Young women say: We will stand for choice April 25

WASHINGTON – In a time where many claim that youth in the United States are not as pro-choice as their mothers, a sizeable delegation of pro-choice young people from across the country aim to stand up and be counted at the March for Women’s Lives here April 25.

A recent Newsweek article claims that young women overwhelmingly oppose a woman’s right to choose, unlike what would have been the case more than a decade ago. But 3,000 youth and students from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, and Michigan will board six buses to join the Young People’s All-Access Contingent of Choice USA to prove them wrong.

They are partners in a coalition of national women’s rights organizations that also includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Organization for Woman (NOW) and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The April 25 march is expected to be the largest ever demonstration for women’s reproductive freedom. It is fired by a sense of emergecy that George W. Bush and an ultraright dominated House and Senate are waging a frontal attack on all the gains women have won in the past century. Many of the organizations are working to register voters to defeat Bush and right-wing Republican lawmakers in November. They warn that if Bush steals a second term he may well appoint one or more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia who are determined to oveturn Roe v. Wade, the high court’s landmark ruling that upholds a woman’s right to an abortion.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has endorsed the march and is organizing a large contingent of union members to participate. The march will come just five days after “Equal Pay Day,” April 20, when CLUW and other women’s organizations stage nationwide protests against the fact that women earn only 76 cents for every dollar men earn.

The young people’s contingent to the March for Women’s Lives aims to put the youth voice back into the forefront of the movement for reproductive freedom and renew the fight. Even more, they hope to expand the goals and messages the general public hears around reproductive choice so more women can understand and better relate to the issue.

Ty Stacey, a bus organizer in Little Rock, Ark., puts it this way: “We have a broad definition of what reproductive choice means to women. Reproductive choice is about our right to engage or not to engage in sexual activity; our right to safe and affordable health care; and even our right to comprehensive sex education that guarantees we learn about medically accurate information that will lead us to making healthy, responsible decisions as opposed to hiding information from us.”

By working in broad-based coalitions, the young people’s contingent is successfully organizing youth to the march, even those that have not traditionally considered themselves to be a part of the pro-choice movement.

Representatives from the contingent met with the 50 Years is Enough Network, the group planning the protests of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank on April 24, the same weekend of the pro-choice march. They discussed areas of collaboration during the weekend of the events.

“We understand that globalization has an incredible impact on women worldwide. When public works are privatized, clinics, hospitals and schools are grossly affected. This hurts family planning, prenatal care, childcare, sex education, and even health care in general,” said Manish Vaidya, national march organizer for Choice USA.

This affects young men and women in other aspects of their lives as well. Across the nation, urban school superintendents are being replaced by Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and school boards are being stripped of their power. What is good for suburban schools is apparently too good for the city schools.

Baltimore has already experienced this shift from public to privately-run schools. Cities such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have been fighting it for some time, but the threat still hovers.

“If fighting for medically accurate comprehensive sexuality education is difficult with a school board, imagine going head to head with a CEO instead,” Manish said.

Clinics and hospitals in the capital city are suffering from similar problems. Mayor Anthony Williams shut down DC General, the city’s public hospital that served many residents in southeastern D.C. However, he was forced to open an investigation of one of the city’s private hospitals when reports surfaced that former DC General patients were being turned away from other hospitals.

On Oct. 20, 2003, The GW Hatchet, a student newspaper, reported that George Washington University Hospital allegedly turned away a 97-year-old Black woman who was going into diabetic shock, solely because she was from the wrong side of town. Results from that investigation are still pending. But these and other events are mobilizing hundreds of youth from anticorporate and antiprivatization struggles to join the young people’s contingent, according to Manish.

“We held a youth preparatory event about young people and the March for Women’s Lives in Amherst, Massachusetts,” said Emily Mentin, a bus organizer from Massachusetts, “and students that were worried that they would have to choose between going to the IMF/World Bank demonstrations and the March for Women’s Lives were so relieved when they heard they could actually do both with the Young People’s All-Access Contingent.”

The 50 Years Is Enough Network may also do a workshop or panel at the “youth convergence site” the young people’s contingent will be coordinating with other groups. The 10 in 10 Gathering, a youth convergence site, is being coordinated by Choice USA, organizers of the young people’s contingent, the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program at Hampshire College, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the Pro-Choice Public Education Project, and the Third Wave Foundation.

Their goal is to provide a space for young people to network and share skills while preparing for the Sunday women’s march. “The [10 in 10] name comes from the statistic that four in 10 women have abortions,” said Mina Trudeau of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program. “But we believe that 10 in 10 women benefit from full reproductive health care access and all of us should be working to expand it.”

The young people’s contingent is also planning a feeder march into the March for Women’s Lives in hopes of creating a visible presence of pro-choice youth. All wearing orange T-shirts, they plan to march with signs that say “Another Young Person for Choice” and “Reproductive Healthcare for ALL People.”

“We cannot just fight for access for those that already have it,” said Manish. “We have to consider the high school student in southeastern D.C. who is not taught medically accurate sex education in her school. We have to consider the 25 year old woman who is only given the option of having a hysterectomy after experiencing severe cramps. We have to consider the young worker without health care, and the women and men worldwide who are still seeing the affects of war and occupation on their reproductive lives. We have to fight for reproductive health care for all people, and make it the norm.”

The young people’s contingent is working hard to show that young people in the United States are indeed pro-choice, and have a broader vision of what choice means. This is definitely not our mother’s pro-choice movement, they say. Still, they hope that their messages will cross generational lines and reach out to people who could not relate to previous messages, but can now.

Back in Little Rock, Ty Stacey commented, “We believe that reproductive freedom entails so much more than abortion rights. It is our basic freedom of self-determination as women. Many people worldwide demand self-determination everyday. Why not women here in Arkansas?”

For more information on the Young People’s All-Access Contingent or to buy tickets online, visit www.choiceusa.org/march.

Erica Smiley is field director for Choice USA and can be reached at esmiley@choiceusa.org. (see related story below)

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We won’t go back

Kate Michelman has been the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America for decades. But have you heard her story?

“Three years before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, my life was shattered. I was married and the mother of three little girls when, without warning, my husband abandoned us. I had no income, no job, and not even a car. It was all I could do to provide my children with the nurturing and safe environment they needed. If that wasn’t enough, several weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant.

I wrestled long and hard with my moral and ethical values before making the difficult decision to have an abortion. It was a very hard decision for me – but in the end, it was the right one for me and my family.

But abortion was a crime. To obtain even a “therapeutic” (hospital) abortion in my community hospital, I was forced to appear before a hospital panel of male physicians, who probed the most intimate aspects of my life – about my marriage, what kind of wife I was, what kind of mother I was. The entire process was a violation.

Not only did I have to convince the all-male panel that I was unfit to be a mother – in order to get permission to have a “therapeutic” abortion – I was also forced, by law, to find my estranged husband and obtain his written permission before having the abortion. A few days later, I finally was able to terminate my pregnancy. My story is not so unusual. It’s important because it was typical of the years before Roe v. Wade. Like many others, my world and beliefs were transformed.”

If you don’t want the women in your life to have to go back to the days Michelman describes, get yourself to Washington, D.C. April 25.

– Kate Michelman