Diversity in the pro-choice movement

18 Aug

This summer, the only organization with which I had time to volunteer was Planned Parenthood. Despite the fact I couldn’t commit nearly as much time as I wished, every second was worth it; every time I went to the PR headquarters, I left feeling invigorated and inspired. Mostly, those feelings resulted from the people who gave their time, and coordinators who made it easy for volunteers to feel like we contributed to something larger.

My first volunteer event was phone banking. Anyone who has done phone banking – as a job, for a politician, or to raise money – knows it can be extraordinarily nerve wracking. Despite the fact that we don’t know the person on the other end of the line, and that they will never know who we are, we still face the possibility of anger, resentment, verbal abuse, confusion, or even just plain old incivility. Given that, making the first phone call is the most difficult part. As more time passes and you make more calls, you start to get comfortable with the script, with the fact that some people might hang up on you, might get mad at you. You start to understand that, for the most part, people will either agree to answer your questions, or not, and there’s nothing you can do besides ask them.

I got lucky with the phone banking I participated in, because we weren’t asking for money or support (which is pretty difficult no matter what, but especially when you’re calling on behalf of an organization that performs one of the most controversial surgeries in existence). Instead, we called in order to widen our pro-choice base in this state. We gave a survey with two questions:

1. How do you feel about abortion?

a) it should be legal with no restrictions

b) it should be legal with some restrictions

c) it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the health and life of the mother

d) it should completely illegal

2. Some community organizers and politicians are trying to take away funding from Planned Parenthood that is used specifically for family planning services like cancer screenings, etc. Do you support or oppose taking those funds away from Planned Parenthood?

Two things struck me, in the answers given by the survey participants. First, there were a large number of women (every person we called was legally identified as female) who answered either (c) or (d) to the first question (meaning they are against abortion in most or all cases), but still opposed removing critical funds from Planned Parenthood. That set of answers both surprised and gladdened me; even though those women were opposed to a woman’s right to choose, they still recognized that, in order for women to be healthy, make good decisions, and ultimately avoid unintended pregnancies, well-funded family planning services are critical. That recognition is, at least, a step in the right direction.

I was also struck by how age did not seem to have a bearing on their answers. I spoke to elderly women (one was 90) and to those who had just reached the voting age, but I could not hazard a guess at their responses to the survey questions. Some elderly women were staunchly pro-choice; some young women, staunchly anti-choice.

One of my favorite respondents was a woman in her late 80s who, when asked question #1, responded, “well, I’m not sure. I have 8 children, and I wouldn’t give any of them up for anything…” What I liked about her was that she thought, carefully, about the question. Looked at her own family, her own life, her own children, and considered if she would have done anything differently. Although her answer, ultimately, was to make abortion mostly illegal (which is not exactly the answer I was hoping for), she seemed like the type of woman who might understand how difficult it can be to raise a family that large; who might appreciate the struggles many women face in keeping their families and selves afloat; who might change her mind eventually, or might have thought differently had she been raised in another time/place, or at least allow others to live their lives the way they think is best.

The other volunteer event I engaged in (twice) was condom-stuffing. No, it’s not nearly as fun as it sounds, but it’s still extremely rewarding, and kind of hilarious. A group of 15 to 20 people came together at the Planned Parenthood Public Relations HQ and stuffed little clear baggies with one regular condom, one extra large condom, one flavored condom, one regular lube, and one flavored lube. The condom kit, as I’m going to call it, also contained an information card regarding the services, specifically healthcare services, offered by Planned Parenthood. We made hundreds, if not thousands, of condom kits for community educators to use in workshops and give out while tabling large events like Irishfest. Also, we were allowed to take some of the stuff, so obviously I took some of the flavored lube; passion fruit and watermelon, if I remember correctly. Yum.

I absolutely enjoyed knowing that my time and energy were helping keep Planned Parenthood afloat (by identifying pro-choice supporters, potential donors, and voters in the state) and helping educate people about safe (enjoyable, yummy) sex and services offered by Planned Parenthood. But the most wonderful part of volunteering was the people I got to volunteer with.

The pro-choice movement is so diverse; sometimes we (those of us involved, and those who oppose the movement) lose sight of that. All of the times I went to Planned Parenthood to volunteer, the variety of people shocked me. There were blacks, whites, latin@s; men, women, genderqueers; straight, gay, trans (i think). There were teenagers, college students, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, all the way up to a 60+ year-old woman.

I know that feminism, as a movement, is often classist, racist, ableist, sometimes even misogynistic. But there are individual issues, within the feminist movement, which transcend that discrimination, and include any and all people who wish to be a part of them. Volunteering with Planned Parenthood has reminded me that people of many different backgrounds and life experiences can find common ground.

I think there’s still hope for the pro-choice movement. Its diversity is part of its strength.

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