“We are taught that abortion is not something you’re supposed to talk about, reproductive rights is not something you’re supposed to talk about, sex is not something you’re supposed to talk about,” opened Director Lindsay Worthington ‘17 at Monday’s Pro Voice Reproductive Justice Monologues.
This is the third year of Pro Voice, sponsored by the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement in partnership with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. This year, two K courses–Feminist Psychology of Women and Contemporary Issues of Public Health–teamed up to put on the monologues.
“Three years ago, we decided that students from Feminist Psychology of Women would receive the confidential names from Planned Parenthood of women who were willing to share their story with us,” explained co-founder Dr. Karyn Boatwright. “Interviewing women who received services from Planned Parenthood is to give voice to their experience so that we can educate people, raise their awareness on the important work that Planned Parenthood does in this community, state, country.”
Bringing these stories to the Pro Voice stage were Emma Franzel ‘17, Malavika Rao ‘17, Malikah Mahone ‘17, Coral Cervantes ‘17, and Worthington herself. Their monologues shared the experiences of five women who received abortions from Planned Parenthood, covering an emotional spectrum of pain, guilt, shame and relief. Ultimately, all stories landed on the same page–bodily autonomy is a right that all women are entitled to, regardless of their final decision.
Following the performance, Cecilia Ringo ‘19 directed a panel Q&A discussion. Panel members included Senior Pastor of Kalamazoo’s First Congregational Church Nathan Dannison, K’s Dr. Charlene Boyer Lewis, former Planned Parenthood employee Kelan Gill ‘17, Regional Director Cherie Seitz, and Kalamazoo City Commissioner Shannon Sykes.
On the history of abortion, panel member Dr. Charlene Boyer Lewis of K College explained that “Abortion wasn’t nationally illegal until the 1870 and so for much of the 18th century and the 19th century it was a viable and well-used birth control method… done by doctors as well as midwives and in safe environments.” She further specified that “It was only once it was demonized in the 1870s that it became this sense that it’s evil and it’s sinful and in fact, the negative religious aspect of it wasn’t attached to abortion until much later in the 20th century.”
Dannison continued this thread, turning to a discussion of American Protestantism. “I’m fond of reminding folks that historically, Planned Parenthood had a strong relationship with private churches North America. Church basements often times were locations for women to be able to seek abortion services and referrals, and we participated in a form of sort-of underground railroad for abortion services prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade.”
Reflecting on this event, Gill shared the importance of “dispelling the information that reproductive justice and reproductive rights is a movement that only affects women. I found in all my time as a cis, heterosexual, white man that a lot of people don’t often understand why I care so much about these issues. But it’s important to everyone–it’s important to the health of a society, overall. That’s what I’ve always been trying to push forward with my activism at Planned Parenthood–that this is something that isn’t going to happen without everyone’s participation.”
Turning towards the ideology of Planned Parenthood, Seitz added: “[In] talking about reproductive justice, [we’re] not just talking about health or reproductive rights, but also we’re talking about racial justice, we’re talking about environmental justice, we’re talking about LGBTQ justice,” Seitz explained. “We have to address the real issue of mass incarceration, we have to address the real issues of the Black Lives Matter movement… we have to talk about refugees and immigration,” explaining why Planned Parenthood works in collaboration with local organizations.
“Any time you minimize anybody’s right to decide for themselves who they are, what their needs are, what their future holds, whether or not they’re going to be a parent… the minute you rob someone of that, you’ve robbed them of their humanity and their ability to just exist in a healthy way,” concluded City Commissioner Sykes.
To join the fight for reproductive justice, Planned Parenthood asks you to please consider donating, organizing, contacting your representatives or volunteering with your local branch.