PEO­PLE’S CHOICE

KATHA POL­LITT ON ABOR­TION RIGHTS

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - Molly Boyle The New Mex­i­can

IN THE RE­CENT MOVIE The Di­ary of a Teenage Girl, based on a true story, fif­teen-year-old Min­nie be­gins an af­fair with her mother’s adult boyfriend Monroe. We see Min­nie caught in that ag­o­niz­ing time be­tween child­hood and adult­hood: In one scene she’s petu­lantly beg­ging Monroe to pro­fess his love for her; another mo­ment, she’s sashay­ing down a city side­walk in tight jeans, wield­ing her flow­er­ing sex­u­al­ity like a weapon. The af­fair even­tu­ally ends, and the film poses Min­nie’s self­dis­cov­ery — of both her sex­ual free­dom and her self-worth — as the most im­por­tant take-away for the au­di­ence. But there’s no men­tion of any birth con­trol in the movie, and as such, this story could have had a much dif­fer­ent end­ing: What if Min­nie had got­ten preg­nant? The movie is set in 1976 San Fran­cisco, three years af­ter Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court de­ci­sion that le­gal­ized abor­tion through­out the coun­try, so one might as­sume she would have been able to get an abor­tion in that pro­gres­sive time and place, with the sup­port of her hip­pie mother. But what if such cir­cum­stances hap­pened in 2015 Wy­oming, where there are no abor­tion clin­ics and only three doc­tors and hos­pi­tals who per­form abor­tions in the en­tire state, where 90 per­cent of women who ter­mi­nate their preg­nan­cies have done so in another state? Some­one in Min­nie’s un­for­tu­nate po­si­tion might well be fac­ing an un­planned preg­nancy with very few op­tions to end it.

It’s strik­ing to think that 42 years af­ter Roe, the right to an abor­tion may be be­com­ing much more re­stricted than in the 1970s, but for au­thor and ac­tivist Katha Pol­litt, this is a fore­gone con­clu­sion. Time mag­a­zine writes that her book Pro: Re­claim­ing Abor­tion Rights (Pic­a­dor/ St. Martin’s Press), newly out in pa­per­back, “ar­rives like an ur­gent let­ter as rights are fast erod­ing.” In 2013, Al­bu­querque vot­ers nar­rowly de­feated a bal­lot mea­sure that sought to ban abor­tions af­ter 20 weeks of preg­nancy (based on the no­tion that a fe­tus feels pain at that point), af­ter 12 states had en­acted such a ban. This later-term abor­tion ar­gu­ment is seen as a cru­cial part of a more gen­eral ef­fort to limit abor­tion ac­cess in many states; in Pro, Pol­litt states that “as of 2013, only one state, Ore­gon, has added no re­stric­tions to the orig­i­nal Roe de­ci­sion.” As Pol­litt told Pasatiempo, “There’s been a big up­surge in re­stric­tions on abor­tion rights in the last few years, and I thought that it was re­ally time to pull the whole story to­gether and to look at why this is hap­pen­ing in a deeper way.”

Pol­litt comes to Santa Fe on Satur­day, Sept. 12, for a dis­cus­sion and book sign­ing at the James A. Lit­tle Theater pre­sented by Santa Fe NOW. In Pro, she cites cur­rent abor­tion sta­tis­tics to show that re­gard­less of re­stric­tions, women are still hav­ing abor­tions in large num­bers: By menopause, three in 10 Amer­i­can women will have had at least one abor­tion; not count­ing mis­car­riages, 21 per­cent of preg­nan­cies are ter­mi­nated; and over 60 per­cent of women who have abor­tions are al­ready moth­ers. While writ­ing the book, Pol­litt re­ceived emails and letters from women who ended their preg­nan­cies — many from be­fore Roe, when abor­tion was illegal — who ex­pressed grat­i­tude for their choice. As she said, “What re­ally im­pressed me a lot was how peo­ple re­ally did say, ‘I have two chil­dren now and I have a won­der­ful life and I would never have had that life if I had had that baby way back then with that man who was so ter­ri­ble for me.’ It makes so vivid how im­por­tant it is for women to be able to have their kids when they’re ready to have their kids.”

Of course, anti-abor­tion ac­tivists frame the choice to end a preg­nancy much dif­fer­ently, as an or­deal that re­quires an­guish, shame, and af­ter­ward, grief and re­gret. In Pro, Pol­litt writes that even the pro-choice move­ment has, to some de­gree, em­braced these emo­tional tropes when it comes to the de­ci­sion to have an abor­tion: “It comes close to de­mand­ing that women ac­cept grief, shame, and stigma as the price of end­ing a preg­nancy. I want us to start think­ing of abor­tion as a pos­i­tive

so­cial good and say­ing this out loud.” Pol­litt said, “The tremen­dous stigma around abor­tion makes women feel very alone and ashamed. I hoped the book would help turn that around a lit­tle bit.”

Pro ref­er­ences a state­ment in Ms. mag­a­zine’s 1972 de­but is­sue that sev­eral prom­i­nent women, in­clud­ing Nora Ephron, Judy Collins, Bil­lie Jean King, and Glo­ria Steinem, signed, say­ing they had had abor­tions. Pol­litt said that we need such trans­parency to­day more than ever. “Aren’t you sure that a whole lot of celebri­ties have had abor­tions? But none of them talk about it. Nicki Mi­naj talked about her abor­tion re­cently — but mostly they do not. … We have to help peo­ple think about abor­tion as a more nor­mal part of re­pro­duc­tive life, be­cause it is. When you have one in 3 women hav­ing an abor­tion at some point, that’s a lot of peo­ple. You can’t re­ally treat it as this rare ter­ri­ble thing that a few ei­ther to­tal vic­tims or very bad women en­gage in.”

Pol­litt feels that women need help and com­pas­sion in ex­er­cis­ing their re­pro­duc­tive rights. She writes, “A het­ero­sex­ual Amer­i­can woman to­day, un­less she is a nun, spends around thirty years try­ing to con­trol her fer­til­ity. This is not easy.” She points out that abor­tion “re­quires the co­op­er­a­tion of many peo­ple be­yond the woman her­self,” even though our so­ci­ety of­ten paints a woman with an un­wanted preg­nancy as ex­ist­ing in a vac­uum — aban­doned and alone, mak­ing a stig­ma­tized de­ci­sion on her own. Pol­litt spoke of her de­sire to see more men in­volved in the cam­paign for re­pro­duc­tive jus­tice: “One thing that’s al­ways in­ter­ested me is that you don’t see a male cam­paign of any ur­gency for bet­ter birth con­trol for men. Ev­ery cou­ple of years you read the ar­ti­cle — oh, a male birth con­trol pill is right on the hori­zon! But 25 years later, a male birth con­trol pill is still on the hori­zon. That hori­zon seems to stay where it is. If I were a man, I would want more op­tions be­sides con­doms and ster­il­iza­tion. But a lot of men just think, ‘Oh yeah, this is women’s busi­ness.’”

“A het­ero­sex­ual Amer­i­can woman to­day, un­less she is a nun, spends around thirty years try­ing to con­trol her fer­til­ity. This is not easy.”

— Katha Pol­litt

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