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Pro Choice: A Misguided Moniker from the Get Go

By       Message Rollyn Carlson     Permalink
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Pro-Choice: A Misguided Moniker from the Get Go (2nd Draft)

A simple truth has been lost in the political shuffle board game: Women living in poverty do not have choices when it comes to women's reproductive health.

In 1984, the right wing culture warriors decided that Arkansas would fit nicely into their crosshairs. A strategic move was made to link the abolishment of public funding (meaning tax dollars) for abortion with fetus envy. They would attempt to pass Amendment 65 to the Arkansas State Constitution, which would abolish the use of public funds to pay for any expenses involved with abortion and also declare protection of the unborn from conception until birth. This was a brilliant move considering the Reagan Administration carried the banner for these "warriors" and missed no opportunity to "back hand" women who lived in poverty and collected public assistance; i.e., the women who had children actually existing in the here and now, not just cells in the process of mitosis.

Knowing that right-wing strategists would launch a counter attack by simply using different words, activists for women's reproductive rights brought their own marketing strategists to Little Rock in 1986. These hired guns brought together "focus groups" to ascertain what magic words could be used to bring conservative white voters over to the side of protecting women's reproductive health. They needed the support of white voters who didn't want government telling them what to do the same voters, in many cases, who were still angry over the government telling them they had to allow children with black faces access to the quality public schools that children with white faces enjoyed (1957 Little Rock Central High School).

What to do? Well, you could err on the side of long-term political consequences; however, that was not in the offing. Expediency was the name of the game. The phrase that tested best with the conservative white folks was "Pro Choice." It rolled off the tongue quicker than "women's reproductive rights" and seemed to mollify white males who had no problem with government subsidies for members of the military, otherwise known as the well deserved GI Bill, but got prickly when it came to government subsidies for anyone else. Well, if you can't beat them, then massage the message to be palatable to the masses. It certainly seemed good at the time. So "Pro Choice" became the buzzword of the movement, and we began the slide down the slippery slope of winning a battle and losing a war. It has been a manacle around the ankle of women's reproductive rights ever since. Sure, it's easy to say. It's easy to remember. It certainly worked for the white middle class. But, it doesn't work for women living in poverty their ranks swollen with women whose faces are black and brown.

Women encased in poverty do not have choices. If they do not bear a child, they are lambasted by religious cultures holding an underlying belief that a woman's only worth is her ability to create future generations in her belly. Whether the mostly white leaders of women's rights organizations want to recognize this or not, religion plays a huge part in the lives of communities of color. If these women do have children, the media and right-wing culture warriors, who believe indigent women have no right to bear a child unless they can shoulder the entire cost for education, health care, food and clothing, bludgeon them into the ground. It's the classic double squeeze play, leaving women with limited financial resources wedged in they are damned if they do, and damned if they don't. And these women aren't stupid. They know when women say "choice" they are talking about white middle class girls who have far more angst about the fact that they can't afford to shop at the boutiques Paris Hilton frequents than the fact that women in poverty can't afford to have children or not to have children. In fact, if they think of these women at all, it would be more as the relatives no one wants to invite for Christmas than as sisters-in-arms.

The 2006 mid-term elections indicate the light bulb is starting to flicker for the middle class. They are beginning "get it;" to understand that there is a very thin line separating them from poverty. I could use many terms employed by community and cultural psychologists to try to explain why, instead of leveling their guns at the extremely wealthy, the middle class turns them on the communities living in poverty. I'll just simplify it by saying that it boils down to hating the reflection they are beginning to see in the mirror the possibility of what they might become. It's not a pretty sight and their solution is to destroy the reflection rather than deal with the actual problem. Could it now finally be time to redress the disservice done to the issue of reproductive rights and let all women link arms to help protect their families?

How do we make seven simple principles into a sales pitch? These are principles that affect women and men. They demand equality with accountability and use more words than "Pro Choice." One actually has to remember them and understand that they take into account different cultures and belief systems. They are:

1) Medically accurate and age appropriate sex education. We are not stupid. We need facts, not hyperbole.
2) Birth control that is available for all women, and honored by all pharmacies, based on what a woman believes is right for her and her family.
3) Prenatal care for all women. Babies should be healthy as well as wanted.
4) Health care for all children. Emergency room care for what could be preventable illness doesn't help anyone.
5) Affordable child care so that women who choose to work (or have to work) know their children are safe while they work.
6) Public schools that are strong and well-funded.
7) A safe medical procedure to terminate a pregnancy for reasons that are known to a family alone. No woman should be turned into a criminal or a cadaver because of a situation that is unique to each individual or family.

I tried to turn this into a snappy acronym, something that would fare well with focus groups, but all I came up with is SEBCPCHCCCPSA. Yeah, that's what I thought, too. So, I would respectfully submit that people are simply going to have to use their heads, and in a media-controlled culture that might be asking too much.
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Rollyn is a 4th generation Texan and activist for women's reproductive rights and environmental issues. She writes and records radio commentary, and has been published by the Fort Worth Weekly. Rollyn is married with 2 children, and is living (more...)
 

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