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Remarks at the ACLU Lunch

March 23 the Illinois ACLU held a fundraising lunch, where we were reminded how close to the edge of losing our Constitutional protections the current occupant is pushing us. We get caught in the daily battles for reproductive health care or protecting immigrants and forget that Congress is abrogating its right and its duty to uphold the separation of powers.

Illinois ACLU director Colleen Connell spelled out our challenges in a moving speech. As soon as I have a copy I will post it here. In the meantime, for those who are interested, I’m putting my own remarks here — I was asked to speak briefly about reproductive health care access.

Thank you all for coming today and for turning out in such large numbers. The March 4 Wall Street Journal questioned the patriotism of progressives like me: if we aren’t for America First, what claim can we lay to our country?

My claim is the to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Without these then I do feel frightened and stateless. It is thanks to the ACLU that all of us, progressives, conservatives, libtards and even the two Stevens, Miller and Bannon, have a country.

A view of the Jumbotron

After the 2016 election, as we scrambled for ways to protect our country, Jonathan Santlofer, who runs the Center for Fiction in New York, got a contract with Simon & Schuster to create an anthology of resistance called, It Occurs to Me that I am America. All profits go to the ACLU.

My contribution imagines a dystopian future, complete with special courts to protect the so-called unborn – a word which for me conjures the undead. In it, Lotty Herschel and V.I. Warshawski are arrested for supporting abortion rights.

My story rose out of my own anxiety over the thousands of restrictions that have been placed on access to abortion, contraception and women’s reproductive health across the fifty states. It is thanks to the ACLU’s legal actions around the country, along with our grassroots resistance, that we can still claim access to contraception and abortion in many jurisdictions.

 

In 1970, three years before Roe, my roommate had a back-alley abortion. We weren’t friends: we’d known each other for about a week and she didn’t want me to go with her. That night, when she hadn’t come home, I started calling hospitals and police stations near our Harlem apartment. She had been found unconscious, hemorrhaging, on a sidewalk near Columbia University’s big teaching hospital. The intern on call saved her life but gave her a scathing lecture on her loose morals.

When I returned to Chicago that fall, I began actively working for reproductive rights. It’s been almost fifty years now of struggling against parental notification laws, mandatory ultrasounds, terrorist attacks on doctors and clinics, punitive building codes and so on. I am angry, I am tired, but I am heartened by the legion of young women and men who are taking up the fight, especially those of you who are here today.

 

#MeToo has raised awareness of the way in which sexual harassment and assault permeate American institutions. The failure –until very recently — for anyone to respond to women’s reports of assaults, stems from the same social norm that seeks to deny our access to reproductive health care. We operate in a culture that does not see women as fully human, as having the same ability as men to make moral decisions. Just as Harvey Weinstein’s and Donald Trump’s victims couldn’t get law enforcement or industry power players to take their experiences seriously, so, too, are women unable to establish our right to make our own health care decisions.

Women’s speech is unheard and undervalued. Studies of women’s speech shows that whether at the dinner table or the boardroom, women can speak about a third of the time. When we take up more time – more room – we are tuned out. American movies reflect that: even with a female lead, women get about a quarter of the dialogue, men three-quarters.

So it’s an unsurprising, but a grim, life-threatening reality, that women are not attended to when we report predatory behavior of presidents or demand access to health care.

Thanks to #MeToo, thanks to the energy of thousands of young women and men, and thanks to the tireless work of the ACLU, we are changing that reality.

When I look at this room, I feel more hope than I have for many years, despite the despicable situation in our nation’s capitol. I know that everyone here is passionately committed to “promoting justice and providing for the general welfare,” as our country’s founders put it.

If you can work at a clinic under siege, or volunteer in a campaign for this fall’s election, so that we have a pro-choice governor and a pro-choice Congress, do so. If you can write the most generous check you can afford to the ACLU — the life you save could be your own. Or your mother’s, your lover’s, your daughter’s. Certainly it will be the life of one of our sisters.

 

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