Feminists speak out for abortion and reproductive freedom
The following speech and testimony was given on January 26 as the introduction to Campus National Organization for Women's speak out on Abortion and Reproductive Freedom.
My name is Natalie Maxwell and I am the Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action Team Chair for the Campus National Organization for Women. We are here today to speak out against all the restrictions we face as women trying to control our own bodies. The speak out is a way for us to make our private struggles public, so that we can find a collective solution and fight for change. It's a radical tool that was used in the women's liberation movement and the civil rights movement to create a demand for change. In the civil rights movement people would get up in large meetings and testify about the troubles they were having in their lives with racism. By doing this, they were able to compare their problems and plan collective solutions. In Campus NOW we use the speak out to help us find the root of our problems as women and fight them as a group by making demands of our oppressors.
As women we have to constantly struggle for the right to decide if and when we have children. We have to fight with men to wear condoms, we have to fight with the infirmary to get the morning after pill and we have to fight with our government to get an abortion. When we do have kids we still have to fight for reliable, affordable, and convenient childcare so that we can finish school or go to work.
We face numerous restrictions regarding our right to control our own bodies. Legislation is still one of the major obstacles to obtaining birth control and abortion. On Monday, which marked the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and George W. Bush's first working day in office, the newly-appointed president issued an executive order that reinstated a ban on federal funding to family planning organizations that provide abortion counseling or services overseas. Bush has repeatedly called Roe v. Wade, a judicial reach, a stretch of the law. What's scary is not only does he want to take away our rights to decide if and when we have children, but he will have the chance to appoint four supreme court justices, possibly with similar anti-choice agendas. And two of his cabinet picks, Tommy Thompson for head of health and human services, and John Ashcroft for attorney general are vocally anti-choice. Thompson who was just unanimously confirmed by the senate made his first order of business to launch an investigation into the safety of RU-486. No doubt the first step in taking away this safe effective form of abortion that has been used in France for over a decade. Ashcroft is even worse - he is opposed to even birth control. Bush's executive order and cabinet picks are only the first action of a clearly anti-choice administration bent on restricting the rights granted to women by Roe vs. Wade.
I used to think that Roe v. Wade gave women the right to abortion, but 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. What women were really fighting for was a complete repeal of all abortion. An appeal means that all laws pertaining to abortion would be stricken from the books, so that the government could no longer restrict what we do with our bodies. If we had won the repeal we had been fighting for, the states couldn't have imposed all the sexist restrictions they have now, such as waiting periods and parental consent.
We have less access to abortion now than we did in 1973. The average cost for an abortion during the first trimester is $320, making it out of reach for many women. This figure does not include travel expenses should you live in one of the 85% of counties that does not have an abortion clinic. We are lucky enough to live in Alachua county, which has two abortion clinics.
As I am sure many of you know, the infirmary doesn't do surgical abortion or carry Mifeprex, also known as RU-486, which was approved for use in the United States last year. Where can I go to get an abortion or a prescription for Mifeprex should I need one? As a UF student I should be able to go to the infirmary that my student fees pay for. However, the infirmary has publicly stated that they do not plan to offer the drug. One day after the FDA approved the abortion pill, the infirmary had already made a decision not to carry it without consulting the more than 22,000 people directly effected by such a decision: us, the female student population, which is more than half of UF's student body.
By speaking out today and comparing our experiences, we can plan how to get a solution that addresses many of our problems. Speakout testimony should answer the following question: "Have you had trouble getting birth control, including the morning after pill and abortion, or childcare from UF? From another provider?" Anyone wishing to come up here and answer the question may do so. Please remember to speak from personal experience. A few people have volunteered to go first and I'll start it off with my own testimony.
My partner and I had always used condoms, but as luck would have it we had one break. I had been at UF for over a year and I knew that you could get physicals at the infirmary, that you could get prescriptions for the pill there, and that you get condoms there, but I had no idea that the infirmary even offered the morning after pill. At that time I also didn't know the difference between the morning after pill (MAP), which is emergency contraception that can be taken up to 72 hours after sex to prevent pregnancy, and RU-486, which is the French abortion pill. This lack of knowledge ended up costing my partner $350. The next week I came across an ad in the Alligator for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, which is now called the Women's Resource Center, that offered both free, accurate testing and counseling. So I made an appointment for testing. I took the pregnancy test, which came back positive as I had anticipated. The woman with whom I had an appointment ( I don't know if she was actually a nurse or not) asked me what I intended to do. Immediately I responded that I intended to have an abortion. The look on her face was so full of horror that I quickly added that I was also considering adoption. The center had informational videos and she recommended that I watch the one on abortion so I did. The video was narrated by a woman claiming to be a former owner of an abortion clinic. This woman, who was not a medical practitioner of any sort, preceded to illustrate how an abortion was performed, using surgical instruments and a plastic model of a uterus with a baby inside. It was obvious to me that the video was produced with an anti-abortion slant to it. When the video was over the woman presented me with copies of supposed newspaper articles about a man that she claimed was an abortion provider who performed botched abortion jobs. Upon reading the article it turned out to be an editorial with once again an anti-abortion viewpoint. If I had known that this psychological terrorism was what I would under go in the name of free counseling, I would have scrounged up the $15 for a pregnancy test at the drug store. Of course, if the infirmary had offered free pregnancy tests, I would have went there in the first place.
Both my partner and I had decided that neither of us was ready to became a parent and that an abortion was the best solution. So four weeks later after my partner had scrounged up enough money for the abortion (because being a poor college student I had none) he drove me to the clinic and I had an abortion, a decision that to this day neither of us regrets, nor have we had any feelings of guilt or remorse.
I want to make the point that if the infirmary provided more publication about the services available, specifically the MAP, I would never have went to that anti-choice center nor would I have had to undergo an expensive surgical procedure.
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