Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Revised Speech


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.

14 comments:

B. Dagger Lee said...

Girl, you have been revising and working on this--it's so much stronger, although I still wish there were more Ohio,Ohio,Ohio in it.

I'm looking at it and will get back to you tomorrow.

Question: How many minutes does each speaker get? And the date you speak is the 13th?

Yrs, B. Dagger Lee

Kelley Bell said...

Hi B,

Hey, thanks SO much for the assist. It means a great deal for all women. The evolution of this speech is proof that when women pull together, we can inspire progressive change.

I like the "Ohio, Ohio, Ohio" cry. I'll work on that.

The date is next Tue. June 13th.

As for time, there is no limit, but the chairman can cut anyone off at any time, and he very well might, becuause of the high number of people expected. I have been advised to keep it between 4 and 6 min. Right now, its running at 8, so some tighetening up is nessessary.

In addition, I would like to note my motivation for this particular tactic. The feminist movement has always been fractured. Minority women have never seen the pro choice movement as their fight. As this essay reveals, their experiences offer a very different perspective.

If I can craft an argument that is inclusive, it might provide the catalyst women need to ignite an offensive.

With that in mind: my next task is to create 3 good sound bytes for the media, in relation to this speech. If you have any suggestions, they are most welcome.

Ms Kate said...

Hi Kellybell,

I don't live in Ohio, but I really appreciate your thought and efforts there.

If you need to tighten it up, be sure you do it in the service of the central idea you have here - the idea that government authority can't be trusted with women's fertility.

See if you can find an Ohio-specific example of that - or note if Ohio was one of the eugenic states or something. That will really bring it home for a lot of people - our state did this for spurious reasons (state these if you know), and it's a prime example of why we can't trust the state to make reproductive policy.

Rock on, and good luck.

Kelley Bell said...

Thanks Kate,

Im searching through Ohio history on the issue right now. Its tough, as the laws do not always reflect the policies.

(ie: there were no "laws" enforcing racially motivated sterilization. The practice was condoned in the shadows.)

But Im snoopin like an old hound dog.

-Give me a heads up if any of you reader find anything.

B. Dagger Lee said...

[Kelley, I'm going to do this in chunks. I usually edit on paper or in Word with red fonts and for some reason the comment box editing is throwing me a little. I don't like the cut-and-paste-comment thing others do, so I've never mastered it. Yrs, B. Dagger Lee]

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. [Great beginning.]

B. Dagger Lee said...

Your struggle to weigh these issues is not unlike the struggle that each woman faces when she evaluates a pregnancy. [This analogy is strong, that their difficult decision equals the difficult decision women make; it flatters their self-importance while hewing largely to the truth. What I would want is that it plays out a little more in the rest of the paragraph.] 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. [Here I want one or two more sentences that elaborate this idea, then tie it up—that making the difficult decision to keep or abort a fetus is a decision of great consequence that plays out for the rest of a woman’s life. One of the reasons people use parallel construction and repetition in speeches is that it helps the listener follow and track the ideas. I would work repetition and parallel construction into the last three sentences: “We women…” and “Every woman…” and “For we have…”] [Also, feel free to take and use any language I use in brackets, whether it’s a suggestion of mine, or an explication.]

B. Dagger Lee said...

In a free country we celebrate diversity, and [we] respect those whose values are different than our own. Without Freedom, we are lost. Look to the flag. It stands for Freedom. [Suggest: “For me it stands…” or, “In my mind, 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!” [Okay, these two sentences--I think I know what you mean, but I think it needs a little clarifying. Was it Patrick Henry who said that? Here’s my extrapolation, but I’m not sure it’s what you meant. Suggest: “Patrick Henry said, ‘Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” And I can tell you that nothing less is at stake for women in your decision, that you make here, over the next few days: If you do not give we women the liberty to make reproductive decisions that reflect the real context of our lives, our families, our health and well-being, both physical and mental—you consign many women, young and old, to death in illegal backstreet abortions, or the slow death of the spirit as you watch your family dragged into poverty.” Anyway, I’m not sure what you meant with the quote, and it actually seems a little odd in the speech, as it stands.]

B. Dagger Lee said...

In this case we must choose one or the other, because the compromises available have proven themselves a travesty for both sides. [If I understand this sentence, pointing this out undercuts your argument, I think.] Parental notification laws are flawed. State by state abortion laws or abortion rights without federal funding both exclude the poor. [I would suggest cutting out entirely the above.]

B. Dagger Lee said...

And we must remember that this battle is not merely over abortion. It is really [also] a matter of Civil Rights.

The history of reproductive freedom [coercion? not 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” [I would replace “their ‘massa’s’” with ‘the slave owners”—dialect is tricky in oh so many ways.] 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. [Shorten this paragraph]

B. Dagger Lee said...

As if this history is not burden enough, minority women also faced forced sterilization. Racial prejudice prompted our government to ratify compulsory sterilization laws in 26 states by 1932. Law books site the 1973 case [in what state?] of the Relf sisters: Mary Alice was 14, and her baby sister Minnie Lee was only 12 when they were both involuntarily sterilized. A federally funded agency approached the girls’ mother and encouraged her to sign up for various community assistance programs, and convinced her to give her daughters reversible birth-control shots. She was illiterate, however, and was tricked into consenting to surgical sterilization. ( 1) [I shortened this paragraph.]

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) [Is this Pinkerton-Uri that you quote here?]

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.” [And shorten this paragraph. Actually, I would try to compress and shorten the previous five or six paragraphs into one paragraph covering the history of forced reproduction and sterilization.]

B. Dagger Lee said...

These cases of involuntary sterilization and reproductive blackmail are no different than laws prohibiting abortion. [Here, I suggest, to explicate further the abysmal record of state control of reproduction, maybe put in statistics on deaths from illegal abortions in the state of Ohio, before Roe v. Wade?]

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! [I like this pedophilia bit, but sometimes in an effective piece of rhetoric, you have to leave out what you enjoy most. I would take it out.] [Over and over again the state] assumes that we an incompetent class of irresponsible harlots who use abortion to avoid responsibility is both prejudicial and discriminatory. [I moved this sentence from where it was because it didn’t fit in the paragraph it was in; it doesn’t have to go here, there are a variety of places it could go.]

The State simply can not be trusted to control a woman’s body for any reason, ever, period. Government policies [controlling] women have been used, historically, in this country 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 [of what?] 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 [former] Governor [of New York] 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.”

B. Dagger Lee said...

In order for women to function as fully emancipated Americans, they [we] must be in control of their [our] 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. [I would take out “..under which we stand,” and just end the sentence after “flag.” You invoke a famous speech below, and if you invoke the pledge of allegiance here, you’re risking a patriotic medley that slides into cliché. You could say, “an affront to the flag, a flag which represents freedom,” or “a flag that represents freedom for women…”]

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 [truly] become a shining beacon of light to the world [and prove] 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.

[I like these last paragraphs, although I would caution against leaning too much into and against the King speech; trust in yourself and use your own words for your speech and practice it before an audience. People zone out and stop listening if something sounds too speechifying or familiar. I said before, I do wish there was more Ohio in it, though, and I think also personal anecdotes about women’s choices to have an abortion. Looking up this long comments thread I think I chose a confusing way to do it, I’m sorry. If you put up another revision, I would send you my revisions in a Word doc straight email to email. Good luck and thanks. Yrs. BDL]

Kelley Bell said...

B. Dagger Lee,

Your effort in the name of the cause is worthy of a grand and glorious award.

But all I can offer is the humble thanks from all the women your are working to protect.

I have just been notified that the committee has put a three min. time limit on all testimony.

Now I just have to reduce the history of reproductive injustice to a short, convincing, sound byte.

LOL, well, I suppose I could think of worse ways to spend my weekend!

fineartist said...

Wow, Kelly, I am breathless from reading this.

Bravo, applause goes here. xx, Lori