"Hard Case" Questions During Capitol Hill Briefing Celebrating Women's Equality
August 25, 2010
Dear Feminists for Life:
Earlier this month Feminists for Life invited Washington-area interns to a Capitol Hill briefing in celebration of Susan B. Anthony's 190th birthday and the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment. There was "standing room only."
College interns from both sides of the ideological divide first heard me share highlights of our rich pro-life feminist history. Our National Program Director Cayce D. Utley provided highlights from FFL's groundbreaking study, "Perception is Reality," and how our work led to the new Pregnancy Assistance Fund. College Outreach Program Coordinator Chaunie Brusie shared her personal story and outlined the many tools FFL offers to help transform their schools. A special guest speaker, Chandra White-Cummings from Black Life Issues and Action Network, talked about her experience as a parent attending law school and how FFL solutions mirror those she has initiated at the local level.
After the presentations, I invited students to ask us questions. We received overwhelming affirmation for our work from those on both sides of the abortion debate.
Despite the focus on solutions for pregnant and parenting students, the first question came from a young man standing at the back of the room. He told us that his mother terminated an earlier pregnancy.
The unborn child's brain was outside the skull, he told us. Not only was his mother carrying a child with a condition known as exencephaly, but her workplace was reportedly not supportive and she was pressured to get back to work.
He wanted to know what was the point of carrying a child that had no chance at life?
I shared our condolences for the sibling he never knew, and told him the story of Jeannie Wallace French.
Jeannie is the former executive director of the National Women's Coalition for Life. She provided a powerful personal story during the 1996 hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban.
French described how physicians recommended aborting her twin daughter, Mary, after she was diagnosed as being anencephalic. (Anencephaly is a congenital defect where the fetus does not have a brain.)
However, the Frenches were determined to do everything possible to save their daughter. And they learned that if they were unable to take care of her, there were couples awaiting adoption. Mary lived just a few hours after birth. Her father had a chance to hold her. But that's not the end of Mary's story.
Jeannie testified, "Three days after Mary died, on the day of her interment at the cemetery, Paul and I were notified that Mary's heart valves were a match for two Chicago infants in critical condition. We have learned that even anencephalic and meningomyelocele children like our Mary can give life, sight, or strength to others. Her ability to save the lives of two other children proved to others that her life had value-- far beyond what any of us could ever have imagined.
"Mary's life lasted a total of 37 weeks 3 days and 6 hours. In effect, like a small percentage of children conceived in our country every year, Mary was born dying.... We do not need to help a dying child die. Not one moment of grief is circumvented by this procedure."
"Our daughter, living less than a day, saved the lives of two other children. Which of us, even after decades of living, can make the same claim?" Jeannie asked.
Cayce Utley also pointed out that the pressure to return to work that the young man's mother felt was a huge underlying problem. "Inadequate leave and other business policies unfriendly to parents and families unduly pressure people to choose between sacrificing their careers and sacrificing their children. What we have been saying about schools is also true in the workplace. We don't believe women should have to choose between their careers and children. The environment and culture of the workplace should be changed, and Feminists for Life is challenging the status quo."
Feminists for Life, Cayce explained, has long endorsed and practiced workplace policies more conducive to family life, from strengthening the Family & Medical Leave Act to offering telecommuting and flex time.
This year is filled with anniversaries-- not the least of which is the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Tomorrow we celebrate Women's Equality Day, the day the U.S. Secretary of State certified the adoption of the 19th amendment in 1920.
Together let us march forth, celebrating women's rights and the value in every life.
Because women deserve better,