“Do you have a [female] condom?”

Rhiannon DiClemente (’16, Temple University Beasley School of Law)

In case you missed it, September 16 marked the third anniversary of Global Female Condom Day.  Two decades since its introduction, the female condom hasn’t quite lived up to its potential.  Today, less than two percent of all condoms distributed worldwide are female condoms.  When our LSRJ chapter asks local organizations to donate condoms, we are usually sent boxes full of male condoms.  On the rare chance that we do get sent a few token female condoms, they are often met with skepticism and laughter from the student body.

It’s true—the female condom is less intuitive and less familiar than the male condom.  Some may call it aesthetically unappealing and technically difficult to master, but we shouldn’t give up on the female condom just yet…

The female condom is the only woman-initiated technology that prevents both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), making it an important tool in the fight against the spread of HIV.  Women now account for more than half of the world’s population living with HIV.  Worldwide, HIV and AIDS is the number one cause of death for women of reproductive age.  In Sub- Saharan Africa, 72% of new infections among young people age 15 to 24 are women.

Despite these facts, I can’t even give these female condoms away to fellow students.  Only 13% of people have heard of the female condom, and much fewer have ever used one.  However, organizations like PATH, a global health non-profit, are working to reinvent the female condom.  In 2012, the United Nations Population Fund released a new version of the female condom.  The Gates Foundation has also awarded grants for a “next-generation condom,” male or female, that would be easier and more pleasurable to use.  This is an important step.  Greater variety in female condoms can help increase the odds that women even choose to use, or at least try, any female condom at all.

But putting more female condoms on the shelves is not enough.  Advocates need to create education campaigns at the local, national, and global levels on the benefits of female condoms, including the fact that they give women the power to control safe-sex negotiation.

As an LSRJ chapter leader, I hope to start a larger conversation about the benefits, and shortcomings, of the female condom.  I want to encourage women, including myself, to at least try one before we form an opinion about it.  I want men to be involved in this discussion as well; there is no reason a man shouldn’t introduce a female condom to his partner.  Normalizing female condoms in a conversation about pleasurable and safe sex is an important first step.  With informed feedback, the unattractive, clumsy female condom can only get better.

Condom Dispensers are Rad, Cool Things

Emily Gillingham, Resident Blogger (‘15, Michigan State University College of Law)

I lead the chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Michigan State University College of Law. Whenever we get a chance, we hand out free condoms at the school.

Valentine’s Day? Condoms.

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Halloween? Condoms.

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Student organization fair? Condoms. I can’t tell you the joy I get from pressing a condom into the hand of a 1L who wandered up wondering what reproductive justice is.

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Last year, our then-chapter-president was visiting University of Minnesota Law School and realized that their LSRJ chapter (HOLLA!) was distributing condoms in a way we weren’t: WALLS.

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Our e-board talked it over and decided that we most definitely wanted to see a condom dispenser go up at our school. This June, we got word from the administration that we’d be getting a bulletin board at the school to post news about upcoming meetings and other information about our organization. Just look how fabulous it is.

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The timing couldn’t have been better; the board seemed like a perfect home for our condom dispenser. We expected that approval from the administration would come at a glacial pace, so we put in a request right then to purchase a dispenser and mount it on our board. I have to say, I was pretty surprised when we got word that the plan could proceed as long as it was ‘accompanied by a tasteful message explaining our support for the dispenser.’ Our school’s administration is awesome, but if you have experience trying to integrate reproductive justice, sex education, or sex positive programming into an environment that isn’t built around that ideology (read: law school), you know that asking for something like this can feel like asking the conservative wing of the Supreme Court for a condom.

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We’ve picked out a dispenser that we like. You can check it out here. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amused that they’re “made from the same material used in police riot vehicles .”

Our next step is funding. I just submitted our funding request to the Student Bar Association at MSU Law, which feels more like asking Justice Kennedy for a condom- wish us luck!

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Oral Contraceptives and Why We Shouldn’t Count Out Over-The-Counter

SJ Chapman, Resident Blogger (12, Northwestern University Law School)

Recently, some Republican candidates have entered the spotlight for doing a 180 on issues of contraceptive access. Take Congressman Cory Gardner (R-Col.) for example.  Gardner has a sinister record when it comes to matters of reproductive justice.  However, in a recent op-ed, Gardner argued for over-the-counter availability of oral contraceptives.

Practically overnight, leery reproductive justice advocates leapt to attack this position, denouncing it as an insidious political tactic to ultimately decrease access to oral contraceptives.  The logic goes like this: oral contraceptives are widely available without a copay under the Affordable Care Act, but would be costly (as much as $600 a year) OTC.  Women who had previously been able to access oral contraceptives thanks to the ACA would be squeezed out due to the price.

I have to say, although I am against most of Gardner’s positions on reproductive justice, this one might not be as bad as we’ve made it out to be.  In countries where oral contraceptives are sold, most already offer them OTC.  Even Planned Parenthood advocates for OTC oral contraception in the United States.  And I have to wonder – when drugs have gone OTC in the past, there have still been prescription-only versions.  Wouldn’t this be the case with birth control as well?

Even though it comes from someone with history of deplorable stances on reproductive justice, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to denigrate this one.

Politician Advocates Birth Control for Welfare Recipients

Elise Foreman, Resident Blogger (‘16, Emory University School of Law)

Stories depicting the regulation and subsequent criminalization of the poor are far too common, almost mundane, in a country that espouses the virtues of democracy and asserts constitutional rights in the drop of a hat. However, the recent kerfuffle in Arizona points to something even more sinister baked into America’s apple pie coating. Earlier this week, the state’s GOP vice president (rightfully) resigned his post after advocating for sterilization of the state’s Medicaid recipients. This cracker-jack reasoning was punctuated with the statement: “. . . if you want to (reproduce) or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job.” (Full story here). The debate over drug testing for government aid recipients has been dissected ad nauseum, and fortunately been struck down in the courts. (For a review of this issue, see The Huffington Post’s collection).

But this latest call for sterilization should cause hesitation in even the most conservative thinkers. In a political climate that still hotly debates abortion even 40 years following Roe v. Wade, these statements point to a dissonance in the reproductive debate. Certainly there is a difference between birth control and abortion, however the point remains centered over the control one has over his or her reproductive future. Individuals, by virtue of being human, claim the right to exercise complete autonomy over their reproductive choices; this right is not premised on his or her financial situation or employment status. Regulating the reproductive choices of an individual based upon his or her Medicaid status demonstrates that such individual should be disallowed of this inherent human right because he or she is in fact less than human. No person or entity should breach another’s bodily integrity, nor advocate for rules that do so. For once and for all, get the government out of these intimate decisions and focused on topics it should be discussing. I have a list.

Introducing our 2014-2015 Resident Bloggers!

We are so excited to introduce our seven resident bloggers — each of whom will bring their perspective to a host of reproductive justice issues each month. If you are interested in blogging for LSRJ, please send us an email at communications@lsrj.org.

SJ ChapmanSJ Chapman is an associate at Bielski Law Office, Ltd. in Chicago, IL.  She is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Northwestern Law School.  At Northwestern, SJ served as Co-President of the Human Rights Project and Secretary of LSRJ.  SJ studies and writes in the field of critical familism and international adoption.  You can read more at her home blog adoptanewwayofthinking.com, or contact her directly at sjbchapman@gmail.com

 

 

Anne KeyworthAnne Keyworth is a 2L at North Carolina Central University and ultimately hopes to do legal and policy work in reproductive rights. She has been a longtime advocate of reproductive justice and currently facilitates a women’s group in Cary, NC that focuses on inspiring, educating, and engaging people to invest in programs that make a meaningful difference for women and girls. Being from North Carolina – a state that is currently a battleground for reproductive rights – Anne believes that groups like LSRJ will help foster and prepare the next generation of reproductive justice advocates in working towards a more safe, just, and healthy society. Her campus LSRJ chapter is just getting started at NCCU this year and Anne is excited about engaging people on her campus. Her main interests include reproductive justice in the criminal justice system and in prisons, abortion access, and the impacts of healthcare legislation and litigation on low income women.

Amy Krupinski is currently a law clerk for a Minnesota district court judge. She graduated from William Mitchell College of Law with a J.D. in May 2014. During law school, Amy was a law clerk for a solo practitioner working in the products liability field, and a law clerk for the Public Health Law Center in St. Paul, MN, where she did research on tobacco legislation. During law school, Amy was an active member and co-president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. Prior to law school, Amy lived in Denver, CO, where she was the Public Education and Research Associate for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado for four years. During that time she worked on the Prevention First social marketing campaign aimed to increase contraceptive use among women in their 20’s. Prior to that, Amy attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she earned her B.A. in Political Science with certificates in Global Cultures and European Studies. While at UW-Madison, Amy was a summer intern for NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin where she was the grassroots organizer.

Rhiannon DiClementeRhiannon DiClemente is a 2L at Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. As a Temple Law and Public Policy Scholar, she has written and presented on the intersection of global LGBT rights promotion and sexual and reproductive health within U.S. foreign development work. During her 1L summer, she worked to promote global sexual and reproductive health and rights through U.S. foreign assistance reform as a legal intern at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). At Temple Law, Rhiannon is a staff editor of Temple Law Review, Chair of Temple Law Students for Reproductive Justice and Co-chair of Temple’s National Lawyers Guild chapter. Ms. DiClemente graduated from The George Washington University with a B.A. in International Development and Latin American Studies in 2011. Rhiannon likes the beach, red wine, and aged Gouda.

Emily GillinghamEmily Gillingham is a 3L at Michigan State University College of Law, and the president of her school’s chapter of LSRJ. She received her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Women’s & Gender Studies from Eastern Michigan University. She has been lucky enough during law school to work as a research assistant for Professor Hannah Brenner, whose work focuses on issues of gender and the law; advocate for women while interning at the PPO project of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland; and volunteer at End Violent Encounters, Inc., a women’s shelter in her area. Her areas of interest are employment law, family law, reproductive rights, and sex workers’ rights. She can be reached at emgillingham@gmail.com.

Elise ForemanElise Foreman is originally from Denver, Colorado but moved to the South to pursue a career in international advocacy and human rights law. Elise is interested in how the law may be used to further social justice and create a more equitable society for everyone. If she is not studying or whipping herself into a passionate frenzy over the latest piece of news, she can be found drinking wine or playing rugby.

 

jamille fieldsJamille Fields is a fellow in the Reproductive Justice Fellowship Program, which aims to enhance the capacity of organizations working to influence law and policy as it relates to reproductive justice and to build a pipeline for future reproductive justice lawyers by placing stellar young attorneys with Washington, D.C. nonprofit organizations. While in law school, Jamille was a summer associate in NHeLP’s North Carolina office, where she worked on issues related to Medicaid and helped conduct a 50-state health policy survey. Jamille also worked as a summer associate in the office of the Missouri Attorney General, interned in the Washington, D.C. office of Families USA, and served as a judicial extern to Judge Paula Bryant on the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court. Before law school, Jamille’s work focused on public policy and communications. She worked as a communications coordinator on Robin Carnahan’s Missouri Secretary of State Campaign, and interned in the offices of the Missouri Secretary of State, the Congressional Black Caucus, and then-Senator Barack Obama. Jamille received her J.D. and Master of Public Health degrees from St. Louis University’s Schools of Law and of Public Health in 2013. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri at Columbia. She is the recipient of a number of scholarships, and was one of the top three national finalists in the White House Policy Challenge. Now that Jamille is done with school, she is looking to return to old hobbies of reading non-educational books, learning to cook foods from around the world, and adding new hobbies.

 

Top 5 Tips I’d Give My First-Year Self

Sasha Young, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16 Northwestern University School of Law)

This time last year I was reading a million “Top 10 Tips for 1Ls” lists and feeling like most of them were generic and aimed at the masses. So instead of speaking to all 1Ls, I’m going to speak to myself as a 1L. After making it through that experience, here are my top 5 tips for myself this time last year. Here are the honest things I would tell myself, a racial minority from a lower socioeconomic background at a T14 school, who was interested in social justice and not the pipeline to big law.

  1. Don’t talk to the white people about racial stuff. I didn’t come in to school very fixated on race, and I had no idea how much racial tension I’d encounter. I’m not saying that white people won’t understand or be sympathetic. But racism in law school can be very smartly hidden and excused by “logic” and especially competition. You never know who thinks that you’re just there because of affirmative action and not because you “earned” it. Save yourself the distress, and go talk to the diversity counselor or a professor that teaches something like “race and the criminal justice system.” 

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  1. It’s not your responsibility to educate anyone else. For every person who tells you that they “wouldn’t want to be embarrassed to not have earned their spot,” there will be a very well-intentioned White Savior randomly telling you, “It’s so great that you [people] are here.” You’re not there to provide the “minority perspective,” or to teach the rest of the student body about racism. You’re not there to “create a diverse educational experience” for the kids who only have only ever been around people like them. You’re there to learn contracts.brb-saving-africa
  1. Get your tools ready, ya trailblazer. The machine is not-so-gently pushing you through the big law pipeline. So if that’s not part or all of your plan, you’re going to have to figure it out yourself. Surely there are schools out there that support public-interest folks better than others, but you should still talk to everyone. Find as many options as you can. Google. PSJD. Look up attorneys who do what you want to do, and see what steps they took.
  1. Don’t knock it. I know you’re suuuuure that you’re not interested in big law. But trust me; you don’t want to close any doors just yet. A happy work life isn’t just about your substantive work; your work environment is equally (if not more) important. Plus, big law opens some doors in the public interest world, just like it closes others. I had many attorneys tell me that their organizations looked skeptically at candidates who came from big law. Other attorneys told me their organizations like candidates with some big law background because they are well-trained. You’re just going to have to figure out your own path.
  1. If you want to leave, that’s ok. It’s too much time, energy, and money to spend on something you hate. If you want to take a year off, go between 1L and 2L (but ask about 2L OCI eligibility first). If you decide you don’t want to be a lawyer, you’ll find a way to pay off that year of loans. You are not stuck, and if you think you are, you’ll only hate it more. This is still your life; it doesn’t start later.2qklzz4

Good luck, 1L self. Remember, you’re the shit and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Kids Will Be Kids, or Why We Should Stop Forcing Gender On Our Children

Grace Ramsay, LSRJ Summer Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) Intern (’16, Smith College)

I spent the past weekend at a family friend’s in northern California, with no internet/phone access, and around 40 children ages 5 months – 10 years.  To many — myself included — this sounds like a nightmare.  I have never considered myself a “kid person,” and tend to feel uncomfortable when interacting with children.  My friends always seemed much more natural than I did when communicating with toddlers and pre-schoolers.  I didn’t understand how you could relate to someone whose age was yours divided by four.  So I was completely taken by surprise when I started forming relationships with several of the younger children over the weekend.  Boys and girls alike wanted to hold my hand, to run around together, and to tickle me to death.  Maybe it was because the parents at this weekend are fairly progressive, but I noticed right away that both sons and daughters were held to the same social expectations.  One moment in particular struck me: I was talking to a boy and a girl, and the boy kept interrupting her.  She turned to him, said “Excuse me!” and finished her sentence.  She didn’t let him cut her off again.  During my stay at The Land (the official name of the house upstate), I watched kids of every gender get dirty playing outside, decorate papier mache  bunnies, and sing along to folk music.

It’s no secret that gender socialization exists, and it starts right from when the doctor proclaims, “It’s a girl!”  The gender binary is coded for far more than difference in “biological sex,” a term debated today.  Girls and boys are expected to talk, dress, and play differently.  Gender differences are exaggerated to the point that activities are often gendered — girls get to play dress up, boys get to run around outside.  The socialization of boyhood and girlhood forces children into very distinct pink /blue boxes, leaving little room for gender expression outside of their assigned identity.  This limits cis boys and girls to either “girly” or “boyish” expressions, and completely disregards trans children’s possibility of living authentically.

Fighting gender socialization is a reproductive justice issue.  The right to parent with dignity goes both ways; children deserve to self-express in ways that make them feel comfortable and safe.  Returning to San Francisco after the weekend away, I was bombarded with gendered ads for young people.  Maybe a world without gendering childhood is only possible during a hippie retreat.  But from now on, I’ll keep on helping little kids play however they’d like.

Back to School

Sasha Young, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16, Northwestern University School of Law)

On my first day of law school orientation I walked in nervous but confident. I was feeling myself a little, having signed my lease the week before, built a million IKEA pieces by myself, and expecting a big deposit of loan money to come in on the first day of the semester. I had everything planned out to the dollar, and I felt accomplished… until I saw all of the social events that were woven into orientation week. A slow panic started to set out over me, and I thought, “Isn’t everyone dead broke after moving? After all, loan disbursement happens next week for everyone, not just me.”

At the end of the first or second day, I went to my Critical Legal Reasoning orientation class, expecting that orientation meant doing introductions and ice-breakers. The professor broke us into groups to discuss the assignment she had sent out the day before. I figured no one had bought their books yet because, well, no one else had any money either. So imagine my surprise when nearly everyone in the class pulled out a sparkly, new $200 textbook.

After class, I told the professor that I’d have to wait until the semester started to get my books, and she told me that if I couldn’t get the money to buy the books, I should borrow it from the library where they also have computers I can use for free. This lady thinks I don’t have a computer? I didn’t come to class the next day. I remember telling my mom on the phone, “It’s like they think I’m the poor black kid who got bussed in.”

“You are,” she told me, “and you might as well get used to it.”

That was my first taste of what law school was going to be like. It is hard for everyone, but I was totally unprepared for the racially, socioeconomically, and culturally tense “learning” environment I was walking into this time last year. As the beginning of the next school year approaches, I am dreading more and more having to go back, but at least this time I’m better prepared:

I’m moving out of Whitelandia, a name I coined not only for the lack of pigment in the area, but for the beer pong and ugly sweater Christmas parties.

I blocked out “study time” in my calendar for salsa dancing. Because there’s no study supplement like Celia.

And I joined the executive boards of the Black Law Student Association and the Latino Law Student Association. It’s up to us to increase representation.

Next year, I will not justify my place that school to a single person. I will continue to fight the urge to respond with my LSAT score when someone comments that I’m “so lucky to be diverse in law school,” or that my call-back at that firm was “for a diversity position, huh?” during On-Campus Interviews next week.

Reproductive justice is about empowerment—empowering women to make the best decisions about our lives against racism and sexism and every other –ism that gets thrown at us every day. Thank god I spent the last 8 weeks listening to that over and over. I’m going to need all the armor I can get to brace the next school year.

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The look I will have walking into class on September 2nd

2L—here goes nothing.

Special Prosecution of Women Who Use Drugs During Pregnancy Or … Happy One Month Anniversary Tennessee SB 1391 – and Here I Forgot to Get You a Gift.

Gavin Barney, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

The start of August marked a somewhat ignominious one month anniversary this year: a short thirty-one days earlier Tennessee became the first state in the union to specifically criminalize drug use during pregnancy. On July 1st, the state enacted SB 1391, which enables prosecutors to bring assault charges on the behalf of a fetus against women who use narcotics while pregnant.  Just over a week later, 26-year-old Mallory Loyola became the first target of the law.

In a twisted kind of way, Tennessee’s approach to criminalizing pregnant women is almost refreshing.  The Volunteer State is by no means the only state to treat drug using and drug addicted pregnant women with prison sentences and loss of parental rights instead of … well … treatment. Not by a long shot. Other states prosecute pregnant women at high levels with three main methods: child abuse and endangerment laws, laws prohibiting delivery of illegal drugs to minors, and fetal murder/manslaughter statutes.

Alabama prosecutes pregnant women in a particularly roundabout and unnerving method. Since 2006, Alabama has arrested at least 100 pregnant women for the crime of “exposing their child to a meth lab” using a chemical endangerment law designed to prosecute people who bring children to dangerous locations. To make matters worse, the Alabama Supreme Court deemed it necessary to affirm this usage of the chemical endangerment laws in back to back years – holding in 2014 that the statute’s use of the word “child” “plainly and unambiguously includes unborn children.”

Medical and public health organization such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have criticized these punitive practices for putting both mothers and fetuses at risk by discouraging women from seeking prenatal care for fear of being turned in.* Additionally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has stressed that treatment, not incarceration, must be the approach to these cases.

However, at a broader level, policies like those in Tennessee and Alabama are most horrifying and destructive because they answer the question “are pregnant women still people with full rights?” with an emphatic “hell no they’re not!” Like other personhood-type policies, special criminal prosecutions pits pregnant drug using and addicted women in conflict with their fetus, putting the full force of the law on the fetus’s side (or at least against the woman).

For more information on criminalization of pregnant women, check out LSRJ’s fact sheet on “Regulation of Pregnant Women,” and for LSRJ chapters interested in hosting an event on the issue, LSRJ is releasing an Event Toolkit on Criminalization of Pregnancy and Shackling of Incarnated Pregnant Women.

*Note that fifteen states require health care providers to report suspected drug use during pregnancy.

Beyond Choice, Beyond Our Community

Grace Ramsay, LSRJ Summer Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) Intern (’16, Smith College)

In the RJ community, word travels fast.  Scary fast.  So after the New York Times posted a well meaning yet misguided article regarding Planned Parenthood’s shift from its pro-choice framework, all of my feeds blew up with conversation, from Twitter, to Facebook, to my LSRJ intern email.  The article seems to credit Planned Parenthood’s recent (actually, three-year old) move away from the phrase “pro-choice” as being innovative and in-touch with today’s women.  The problem is, women of color adopted this stance over two decades ago with the term reproductive justice.  LSRJ took part in a Twitter storm using the hashtags #KnowYourHistory and #StopErasing as a chance to re-educate — or perhaps introduce — folks on the beginnings of beyond-choice reproductive justice activism.  I understand being sick of educating again and again people who are supposed to be our allies, but I also sense the hope of strength in numbers of more people “tuned in” to reproductive justice tenets.   I was surprised when I sat down with some older family members later in the day, family who considers themselves feminists, very involved with current issues regarding reproductive health, etcetera.  They asked me “Why would we want to move away from the word ‘choice’ ?”  I launched into my well-rehearsed explanation of the history of reproductive justice.  They seemed unmoved and I wondered if our differences in approaching the issue were too big to cross.  My family members are white, upper-class, educated folks who can separate out abortion from other RJ issues because of their privilege.  They spent their adult lives advocating for abortion access and birth control — “of course we believe in choice!” For me, it’s about more than abortion and birth control.  For me, it’s about access to high quality preventative healthcare, and childcare to those need it.  It’s about validating queer relationships.  It’s ensuring everyone can live free from sexual abuse and coercion.  It’s about so much more than Pro-Choice vs. Anti-Choice.

Loretta Ross was a guest lecturer at Smith College this past year and I will never forget how moved I was listening to her during my Introduction to Study of Women and Gender class. She explained how choice alone did not make sense of the reproductive oppression that women of color faced.  It was Loretta Ross and that class that made me realize RJ spoke to me more than anything I’d ever studied. We can’t erase barriers to reproductive injustice by only focusing on abortion when large populations of women have been forcibly sterilized, exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace, or been shackled to a hospital bed in labor.  Why is this difficult to communicate to people who have long taken a pro-choice stance?  I have no answers, but it always seems to come down to power and privilege.  While I’m glad that Planned Parenthood is acknowledging that abortion is but a facet in women’s reproductive freedom, I hope that we will continue to honor the true foremothers of the RJ movement.