact I didn't hear about it until I came to college. If I had known about the morning after pill I certainly would have taken it. It would have saved me having to scrounge around for money for an abortion, having to miss class, and having to have a surgical procedure. But I was not told of the morning after pill in my high school sex education class or anywhere else. So here I was, pregnant, all of the sudden I saw all of my dreams come crashing down on me. I knew I needed an abortion, there was never any question or doubt in my mind about that. But my family was very poor and I wasn't able to work because I had to care for my six siblings so my mom could work, so I had no money. The three hundred dollars an abortion would cost might as well have been three million. So I came to college in August hoping to get my financial aid checks as soon as possible. I couldn't enjoy myself because I had a secret, a problem that needed a solution. I was desperate.
My financial aid check got held up in verification (as I am sure many of you are familiar with and they told me it would be 4-6 weeks before I could get the money. Never mind needing to buy books and eat, I needed an abortion and I needed one fast. By then I was 10 weeks pregnant and I knew I was up against the clock. If you think coming up with three hundred dollars for a first trimester abortion is hard, try up to nineteen hundred dollars for a second trimester abortion. My boyfriend was little to no help as he had no money just like me, he would just shrug his shoulders when I asked him about it. I guess he just assumed I would take care of it. I finally broke down and borrowed the money from my Catholic dorm roommate who I had known all of one week. That was really embarrassing. I didn't tell her what I needed the money for and she didn't ask but I think she knew.
Neither my boyfriend nor I had a car and I was too embarrassed to ask any of the new friends I had made in the last week to borrow their car. I have to say I am lucky I lived on one of the 15% of US counties that has an abortion provider because if I didn't I don't know what I would have done. Luckily there was a clinic within walking distance of my boyfriends apartment so I called and made an appointment. My boyfriend was supposed to go with me but decided at the last minute that he couldn't miss class so I went alone. I want to say here that along with the demands to our government to stop imposing restrictions on abortions, I want men to be more supportive of us when we need an abortion. I don't want to have to argue with my partner or comfort him, I want him to support me and that includes standing there by my side when I have to have an abortion.
And beyond supporting us, when we need an abortion men need to take more responsibility for birth control. I know my girlfriends and I talk about the constant battle of trying to get men to wear condoms or even take some responsibility for birth control. I mean guys, JUST PUT THE CONDOM ON, or pay for whatever birth control we use, don't wait for women to take care of it. It is sexist to let this work fall on us alone.
So I went in, paid my money and sat in the waiting room alone. The clinic staff was really nice and supportive, the abortion was over pretty quickly. I had to lie to the staff and tell them my boyfriend was picking me up--because they require you have a ride home--so I could walk to my boyfriends house. I remember such a feeling of relief and calm washed over me as I walked. I would not have to be like my mom and have seven kids and never get to travel or barely ever get to leave the house. I didn't have to give up my dreams and go on welfare or wait everyday for the child support check that never came. If I had not had the abortion I would not be here speaking to you today.
My story and the story of millions of other women illustrate why abortion rights are so strongly tied to our freedom. It also illustrates why the abortion rights we have today aren't enough. Until abortion is free, until more than 85% of US counties have an abortion provider and until it is available to all women on demand without restriction at any time in pregnancy, women will not be truly free. If we as women are chained to our reproductive organs and denied the fundamental right of complete control over our bodies then we are not free.
That is why the issue of abortion is important to all women. That is why the struggle for abortion rights is every woman's struggle. It is about the right of women to control our own bodies. It is about a woman's self determination of her own destiny. Women and women alone should be able to decide when and if we become mothers, and when and if we have an abortion, and when and if we decide to be sterilized.
Women have a long way to go until we have complete control of our bodies. For one thing we need to get rid of the stigma placed on women who have had abortions. After I had my abortion, I noticed a change in the way some of my friends perceived me and talked about me. Now these were pro-choice friends (or so they said). But I became the token abortion girl. I was not ashamed of my decision but I began to feel different, stigmatized, not even in a bad way but still stigmatized because I chose to terminate my unwanted pregnancy. I know that a number of my friends have had their wisdom teeth extracted and no one ever said, 'Did you know she had her teeth pulled out?' But my surgical procedure became hot news. Abortion should be seen as any other medical procedure. We need to stop referring to abortion as some necessary evil, something only desperate women do because of circumstances out of her control. Let's face it, condoms break, diaphragms slip, or maybe we are tired of begging our partners to wear a condom or we are tired of always thinking about birth control. Unplanned pregnancy is a fact of life. We need to stop being apologetic for demanding our abortion rights. And we need to stop acting as if every woman who gets an abortion is sad or apologetic for her decision. I have spoken to many women who have had abortions, and I have never met one who felt anything other than relief.
The laws in America were changed because of the mass organizing of many people. We can organize today to win more abortion rights and not wait until the next wave of legislative restrictions to get out there and demand our legal rights. Abortion rights are important to all women because they are about justice for all women. Women need the freedom to decide when and if we have children without any governmental control of our lives or our bodies. We need to take a pro-abortion stand. We need to demand repeal. We will not get what we want by compromising and we will never get more than we ask for.
We need to stop waiting for the next round of restrictions to fight back. It is in every woman's self interest to fight for complete control over our bodies. Women, the feminist movement is fighting for YOU to be able to decide when and if you will have children. We need this right! And we better work for it. We need every woman to join NOW and demand the complete repeal of abortion laws. And we need your time and membership dues to make this happen. Come get involved, join Campus NOWs Abortion Reproductive Rights Action Team. You can join NOW at the table. Our next ARRAT meeting is on February 8th at 7pm in Turlington 2318. We will be talking about working with state and national groups to demand the repeal of abortion laws. Come help us make this happen.
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