MerryDeath #76

    There are a lot of issues related to reproductive rights that sometimes I don’t know where to start when writing about it.  I don’t like trying to write about just one perspective.  But then again I don’t have enough experience to write a book.  So for the purposes of this article, I’ll try to just throw out some ideas that I hope interested folks will find more specific information about.  I have been seeing more and more zines about women’s issues, from fertility awareness to herbal abortion, and they all have the heart in the right place.  One thing that I notice a lot though, is incomplete information and a lack of talking about the risks involved.  In DIY culture, sometimes it seems we are so determined to be in total control of our lives that we sacrifice attention to detail or a more complete analysis that people studying the issues just have more information about.  Granted, with some things there are no risks involved, so it doesn’t’ matter if we are expert carpenters before we build a table.  But an herbal abortion is something entirely different.
    I think it’s important for people first to realize that the history of reproduction in this country has been vastly different for women of color than for white women, starting with colonization of this country and sexual abuse of slaves.  Dorothy Roberts, author of “Killing the Black Body” and Rickie Solinger, author of “Beggars and Choosers” are amazing writers who can provide a much greater history, about forced sterilizations of poor women, women with disabilities, African American, Puerto Rican, and Native American women which continued through the 70s.  Women in prison; who are mostly poor women of color, have recently been used as test subjects for hormonal birth control, like Depro- Provera and are denied various rights while incarcerated.  Women are forced to give birth in shackles and immediately be separated from their newborn.  They may lack family members on the outside to care for the child while they are in prison, so they lose custody of their newborn.  The welfare laws beginning in the 80ís sought to limit the numbers of children poor women were allowed to have to qualify for financial assistance.  And these are just a handful of the issues.  While more privileged women struggle to maintain rights to abortion, women of color generally struggle for the right to have children at their desire.  I think when figuring out how to be active in reproductive rights we need to be conscious of these issues, or we may only be able to affect the lives of a handful of people. 
    Ideally I would love to see women taking charge of our bodies, to be our own midwives, to be able to provide free contraceptives of choice- particularly creating ones that make men more responsible.  It would be great if we didn’t’ have to deal with doctors and medical staff that judge us and treat us with disrespect when we seek an abortion or testing for STD’s.  However, the reality is that there are not enough radical people providing these services, and the networks we create often help punks more than anyone else.  We don’t have the time or resources to replace traditional services, and I’m not suggesting that we can do that, at least not on a wide scale and immediately.  I do think, however, that we need to work in various projects- first in creating an alternative to what we see as wrong- and pay attention to making it as inclusive as possible.  Second, we need to be working with groups trying to make traditional services better; groups like the National Abortion Federation which provides funding for poor women to afford an abortion or Welfare Rights organizations struggling to get poor women funding to support their children. 
    Throughout the last two years that I’ve spent working on collecting stories of women’s abortions for my anthology zine, I’ve met some amazing women and heard some incredible stories that have opened my eyes to issues I never understood or knew anything about.  I’ve also met white, young radicals who talk about how fucked up medical abortion is- mostly from women who have not had one- who talk about how amazing they think herbal abortion is; without having had one themselves.  Most women I know who have been pregnant- several dozen- tried an herbal abortion before they went to a clinic- and only two were successful.  I have also heard about two women who have died trying.  I have yet to see a recipe that has been consistently successful, let alone with a high accuracy.  Herbal potency varies greatly depending on where people acquire herbs, and most people are looking for a quick fix, an herbal miracle pill to end the pregnancy, when the reality is that herbs take a lot of time and patience.  Herbs must be used so early on when most people don’t even know they’re pregnant yet, and if they work you will be sick, as they are poisons; and usually are harmful to the liver.  I am open to information people may have, but I have also done a significant amount of research, talked with several herbalists and after four years of researching, I still don’t have any recipe I would rely on or recommend as an option.  Women who have never thought about it and suddenly find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy would have an impossible task to try to find a recipe, and often tend to choose the first thing that they are told might work- without understanding the consequences.  Women who do not want an abortion can be highly motivated by desperation, and it is important to remember this when talking to women about potential options.
    A clinical abortion, with what negatives there are dealing with the doctors and undergoing the procedure, provide a safe way for women to have an abortion.  For women who work, have children, and other responsibilities, it’s a way they can move forward with their lives without being overly burdened.  I don’t want this to sound like an easy thing; abortion is an expensive, emotionally and physically draining procedure that women shouldn’t have to go through.  It’s a decision that is made after much thinking and frustration.  I’m tired of hearing all the pro-life punk boys out there arguing that women deserve what they get for being ‘irresponsible’- as if there wasn’t a boy contributing to the situation.  Or that they should give it up for an adoption- which is an option for some women, but for most we don’t have the time, resources, or ability to dedicate our bodies for nine months to a child- or we’d probably be choosing to be a mother ourselves. 
    I think that prevention and education can be a strong force in influencing change, and until the radical feminists and supporters fund the discovery of a 99.99% effective hormonal contraceptive for men, women still bear most of the burden in choosing and using contraceptive methods for heterosexual couples.  So, we’ve gotta hand out free condoms and teach each other that having safe sex is a good idea, not just for unwanted pregnancy prevention but also for STD protection.  Natural birth control should be used only after reading a lot of information about it.  I have a friend who got pregnant while on her period.  The basal thermometer daily charting method is a really great way to know the exact days that you are fertile- but I also think that when possible the male partners should be equally involved in reminding their lady partners about being consistent about checking.  The burden should not just be on women. I think we need to make ourselves accountable when people we know are spreading inaccurate or partial information, and to remember that there are tons of really great thorough books on many aspects of reproductive rights and information.  Even if we choose to be in a culture without a reliance on experts on all aspects of culture and life, they can be the best sources of information.   A couple good books to start are “Taking charge of your fertility” and “A cooperative method of birth control” to learn all about the methods.  We’ve gotta work to make men equally responsible about contraceptives and learn more about the issues so that we can affect positive change for all women, not just those with access to information.