Feminist or not, We are Here

This is a response toLauren Enriquez who wrote and article in NY Times 2/27/17 Pro-Life, But Left Out

Women Together: Feminists or not women came together to participate in the Women’s March 2017. My experience was not of a divided group of women, some “feminists” — some not. Like most labels, this term only points to a general category of how we hold our positions, our passions, our commitments. For me, the Woman’s March was free of the divisions of race and age, and status and income of all the women who assembled. Without boundaries as we mixed and engaged to fill the streets with our support of women’s rights and human rights. First, I need to ask, really? Is Women’s Rights really all about abortion, and why does abortion create an insurmountable chasm in your feeling included, Lauren?

Consider this: Roe v Wade made evident and overt the terminating of a pregnancy, explicitly defining for medical professionals their liability in being medically present to women’s need for pregnancy termination. In the early years of the 20th Century, women had their babies at home with a midwife and family. The same women who helped women with their labor and delivery, helped them with abortifacients to terminate a pregnancy, historians confirm. Doctors did not participate in births unless there was a dire need for their intervention. In the 1920’s and 30’s, hospitals began marketing to women to come to the hospitals to have their babies according to historian Shannon Withycombe who specializes in the history of women’s health at the University of New Mexico. She says that given hospitals were no more sanitary than at home, and since antibiotics had not entered use in the hospitals, hospitals and at room births combined to make for a high mortality in delivery. 70 women in every 1000 died in labor and delivery, but rarely did the women see any physician or midwife prior to delivery.

What really changed the tide that brought women into hospitals for delivery in the 19th and early 20th century. Withycombe suggests, was the hospitals marketing the promise of pain-free labor with “twilight sleep.” Until the 1960’s, this combination of morphine and amnesiac was predominantly used in hospitals by doctors. In the 1960’s, the quality of birth for the mother and the child was reconsidered. Natural childbirth-drug free with breathing training then became the potential for childbirth in and out of the hospital.

Abortion has a similar history: prior to Roe v Wade, women were treated by the midwives for delivery, but also to end early pregnancies in such common practice that it wasn’t directly spoken of. When Roe v Wade came into law of the land, it was the physicians who gained legal protection in intervening in a pregnancy, as well as the women. Margaret Sanger, Founder of Planned Pregnancy center in upstate New York, kind and compassionate doctors and nurses were what was available to women before Roe v Wade in 1973. But what drove the need for that was the fact that in 1964, Civil Rights and birth control pills gave women more power in their lives. By 1966, 66% of women used birth control. A huge change was underway in the marriage and family patterns over the next two decades. Of note is the fact that when Roe v Wade became law of the land, there were already seventeen states that allowed the practice of assisting the termination of unwanted early pregnancies. Further, as historian Linda Gordon points out”the growing acceptability of sex without marriage made the ban on abortions unacceptable.” Women achieved “greater safety, lower costs, and greater opportunity in education and employment,” and as well, they achieved the legal status of purchasing a home and credit as they took on jobs. Abortion rate from 1972–76 showed that deaths from abortion went from thirty-nine per million to two per million. Feminism was attributed to Roe v Wade, but its source was actually the legal and medical establishments giving form and legal stand to those who assisted women in their choice of abortion.

Women’s integrity to choose what is right for them does not require group membership, or exclude any woman, Having your choice and allowing other women to have their choice does not need to come with discrediting, diminishing or holding in contempt those who make different choices. The Women’s March for me was all about that! Our concerns, what we marched for was Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and Human Rights and standing together, marching together as women; -some who call themselves feminists, some who don’t.

We are here for each other, for our mothers, for our sisters, for our daughters, our sons and the future we insist we must have. In response to the New Administrations intimidation and threats hurled toward limiting or reducing any aspect of those rights that support the benefit of full inclusion and social equality achieved since the 1960’s, we resist. We will continue to show up to stand with those in need of support. That is feminism to most, and you are not excluded. We are here, Lauren, together we and those who march together will stand with the most vulnerable, and bring ourselves forward together to achieve that.

Peggy Reskin, author of Barefoot Frontrunners: sex, women and power