Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Address to The Ohio House of Representatives Re: House Bill 228
By Kelley Bell
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, as our elected leaders, the task falls to you to make a choice on the issue put forth here today. Life is filled with difficult choices, issues that defy simplification, blanket solutions, or sound-byte absolutes. Your struggle to weigh these issues is not unlike the struggle that each woman faces when she evaluates a pregnancy. Keep that in mind, as you make your choice. No matter what you decide, some people will despise you for it. Some will hate you, judge you, and condemn you for the rest of your life. For that, you have my deepest compassion. We women know how that feels. Every woman I speak for knows.
For we have lived it.
In a free country we celebrate diversity, and respect those whose values are different than our own. Without Freedom, we are lost. Look to the flag. It stands for Freedom. It represents a nation of diversity. Will you sacrifice Liberty in the name of life? Or do you honor the cry of our forefathers, “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!”
In this case we must choose one or the other, because the compromises available have proven themselves a travesty for both sides. Parental notification laws are flawed. State by State abortion laws or Abortion rights without federal funding both exclude the poor. And we must remember that this battle is not merely over abortion. It is really a matter of Civil Rights.
The history of reproductive freedom in this country began with our black sisters. Slave owners commonly forced these women to bear large numbers of children as a means to their increase wealth. These women were raped, subjected to forced marriage, and treated as breeding stock. Many slave women bore between 10 and 20 children against their will. They knew their babies would bear the lash, and be torn from their arms and sold. They knew their children would be beaten, abused, raped, and often killed. These women found ways to induce their own abortions. They did not do it to defy their “massa’s” or assert their rights, they did it to protect their children. The decision to bring a child into the world is one that every woman takes seriously. To assume that we an incompetent class of irresponsible harlots who use abortion to avoid responsibility is both prejudicial and discriminatory.
As if this history is not burden enough, minority women then faced forced sterilization. Racial prejudice prompted our government to ratify compulsory sterilization laws in 26 states by 1932. Law books site the 1973 case of The Relf sisters, Mary Alice was 14, and her baby sister Minnie Lee was only 12 when they were both involuntarily sterilized. The story tells us that a federally funded agency approached the girl’s mother and encouraged her to sign up for various community assistance programs. The social workers convinced her to give her daughters reversible birth-control shots. She was illiterate, and consented unknowingly by placing an X on a form that called for surgical
sterilization. ( 1)
Native American women were also targeted. “Various studies revealed that the Indian Health Service [a federally funded clinic] sterilized between 25 and 50 percent of Native American women between 1970 and 1976.” (2)
A study by Choctaw-Cherokee physician Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri “discovered that Indian women generally agreed to sterilization when they were threatened with the loss of their children and/or their welfare benefits, that most of them gave their consent when they were heavily sedated during a Cesarean section or when they were in a great deal of pain during labor, and that the women could not understand consent forms because they were written in English at the twelfth-grade level.”
“By the late 1970s at least ten states had proposed compulsory sterilization of women on welfare. Similar proposals in the 1990s aim to limit welfare benefits of women who have more than the approved number of children.”
These cases of involuntary sterilization and reproductive blackmail are no different than laws prohibiting abortion. What we are talking about is the authority of government to further its own agenda by controlling women’s fertility. The record of the State as an authority over women’s reproductive rights is appalling. Putting the States in charge of this matter is like putting a pedophile in charge of a pre-school!
The State simply can not be trusted to control a woman’s body for any reason, ever, period. Government policies against women have been used to stop over population, to reduce welfare, to promote ethnic cleansing, to ensure the “unfit” can not reproduce, and to increase personal wealth. The religious morality argument to ban abortion is just one small piece of the puzzle. Sometimes the State forces us to have babies; sometimes it forces us to abort them. Forgive me if this sounds rude, but my womb was not designed for the incubation of political agendas! There is nothing “moral” about any of this.
Religious activists appeal to our hearts with a puritan ethic. They use false stereotypes to compel voters into a frenzy that exalts homogeneous moral order, over liberty. They use half truths and censorship to confuse the issue. They relentlessly apply pseudo-psychology on emotionally unstable women, and use them as pawns for political power. For every distraught, conflicted woman, who testifies to her pain and regret over an abortion, there are literally thousands of others who stand behind their right to Reproductive Freedom with steadfast conviction.
As Governor Mario Cuomo said:
“To assure our freedom we must allow others the same freedom, even if occasionally it produces conduct by them which we would hold to be sinful.”
In order for women to function as fully emancipated Americans, they must be in control of their fertility. The duty of a government in a free society is to make services available to the people without coercion; to inform the public in a truthful, unbiased manner, to empower even the meekest among us with the ability to make informed responsible choices. Anything less is an affront to the Flag, under which we stand.
Like the Great Doctor Martin Luther King, I too have a dream,
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people, men and women, rich and poor, black, white, and every shade in between, are ALL created equal.
I have a dream that my daughter will one day live in a nation where she will not be marginalized by her gender, ridiculed about her religion, or condemned for her sexuality, but free to define her own role as a contributing, thinking, responsible, member of a vibrant and diverse society.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we exalt liberty for every person of every ethnicity, Our Country will then become a shining beacon of light to the world. Proving that a free nation can succeed, without the use of strong arm tactics, force, or fear based propaganda, but through education, empowerment, and a vision of Liberty for all.