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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

sfc, where you at?

Whatever happened to Students For Choice (SFC)? With Harvard Right to Life waging a tireless informational campaign including posters and doordropped literature, we now have the Crimson picking up slack for the conspicuously silent (and effectively dormant) pro-choice group. Today's well-reasoned staff ed, denouncing parental notification laws for minors seeking abortions, hits home for me: my mom is a lawyer for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and worked like crazy to defeat a parental notification bill on the November ballot this year. But while the Crimson is taking up this topical issue, SFC remains mum. What gives? (more in expanded post)

I know, I know--people are tired of the abortion debate. Like affirmative action and same-sex marriage, it has suffered from overexposure, particularly in amateurish debate circles. So perhaps the leaders of SFC fear that a pro-choice campaign will simply fall on the deaf ears of students weary of the same old woman's-right-to-choose arguments. Or maybe SFC feels secure that the student body is progressive enough that they don't need to be reminded of why they support reproductive rights.

But neither of these potential hang-ups ought to prevent the group from mobilizing. SFC just needs to widen its scope of vision and affirm that reproductive choice is about more than tired abortion rhetoric lets on. Plan B, parental notification, condom use, sex and health education in public schools--all these topics fall squarely in the reproductive choice realm and, just as importantly, aren't played out.

In addition, other facets of reproductive health are still largely absent from the mainstream discourse. For instance, how class and race factor into access to reproductive health services, the fact that some health insurance policies of federally-funded employers cover Viagra but not birth control, and whether abortion services should be provided primarily in regular hospitals rather than being marginalized in abortion clinics are all subjects worthy of consideration and debate. With respect to abortion itself, many people don't even know what the procedure entails or which medical advances have made it safer for women over the years. SFC could even educate students about the struggles for reproductive health services outside the U.S., especially since the Bush administration's policies restrict reproductive choice abroad and arguably endanger women's health in the affected nations.

Soon, I hope, SFC will be more than just a ghost organization. I know of at least one student who is trying admirably to resuscitate the group (whose website, as far as I can tell, hasn't been updated in over two years!), but despite emailing the current president repeatedly, has yet to hear back at all. Until the group gets back on its feet, I guess it's up to us (with the Crimson's help) to continue educating ourselves about reproductive health and choice, subjects that affect all of us (and I do mean all). And if there's one goal everyone can agree on, it's reducing total demand for abortions.

What are your thoughts on reproductive health and choice? If the SFC were active, what would you like to see it doing? What are some key reproductive health issues I didn't mention? If you don't agree with the ideas and aims of a group like SFC, do you still think the community dialogue could benefit from its contributions? Hit the comment button and share your thoughts with us!


At 7:26 PM, Blogger andrew stillman said...

i think now that abby (fee, founder/former presiden of sfc) has graduated, the group has really lost a lot. she was the real force behind the group, and even though other people were active in it, she was really the tireless voice that kept everyone else going. one other frustration we had, back when i was on the board, was what the nature of the group should be. there was a lot of postering (which always felt kind of reactionary, as it was in response to the HRL's natalie campaign), but we never really knew what other kind of work to do. should students for choice be doing service? activism? education? support work? social events for like-minded pro-choicers? we never really got into a groove, and now that abby has gone, the organization seems to have lost all of its momentum.

At 9:16 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...

first of all, props for having served on the board. :)

it makes a lot of sense that the continuation of a group like sfc would rely on the passion of one person or a few individuals. when people are prioritizing extracurricular activities, protecting reproductive choice simply doesn't seem to be at the top of the list for many people, even if it's a cause they believe in strongly. unfortunately, i think it will take a significant rollback of reproductive rights to galvanize people on a large scale.

on the other hand, all of your suggestions for what sfc could do are wonderful, and while selecting among them is difficult, it's better than being paralyzed by too many options.

i guess some of the things i would imagine sfc doing are

-working with the IOP to invite local and national activists to speak on choice-related topics

-collaborating with PBH to establish an infrasturcture to encourage students to volunteer at local reproductive health clinics and women's centers

-organizing some kind of large annual pro-choice event (probably a social gathering like you suggested) that would demonstrate through turnout (hopefully) the vast majority of students who favor choice (or who want free felipes :)

-publishing and distributing educational literature on choice issues, especially as they pertain to students. establishing an up-to-date website and linking it to OSAPR and HUHS

-working with international groups, especially HASA, to raise awareness about the Mexico City Policy and its adverse effects on international communities

-organizing students to petition the FDA to grant Plan B OTC status

-participating in and contributing to the planning of HIV/AIDS-related events on campus

i know that's way too much for one group to take on at once, but really pushing even one of these angles would be a significant beginning.

What would you personally like to see sfc doing? what obstacles did you guys encounter that we uninitiated might not anticipate?

and to clarify for those who aren't (as) familiar with it, what was HRL's natalie campaign?

At 9:36 PM, Anonymous Leah said...

If this is something you're interested in, there is a Dems reproductive rights group that meets Monday nights (usually 8 or 9) in the Eliot Dining Hall. Ariana (kroshin@fas) heads it up. Definitely not the same as SFC, but is trying to do legislative work and awareness raising.

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we don't let children drink, smoke, obtain violent material or vote, why should we let them get an abortion?

It's also nice to know that your mom works tirelessly to prevent other moms from being able to do their jobs.

At 12:50 AM, Blogger katie loncke said...

"If we don't let children drink, smoke, obtain violent material or vote, why should we let them get an abortion?"

Well, here's one really good reason: if we don't 'let them' seek safe abortion services, they are likely to resort to other means that could endanger their health. Ever heard of the phrase 'coat-hanger abortion?' No one wants that.

As far as requiring parental notification or consent for minors seeking abortions, Planned Parenthood says it better than I can:

"Few would deny that most teenagers, especially younger ones, would benefit from adult guidance when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Few would deny that such guidance ideally should come from the teenager's parents. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. For a variety of reasons, including fear of parental maltreatment or abuse, teenagers frequently cannot tell their parents about their pregnancies or planned abortions."

"It's also nice to know that your mom works tirelessly to prevent other moms from being able to do their jobs."

Are you saying that it's women's 'job' to be mothers even when we don't want to or aren't ready to?

At 1:19 AM, Blogger andrew stillman said...

katie, you asked about the natalie campaign. two years ago the harvard right to life started a year-long postering campaign that followed the development of a fetus named natalie. it would say things like "week 15-- i suck my thumb and can feel pain", and would be accompanied by a huge full color photo of a fetus in the womb at that stage of development (they found photos that looked particularly human/child-like). these posters were EVERYWHERE, and a lot of people felt very uncomfortable seeing them when they walked into their entryway/hallway. it really incited a an abortion debate on campus, much of which took place on posters from both HRL and SFC. (i still have some of the sfc posters on my hard drive... some emphasized that abortion was one of many options, while others explained how the phrase "pro life" was a misnomer).

the poster campaigns were one of the main things that sfc got involved in.... we also tried to coordinate some volunteer work at mass-naral, traveled to a couple of national protests, and helped to escort people through the pro-life protesters at abortion clinics, but overall the group really didn't find a place because we were stretched too far in different directions. i think that for a new students for choice group to succeed on campus it would need to very clearly define its mission and its strategies. a lot of the ideas that you mention are really excellent, and i think that it would probably make the most sense to take one or two of them to focus on. i think that looking for abortion issues on the harvard level (work with UHS, awareness-raising, etc) would probably be both more beneficial and more fulfilling than would fighting for national issues, but if the group wanted to define itself as primarily a national advocacy group, that could also work. i just think the key is in finding a focus.

institutional memory... wow i feel old. i practically even remember the PSLM days :)

anonymous, i'm not responding to your comment because i don't think that it would be very productive to engage in a discussion about the merits of abortion on these boards (particularly if you are putting it in the same category as "vices" like smoking and drinking). these discussions often tend to get emotional and upsetting, without ever accomplishing much. that, and i have a paper to write...

At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Are you saying that it's women's 'job' to be mothers even when we don't want to or aren't ready to?"

Katie, I think you either really did not understand anonymous's post, or are deliberately misrepresenting it. The comment was about parental notification, basically saying that your mom is crusading against other moms' rights to know what their teenage daughters are doing.

At 2:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, I think it is kind of absurd when people make the argument that you're either going to have legal abortion or coathanger abortions, so why not make it safe. What pro-lifers are arguing that abortion is not ok under any circumstances, with a coat hanger or under Planned Parenthood's roof.

The argument is kind of like saying that since two dead people are worse than one, we should pass laws to make it easier for murderers to avoid hurting themselves in the process of killing others.

At 3:11 AM, Anonymous Interested said...

There needs to be a debate between the two groups, as occurs every year through the HPU. What do you all think the topic should be? It bothers me that the pro-choice side is always afraid to talk about morality. Dare either group venture into such a topic?

At 11:14 AM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Hey, I'm sorry if I misinterpreted anonymous 1's comments about mothers' jobs. Professor Mansfield has argued that women should go out and have babies, so I wouldn't put it past students here to make similar assertions, and that's what immediately came to mind. My bad! But I hope my view on the issue of parental notification was clarified by the Planned Parenthood quote (and also the Crimson staff ed I linked to in my original post).

I agree, interested, that there should be debates and dialogue among all sides. And I know that for me, morality plays a huge part in why I support people's right to reproductive choice. I think it's difficult to explicitly focus the debate on morality, though, because such discussions are then often reduced to irreconcilable differences between or among groups. People stop really listening to each other, and the dialogue winds up exacerbating divisions rather than encouraging genuine exchange and learning.

But I think yours is a very good question: what are some other topics that HRL and SFC can debate that don't center around whether abortion itself is always wrong? Is it even possible to move beyond this fundamental point of contestation?

I intended for this thread to spark some ideas and conversation about what SFC could be doing on campus. So I hope that before we get too wrapped up in the larger, vastly complex debate of whether abortion is a practice ensuring reproductive freedom or is always analagous to murder (or at least in addition to addressing that piece), we can brainstorm some more strategies for getting SFC up and running again.

Thanks for your comments, everybody.

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, it would be interesting to know how close the ed staff vote was on the parental notification issue.

I hope people recognize that groups like Planned Parenthood don't prevent or even discourage young women from talking with their parents about the decision to terminate a pregnancy. In fact, they encourage this kind of dialogue. But if a patient feels she would be risking her safety and well-being by notifying her parents, it would be irresponsible to force her to do so.

At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Laura said...

Disclaimer: I'm firmly planted on the other side of the fence (former HRL board member).

However... I'm reminded of the slow demise of another feminist organization, Coalition Against Sexual Violence, on whose board I also served. CASV was big around the time I came to Harvard in '01, but it faded into oblivion over the following several years. Now it no longer exists. It wasn't because Harvard students are pro-rape, obviously. And it wasn't because they don't care about sexual violence. It's that there wasn't anything to react to with the force and anger and passion that drives activism. The work that we wanted to do was more beneath-the-surface, culture-changing progress that people didn't want to commit to because, well, rape is depressing, and it's even more depressing when your work doesn't have immediate, visible results.

Abortion (either the practice itself or restrictions thereon, depending on who you are) is depressing, too, and I think SFC's trajectory followed that of CASV for similar reasons. HRL, on the other hand, is still alive and kicking. I have some guesses as to why, but you'll have to ask. :-)

At 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quoting comment a:
"If we don't let children drink, smoke, obtain violent material or vote, why should we let them get an abortion?"

Quoting reply b:
Well, here's one really good reason: if we don't 'let them' seek safe abortion services, they are likely to resort to other means that could endanger their health. Ever heard of the phrase 'coat-hanger abortion?' No one wants that.

The CA Prop simply was for "notification" not for parental consent. If you're a minor, your parents are notified about your grades for goodness sakes! Why shouldn't they be notified before you have an abortion?

At 2:26 AM, Blogger t1ernd0g said...

Feminism is sexist. Let's discuss choice, which is something men don't have. Choice has been made strictly a woman's right. Limiting reproductive rights to women is gender-specific and is therefore unacceptable. If we believe in equal rights, we need to recognize men’s equal reproductive rights and equal right to privacy.

We need to change our vocabulary to eliminate prejudices and negative connotations, and to put a positive slant on these neglected rights of men. Therefore, “rape” and “child molestation” will become the more positive “drive fulfillment”; “domestic violence” and “child abuse” will be appropriately called “anger redirection”; and “victim” becomes the non-prejudicial “facilitator”.

I personally am against drive fulfillment and anger redirection, but every man has the right to choose.

The laws that currently repress these freedoms must fall in landmark Supreme Court cases. Men should educate themselves, recognize their empowerment, and become activists. Society should shrug off the negative connotations of “rape”, “molestation”, “domestic violence”, etc., and these rights must no longer be exercised furtively in back alleys but allowed to be enjoyed in the full light of day, free from disapproval and intolerance. Politicians at all levels should be supported or not based on their support of gender-neutral reproductive rights. After all, it’s my body -- government, keep your laws off it!

We should be prepared to counter the attacks of narrow-minded special interests, who may make claims such as “rape is wrong”, “child abuse is violence”, etc. We can easily poke holes in their arguments, for example by simply countering that if they don’t like “rape”, then they don’t have to have one. In the case of drive redirection via minor (formerly called “child molestation”), it’s obvious that a minor is a post-natal fetus, and a fetus has no rights. The issue of pre-term vs. post-term falls before the more fundamental right to privacy.

Please join with me in embracing this progressive cause.

At 3:21 AM, Anonymous Caitlin said...

Wow peeps. . . I've got a paper that I really should be writing. So, I shan't be addressing as many of the comments here as I'd like.

Disclaimer's aside, I am troubled by the suggestion that somehow receiving counseling (or assistance) from Planned Parenthood would discourage people from talking to their own parents. If anything, a person is more likely to feel comfortable discussing issues that may once have seemed impossible to even bring up with people who are close to them (whose judgement/reactions/abuse they fear or whose approval/understanding/support they seek) after having already had that discussion with an impartial, informed stranger.
Frequently individuals lack a lot of information about issues that they may be confronted with (is this an STD? am I pregnant? how do i get birth control? what's an ok age to start having sex? how do i tell my partner that i want to stop having sex? how do explain to new partners that i am waiting until marriage to have sex? is this situation considered rape?). Actually, even a well informed individual can feel confused and scared when suddenly abstract issues hit home. A person experiencing this turmoil could feel any range of emotions, often including fear of judgement and shame ("Its my fault I was raped." "Its my fault that I'm pregnant"--even if the person was using protection, and, say a condom broke). Is it really that hard to believe that talking to someone anonymously would be an easier first step than going to one's parents? After receiving counseling, people often feel like they aren't alone with the issues that they face. . .they aren't weird. . . Is it so hard to believe that that feeling of support and encouragement would empower someone to THEN go and speak to their parents?
If it is, let me offer the following scenario. One of my closest friends decided to go out and get birth control on her own. After talking with a clinitian about Planned Parenthood about what was right for her, she began to feel more at ease with the topic of her sexual health. She THEN went to her parents and brought up a discussion that she previously felt too nervous/uncomfortable to begin.
Unfortunately, my friend's story isn't everyones. As some people have pointed out, it isn't, by any means, out of the realm of possibility to live in a home where you are sexually or otherwise physically abused. It is not unheard of for a person to have unsupportive or, as I just said, even abusive parents. In which case, doesn't everyone deserve someone to turn to and ask questions of? If the parents are truly supportive, then its likely that the person will eventually feel comfortable enough to have that discussion with their parents. This is an option that is important for people who don't feel like they CAN go to their parents.

So, now that I've voiced my opion that its absurd to claim that talking will disuade further talking. . . (since we all now can at least imagine a scenario where talking at planned parenthood is the beginning of a longer, productive, informed dialogue with parents/partners/whomever) let's revisit this comment: "If you're a minor, your parents are notified about your grades for goodness sakes! Why shouldn't they be notified before you have an abortion?"
Grades are a qualitatively different issue than abortion. The things that are at stake in the two scenarios are wildly different. Perhaps, if you get bad grades, your parents will force you to study harder. But prevention from following through with a decision about your body? Exile from your family for making a decision they are against? Abuse? These are really different issues.
Now, its been said, but, Planned Parenthood definitely advocates the parents being involved in the process of decision making/carrying out an abortion. Those who advocate the anonymity of a minor in this process are worried about the young women who will receive punishment and abuse for making this decision. Not those who will have parents who (even if against the decision) will have rational, supportive, informative conversations with the minor. (and yes, it is possible to be supportive of a person even when you don't agree with their actions/decisions).

ok, sorry those aren't bite sized media sound clip responses. . . but jeez people. . .there was just so much to put out there. . .


At 12:18 PM, Blogger Paul Schultz said...

(a comment, on this day, the feast of the Immaculate Conception" (or, shorter version, here))

The Natalie series, briefly summarized.

HRL's goal was to inform and remind the campus as to what exactly was in a woman's womb before she had an abortion:
Thus we had a series of 7 posters picturing and detailing fetal development at 30 hours, 25 days, 7 weeks, 8 weeks, 16 weeks, 20 weeks and 24 weeks (we considered 28 weeks and 32 weeks as well, but opted not to because of the expense and because a child looks fully "babylike" from about 8 weeks on.) (c.f. the G.E. 4D ultrasound commercials)

Our first poster was approximately as follows:
Small Headline: "Hi, my name is Natalie. I might be just 30 hours old, but I already have my own 46 chromosomes making up my unique DNA."
Large Headline: "Watch me grow!"
Picture: 8-celled human being with caption "Actual size: 0.15 mm"
Small Headline: "A person's a person no matter how small." - Horton Hears a Who!

Our week 8 poster was approximately as follows:
Large headline: "Natalie: Day 56 (week 8)
Small text:
"Liver - check
Heart - check
Lungs - check
Brains - check
Pancreas - check
Stomach - check
Intestines - check
Ovaries - check
Skin - check"
Large Headline: "All of my organs have developed!"
Picture: 8 week-old human female with caption "Shown at 2.5x actual size"
Small Headline: "A person's a person no matter how small." - Horton Hears a Who!

For whatever reason, a Crimson columnist had a problem with the informational goal of our poster series almost immediately after it had begun: you can read that here. I and one of the other officers responded thusly

The campaign of Harvardians tearing down the Natalie posters is unlike any other in my memory, with the possible exception of the "Smile - Your mom chose life" posters. The tearing down of posters and other actions evinced a campus wide emotional/guilty response. Though Natalie was conceived of as a reasoned series, I am aware of no systematic, rational response by those on the other side of the abortion debate.

Paul Schultz, President HRL 02-03

Various other Crimson content about Natalie:
SFC - http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=274154
HRC - http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=255945

At 4:22 PM, Anonymous alyssa said...

im late to the discussion and did really read all of this BUUTT...

there is a group called "Coalition to Protect Reproductive Rights" that meets on mondays, 7pm, at 45 mt auburn. one of the leaders is a recent harvard grad. check it out if interested.


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