Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Under the Hill - Pro-Choice Lobby Day 2011

Because I happen to be an English major, bibliophile and cynic (not to mention a lobbying neophyte) I may have read too much into the location of Pro-Choice Lobby Day in the Minnesota State Capitol: underneath a staircase in a space known as the Great Hall. Even if you haven't had the change to read any of the seven installments of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, it's pretty common knowledge that the boy wizard lived in the broom cupboard under the stairs in his aunt and uncle's house. He's, well, he's different, so that's where they stashed him. I cannot shake the feeling that us reproductive rights activists, us crazy hippie liberal lobbyists were too perhaps stashed, herded into this anteroom so as not to be fully acknowledged, the Pro-Choice elephants in the room.

Regardless of however unsavory our opinions or our group, I am nonetheless indescribably heartened to be counted among the 200something men and women who showed up today. We came in passionate deense of Choice and in vehement indignation of current legislative attacks at both the local and national levels threatening it. And who else came to stand with and support us? None other than our newly elected Governor Mark Dayton, who in a gracious and brief speech assured us he has long-maintained the belief that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" and would exercise the authority of his office so that Minnesota law reflects and upholds this credo.

Running on caffeine, adrenaline, a steady stream of carbohydrates courtesy of Bruegger's Bagels and a considerable amount of rage, we broke off into our discussions sessions. Each session--Faith-Based Communities, Intergenerational Voices, Communities of Color, Great Minnesota--aimed to create a dialogue on why they value the right to Choice, how to argue for its protection, and how the unique circumstances of those who consider themselves members of these groups are affected respectively.

Give me Intergenerational Voices, please. I wanted to hear the "old ladies," the "menopause militia" as they called themselves and what they thought of the state us pro-choicers find ourselves in today compared to pre-Roe v. Wade, where they started. In talking, we found some lingering tension between Choice advocates young and old. While my generation revels in the advent of social networking, our paltry voting records fail to convey the same anger of our Tweets and Facebook updates. Previous generations organized, marched, chanted and damnit, did they vote. Really though, we all depend on one another; we cannot risk further marginalization of our gender because of in-fighting. Have we come a long way? Yes. Do we have a long way to go? Given the recent epidemic of legislative lunacy over the past few weeks, hell yes.

For the sake of me not yanking the hair from my scalp, here is a brief overview of some anti-choice bills currently making headlines.

Live from Georgia and coming to a state near you if we aren't careful. Government or Gynecology? "According to this law, any human intervention other than delivering a living fetus is a crime....It allows an exception for spontaneous abortion [otherwise known as a miscarriage] but only if there is no human intervention involved." Enter the Uterus Police: as task force designed "to investigate miscarriages [and require that] any time a miscarriage occurs, whether in a hospital or without medical assistance, it must be reported and a fetal death certificate issued. If the cause of death is unknown, it must be investigated."

So, THOSE were the jobs the GOP were talking about.

To be fair, this bill has been indefinitely benched, and rightly so. However as this post went to press, as it were, legislation expressing similar, er, sentiments, has been introduced. Killing Abortion Providers as Justifiable Homicide. Guess which state thought this up? South Dakota, yes, THAT South Dakota.

This one just goes without saying. Horses Can't Vote, But Need Birth Control? "Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) introduced the amendment, which would control the population of wild horses and burros as an alternative to the costly practice of capturing the animals and holding them in pens....The amendment would notify the budget to bar 'funds made available by this act [from being] used for the gathers and removals of free-roaming wild horses and burros, except for the purpose of fertility control.'"

Insert off-color pun about women not being allowed to screw like wild horses.

Bringing it back home to Minnesota, here is the latest. It's Not Enough That Women Should Be Banned From Affordable Prevention, Reproduction and Abortion Services, Now They Should Be Banned From Equal Pay. What's That? They Already Only Make 75% of Their Male Colleagues' Salaries? Doesn't Matter.

The anti-choice political movement is showing its true colors this session: brown and green. Dirty Money. This issue crosses religion, party affiliation, sex, rage and occupation just as the economic downturn has affected these groups, thought not as indiscriminately. I come away from Pro-Choice Lobby Day 2011 with the conclusion that both sides are arguing effectively with money at the core of their defense.

The anti-choice majority, who not only have power, but money behind that power, may not be able to overturn Roe v. Wade, but mock a woman's legal right to make the private decision to get a safe abortion from a medical professional by chipping away at her financial rights (as well as her very financial means) to fund the procedure. They don't stop there. They defund the programs like Planned Parenthood that seek to prevent the need for abortion by way of education and contraception. I pointed this out to my state senator and even he expressed confusion and the hypocrisy of it all, but that he was pro-life and quite ignorant of the issue altogether. Because this is his first term, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but, remember how cynical I said I was? I sensed that particular brand of disengenuousness and condescension that I'm sure many of us encounter when trying to explain ourselves. Indeed, I overheard many other lobbyists experienced similarly brusque behavior, even outright hostility.

Our minority is severely underfunded. I am left wondering how legislators can take nothing from nothing, and under the guise of budget-balancing no less. The organizations that sponsor our event, like NARAL, Pro-Choice Resources and many, many more (I don't think people realize just how many organizations like these are out there, in Minnesota alone) do amazing work in the reproductive justice community and there is no money for them. I could just spit. What makes me most hopeful is that the face of pro-choice revealed its beautifully diverse self to lawmakers today as well. Kelli Clement, "one righteous lady" according to NARAL-Minnesota executive director Linnea House, represented the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice at the rally in the rotunda.

In a clear voice that I hope echoed into every room and office of the Capitol, she yelled, "I am pro-choice because of my faith, not in spite of it!" Her voice and those like it are crucial to defending Choice so that the majority is made aware of how many different constituencies they seek to alienate, but the recent attacks seem so overtly calculated that I suspect they are more than aware. Alienation breeds contempt breeds anger. Righteous anger.

Quoting Joan Baez, Kelli reminded us all that "action is the antidote to despair" and then asked, "are you going to organize your anger? Are you going to vote your anger? Are you going to nurture your anger? Nurture your anger with love, always love." When I am seething or am brought to tears by the government-perpetrated attacks to my body and to all women, I remember that I love this movement for every opportunity secured and every victory defended on my behalf. And I love taking part in the fight.

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