Innovation Ecosystem/Opinion

Portrait of a woman as a fierce advocate

Women who fight for justice never grow old, they grow fierce

Photo courtesy of Toby Simon

Toby Simon reports that women who fight for social justice don't grow older, they grow fiercer.

By Toby Simon
Posted 3/4/24
The current battle for reproductive freedom has mobilized an older generation of women that promise to be heard this November at the ballot box.
Why are many men so threatened by women having control over their own health decisions? What is the connection between the increase in domestic violence and the efforts by many Republicans to legislate new health care barriers against women obtaining the care they need? What role, if any, will Taylor Swift play in mobilizing her fan base to participate in the November Presidential election? What polling has been conducted in Rhode Island looking at women’s health care issues? What would be the response if activist men and women flooded the airwaves of talk radio hosts on WPRO to argue in favor of women’s rights to make their own health care choices?
Men have a much larger role to play, if we so choose, in the coming November election, if we are willing to speak up and speak out. Issues of birth control, miscarriage, and abortion have always been present in our lives. Imagine if you were asked to make a list of all the women you know who have had miscarriages? Or, who have had abortions? Or, who have been raped or sexually assaulted?
It is a human issue, not just a woman’s issue. We are all diminished when we do not have the courage to speak up. The suppression of women is a key element in the world of fascism. There is much we all can learn from our activist mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters, if we choose to listen.

WELLFLEET, Mass. – There’s been a ton of talk lately about age. Most of it has to do with President Joe Biden and that other guy. Lots of 30-, 40- and 50-somethings going on about the aging process, sometimes with disdain, occasionally with concern, yet often with humor at the expense of the older person. And, for the most part, zero awareness that some day – sooner than they’d like – they’ll be 70 years old, too.

I get it; I was there once. Years ago a family friend reminded me that when I was in college, I actually said: “30? Oh, I’m never going to be that old.”

For women my age who are social justice warriors, these times are incredibly infuriating. Perhaps the biggest outrage for us is the Dobbs decision nearly two years ago. We were activated in the 1960s and 1970s to fight for reproductive freedom. We already fought that big fight. Some of us even got arrested. And, some of us now are legitimately tired.

In 1970, I was a teacher in an urban school in Syracuse, N.Y. The kids did not come from wealthy families. In those days there were facilities and doctors’ offices where one could safely terminate a pregnancy. But you had to have the means and connections to do it. In those days, it was quite common in affluent communities to send a pregnant teen off to a distant aunt or somewhere to go during the pregnancy, resulting in no one seeing the pregnant teen.

This high school, like many urban high schools at the time, also had a teenage pregnancy problem. Sex education classes were non-existent.

Let’s talk about sex
As a young teacher only some four years older than the seniors in the high school, the girls often talked to me about “stuff.”

I was able to have private conversations with students where we could talk about sex. It was from one of the students that I learned many of the girls were having sex and urinating immediately after sex as a form of birth control.

Most telling was when I asked the girls who used this form of “contraception” if they wanted to have a baby; they always said, “No!”

With a ton of moxie and determination, I started an underground secret pregnancy prevention program in the school. Girls knew they could show up at my apartment on Wednesday evenings and I would drive them to the local Planned Parenthood, which had just opened a teenage clinic. The boys in the school knew about it, too, and sometimes informed the girls what was going on.

At the clinic each girl participated in a group education session and had private counseling about methods prior to seeing the doctor. They left the clinic with birth control. They were charged a sliding scale fee of $2 for the visit and method; their bills were mailed to me. I collected the money from the girls and mailed it to Planned Parenthood.

Before and after Roe
This was all before Roe. There are gazillionexamples of this kind of underground work throughout the U.S. that needed to take place and did take place. We were jubilant when the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision in January of 1973 “legalized” abortion. Yet we knew that there were groups and organizations waiting to pounce. Groups who decided that their sole purpose was to get the decision declared unconstitutional. These groups didn’t care how long it would take; they kept plodding and plotting.

Getting the Supreme Court to take up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was the result of years of planning and calculations by overly zealous “right to life” groups, most notably the Alliance for Defending Freedom [ADF].

And today, the far-reaching horrendous ramifications of that decision far exceed anything the SCOTUS was interested in considering. It’s become a nightmare for the Grand Old Party; 69 percent of Americans believe a woman has the right to make her own reproductive decisions and that includes whether to continue a pregnancy or terminate it.

The latest indignation came a week ago when the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring that embryos created through in-vitro fertilization should be considered children.

Several of the states’ IVF clinics have paused their services, leaving hundreds of women and their families in limbo. Social media has had a field day with this heinous decision, although I’m not finding the humor in any of their asinine decisions and opinions about when life begins. The GOP has been tripping over themselves in an attempt to distance their views from the Alabama court.

When the news first broke, my husband and I were listening to CNN. A reporter was reading the copy that her producer had given her and referred to the storage facilities for fertilized embryos as “nurseries.” WTF!

There is still lots of work to be done. IVF is being threatened because of Dobbs, next is the safe and legal abortion pill, Mifepristone. Then the misogynist zealots will decide contraception should be illegal.

We will vote  
Even though many of us fought this battle 50 years ago, we’re not stopping now. We still have some fight in us. We will protest, write post cards, work to elect pro-women’s health candidates, and vote.

There's more work we can do. This is our hill, our cause and our number-one issue when it comes to the election in November. We’re doing it for our daughters and sons, our granddaughters and grandsons, our nieces and nephews, our friends, and our families.

A wise man and a good friend, Dr. Willie Parker, once said that politically engaged women of “a certain age” confirmed two of his observations: 1.) Women who fight for justice don’t grow old, they grow fierce; and 2.) Once you’re awakened to justice work, you never retire.

Toby Simon is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI.

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