Tag Archives: Planned Parenthood

The Reproductive Rights Movement Must Claim Its Role in True Disability Justice

Reproductive rights demonstration; Black woman in center holds sign saying Reporductive Rights for All

Laurie and Debbie say:

Imani Gandy can be relied upon for clear thinking, thoughtful analysis, and on-target conclusions. Her recent article at Rewire, “It’s Time to Stop Talking About Whether Margaret Sanger Was Racist” is a perfect example. Gandy has been involved in working with Planned Parenthood on Sanger’s support of eugenics for the better part of a decade. This article follows her 2015 analysis of Sanger’s racism. In the older article, she makes this case: “Anti-choicers wield misattributed and often outright false quotes about Sanger as weapons to shame Black women for exercising their right to choose, and even more nonsensically, to shame them for supporting Planned Parenthood.”

Six years later, Planned Parenthood’s president and CEO, Alexis McGill Johnson, has written a New York Times op-ed intended to close the conversation about Sanger’s politics and Planned Parenthood’s racist history. Gandy supports McGill Johnson, approves of the stance, and has her own closing words about this topic: “… ultimately—I don’t really care.”

Instead, Gandy wants the organization to move forward and talk about the right-wing shift into a focus on “protecting” fetuses with disabilities:

I know how anti-choicers operate; I know that some will continue prattling on about Sanger’s nefarious intentions to wipe out Black people. But, frankly, blaming Black women for Black genocide and accusing Planned Parenthood of targeting Black women isn’t as fashionable as it once was.

What is fashionable? Weaponizing people with disabilities.

As Gandy lays out, this shift is based in large part on an opinion Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote when the Court refused a case covering “reason bans,” which are abortion bans based on the reason the pregnant person wants to abort the baby:

[Thomas’s] opinion was a diatribe against Margaret Sanger, and it focused on her eugenicist beliefs in a wildly disingenuous way: His opinion was laser-focused on Sanger’s belief in eugenics and “racial betterment,” and reading his opinion, one might think that Sanger was pushing for Aryan rule the way the Nazis did during the Holocaust.

She wasn’t.

Margaret Sanger wanted poor people and the “insane and feeble-minded” to stop breeding, irrespective of their race; when she talked about “racial betterment,” she meant bettering the human race by sterilizing people with disabilities.

We agree wholeheartedly with Gandy: as Planned Parenthood has confronted its founder’s racism and the ways that have affected the organization over the decades, it now must confront its relationship to ableism and disability justice.

By not confronting the cynicism with which abortion foes are weaponizing people with disabilities in order to march toward a world in which abortion does not exist, we are ceding the argument about what true disability justice looks like to anti-abortion advocates who don’t care about people with disabilities.

Even as the reproductive rights movement makes great strides when it comes to racial justice—as evidenced by McGill Johnson’s op-ed—it is failing when it comes to disability justice. And while I, being non-disabled, certainly am in no position to debate the merits of reason bans from the perspective of a person with disabilities, I can say one thing for sure: Conservatives don’t care about people with disabilities, and they certainly don’t care about people with Down syndrome.

Conservatives, in fact, don’t care about people (with a narrow range of exceptions). They certainly don’t care about familles. Gandy quotes an Ohio mother of a child with Down syndrome:

“Our statehouse is controlled by the Republican Party and has been for many years. The same legislators who voted to outlaw abortion of fetuses with DS [Down syndrome] also voted this past year to remove language that would have increased funding to county DD [developmental disability] boards.”

This is nothing new. Debbie is reminded of a 1973 Malvina Reynolds song, “Rosie Jane“:

When that baby is a child,
It will suffer from neglect,
Be picked upon and pecked,
And run over and wrecked,
And its head will be crowned with the thorn.
But while it’s inside her
It must remain intact,
And it cannot be murdered till it’s born.

Reynolds wasn’t thinking about disability, as much as about poverty, and whether or not an individual parent has the capacity to care for a child, in a country which provides little or no economic or social support to children and their parents, then or now. Gandy, 50 years later, is turning her own laser focus on the ways the right wing weaponizes everything it can use, and how that affects the lived experience of both pregnant people seeking abortion and disabled people of all ages.

In order to protect abortion access for all people, reproductive rights activists need to shift their attention to disability justice. If reproductive rights organizations and advocacy groups don’t meet this moment, abortion foes will continue to weaponize the disability community. That serves no one.

The one thing Gandy doesn’t say in so many words, but we feel sure she would agree with, is that disability justice is important in its own right. Fighting for disability justice is much more than a reproductive rights issue; it is an issue which does (or at least should) matter to every single one of us.

In the middle of the article, Gandy says:

I feel like I have been standing in the middle of a crowded room screaming and no one is listening.

It’s time to listen.


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Becoming an Abortion Doctor


Laurie and Debbie say:

The closing of abortion clinics around the United States is reasonably common knowledge, but neither of us knew how few doctors perform abortions in the U.S., or how a grass-roots organization of women is working to change that. In “The Future Abortionists of America,” published at Medium, Malcolm Harris takes us on a long detailed walk through the current landscape by attending a conference of Medical Students for Choice (MSFC), an organization almost entirely of young progressive women who are circumventing the current medical school norms of barely mentioning, let alone teaching, abortion procedures.

For two decades after Roe, the number of residency programs for obstetricians and gynecologists—the medical specialty where most abortionists train—that included abortion instruction declined steadily, until 1996 when the American Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) began requiring access to abortion-training as part of residency accreditation.

Though the requirement halted the decline, there’s little evidence it has been meaningfully implemented. An ACGME clarification issued in June 2017 stated that, due to moral/religious opt-out provisions, no students necessarily had to receive abortion education in order for programs to be in compliance. In the most recent national survey of medical schools on the topic (2005), only 19 percent reported a single preclinical lecture on abortion, and two-thirds reported no knowledge of any formal abortion education at all in the first two years of instruction. Only 10 percent of third-year OB/GYN clinical rotation programs reported any clinical abortion experience (think, a field trip to Planned Parenthood), in which most students participated.

MSFC is working to change that, from the ground up, knitting the modern knowledge and techniques of abortion into the centuries-old world of women helping women, women transmitting women’s knowledge. Their work is desperately needed: according to Harris, right now about 1700 providers around the U.S. perform somewhere between 650,000 and 750,000 abortions each year, or one per provider per day, every day. Ninety-five percent of these procedures are performed in clinics, such as those run by Planned Parenthood. That shockingly low number is due to a combination of right-wing pressure on the laws, right-wing pressure on the clinics and doctors, and right-wing pressure on the medical schools — a small minority acting like a 1000-pound gorilla, successfully.

So MSFC members have their work cut out for them.

Nationwide, students at over 150 med schools are organized in campus chapters of MSFC, where they support and train each other in an extracurricular fashion, as well as lobby their schools for resources and for abortion to be incorporated into standard syllabi. At the annual conference, organized by the small Philadelphia-based national office, students from around the country meet to steel their collective resolve and to learn.

Harris salts the nuts and bolts information about where they learn and what they learn with who the students are. The article is low on quotations from the students themselves and (tellingly) uses initials for all of them, with a disclaimer at the end saying they didn’t necessarily request anonymity–it was an editorial choice.

Although they were nearly all progressive young women, the attendees had the kind of racial and regional diversity that’s hard to achieve without intention. Unusually for this kind of event, students from elite schools were proportionally represented, which is to say they were nearly absent. Universities are concentrated in East Coast cities, but those students don’t have the most to gain.

The article simultaneously downplays and highlights the dangers of the path these young women are taking.

Emily Young, a doctor from Charlottesville, Virginia, reassured students that as providers, they would not have to live in daily fear; they could be both the doctor on the block and an abortionist. Simply by virtue of being themselves and doing the work, they would be advocates. “Everyone knows I’m the abortion provider in Charlottesville,” she said, “and I like that.”

[Dr. Sarah] Horvath agreed, saying that by doing abortions in addition to a full-range of medical practice she hopes to normalize it. Medical students want to be doctors, and the roomful seemed happy to hear that performing abortions would not automatically forfeit all the benefits and prestige of being a doctor. There was a relieved sigh when the audience heard that psychiatrists are more likely to be murdered in the course of their work than abortionists are.

And yet … the article starts by describing how secretive the conference chooses to be about its meeting. It refers to the high-profile 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller for performing abortions. It does not say what Lizz Winstead of (soon to be renamed) Lady Parts Justice League says elsewhere, which is that abortion providers almost invariably hear that their neighbors are getting letters saying “A murderer lives on your block.” Eighty percent of Americans may support some sort of legal abortion, but the other 20% are mighty comfortable with threats and intimidation.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic in the article is the extraordinary safety of abortion procedures.

While American maternal mortality has increased alarmingly in recent years (an increase of almost 60% from 1990 to 2015), the number of abortion mortalities is so low that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates using five-year averages. Over the last three years for which there are data (2011–2013), the CDC reported 10 total abortion deaths, and the agency has not recorded a fatality due to an illegal abortion since 2004.

Harris doesn’t say this, but that increase in maternal mortality is very strongly skewed to women of color; somehow, even though women of color are nine times as likely as white non-Hispanic women to have abortions, this seems to be one area where the outcomes are not disproportionately affected by race (or if they are, the risks are still vanishingly small for everyone).

Women helping women, women learning the skills they need to take care of women’s needs, and women organizing to teach each other — this works. And since what we have now is not working at all for women in need of abortions, MSFC is helping move the country in the right direction.