Terry O’Neil on Reproductive Rights

Korch_ReproductiveRights2Terry O’Neill, the president of National Organization for Women (NOW), spoke Sunday night about the state of women’s reproductive rights in America. She opened her talk with a shocking statistic: that one in three women will have an abortion by age 45. Shortly after the 2012 re-election of President Obama, O’Neill said, the 70 to 77 percent “of respondents said they wanted Roe v. Wade to remain law of the land, that women should have a constitutionally protected right to decide to terminate her pregnancy…”

O’Neill then revisited some of the most outrageous remarks made by anti-abortion advocates Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Paul Ryan who made quite a few headlines in 2012. She pointed out that these self-proclaimed pro-life public figures “had a huge problem with women. A huge problem, specifically with women, over the issue of rape.” She said their use of “shaming tactics” by echoing the sentiments of early political opponents of women’s rights “re-traumatiz[ed]” survivors of sexual assault. But it was also people like Akin, O’Neill said, who “forced a national conversation about what is really going on.” Akin, in O’Neill’s words, “brought out into the open the agenda of the South and men like him.”

She said people who want Roe v. Wade overturned “are deeply uninformed and utterly uncaring about the realities of women’s reproductive healthcare needs.” While there is no scientific evidence to prove Akin, Mourdock and Ryan’s respective claims, politicians like them have worked to shut down abortion clinics across the country. In similar fashion, access to emergency contraception is becoming more and more restricted. A possible result of these bans is a higher infant mortality rate and more deaths in childbirth among the poor, both of which is already the highest among all developed countries.

Advocating the closing and cutting funds for family planning clinics results in women losing access to affordable breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, STD screening and treatments, birth control and prenatal healthcare. Abortions only account to a small percentage of all of the services that are provided at these facilities. O’Neill also pointed out that the anti-abortion legislators shame women into deciding against having abortions by aggressive counseling and mis-educating them on consequences of having abortions.

O’Neill said challenging anti-abortion legislators is “a collective action.” Anyone who wishes to show support for women’s reproductive rights can start by finding the right organization for them and casting votes. She recommends pro-choice individuals to join the virtual chapter of NOW. “The more we participate, the more we progress,” she said.

Sitting in the first row was Colina Sceley, who formerly served as president of NOW. She said an organization like Triota – a feminist organization at Penn State and co-host of the event – is a “good place to start” learning about the issues that affect women. “Things do improve, but it is never easy. Far from it,” Sceley said.

Sofia Brower, a senior majoring in media studies and minoring in women’s studies, said O’Neill “was very articulate” and was interested because the issue might “affect [her] personally.” She is a member of Triota.

Andrei Israel, who teaches a section of WMNST 100, was one of the few men who attended the event. The Ph.D. student in women’s studies and geography said he agrees with O’Neill that women “having access to reproductive healthcare is important to the well-being of the family.” It is “important for men in general to listen to women about what their needs are,” he said, “I think a lot of men do care about the well-being of the women in their lives.”

Photo by Jessica Korch