- A federal district court has decided that emergency contraception must be sold over the counter without any age restrictions. WOOO HOOO! (WaPo)
- In a rare moment of common sense, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has decided to end her (losing) battle with Planned Parenthood. (RH Reality Check)
- Why the pro-choice community needs to talk about the horrifying Gosnell abortion trial. (Jezebel)
- A bill defining life at the “moment of fertilization” has been sent to the governor of Kansas to be signed into law after passing in both the state House and Senate. Ten bucks says another state will try to trump this ruling by declaring “life at the moment of ejaculation.” (Ms. Magazine)
- Sorry, anti-choicers, you can no longer give away “fetus dolls” to students in New Mexico. (Raw Story)
- Alabama is trying to go the way of its suckatcular neighbor, Mississippi, with regard to new stipulations on abortion clinics. (CNN)
- A rash of radical “heartbeat” abortion bans are a growing threat to Roe v. Wade. (MSNBC)
- Compared to those born in the 1970s, teens today are waiting longer to have sex. (Guttmacher)
- Forbes rightly deduces that all the controversy over contraception misses the economic point. (Forbes)
Last month we featured Part 1 of our interview with historian Stephanie Coontz about her book A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books, 2012). A Strange Stirring looks at the history of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which has been widely regarded as one of the most influential books of the last century.
“Work is still organized on the assumption that every employee will have a wife at home to take care of life.”
Published 50 years ago in February of 1963, The Feminine Mystique was Friedan’s response to the unease and dissatisfaction that she learned was common among American housewives at the time. Friedan hypothesized that the root of their unhappiness was their confinement to domestic roles, which prevented them from finding meaning and identity outside of their roles as homemakers, partners, and caregivers. Entering the workforce and professions, Friedan believed, would provide them the fulfillment they were missing.
Although social conservatives blamed The Feminine Mystique for sowing marital discontent, that was never Friedan’s intention. As Stephanie Coontz explained in A Strange Stirring, Friedan’s book “made a point of not criticizing husbands for their wives’ unhappiness.” Instead, it suggested that “marriages would be happier when women no longer tried to meet all their needs through their assigned roles as wives and mothers.” In Part 1 of our interview, Coontz discussed the accuracy of Friedan’s insight, noting that “today divorce rates tend to be lowest in states where the highest percentage of wives are in the labor force. Marriages where men and women voluntarily share breadwinning and caregiving tend to be very high quality.” Continue reading
We are currently in the midst of “40 Days for Life.” Spanning from February 13 through March 24, “40 Days for Life” is a campaign that coincides with the 40 days of Lent. Participants in the campaign protest against abortion, seek to discourage women from having abortions, and even hope to shut down health centers that provide abortion care entirely. At a time like this, when people are openly rallying against the very things Planned Parenthood works to protect, it is important to take a minute to reflect upon and appreciate those who have labored so hard to support women’s rights and maintain access to health care.
We should be able to get health care without fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation.
Another important date in regards to abortion falls within these 40 days: March 10. Many are probably unaware that March 10 is designated as National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers. Established in 1996, National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers was founded to commemorate the life of Dr. David Gunn. Unfortunately, March 10 marks the anniversary of Dr. David Gunn’s 1993 assassination — 20 years ago this Sunday.
Dr. David Gunn was a physician and abortion provider in rural Alabama, and was assassinated in Pensacola, Florida, at an anti-abortion rally. Shot three times in the back, Dr. Gunn was killed by an anti-abortion extremist. Gunn’s death is noted as the first assassination of an abortion provider. Since then, there has been a total of nine murders of abortion providers and other clinic personnel, according to the National Abortion Federation.
Even those who support a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions do not generally consider the risks and dangers to which abortion providers are subjected in order to continue providing their services. The National Abortion Federation tracks statistics of acts of violence and disruption against abortion providers. These acts range from murder, attempted murder, death threats, hate mail, stalking, bombing, arson, vandalism, and even acid attacks. In 2001, a record total of 795 acts of violence were committed against abortion providers. These numbers dropped for several years, but spiked again in 2005 when 761 incidents of violence occurred. Thankfully, in recent years this number has dropped dramatically: 2011 saw 113 violent acts committed.
However, this number is still 113 violent acts too many. It is therefore crucial to honor those who put themselves at risk every day. By taking the time on March 10, and every day, to commemorate and recognize these abortion providers for supporting women’s rights, we can raise awareness about this otherwise unspoken issue. In turn, we can continue to diminish these numbers, and hopefully stop such terrible acts of violence from occurring in the future.
Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. She was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ve shared her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. In this final installment, we look at her thoughts about her time at PPFA and her life after leaving Planned Parenthood.
In 1970, just a few years after receiving her master’s degree, Faye Wattleton left the Dayton Health Department and the Visiting Nurses Association to serve as executive director for Planned Parenthood of Miami Valley in Ohio. While she was there, the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, and when a local reporter asked for a comment, Ms. Wattleton realized that her affiliate had no prepared statement. As she wrote in her autobiography, “The national offices had communicated no strategy for addressing the implications of such a landmark decision.”
“The exercise of safe reproductive health services and choices for women around the world is vital to the planet.”
At the time, no one had known what to expect from the Supreme Court, and the ruling came as a shock to Wattleton and her colleagues. But the Roe v. Wade decision would eventually thrust Planned Parenthood into the highly politicized abortion debate, despite the fact that their mission was — and is — broader than that, focusing most of their energies on contraception, preventive care, and education.
When Ms. Wattleton became Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s president in 1978, the organization had become, according to a 1979 Time Magazine article, “as all-American as the Girl Scouts and debutante parties.” But Ms. Wattleton restructured the national office staff in preparation for increasing political challenges, while continuing to expand medical and education services. During her first year, more than 60 percent of the national managerial staff left the organization.
Reflecting on the restructuring, Ms. Wattleton says that had she known then what she knows now, she would have begun her tenure at PPFA differently. “I had been the executive director of a Planned Parenthood [affiliate] for seven years before I became president [of the national organization]. I felt like I really knew the organization, but what I learned [is that] anyone who has the privilege to ascend to national or international responsibilities can’t quite appreciate what it’s like, until you’re actually in the seat. Perhaps I really overestimated my perspective on some of the nuances of the importance of touching base with a number of the elements within the organization; like any other organization, Planned Parenthood has its factions.” Continue reading
Award-winning author Stephanie Coontz has published a long list of books and articles about the history of family and marriage. She has written about the evolution of those two institutions from prehistory to today, in works that have been widely praised for their intelligence, wit, and insight. In her most recent book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books, 2012), Coontz takes us back 50 years to a breakthrough that changed the role of women in American households.
“Equal marriages require more negotiation than unequal ones.”
In 1963 it was clear that a revolution was beginning. After its approval by the FDA at the beginning of the decade, 2.3 million American women were using the birth control pill, the oral contraceptive that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger had been instrumental in pioneering. And on February 19, 1963, 50 years ago today, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a book that sold millions of copies in its first three years. It quickly became the object of both derision and acclaim for awakening women to aspirations beyond what discrimination and prejudice had long defined for them. If oral contraceptives were the breakthrough in medicine that finally enabled women to plan their reproductive lives around their educational and career goals, Friedan’s landmark book was the breakthrough in consciousness that gave many the resolve to do it.
Friedan was a magazine writer whose experience surveying women at a college reunion was the spark that drove her to uncover “the problem that has no name.” She was referring to the dissatisfaction and depression she found widespread among housewives, not just at the reunion but in many other encounters she had with them as a writer. Convinced that it would help married women — and their marriages — if they sought their own identities outside of the home, Friedan synthesized a wealth of research to make her case in The Feminine Mystique. Stephanie Coontz’s A Strange Stirring is a social history of The Feminine Mystique that takes readers from an era of far-reaching sex discrimination in the early 1960s when Friedan made her breakthrough, to the contemporary era when many of Friedan’s appeals have been realized but new challenges hinder equality. Continue reading
Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. She was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ll be sharing her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. This third installment covers questions of racism, especially as aimed at Planned Parenthood and its founder, Margaret Sanger.
Faye Wattleton is clear that women’s autonomy is at the core of the reproductive rights debate. Her philosophy regarding the struggle for reproductive rights, as she said during our interview, “gradually evolved to the conclusion that this is still really about the fundamental right and values that women are held to. That our reproduction is still a proxy for the larger question of our full status as human beings and as citizens.” The question is whether the government will seize the power to make decisions about women’s bodies.
“Racism has a very deep vein in this country and our culture.”
Ms. Wattleton, as the first African American president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was often asked how she could work for an organization founded by Margaret Sanger, a woman who allegedly saw birth control as a tool to eradicate the Negro race, to use the language of Sanger’s time. For example, when Ms. Wattleton debated Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, on the Phil Donahue Show in 1991, he accused her of being a traitor to her race by working for Planned Parenthood: “Margaret Sanger … wanted to eliminate the black community,” Terry said to Ms. Wattleton. “You have been bought.”
Ms. Wattleton responded, “I do not need you to tell me what my choices are about my life and my body because I am a black person. I can make that choice for myself, just as every black woman can make that choice for herself.” Reflecting further on Margaret Sanger during our conversation, Ms. Wattleton added, “I could never understand why Margaret Sanger was hauled out. Maybe she was racist. George Washington had slaves. What am I supposed to do? Give up my American citizenship for that?” Continue reading
Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. She was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ll be sharing her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. In this second installment, we discuss her religious beliefs and their influence on her work, which came up often in our conversation.
Religion was a strong influence during Faye Wattleton’s childhood and remains so in her adult life. She grew up in a fundamentalist family, and that religion, along with her experiences as a nurse, brought her to a belief in individual freedom that was absolute, including the conviction that every woman has the right to make her own reproductive choices.
When I asked about her work for reproductive rights, she said, “My view about that is perhaps most reflective of my religious upbringing, with respect to who shall judge. Judge not that you be not judged.”
“Our reproduction is still a proxy for the larger question of our full status as human beings and as citizens.”
That religious upbringing was shaped by the fact that her mother was an ordained minister in the Church of God, and her calling determined the course of Wattleton family life. While Faye was still little, this calling took her and her parents away from St. Louis and the safety of extended family. When she reached school age, her parents left her with families within the church, each year in a different place. During this time, she learned to rely on herself and think independently, perhaps preparing her to be a leader while keeping her within the protective bubble of the greater Church of God community.
The Church of God is Christian, Protestant, foundational, evangelical, and charismatic. Members believe in prayer, the inerrancy and literal truth of the Bible, personal salvation, and the unique, individual revelation of the Holy Spirit, which might include speaking in tongues. Ms. Wattleton often heard her mother preach and witnessed the emotional responses of her listeners in churches and revival meetings.
While her mother evangelized, bringing others to what she saw as the only way to God, Ms. Wattleton’s sense of mission came from the conviction that each person acts within unique life circumstances that must be respected. When I asked about this difference between her mother and herself, she replied that it “probably was due to my early training as a nurse. I went to college as a 16-year-old, graduated at 20. And so I was really deeply influenced by my professional training and exposure [to other people’s lives and problems]. It’s possible that, had I chosen a different profession, I may have seen life differently, but this is the profession that I chose.” Continue reading
Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. At 34 years old, she was not only the youngest and the first African American to head PPFA, but was also the first woman since Margaret Sanger to hold that position. She had already been executive director of the affiliate in Dayton, Ohio, for seven years, and is still PPFA’s longest-serving president.
Ms. Wattleton received her nursing degree from Ohio State University in 1964, and a master’s degree in maternal and infant care, with certification as a nurse midwife, from Columbia University in 1967. Working in obstetrics, she saw a wider world than she had known and was exposed to the choices women in other circumstances needed to make. She saw the results of illegal abortions when women were desperate to end unwanted pregnancies, and saw the judgmental attitudes of many of the doctors and nurses who treated them. These experiences, along with her religious upbringing by a strong mother who was a preacher in the Church of God, led her to a career in the movement for reproductive rights.
“What is different today is that the element of violence is much less of a factor in the struggle” for abortion rights.
Ms. Wattleton was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ll be sharing her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. In this first installment, she speaks about the battle for women’s reproductive rights as it has evolved over time.
In the years since Roe, states have been passing more and more restrictive laws, such as Arizona’s strict 20-week cutoff for abortions, and mischaracterizing some birth control methods as abortifacients. I asked if it had been difficult to watch the worsening attacks against reproductive rights since she left Planned Parenthood — and was surprised when Ms. Wattleton said she does not think the struggle for reproductive rights has gotten more difficult. In some ways, she said, things have gotten better. Continue reading