Creating a Culture of Reproductive Justice

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By Jean Peterman

PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights
By Katha Pollitt
Picador, paper, 288 pp., 2015

Grandma, a film by Paul Weitz, starring Lily Tomlin, Julia Cox, Marcia Gay Harding, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Pena, Sam Elliott, 2015

Katha Pollitt’s compelling and necessary book PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, is now out in paperback. This is good news in a very bleak season for reproductive justice. Pollitt, who writes frequently in the Nation about these issues, makes a clear case that the right to abortion is an economic issue as well as a moral one. Reproductive control “didn’t just make it possible for women to commit to education and work and free them from shotgun marriages and too many kids. It changed how women saw themselves: as mothers by choice.”

Studies show that access to contraception and abortion have contributed to the increase in the numbers of women in college and in the professions and the number of women who are economically independent. Pollitt contrasts the hypocrisy of our cultural veneration of mothers with the economic realities of their lives. Most of the consequences of being a parent fall on the mother. In two-income heterosexual families, often the woman’s income can kick the family into a higher tax bracket while barely or not even covering the cost of child care.

Because the United States does not have paid parental leave, the woman’s staying at home may make economic sense at the time, but means that when she re-enters the workforce she usually does so at a lower wage and a lesser job. The situation of single mothers is bleak indeed. Not only are they demonized, but there are very few social services and income supports to help them raise healthy children.

As an activist since the mid-seventies and later, a researcher, I have heard abortion stories from many women. For each woman, the abortion decision was embedded in her own life and was not an abstract moral issue. Their abortion allowed them to accept a scholarship to graduate school, leave a bad relationship, care for children they already had, and basically get their lives back. Several revealed that they had never told anyone about their abortion. Of the 35 women I interviewed for research projects, about half were practicing Catholics. Their religion was important to them, yet they did not agree with everything their church teaches. Said one, “My abortion is between me and God.”

One of Pollitt’s biggest contributions to the reproductive justice/anti-justice debate is to clarify that it is not a battle between religious people and non-believers. Most mainline Protestant denominations and Reform and Conservative Judaism support reproductive justice.

Catholic women get abortions in the same proportion as their numbers in the general population. George Tiller, the doctor who performed late-term abortions in Wichita, Kansas, was murdered by an anti-abortionist in the narthex of his Lutheran church. This controversy is between fundamentalists and the rest of us. Supporters of abortion should stop being so apologetic, says Pollitt, and claim reproductive justice as crucial to women’s empowerment at every level.

Director-writer Paul Weitz’s latest film does just that. Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin, is an “odd couple” saga of a lesbian grandmother helping her teenage granddaughter (Julia Garner) get the money for an abortion. Both funny and very moving, it serves as a perfect example of what Pollitt writes about. Contemporary feminism and generational divides are very much a part of this story. Grandma Elle is a 70ish lesbian feminist. Her daughter, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), is a high-powered lawyer. Granddaughter Sage, unsure about her future, does not want to drift into motherhood. One of Elle’s plans is to sell her first edition copies of The Second Sex and The Feminine Mystique to her local feminist bookstore but she is offered much less than she expected for them. Sage asks if the Feminine Mystique is an X-Men character.

Read PRO. Invite your friends to see Grandma. Then organize.

Jean Peterman is a member of the National Organization for Women and a former board member of the Chicago Abortion Fund. She is retired from the faculty of Chicago State University.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
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DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
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Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
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Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
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DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
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You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
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Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.