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Law & Order
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Press The Press
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Gay & Lesbian Community Notes
Herbert P. Bix
European Union News
Eleanor J. Bader
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Speak Out: I Had An Abortion
A bortion is the most commonly performed surgery in the United States—43 percent of women will terminate an unwanted pregnancy before age 45—yet how often do you discuss what it is actually like to have one with a friend or family member? While most of us will detail a recent dental visit or trip to the chiropractor, the 1.3 million U.S. women who have abortions each year are largely silent about the procedure. In fact, abortion is so stigmatized that many people treat it as unmentionable, a secret so vile that it can never be revealed.
Filmmaker Gillian Aldrich and producer Jennifer Baumgardner— creators of Speak Out: I Had An Abortion , a 60-minute documentary in which ten women talk about their abortions—hope to change this.
“Our intention was to make a film that would be an antidote to the warring factions, pro-choice and anti-choice,” Aldrich told a New York City audience in mid-May. “Our hope is to break through with personal stories because the real stories of women are rarely heard in the political firestorm. Stories don’t have sides, they are just there.”
The diverse women who share their experiences in Speak Out span a wide gamut, from octogenarian Florence Rice, who had an illegal abortion in 1938, to A’Yen Tran, who had a medical (aka chemical) one in 2003. Some speak of rape, others of contraceptive failure, but all share a fervent belief that abortion is life affirming.
While homing in on the nuances of pre-and-post Roe v. Wade practices, the film takes pains to avoid rhetoric or heavy-handed narration. Instead, each woman presents a heartfelt rendering of her situation.
Florence Rice, for one, had a baby at 16. When she became pregnant again at 20, she knew that she did not want another child. “I didn’t even know that abortion was illegal,” she says. Rice went to see a woman she’d heard about through friends and recalls paying a fee, having the surgery, and leaving the premises. “I felt lucky to be able to get the money and have the abortion,” she says. “I have no regrets.”
Gloria Steinem, the most well- known participant in the film, also speaks about illegal abortion. “It was 1957 and I was living in London, working as a waitress. I had no money and no friends and was trying to figure out what to do,” she recalls. “There was no way I could give birth to someone and also give birth to myself. At the time, to get an abortion in England you needed two doctors to write a letter stating that it was necessary. I could not make myself feel guilty for a moment. It was the first time I took responsibility for my life. You know, when you are desperate, it’s easy to make the decision to abort. Ambivalence seems to be a function of legality.”
Robin Ringleka-Kottke is a case in point. A devoutly Catholic teenager, she picketed abortion clinics in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, shortly after finishing high school, she became pregnant. “I let my boyfriend know that I would not consider having an abortion and called a program for women who were going to put children up for adoption,” she says. Initially the program welcomed her with open arms. That changed when the agency heard that the baby’s father was black. “They said they could not help me since there was no demand for biracial babies. It was a huge blow.”
this point, Ringleka-Kottke was frantic and spoke to her mother
about her situation. Reluctantly, she decided that abortion was
the best alternative and made an appointment at a local clinic.
“We got there and crazy protesting was going on. There was
this man—he looked like a lunatic—yelling and raving.
We had to enter the clinic through a back door.” After the
surgery, Ringleka-Kottke remembers feeling immensely relieved. Nonetheless,
the anti-abortion messages she’d been bombarded with in school
began to haunt her. “I did not talk about the abortion for
five or six years,” she admits. During this time she worried
that others would judge her harshly were they to discover what she
had done. Finally, she broke her silence. “It let the shame
out,” she says.
Like Ringleka-Kottke, Jenny Egan was raised to believe that abortion was murder. “I am the daughter of a teenaged mother who is the daughter of a teenaged mother,” Egan says. A Mormon, two weeks after ending her pregnancy she came home to find her mom sitting at the kitchen table with a letter, signed, The Brotherhood, in her hands: “Your daughter had an abortion. Please let God guide your actions from this day forward.” After reading the missive, her parents sent their then 16-year-old daughter from their home; a suicide attempt followed. Although Egan later pulled her life together and got enough financial aid to attend college, she laments the fact that for years she had no one with whom to discuss either the abortion or its aftermath.
Other film participants include Loretta Ross, who at 14 bore a child after being raped by a 27-year-old cousin; Annie Finch, a 44-year-old mother of two who says she felt “pangs of regret and sadness” over her abortion despite knowing that it was the right thing to do; and Sally Aldrich, filmmaker Gillian Aldrich’s mother. Aldrich tells of being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury following an illegal abortion in 1964. “The jury members tried to intimidate me. I felt like I had a scarlet ‘A’ on my chest,” she says. “But I said that this man, this doctor, was a great hero to me and many others. I left feeling indignant at the lack of justice for women.”
Gillian Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgardner are themselves indignant and hope Speak Out: I Had An Abortion will prompt viewers to express their opinions to those who are chipping away at abortion access and working to reverse Roe v. Wade. The film has already had an impact. According to Baumgardner, clinics are incorporating the film into pre-and-post abortion counseling, something she and Aldrich did not anticipate. Family members and partners are also being encouraged to watch it while waiting for their loved ones to leave the operating room.
Moving, intense, and refreshingly honest, the film is a terrific educational tool. Still, changing abortion from something many are unable to talk about into something that can be addressed by anyone, anywhere, will take a lot more than a documentary film, no matter how powerful. That said, Speak Out: I Had An Abortion is a potent step in the right direction.
Eleanor Bader is a freelance writer and co-author of Targets of Hatred.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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