Women Claiming the Power of Pregnancy

The following excerpt from a conversaion at the National Abortion Federation (NAF) Annual Meeting illuminates women's unique power regarding pregnancy.

Moderator of the Panel Discussion:

"What if abortion were solely a woman-defined event outside the maelstrom of United States politics?"

Merle Hoffman, Founder/President of Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens, New York:

"Changing the world; that's what I see my work as, changing the world from what is to what should be."

"I just came back from Nepal where they are not shooting doctors but they are putting women in prison for twenty years, sometimes chained to a wall with their children, if they have abortions. My point is that we can't exist outside the patriarchy, outside the political systems as they exist, so we have to work to change them to reflect a more integrated world view. This world view would not separate mind and body. In this world view women would be free of violence, of coercion, and sexual pressure. This is one of the main platforms from the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing: that women are free to live and choose, free of violence and coercion."

"As abortion providers, we must be very cognizant of our position in history. I consider Roe v Wade as the medical equal rights amendment for women. There are so many firsts we are on the cusp of: the first time women owned clinics, defined them as feminist, hired physicians, placed them in an integrated, inter-disciplinary system. For the first time counseling was done. Because of the context and the politics and the emotionality, women wanted to talk about it. So we developed a philosophy of, what I call, "patient power" where the woman and her doctor are in an equal relationship."

"Now,we have to change the terms of the debate. We must not accept the reality as it is constructed for us but we have to change it as we know it authentically for ourselves."

"Power over issues of life and death, are controlled by the establishment: (such as) criminal justice, war. Who decides who goes to war? Who decides what's an honorable reason to kill or be killed. Who decides when we have to act in self defense? Well, abortion is very often an act of survival, and self defense, and power. Women have that power."

"I think the issue is how each woman reacts to abortion and how she defines it in her own life. The problem is that this society does not value and validate women's lives so they don't value and validate women's realities. So they feel free to make judgments about why and when women can have an abortion."

"There are as many reasons for, and definitions of the abortion experience as there are women who have them, 1.5 million women each year in the U.S. We have to validate each one of them."

Audience Participant:

"I'm here to speak about how I have developed my own reality about abortion. I've had three pregnancies in my life. The first pregnancy I chose to terminate by illegal abortion which landed me in the hospital and included sexual assault by the doctor. The second pregnancy I chose to terminate by legal abortion. I sometimes wonder if I chose abortion as a way of recreating that experience as one I could own, although at the same time, it was a choice I would have made regardless. The third I chose to terminate in the birth of my son."

"I recall that moment when I was 6 weeks pregnant and found out I was pregnant with that desired pregnancy. It wasn't 6 weeks worth of substance in my uterus, it was a baby. I had a relationship with it.

"There was a moment of cognitive dissonance, of feeling crazy, about feeling so positive about this pregnancy and so clearly have made different decisions before, decisions I have never regretted."

"What was different wasn't what was inside of my uterus, it was what was inside of me, and my relationship to myself, my relationship to my world."

"I once heard a medical ethicist try to clarify this unclarifiable topic of trying to be absolute in defining issues around life, and more crucially around personhood. He suggested something then which has been exquisitely valuable for me in understanding. He said that part of a woman's choice about what to do with her pregnancy includes the right to bestow personhood to what it is she carries. A right that is uniquely female. That moment, the bestowing of personhood, also carries with it a responsibility for that child of choice."

National Abortion Federation (NAF) is the professional association of abortion providers in the US and Canada. NAF's mission is to preserve and enhance the quality and accessibility of abortion services.

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