New Yorkers: Support the Reproductive Health Act!

May 6, 2009 § 3 Comments

Lalena Howard of NARAL Pro-Choice NY was kind enough to speak at yesterday’s meeting of the school club Shira and I run, Feminist Focus. She told us about NARAL’s campaign to get people to send personalized letters in support of the Reproductive Health Act. These kinds of letters can have serious impact, since politicians really don’t get them too often.

I wrote mine today, following NARAL’s tips:

  1. Use our website to look up the names and contact information for both your State Assemblymember and State Senator.
  2. Always tell your legislators you live in their district! Legislators want to represent the interests of their constituents, especially if they know your vote depends on it!
  3. When drafting your letter, refer to our resources to get an idea of what others are saying.
  4. Share your unique perspective on why your legislator should support the Act. Are you a parent who wants to ensure your daughter’s rights are protected? Are you a doctor, nurse, teacher or social worker who works with women facing unplanned pregnancies every day? Tell your legislator about your unique perspective and how it has led you to support the Reproductive Health Act.
  5. State clearly that you would like your legislator to vote in support of the Reproductive Health Act. Make sure that he or she hears what you are asking loud and clear.
  6. Include your contact information (especially your home address, so that they know you live in the district). Be open to continued communication and updates.
  7. Encourage your friends to write letters of their own. The New York State Legislature needs to hear from pro-choice voices throughout the state to pass the Reproductive Health Act. It’s up to all of us!

My own letter is after the jump.
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This Lady, Right Here

August 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

Remember this epic fail of an article from back in April, in which Newsweek posited that young voters, women in particular, are “lukewarm” on pro-choice politics and think abortion rights “don’t need defending”?

Ugh. If you’d forgotten, I’m sorry to bring it up.

The article relies heavily on commentary from Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. To be fair, there are not many direct quotes from her, but there are monumentally disheartening paragraphs like this:

NARAL president Nancy Keenan had grown fearful about the future of her movement even before the health-care debate. Keenan considers herself part of the “postmenopausal militia,” a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.

Ahem. Emphasis on the “they still run.” Young women, and particularly young women of color, are systematically kept out of the boardroom and away from leadership positions in non-profit and advocacy groups. Latifa Lyles’ campaign for president of NOW is a perfect example of this. Notes from the campaign in June 2009:

Both contenders [Latifa Lyles and Terry O'Neill] expect the election to be close, and both are promoting themselves as best able to bolster NOW’s membership.

“We are not the strongest grass-roots movement we can be — we both agree on that,” Lyles said. “The question is how we deal with that.”

Noting that she contrasts with NOW’s mostly white and over-40 membership, Lyles said she could help give NOW a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists and reinvigorate the broader movement.

“The profile of NOW is just as important as the work we do,” she said. “There are a lot of antiquated notions about what feminism is.”

Lyles, a 33-year-old black vice president of the organization, was edged out by 56-year-old white activist Terry O’Neill, despite an enthusiastic endorsement by NOW’s then-president Kim Gandy. Qualified, passionate, well-recommended… but not elected. Clearly it’s not for lack of interest that young women aren’t running the pro-choice show.

Back to Keenan and NARAL.

These leaders will retire in a decade or so. And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation — at least, not among those on her side.

THIS SHIT IS OUTRAGEOUS. MY PRO-CHOICE GIRLS GOT PASSION RUNNING OUT THEIR EARS. For me, the cherry on top is that I have been volunteering at NARAL Pro-Choice New York, the state affiliate of the national NARAL, for years.

I just don’t know what we have to do to be seen and heard. Online activism isn’t taken seriously, apparently — even though groups like NARAL certainly rely on blogs and social networking sites to get the word out. But it seems that the hundreds of hours of in-person volunteer work that this lady, right here has contributed — collecting petition signatures for the Reproductive Health Act, calling voters in support of pro-choice candidates, distributing condoms and information about emergency contraception, blah blah blah — aren’t taken seriously either.

Jessica Valenti was so fucking right on when she wrote of this debacle last summer:

Who do you think has been making your photocopies and volunteering and organizing for these big organizations all of these years?

The work of the mainstream pro-choice movement is built on younger women’s labor — unpaid and underpaid — who do the majority of the grunt work but who are rarely recognized. And I don’t know about you — but I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist.

Where would NARAL Pro-Choice America or NOW be without the work done by younger women?

Who would do their outreach? Who would volunteer? Who would take unpaid internships? Who would carry their action items on blogs and forward them by email, Facebook and Twitter? Who would Blog for Choice?

Seriously, what would happen if young women decided they had enough of being ignored and started simply decided to stop working for these organizations? Even if for a month young women boycotted the organizations that refuse to acknowledge their hard work — the movement would fall on its ass.

And there’s the rub — young women don’t want to forsake this movement. We don’t want to let it crumble to the side of the road, because control over our own bodies is infinitely more important than “postmenopausal militia” doubt about our commitment. Dropping out of the race is counterproductive. We’re still running, we’re still working damn fucking hard, no matter what any president says.

Check out all the other entries in the THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE blog carnival over at Fair and Feminist.

Edited for clarity on August 27.

Behold the squabbling activists

June 24, 2010 § 4 Comments

You might have heard about the Reproductive Health Act. In fact, I hope you have, because I’ve been writing about it incessantly since the beginning of this blog. It’s an awesome and necessary bill that I, personally, me, this person right here who is in high school and not a paid lobbyist, have been invested in for the past two years.

The bill will update New York State’s abortion law for the first time since Roe. It will remove abortion from the criminal code, where the right to choose is stated as an exception to homicide, and put it into the public health code where it belongs. Perhaps most importantly, the bill will permit late-term abortions not only if a woman’s life is in danger, but also in cases where her health is threatened. When the RHA is passed, New York’s women will no longer have to rely on federal legislation to protect our fundamental right to choose; no matter what happens on the national level, our rights will be covered.

People have been talking about the RHA a lot recently because the state legislative session is likely to end soon, as soon as the state budget is passed. (Once the session ends, the senators won’t come back to work until January.) Though the budget is top priority, the senators have been discussing and passing other legislation in the meantime, so it’s not unfeasible that the RHA might be introduced before the end of the session.

There’s another layer of complexity with this bill: different advocacy groups have different ideas about the most effective lobbying methods. Some groups, like NARAL Pro-Choice New York (which — full disclosure — I volunteer with and love), are calling for the bill to be introduced as soon as possible, even if it doesn’t get passed during this session. The idea behind this is that pro-choice organizations and voters will know where their representatives stand on choice issues, and hold accountable those who say they are pro-choice but vote otherwise. This is especially important because this fall is election season. Other groups, most notably Family Planning Advocates of New York State, would rather wait to introduce the bill until it is very likely to pass.

Interesting, yes! Very political, slightly exhausting, undeniably nuanced.

Nuance! It is great. Here is something that is not nuanced: the title of Nicholas Confessore’s New York Times City Room blog post on this issue.

Abortion Rights Supporters Squabble Over Bill.

Squabble.

Squabble.

Here, if you are wondering, is a reliable dictionary definition of that heinous word, squabble: “to engage in a disagreeable argument, usually over a trivial matter.” Fascinating! Because do you know what is not, in fact, a “trivial matter”? WOMEN’S AUTONOMY AND CONTROL OVER OUR OWN BODIES. And do you know who, in fact, might agree with me? MORE THAN HALF THE POPULATION OF THIS FINE STATE.

Fuck this shit.

The media loves to focus on “squabbling” women because it is so easy! It is so fucking easy to get a reader’s attention by writing “Hey! Look at these silly catfighting ladies!” instead of delving into complex political issues. That’s lazy journalism, and entrenched sexism. It’s part of a larger social pattern of framing conflicts between women as desperate and catty, while positioning male conflicts as stoic and totes serious. It’s part of a widespread attempt to delegitimize women’s extremely legitimate political frustrations.

I find this article absolutely hilarious. Because do you know who is actually squabbling? The fucking State Senate! You know, the people who we pay to get important shit done, like, you know, the budget for the entire state of New York. And who we rely on to keep their shit together, not, you know, act like “feuding junior high schoolers.” Have people forgotten about that outrageous, embarrassing, and illegal COUP that happened last June? I remember. I can’t forget.

New York’s women have waited long enough for the Reproductive Health Act. We’re not squabbling. We’re demanding what we deserve.

Pro-Choice New Yorkers…

May 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

…we need you!

Firstly, NARAL Pro-Choice NY is hosting a series of phone banks in support of the Reproductive Health Act, an important bill that we’re pushing to pass this legislative season.

I have been personally connected to this bill for the past two years. I’ve collected petition signatures at street fairs, hand-delivered hundreds of signatures to my state senator Eric Schneiderman, written letters to my representatives, and called voters all across the state to rally support for the bill.

And I’ve been overwhelmingly outraged at how fucking long it’s taken to pass this thing — thanks in no small part to our childish state senators! Now is the time to pass the Reproductive Health Act. Join NARAL in calling voters to transfer them directly to their representatives and reiterate support for this bill. Details are below; visit their events page for more information.

Secondly, NARAL is welcoming new volunteers into its Activist Leadership Circle, a committed and absolutely inspiring group of advocates that I’ve been part of since its inception in January 2009 (coincidentally, right around the time that Women’s Glib was created!).

The anti-choice movement gets a lot of attention for its organizing strategies. But you know as well as we do that pro-choice activists are impassioned, excited, and eager to get out there to enact our pro-choice values.

The Activist Leadership Circle is NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s core network of highly active volunteers, trained by our community organizing staff to help guide our advocacy efforts. The Activist Leadership Circle meets once a month to discuss current reproductive health issues, learn about opportunities to participate and lead upcoming advocacy efforts, and develop new initiatives and campaigns.

After attending our four-part series of new member trainings, members of the Circle join one of three Action Groups: Outreach Action Group, Political and Legislative Action Group, and Reproductive Health Education Group. Our new member welcome and training kicks off on Wednesday, May 12. Join us!

Below is the complete new member training and event schedule:

Wednesday, May 12, 6:00-8:00 p.m.: “Welcome & NARAL Pro-Choice New York 101”
Wednesday, May 19, 6:00-8:00 p.m.: “How to Talk about the Issues and Take Action”
Thursday, May 27, 6:30-8:30 p.m.: “Pro-Choice Action – Phone Bank”
Wednesday, June 2, 6:00-8:00 p.m.: “Graduation and Welcome Party”

For more information and to RSVP, please contact Lalena Howard at lhoward@prochoiceny.org or 646-520-3506.

RHA (Phone) Call to Action

January 23, 2010 § 3 Comments

Hey, New York State residents! Have you heard about the Reproductive Health Act? It’s pretty awesome.

According to NARAL Pro-Choice New York, the bill:

  • gives women control over their reproductive lives — including the right to choose or refuse birth control and the right to continue or end a pregnancy;
  • amends the NY State health code to make abortion a matter of public health, not an exception to criminal law;
  • states for the first time in state history that abortion must be seen as an option at any point during pregnancy if a woman’s health is in danger.

Apropos of yesterday’s Blog for Choice Day event, dedicating to dissecting what it means to “trust women” (especially in light of the 2009 murder of Dr. Tiller), NARAL-NY will be hosting an informational conference call about the RHA next Wednesday, January 27.

Join us for the Reproductive Health Act (Phone) Call to Action. We will educate our members and supporters on the bill and share opportunities for all pro-choice New Yorkers — from Buffalo to Staten Island — to get involved.

Wednesday, January 27
6:30-8:00 p.m.
Call in toll-free from anywhere in New York State

RSVP to Lalena Howard at lhoward@prochoiceny.org or 646-520-3506 today. Conference call number, agenda and materials will be provided when you RSVP.

I plan to call in, and you should too!

Calling All NYC Pro-Choice Activists!

September 1, 2009 § 1 Comment

NARAL Pro-Choice New York is hands-down one of my favorite progressive nonprofits. They’re on the political, legislative, and community fronts working to secure safe and legal abortions for all women who want them. They also publish key resources like a pro-choice voter guide (here’s the one for September’s primaries); the Book of Choices, a comprehensive state-wide list of options for women facing unplanned pregnancies (in English and Spanish); a city-wide resource guide for free and low-cost reproductive health care; and a list of open-minded, pro-choice doctors who specialize in adolescent health (again, in English and Spanish).

That’s why I’m thrilled that they are seeking new members aplenty for their Activist Leadership Circle, a group of volunteers that Shira and I have been a part of since January.

We’ve written quite a bit about our work with NARAL, which has included calling voters directly during group phonebanks, distributing condoms and information about emergency contraception, rallying support for the Reproductive Health Act, and getting pissed when our efforts were essentially derailed by the childish behavior rampant in the New York state senate. We’ve also covered their fabulous Choices event series (though I’m sad to say I couldn’t make it to any of those three lectures).

Please consider donating your skills and pro-choice passion to this incredible organization. Here’s what’s involved in joining the Activist Leadership Circle…

Wednesday, 9/9/09, 6:00-8:30 pm: Welcome & NARAL Pro-Choice New York 101

Saturday, 9/12/09, time and location TBD: Pro-Choice Election Day of Action

Wednesday, 9/16/09, 6:00-8:00 pm: How to Talk About the Issues and Take Action

Wednesday, 9/23/09, 6:00-8:00 pm: Graduation and Welcome Party

All events (except the day of action) will take place at the NARAL Offices, 470 Park Avenue South, 7th Floor (you’ll need ID!).

And here’s what to expect when you join…

The Circle has three Action Groups that allow members to get involved in the work that is most exciting to them.

After attending our four-part series of new member trainings, you’ll be able to join one of three Action Groups:

Outreach Action Group: The Outreach Action Group is responsible for getting more people involved in NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s activist efforts and disseminating life-saving resources and information through tabling at events, street canvassing, and on-line event posting.

Political and Legislative Action Group: The Political and Legislative Action Group participates in efforts to elect pro-choice candidates such as election phone banks, disseminating voter guides, and representing NARAL Pro-Choice New York in campaign offices. Members will also help pass pro-active, pro-choice legislation by participating in legislation phone banks, petitioning, and lobbying efforts.

Reproductive Health Education Group: The Reproductive Health Education Group’s current project is researching the issue of Crisis Pregnancy Centers in New York State in order to develop a strategic advocacy plan. The Reproductive Health Education Group will also be a space to discuss emerging reproductive health issues and develop new initiatives to address them.

You can read more about the project details here and here.

If you are interested in joining the Activist Leadership Circle, contact NARAL’s community organizer Lalena Howard at lhoward@prochoiceny.org or 646-520-3506. Feel free to email me at womensglib@gmail.com if you have any questions about the structure or current projects of the circle.

Cross-posted at Deeply Problematic.

Our State Senators, the “Feuding Junior High Schoolers”

June 26, 2009 § 3 Comments

It’s been two and a half weeks since the feud in the New York State Senate began up in Albany. The Times broke the news on June 8:

Republicans apparently seized control of the New York State Senate on Monday, in a stunning and sudden reversal of fortunes for the Democratic Party, which controlled the chamber for barely five months.

A raucous leadership fight erupted on the floor of the Senate around 3 p.m., with two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, joining the 30 Senate Republicans in a motion that would displace Democrats as the party in control.

The quite possibly illegal coup has had ramifications for many legislation, including a proposed bill to legalize same-sex marriage that has been stalled indefinitely. It has also suspended a vote on the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that will codify Roe v. Wade into New York state law and establish political standards for reproductive health legislation.

Kelli Conlin, president of NARAL Pro-Choice NY and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, writes:

With passage of this legislation, every woman in New York would have been assured that her fundamental right to choose abortion would be protected. Critically, the Reproductive Health Act would also have clarified that a woman would be allowed to have an abortion if her health or life was endangered. The bill, which has been loudly debated for three years, was going to be voted on quietly and respectfully so that each senator could fully vote his or her conscience.

But two days earlier, the Republicans — with the help of Sen. Pedro Espada and Sen. Hiram Monserrate, both Democrats, ostensibly — engineered a coup that took down the pro-choice Senate leadership and attempted to reinstate the same anti-choice Republicans who’ve been blocking pro-choice legislation for 40 years.

This maneuver appears to have effectively derailed the bill — ironically, as both Monserrate and Espada are co-sponsors of the Reproductive Health Act.

One would think that Monserrate, of all people, might want to make women’s issues a priority. One would think Espada, whose health center serves low-income women, might want to make women’s health a priority. One would think that Sen. Dean Skelos, who really ought to be noticing the national trend away from Bush-era extremism, might want to make women’s issues a priority.

Women’s health and rights matter in New York. Polls have repeatedly shown that nearly three quarters of New Yorkers (across all party lines and demographics) support the Reproductive Health Act.

Yet the anti-choice Republican leadership has maintained a stranglehold on the Senate, kowtowing to fringe interests.

The RHA is near and dear to my heart. In fact, as part of my volunteer work with NARAL over the past year and a half, I’ve been collecting petition signatures in support of the bill at street fairs and calling voters to transfer them directly to their district representatives. The week before this free-for-all began, I walked over to my state senator’s district office to hand-deliver almost a hundred petitions from my district alone. Soon after, he signed on as a co-sponsor.

I have been working to make this bill a law because it’s fun, it’s empowering, and it will have incredible consequences for New York’s women. But my commitment to action and dialogue has been completely silenced, while the people we’ve elected to represent us get paid to act like children.

New York did not have one State Senate on Tuesday [June 23]. It had two.

Democrats sneaked into the Senate chamber shortly after noon, seizing control of the rostrum and locking Republicans out of the room. Republicans were finally allowed to enter about 2:30 p.m., but when they tried to station one of their own members on the dais they were blocked by the sergeants-at-arms.

So then something extraordinary — and rather embarrassing — happened.

The two sides, like feuding junior high schoolers refusing to acknowledge each other, began holding separate legislative sessions at the same time. Side by side, the parties, each asserting that it rightfully controls the Senate, talked and sometimes shouted over one another, gaveling through votes that are certain to be disputed. There were two Senate presidents, two gavels, two sets of bills being voted on.

…and again just a few days later:

This feckless bunch in Albany, a k a your state senators, can’t even scuffle properly. Just when you thought they couldn’t embarrass themselves any further, they reduced themselves this week to “my gavel is bigger than yours” gamesmanship and to nyah-nyah name-calling.

“You’re out of order,” cried George H. Winner Jr., a Republican senator. No, shouted back Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat, “you’re out of order.”

And people think high school students are immature?

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