Saturday, April 29, 2006

NARAL advocates the rest cure

I tend to ignore lame leadership and so I missed an idiotic statement until Erika e-mailed an article. The article is Sherry Wolf's "Democrats, Their Apologists and Abortion" (CounterPunch) and there's a great deal in it to note. I want to start with one point:

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, responded to the South Dakota ban stating, "We should work to reduce the need for abortion, not continue to battle about Roe v. Wade."

Nancy Keenan has provided weak leadership to NARAL. Keenan has demonstrated cowardice when courage was needed. But has she ever been as idiotic?

NARAL's acronymn has stood for many things. In the beginning, National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws was the title of the organization. That was in the pre-Roe v. Wade days. Post Roe, it's had two names: National Abortion Rights Action League and The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. These days it wants to be called NARAL Pro-Choice America. Call it whatever you want but when Keenan can publicly state that the organization's goal is "to reduce the need for abotion, not continue to battle about Roe v. Wade,"
something's really wrong.

Jane Hamsher has offered many strong critiques of NARAL, especially in the wake of NARAL's decision to play dead during the Alito confirmation hearings. In January of 2005, after Hillary Clinton (yet again) repositioned herself (misnus only the changing haircut that usually accompained the political shifts in the nineties), NARAL lost its support in this community because statements made by the leadership indicated that it was more important to be a Friend of Hillary than it was to actually stand up for reproductive rights. Members comments were pretty much it for NARAL here. (There was an animated clip the organization did that got a highlight.)

For this community, January 2005 was when members who supported the group stopped. It means nothing to us, it's become a weak organization that will sell out its own interest and the interest of the women (and some men) it purports to represent. When Erika e-mailed the Wolf article for a possible highlight, she had focused on another section. I e-mailed her back to ask if she'd read Keenan's statement? She hadn't even noticed it. That's how little the organization means to this community.

Keenan's name is synomous with incompetence and when we hear or read her, we tune her out the way one does whenever any crazed fool starts muttering. As a political organization, NARAL has made itself useless under the leadership of Keenan. Members who had been most vocal in January 2005 were sent the quote from Wolf's article and asked for comments.

Keesha: It's no longer a case of just ignoring them. When leadership is not just sucking up to power and fighting the cause badly but actively abandoning the cause, it needs to be made clear that they are not an advocate for abortion rights.

Kara made a similar point, as did Gina who wrote, "Mainstream press organs will continue to use NARAL for quotes, probably more now, but it needs to be made clear to alternative media that NARAL is not 'our side.'" Agreed.

Denise offered as an example the prospect that a debate on abortion might take place on Democracy Now! which often features debates between people on opposing sides. "That's my biggest worry," Denise offered. "That I'll turn on Democracy Now! and see some anti-choicer on the show debating Nancy Keenan who will be on the voice of choice. She's not. Hopefully [Amy] Goodman and others already grasp that but if that's not the case and she does appear, people need to weigh in with, 'That's not our voice.'"

NARAL came into being to fight for the repeal of abortion laws. Keenan appears to have caught the 'vangical voters fever and now wants to speak of reducing the need for abortions.

"Hands off my body" and "It's no one's damn business" are previous positions. Today's position appears to be that abortion is a shameful thing. Forget for a moment the damage that message sends and wonder exactly why NARAL exists today if it's an organization that's ashamed of abortion?

It is past time for Keenan to step down. She's an inept leader who has repeatedly failed. The fact that she hasn't offered to resign (or been successfully pressured to do so) can be read as the organization's confidence in her and pleasure with her actions.

Until that comment, my public position was that the organzation had gotten weak, that the leadership was weak, but they were welcome to do whatever they wanted, they'd just do so without the support of this community.

That's no longer the case. When Keenan turns the organization against its historic roots, and isn't forced to issue an apology, there's no reason for the organization to exist. It's not just a case of strategy that could be read as wrong, it's now a case of actively destroying the rights of women. Due to its position near the front of the long fight, it can be seen as still speaking for the pro-choice movement. It doesn't speak for all. As it stands now, it's not merely lost its way, it's lost the reason for existance.

In terms of abortion, we'll note Margaret Kimberley's "Abortion and Black America" (The Black Commentator):

How do politicians get away with depriving citizens of medical care? In part because too many Black people feel comfortable living up to the phony image of bible thumping church goers who forsake sex and oppose abortion. The fact is that black women have abortions at a disproportionate rate and will therefore suffer disproportionately whenever efforts to limit access to birth control and abortion succeed.
Black women suffered disproportionately when abortion was illegal. Before abortion was legalized in New York in 1970, black and Puerto Rican women accounted for 80 percent of deaths from illegal abortions. In Georgia between 1965 and 1967 the Black maternal death rate due to illegal abortion was fourteen times that of white women.

This is where we're headed, where we're returning, if we aren't willing to fight. Abortion won't vanish. When it was "quickening" and lawful, banning it didn't prevent abortions. Abortion is a medical issue. In this country, the government has not practiced enforced abortions. Though some women have had external pressure on them to have an abortion, that pressure hasn't come from the government saying, "You will have an abortion." The government's "say" in the issue should be confined to noting it is a medical procedure. After that, it's a decision that an individual woman should make or not.

When our government has outlawed it, it's never gone away. When an organization or politician goes weak, they're not becoming "moral," they're just going weak.

It's a woman's body, it's a woman's decision. For some who have abortions, it's a very difficult decision. The feminist movement has always tried to acknowledge that fact. But it's also a fact, and often lost in the mainstream, that some women who've had abortions have no doubts regarding their decision. Keenan's statement does not acknowledge those women, doesn't recognize them or support their choices.

The voices who say they made the right decision go unheard. Worse yet, their decisions are dishonored by those like Keenan who want to make abortion something shameful. If she's willing to produce her own medical history and allow every woman to judge every medical care decision she's made over the years, she might be less of hypocrite.

I have no interest in second guessing her decisions (or even knowing of them). But her statements encourage the move away from support of abortion rights. They turn the procedure into something shameful. It's one thing to acknowledge that for some women it is a difficult decision, it's another thing to cloak the very procedure in shame. When supposed leaders are indicating the procedure is something to be regretted or ashamed of, they need to give up their leadership roles or be stripped of them.

Why she feels the need to shame other women is anyone's guess? There are thoughts that she's part of a group that's grown dizzy on what they see as their insider access. (What access? As the confirmations of Alito and Roberts revealed, NARAL has no power in DC.) That may or may not be the case, but they certainly aren't representing grassroots (that would be the people who fund them and pay their salaries).

What they are doing is creating an environement where abortion is seen as shameful and there are two classes of "bad" abortions. The first class can be boiled down to "libertine, you got what you deserved." The second class gets a bit more sympathy. This would be women who are raped (by strangers, loved ones, or victims of incest). "It's a bad choice, this logic goes, but these women are victims twice over!" goes that argument.

Actually, those women might be victims three times over. If they regret having an abortion, and they may not, they're also victimized by this process that makes it necessary for them to "share," to put their reasons on trial in the court of public opinion and hope for mercy. Keenan's crowd, intentionally or not, encourages that.

When abortion is "bad" and the only "respectable" route for the bad choice is rape victim, you're asking rape victims to make that issue public. When you bandy these arguments around publicly, you add fuel to the anti-choice debate and their efforts to ban abortions. This road leads to a new form of judicial intervention, not "parental consent" -- judicial consent. If the only "good" reason for a "bad" medical procedure is rape (a position many anti-choice voices hold) then you're asking for proof.

Pre Roe v. Wade, it wasn't a total ban. Some women had legal abortions while abortion was banned. They did that via a medical finding that the pregnancy would endanger their own health. These women tended to come from more fortunate financial circumstances. Now maybe the Keenans see it as "progress" that if abortion is outlawed a second time, there will be exceptions for the life of the woman as well as rape? That's not progess.

It's also not reality. Not every rape victim comes forward. Feminists know that. Feminists know that tremendous strides have been made (which are always under assault but it seems more so these days) in society's understanding of rape. We've moved beyond the universal (maisntream) assumption that a woman "had it coming." We've also moved beyond the assumption that it's a form of sex. Some members, younger ones, may find that shocking, but there was a time when it wasn't seen as a violent act. The clock appears to be turning backwards on society's understanding of rape again.

We're told, by some, that the shield laws don't matter because the stigma of being a rape victim are gone. But we see, with our own eyes, that women who come forward STILL find their personal lives on trial. In some cases, a judge may disallow it in court, but the press doesn't disallow it. In North Carolina currently, rumors and innuendo fly about a woman who has stated she was raped. That's reality. Women are aware of it and aware of the smears in store when they come forward.

Anne Marie-Cusac has a wonderful book review in the current issue of The Progressive ("Moral Panic," pages 41-44, not available online). In reviewing, Philip Jenkins' Decade of Nightmares, she notes his coverage of the "shift toward conservative religious movements" that he states happened worldwide. That shift didn't take place in a vacuum. It was aided and abbetted then as it is now. The dangers come not just from the right but from those supposed leaders whose beliefs can fit on the finger they wet and stick in the wind to determine which way the wind is moving, those whose political beliefs lack a core understanding (or foundation) and are discarded as easily as last fall's line.

Attacks on the New Deal, or in fact on the nature of public services and public commons, don't succeed or fail on the assertions of the right. It takes a village, as the current foe to reproductive rights Hillary Clinton might say.

Make no mistake that she's backed off support for abortion rights. We noted it here in January of 2005. When NARAL came to her defense, they lost any cred with this community. If the organization still had any power, they lost it then. When they could have fought, they chose to accommodate. When politicians go craven, it's not surprising. When others rush to give them cover, it's shocking.

But that's what has happened. The backlash against the advances made in the post-JFK era (commonly called "the sixties" but chronologically more than that) didn't result from a fright winger screaming. They resulted from caving. People not willing to fight for what, moments ago, they believed in (at least publicly believed in). As Kimberley and Wolf point out, this isn't a Republican v. Democratic issue. The assault is coming from Democrats as well as from Republicans.

Kimberley notes:

Louisiana is following in its neighbor's footsteps. It has voted to end abortion in anticipation of Roe v. Wade being overturned. State Senator Diana Bajoie is a Democrat and a founder of that legislature's black caucus. She wants to outlaw abortion, with no exceptions permitted, not even to save the life of the mother. "If you believe in life, that's what it should be."
Bajoie thinks that abortions performed to save the mother's life are wrong because the mother could decide that she wants the baby to live instead of herself. Phony melodrama about women willing to die in childbirth is the product of a sick mind. Hurricane Katrina must have addled Bajoie's brain.

Wolf notes:

The jig is up. In January, it was Kerry and Hillary and the gang phoning in a thirty-minute filibuster before the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Court, posturing against the anti-choice nominee just long enough to provide ad footage for their reelection campaigns. Then, Democrats in South Dakota helped both to sponsor and pass the law banning abortion in South Dakota. "So much for the notion that Democrats are pro-choice and Republicans are pro-life," Democratic state representative Gil Koetzle smirked to the Associated Press. State senator Paul Symens, another Democrat, actually complained that his party wasn't getting enough media coverage for its support of the ban. Now, all nine Democratic women in the Senate have signed a letter of support for Pennsylvania anti-choice senatorial candidate Bob Casey Jr.

Supporting Junior is shameful whether it comes from Hillary Clinton or Barbara Boxer. With few exceptions, the Democratic Party's "strategy" is to tell people that if they grab at least one of the two houses in Congress in the 2006 election, things will be different. From their actions, "different" may be inferred as "different from what the Party has long stood for." It's an interesting game they're playing (collectively) where they offer no strong stands but want voters to believe that, if one house is won, come January 2007, they'll suddenly have a spine.

In 2004, were told to basically shut up about all issues. The "look where the country has gone, think how much worse it can be" was the supposed reason for blind support of John Kerry. (I supported John Kerry in 2004.) The result was that Kerry could avoid addressing the abuses of Abu Ghraib, could avoid addressing the issue of Iraq (other than offering he'd fight it 'smarter'), avoid addressing economic realities . . . Go down the list. We don't need to shut up.

Everyone has a right to express their concerns. Just as everyone who wants to run for office is entitled to run for office. Ellen Goodman has a column entitled "Don't Run, John Kerry" which is a take on the "Ralph Don't Run" (Nader) that took hold in 2004. I disagree with the column. Both for the sources as well as for the basic point it makes.

I don't think we need to get behind a message of "Don't run!" Regardless of whom the candidate (or aspiring candidate) is. (Disclosure, I supported Kerry's run in 2003 and 2004. Kerry does not have a lock on my vote should he run in 2008 -- no one does.) During the 2004 primaries, we heard this repeatedly. It was "too crowded," there were "too many" candidates. Let that be the worst problem a democracy ever faces.

Al Sharpton brought life to the debates. Dennis Kucinich did as well. Anyone who wants to, should run. Right, left or center. Goodman's sources will mock them, as they did in 2004, but anyone should have the right to run. A larger field should ideally provide some actual positions as opposed to pleasing slogans. Kerry made mistakes in 2004. "Tea cup" is his own mistake and can't be passed off on anyone else. But it's also true that a lot of the mistakes came not from the candidate but the crowd (paid and unpaid) that attached themselves to the campaign. If he realizes that, if he realizes he was encouraged to be boxed in (and went along with that), he might actually be a candidate worth watching. For now, he's the candidate whose campaign wouldn't touch the issue of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, wouldn't offer any position on the (illegal) war that differed from Bully Boy's ("smarter" isn't a different course), wouldn't address reproductive rights, economic realities, go down the list. We should have demanded he address these (and other) issues (if we supported the campaign). Instead we (those who supported him) gave him a pass based largely on his past (whether it was speaking out against Vietnam, Iran-Contra or other braver moments).

The year is 2006. Some began lining up for their choices (some more publicly than others) last year. Feminists shouldn't do that. Just as the last two Democratic candidates should feel betrayed by their armies of consultants (and their own party in Gore's case, possibly Kerry's as well based upon what he told Mark Crispin Miller), feminist should realize it as well. Miaimi in 1972 should never be forgotten but it appears to have been. McGovern sold out. We're not supposed to say that because he was against the war.

But it's happened repeatedly in every election cycle. Elements of the Carter administration openly sneered at feminists. Feminists don't need to cede their votes to a candidate until he or she proves to be worthy of the vote. Nor do they need to be quiet before, during or after. The New York Times infamously told the 'little ladies' to shut up (and know their place?) when NOW endorsed Carol Mosley Braun. They didn't hector the unions with an editorial for their endorsement of Howard Dean. When the Leauge of Conservation Voters endorsed Joe Lieberman, the Times didn't feel the need to weigh in. When the Iron Workers Union endorsed Dick Gephardt, there was no editorial condeming them. If anyone's confused, Dean, Gephart, Lieberman and others who won endorsements didn't end up with the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. But NOW, the Times told you, had a "Woman's Problem."

Was it penis envy? Was it womb hysteria? Or maybe we needed to go running for the FDS? It was an equally sexist assumption, that NOW dared to speak out. 'Little ladies' shouldn't do that, apparently. NOW didn't have a "Woman's Problem." The New York Times did and does. In the last few years, they've added two (national as opposed to local/regional) columnists. Both? White males. They've had two public editors. Both? White males. Despite the fact that women are in the majority of the population in this country, they are vastly underrepresented on the op-ed pages of the Times. Not much changed with the installation of a woman as editor -- the same token spot for women was there well before the editorial page got a female editor.

Is that what we settle for? It's all connected to the same thing. Women need to stop accepting and start fighting. (Some always do, I'm speaking collectively.) The attacks on abortion have nothing to do with abortion. They're part of the attacks on birth control but it's really not about that either. It's about women being able to make decisions.

The decision to end a pregnancy, the decision to utilize birth control, the decision to endorse a candidate, the decision to speak your mind or live your life. The right to make decisions is what's at stake. The right to be actors and agents of change as opposed to reactors and Dresden dolls. We're encouraged to hand over our decision making rights and, instead, recline on the couch watching the psuedo-feminist Commander-in-Chief -- presented as a victory for women. If that's victory, we're in trouble.

It's all one long "rest cure" -- where we're encouraged to go along, not demand.

We're told not to rock the boat and that the mood in the country (the climate -- which is apparently humid and our hair might frizz) isn't "with" us. That's a lie and it always is. Polls demonstrate it. Strides made in the seventies (tremendous ones) came about from demands not accepatance and it's time for demands to be made again. When an organization that supposedly represents women (NARAL) can't or won't make demands, it's of no use to women.

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