August 21st, 2015

Abortion in America: A Discussion with the Only Doctor Providing Abortions in Mississippi and Three Sociologists


Abortion was enshrined as a legal right with the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision. Yet legislatures pass and courts permit some restrictions, large geographical areas have no abortion providers, and political conflict rages. After a brief introduction to relevant trends by demographer Phil Morgan, the featured speaker will be Dr. Willie Parker, the only doctor providing abortions in Mississippi. He will discuss the struggles entailed in doing this work, and what he has learned about the lives of the women that seek abortions. Following his talk, two sociologists will provide brief accounts of their relevant research. Zakiya Luna will discuss the reproductive justice movement, which engages in cross-movement organizing to achieve a world where people have access to abortion as well as support for having children and parenting with dignity. Sarah K. Cowan will highlight how abortions are discussed—or kept secret—in social networks, and how this can affect political opinion. Audience members will then join in a discussion with Dr. Parker and the panelists.


PAULA ENGLAND: Good evening. Welcome to our opening plenary of ASA 2015. I'm Paula England and I'm the president of the ASA and the organized - [APPLAUSE] - and I'm really excited about tonight's
plenary. And one of my younger colleagues on the panel here said, "You should tell people about the ASA hashtag because they might want to be tweeting about this session." So if you don't know this,
it's ASA-15, #ASA-15, should you want to be tweeting about things. But you may be so mesmerized that you don't have time to tweet.
Our format's a little unusual tonight. We're going to have a keynote address by Dr. Willie Parker, but I wanted to get little views
of sociologists - Dr. Parker's an M.D. - mixed in there, and so I'm going to not have long introductions at all so we can have as much time as we can for substance, but I'm going to ask Phil Morgan to
take the podium first before our keynote speaker. Phil is on the sociology faculty at University of North Carolina, and he's also the director of the Carolina Population Center. And he's going to
give us some introductory remarks on abortion. Phil? [APPLAUSE]
DR. PHIL MORGAN: So our featured speaker tonight will be talking about a particular place in time. I decided in my 10 minutes, I'd give you a 20,000-foot view, but stepping back and talking about
what's universal about what women face in Mississippi. I'll be offering four points and a little time trend data. Okay, so my first point is that fertility is important; its timing and number of
children have always been important. Controlling the timing and number of births is important for individuals, families and populations. Births have externalities or consequences, and thus they're
targets of social control and individual strategizing. This is universal. Also, the task of birth control is not easy. Unintended pregnancies occur. They occur in context throughout place and time.
The prevalence of areas across populations; we'll be talking about the U.S. tonight. The U.S. has high levels of unintended pregnancy. Roughly one half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended
at conception. What is possibly more surprising is that this has been true for 40 years.
My third point is to point out that an abortion is really a two-step process. Almost all abortions are the result of people facing unintended pregnancies, Part A of this problem. And the second part
is, what do people do once they're facing an unintended pregnancy? I'll spend all of my time today talking about the Part B of this, not because the first is unimportant, but because it's more
closely related to the topic of the evening. So by definition, an unintended pregnancy is a conjuncture, its definition, "a combination of circumstances or events usually producing a crisis." That's
what unintended pregnancy is. So I'll spend a fair - several minutes talking about how this conjuncture has been resolved in place and time.
Suicide - it's not the most common, but almost all places and times there are instances of people committing suicide in the face of an unintended pregnancy. Infanticide and maltreatment - these are
really quite common historically in some places in time. Two hundred years ago in parts of China, [Campbell and Lee?] have demonstrated that as many - that one third of all female children born were
the victims of infanticide, and one out of 10 boys were. This is a social context where the number and the sex composition of children was crucial for family social mobility.
Maltreatment - maltreatment has a long history as well, and much sociological and demographic literature focuses on maltreatment, differential treatment, especially of females in India. You should
remember that a live birth does not guarantee appropriate care and nurturing. In this photograph, there's a picture of two five-month-olds. They're boy-girl twins. The mother-in-law took the girl at
birth and bottle-fed her. The son stayed with his mother. The female child died a few days after this photograph was taken.
So infanticide is often thought of as being a Chinese thing. Female maltreatment has been most widely studied in India, but in the West, the same crises confronted girls and their families, and infant
abandonment and adoption were common. This is called a wheel. What would happen is that couples who had a baby that they did not want, could not care for, would come to the church or the founding
home, and they would walk up steps like these. And they would open that door and they would place the child inside, and there would be a barrel really cut in half so the person could put the child in
without anyone seeing them. They would rotate the barrel and walk away. This was so institutionalized in parts of Europe, that it exists in the walls of buildings. Kertzer counted 1,163 wheels open
in early 19th century Italy, almost all of them in the North. Less than half of these abandoned infants survived a single year. To quote Kertzer in Sacrificed for Honor, "Established to prevent
infanticide, the founding homes themselves became slaughterhouses."
There were other Western practices which allowed families to rid themselves of children that they could not care for, or did not want. Wet nursing was a common strategy. In this photograph, in this
painting, the man arrives at a house to pick up a child and take it to the countryside to be wet-nursed. I'm not sure you can see it in this picture, but he's already carrying several infants on
horseback. So the parents of this child will pay this person to take the child to a wet nurse, but they never meet the wet nurse. This often did not turn out well.
So I don't want to mix in contemporary adoption with historical adoption, which usually had very negative consequences for children. You would think it would be a 21st century option that's more
promising, but it's a rare choice for U.S. women to give up their baby for adoption, currently viewed as unnatural, inappropriate in the U.S. context. This is probably the number in my talk - there
won't be many numbers - this is the one I'm least sure of. But by my calculations, it would be surprising if there were more than 10,000 babies in the U.S. adopted per year by nonrelatives at this
time of birth. That's roughly two or three births per thousand. The infant mortality rate is twice that high. And remember that 50 percent of all pregnancies are unintended.
So now we come to abortion. That's the topic for tonight. Abortion rates have varied dramatically. In most places and times, abortion was not a primary means of birth control or family size control,
but in a few cases it was. In the Soviet Union in the 1970s and '80s, the total abortion rate, which is the number of abortions a woman would have if she experienced the age-specific rates at that
time, was on the order of seven. So it varies dramatically, the total abortion rate in the United States is roughly .5 in the contemporary period.
Other options, an unintended pregnancy can be dealt with by legitimating a marriage or union. "Shotgun marriages," as they were once called, were really very common in the 1950s and '60s; again, a way
of dealing with this crisis of unattended childbearing. Single parenthood - single parenthood is the option that's increasingly being chosen by women. Over the past few decades, the proportion of
births to unmarried women has increased from 15-20 percent to roughly 40 percent in the contemporary period. And finally, for the married, they can have a birth earlier than planned, or a family size
larger than planned. And for many of us this would seem not so much a crisis, but this varies greatly across time. In contemporary China, people would think Americans are absolutely crazy to consider
having a baby simply because one became pregnant by accident. In China, people aren't having the babies they want to have. Many of them are only - not just in China but in East Asia in general,
fertility rates are often around one or slightly above, and this is because people are so frantic to provide all the resources they can for their children and in an increasingly competitive world,
that they have fewer children than they want, and the thought of having an addition of one that would reduce the resources available to their children is simply unacceptable.
So this ugly slide is just to - is to get you to focus on the options, the choice set, if you will, that contemporary Americans probably likely consider, D, E and F, abortion - this is for single
women. Abortion - they may be in a union, which they would move in with this partner or marry this partner, or single parenthood. These are the choices that they face.
So the fourth point is that these are not desirable options. And this is the exhaustive list. There's not a good one that I'm not showing you. A good choice in this case is the best choice. Choices
are constrained by the ideology, material aspects of the culture and by the circumstances of the pregnant woman. We can start to understand the variability and abortion across place and time by
remembering the choice set available to women.
I promised a little bit of trend data. For those of you who would have liked more, to know more about abortion in the U.S., I highly recommend the Allan Guttmacher Institute. This group has done a
remarkable service by providing, by far, their best data. In fact, their survey of abortion clinics provides the only really sound data on abortion frequency in the United States. So this may
surprise some of you - abortion rates have been declining for 30 years in the United States. It doesn't matter whether one chooses the percent of pregnancies aborted, or the likelihood of abortion on
a per-woman basis. It's declined, and it's declined substantially. That early rise is 1972 to '76, but after then, a steady decline.
So we'll be talking about Mississippi - what does Mississippi look like? Mississippi has experienced a decline roughly the same magnitude as the rest of the country, but has started - this time series
is shorter, by the way, this is only a two-decade time series, and I borrow it directly from the Guttmacher site. But as you can see, the abortion rates are declined across time for both groups, with
Mississippi always much, much lower.
My final slide, it gets us to the politics of this situation too, a bit. The red line, this is the line I showed you before - this is the proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion. And it shows you
that clear decline. The green line is the percent saying yes to the general social survey item - it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if the woman wants it for any
reason. So if you think that the controversy in the United States around abortion is due to the fact that abortions have been increasing, and that has created a sense of crisis, or if you believe
that there's been a substantial change or decline in public support for abortion, there's not much evidence for either one of those. It's clear that if the increasing salience, politically, of
abortion in the United States is the mobilization of opponents who were substantial in number to begin with, if you look at this time series in the general social survey, the right hand side axis is
the level, the proportion who say women should be able to have an abortion for any reason, never reaches 50 percent, although it's very close to that. And I don't want to suggest this is the only
indicator that we have. If you chose another one, the story would be somewhat different in terms of greater or lesser support. But there's no trend in any of those items, suggesting that abortion is
less acceptable in the United States today than it was 30 or so years ago. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]
PAULA ENGLAND: Thanks, Phil. So I'm now going to introduce our keynote speaker of the evening. Dr. Willie Parker is a medical doctor. Among the many things that he's done, he's been a medical
director of family planning in Washington, D.C. He's been an assistant professor of obstetrics at the University of Hawaii, and he has held a number of other positions. Now he resides in his home
state of Alabama, and he provides abortion care there, as well as in Mississippi, there it's otherwise lacking. And he's been quite an active voice about abortion rights. And I asked him if he would
talk to us about the actual experience of providing this care, and the actual experiences as he knows them of the women that he meets. So please welcome to the podium, Dr. Willie Parker. [APPLAUSE]
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Thank you very, very much. It's an honor to be here, and I had a travel experience for the first time; I opened my travel bag in my room and found out that I had left my shoes. So
I now have on running shoes, which makes me quite comfortable, but I think it's also prophetic for the type of work that I've been doing, as you've heard. [LAUGHTER] I had to be on the run a little
bit. And nevertheless, I've enjoyed these shoes, because if they're symbolic of my need to move around to address the things that I think are important, it's been that path that has led me to this
podium tonight. I have to say I'm honored to have the opportunity to offer remarks to you, at the risk of that sounding platitudinous, I really mean it. I came to realize, as I thought about - you
know, sometimes when people are in a room full of folk and they're not in their element, like sometimes, for example, like sometimes white people in a room full of black people, they'll say, "You
know, I love black people. Some of my best friends are black." You know? I'm feeling that way in a room full of sociologists right now. [LAUGHTER] I love sociologists! Some of my heroes are
Well, one of my heroes who studied sociology is Dr. Martin Luther King. And I fancied the reason I'm able to stand at this podium tonight is because he had a vision that, despite me growing up in
abject poverty in Alabama, and suffering color stigma, that his vision was so fielding that I was able to study medicine and lead me to the career where I'm here tonight. Another person, who is a
really important sociologist to me is Dr. Carol Jaffe. And she - [APPLAUSE] - is sitting next to my other favorite sociologist, Tracy Weitz. And she suggested to the president of this organization to
invite me tonight, and so I just want to say publicly how much I enjoy and appreciate the fact that she allowed me to move from a fan of hers into a deep friendship. So thank you very much, Carol.
So Going to Mississippi - If I Don't, Who Will, that was the title of an Essay that I wrote for the National Partnership for Women and Families a few years ago, right as I visited Jackson Women's
Health Center, the only clinic remaining in the State of Mississippi; that was in August of 2011. It was about three months before that state defeated a personhood bill, and five months before the
current sitting governor declared his intent to make Mississippi an abortion-free state. I had been matched with Mississippi through the efforts of an activist who sought to match states with
clinical facilities, but no provider present, but who might be willing to travel. And I had indicated my willingness to travel. And so I was invited to at least go to Mississippi to see what the
possibilities were.
So my first answer in response to that invitation was, "No." And my second answer was, "Hell, no!" [LAUGHTER] I had seen Mississippi burning one too many times, and thought that in my pathway up to
the University of Iowa for medical school, I had driven through the Northeast corner of Mississippi many times, and I had decided that the nights were just too dark, and the trees were too tall. But
I decided that if I were going to say no, that I actually would at least go and visit and see what the possibilities were. And it was during that visit that I met some of the most incredible women
who work in that clinic, most of whom are African American, many of whom are veterans of the Civil Rights movement, as well as political organizing for the Jesse Jackson campaign for president back
in the '80s. And I right away realized that that's the place where I want to make my contribution; I fell in love with the idea of working alongside these courageous women who lived the experience of
Mississippi, they lived in Mississippi. Many of them were women of color, and I figured if they could muster the courage, it meant a lot to me to stand alongside them. And while they were elated that
I was coming to Mississippi, not everybody was. So I want to show you a couple of clips of what my reception was when I arrived.
>> The bible says that God hates the hands that shed innocent blood! You need to repent before it's too late! Go in there and count and tell me how many blacks you got in there, versus how many whites
- it's genocide! You going to count for me and tell me how many are black and how many are white? Are you going to do that for me?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Why should I do anything for you?
>> And genocide?
>> Genocide!
>> If you're participating in an extermination of your own race -
DR. WILLIE PARKER: And what are you participating in now?
>> You are a disgrace!
>> You are a disgrace to the medical profession.
>> Did you take the Hippocratic Oath before you became a so-called doctor, where it says, "You'll do no harm"? The first thing is to do no harm. A doctor is supposed to protect life, not exterminate
it. You need to repent before it's too late!
DR. WILLIE PARKER: The second clip.
>> Pulling into the parking lot now. Thanks.
>> For 30 pieces of silver! And you're murdering these babies for filthy [INAUDIBLE]! You need to repent! The bible says, what would it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?
Whatever he can possibly profit from killing these babies is not going to be worth spending eternity in hell! You need to repent, Willie! You need to repent before it's too late!
>> There's one way to get to heaven!
>> [INAUDIBLE] for God to love the world!
>> And that's to repent -
>> That he gave his all, he begot his son that whoever believes in him -
>> [INAUDIBLE] Jesus Christ that if you break down these walls here -
>> - would not [INAUDIBLE] who have [INAUDIBLE].
>> - if this place will someday brick by brick they'll fall apart.
>> If you do not believe in the Lord -
>> Did you stand before father God without a parachute, it's like jumping out of a plane without a parachute!
>> - Jesus Christ, you are all [INAUDIBLE]! I give you life. You have the right to choose in your hands, life or death!
>> And you don't - you're know you're going to die!
>> Which one will you choose, heaven or hell?
>> There's a hundred percent certainty you're going to die!
>> Who is the [INAUDIBLE]?
>> What sickens me is that you're a black man, and that you're having black women go in there and destroying black lives, all black lives matter!
>> [INAUDIBLE] we love you! We love you! We love you, we are for you!
>> All black lives matter, all lives matter! Every child is made in the image of God.
>> Black, white, yellow, red, green, blue!
>> [INAUDIBLE] to pray for each one of us! God loves you!
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Now, I spent a significant portion of my time as a obstetrician gynecologist trying to make sure babies didn't come out green and blue! [LAUGHTER] But so much for evidence-based
I wanted you to see those clips, not so much to show you what I face, but to make it real to you what women face, because every woman that I've provided care for had to pass by those people to get
into the clinic. And I think sometimes when we think about abortion protests or the first amendment right to voice your deepest felt values, and when you look at the overturning of the kind of safe -
the clinic buffer zones in Massachusetts, this is not what they envisioned in terms of the gentle counseling, street counseling of grandmothers. This is not what they envision, but this is what the
reality is. And it was in response to this that I concluded that I want to make sure if a woman could muster the courage to pass by these type of people to exercise her agency and determine whether
or not she wanted to become a parent, I wanted to make sure that there would be somebody there to meet her.
So in the face of this, to pull back out a little bit - and thank you for the excellent overview that preceded me - that the overturning of Roe for the past 42 years has not been possible is precisely
why now we have that type of activity. We have the present-day reality of domestic terrorism against doctors and patients. We have clinic sabotage. We have anti-women vitriol. We have the murder of
providers. And even more critically, we have the state-based efforts to gut the provisions of Roe, and they are parsing away at the very substance of that decision. More specifically, we have
mandatory waiting periods, if women can't make up their minds about whether or not to become a parent, we have parental and spousal notification laws. We have clinic targeted regulations that impose
barriers on clinics, so that it becomes almost impossible to maintain facilities to provide services. We have telemedicine prohibitions, and we have Hyde Amendment, the ability to restrict poor women
who rely on public assistance from having access to the funding to have abortions. These all represent what I call the salami approach to erode a women's fundamental right to healthcare and privacy.
Now, as a provider, as you saw, I've experienced firsthand the impact of these types of restrictions as a physician plaintiff in the litigation to block the change in abortion regulations in
Mississippi. At present, the only clinic in Mississippi remains open under an injunction that bars the change in the laws from closing that clinic. The change in the regulations require that a
physician providing abortion care in the State of Mississippi has to be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, which I am, but it also requires that you have to have hospital admitting
privileges. And to date, since June of 2012, when I began providing services there, up to this point, I've been unable to secure hospital admitting privileges, along with now two other providers who
work at Jackson Women's Health. Having prevailed twice at the fifth circuit, the same circuit that wrought havoc in the state of Texas, we now await the Supreme Court's decision about whether or not
to honor the State of Mississippi's request that they review the decisions of the fifth circuit, allowing us to have a permanent injunction of the laws that would result in the closure of the clinic.
So maybe this fall we will hear whether or not the Supreme Court will take that case, but at present, we continued to work under that injunction.
On a more personal note, it's been sad that when you wrestle with your conscience and you lose, you actually win. For me, I lost that battle of conscience about 12 years ago while a faculty member in
the OB/GYN Department at the University of Hawaii, having grown up in Alabama, the belt buckle of the Bible belt, in my opinion, I had a traditional understanding of religion and spirituality as a
Protestant Fundamentalist Christian. For me that meant that while I didn't receive any overt teaching that abortion was wrong, I did experience what I consider a de facto prohibition of abortion in
that the expectation in my community, my cousin that I was reared with has a brother, who's here tonight with me, the expectation in our community was that women who became pregnant and teens - and
we had a high teen pregnancy rate - were expected to continue those pregnancies even if they were capable of parenting or not.
So while I was never conflicted about what it meant for a woman to make this decision, I was conflicted about what it meant to me to provide these services after I became an OB/GYN, in terms of what
it meant to my personal sense of morality. And that became pertinent, because as an OB/GYN, as you heard earlier, I on a daily basis saw women who had unplanned, unwanted pregnancies, or wanted
[INAUDIBLE]. And so because I was encumbered by my own particular religious understanding and spirituality, in some ways, the pathway to liberation for me to provide this care had to come through a
similar channel. And for me, that meant that the freedom to provide abortions for me personally came in the form of listening to a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, where he described using the story
of the Good Samaritan, in his estimate, what made the Good Samaritan good? Even if you're not a religious person, most of us know the reference of the Good Samaritan, and in essence, Dr. King very
eloquently took this story of the Samaritan who was a person traveling for that region, who happened upon a fellow traveler who had been failed by robbers. And the person in the community was being
passed by by all of the folk in the community, where their concern was about what might happen to them if they stopped to help - they didn't know if it was a setup, or what. And Dr. King said what
made the Good Samaritan good was his ability to reverse the question of concern, and whereas everyone else passing by this person said, what will happen to me if I stop to help this person? The Good
Samaritan reversed the question of concern and asked, what will happen to this person if I don't stop to help him?
And that resonated deeply with me as a women's health provider in seeing women who needed an abortion, and it began to trouble me about what happens to these women when no one provides this care? What
happens to my patient if I don't provide this care? And so for me, with after having heard that story, having listened to that sermon many times by Dr. King, for the first time I heard the sermon.
And it became the epiphany I needed to empower me to provide this care, because with this story, I came to realize that not only was it appropriate for me to have overriding concern about what
happens to my patients, and to allow that concern to rise to a level where I became less concerned about what happened to me than about what would happen to my patients when this care is not
available, it also became a mandate. It became essential. It became a matter of conscience for me to provide the care, and whereas many of my colleagues have to become comfortable with the idea of
providing abortion care, I became uncomfortable not providing this care when I know what women face.
So that sense of purpose and calling allows me to proceed with the work that I do, even with the awareness that there are people who feel strongly opposed to this work, even to the point of feeling
homicidal in their actions around opposing it.
I began traveling to Mississippi to address the fact that this state has one clinic with one provider - at that time one provider traveling to that clinic, and that nobody in the State of Mississippi
who was licensed to practice medicine would provide abortion care, although there were people who communicated to me personally that they were sympathetic with the cause. They could not, or would
not, provide care while residing in that state. And so I was motivated to go to Mississippi for a couple of reasons. First of all, being from the South, and as you heard, from Alabama, I know
firsthand the realities of poverty, lack of education, no healthcare and the very hardships that those realities can impose. Mississippi, which is the sister state to my home state, is one of the
poorest states in the country; 20 percent of all Mississippians live below the poverty level, but 42 percent of black Mississippians do. So it, to me, became clear that there's a gross lack of health
equity and a gross disparity, and that troubled me on the basis of race and class.
Second, being a reproductive health provider, I'm aware that all reproductive-age women, no matter what their background, who are sexually active are at risk for an unplanned pregnancy, and I should
say who have sexual intercourse, they are at risk for an unplanned pregnancy. But women of color and women living in poverty, two realities that are often synonymous, but not always the same, often
have higher rates of abortion, due to being without access to medically-accurate sex education, healthcare or access to and the ability to use modern methods of contraception. That this is a reality
in Mississippi to a fault led me to conclude that the women in Mississippi are most vulnerable to lacking access to this basic healthcare, and these reproductive rights, and that they needed to be
prioritized to secure these things on their behalf.
Third, and finally, the reason that I chose to go to Mississippi is that as a physician understanding all of the things that I just stated to you, and also as a person of color and as a protector of
human rights, and as someone who graduated from the ranks of poverty, I concluded that with the most vulnerable women in Mississippi being people of color and poor, I decided that if I, a person who
comes from those ranks cannot make them a priority, then who would? Now, don't misunderstand this as some subtle form of tribalism, because I'm well aware, as Zora Neale Hurston said, that, "All my
skin folk ain't my kin folk." [LAUGHTER] And by that, I mean that similarly, there are people of color who are disparaging and shaming black women as they make these tough decisions about whether or
not to become a parent, or whether or not to become a parent again, because most women who have abortions have already given birth. There are black people who participate in the black genocide
campaigns and who echo the rhetoric that you heard from the person who tried to invoke a sense of shame in me as a black person providing this care, but also raising the issue that there's some
conspiracy to kill black women and black babies.
So I will speak to that in a minute, but the reason, if you put all of it together, from my health provider standpoint that I chose Mississippi, is, I chose to go in a public health sense from a
preventive and an interventional standpoint. I decided to make a targeted effort to assist women who are most vulnerable, where I exclude no one, but a bigger priority for the women who are most
vulnerable. Because if we make sure that those women aren't left out, everybody else will be covered.
Now, I see my work personally as no different from the medical relief work that happens internationally when there is a health crisis. In the same way that we went to respond to Ebola, I've chosen to
go to Mississippi to respond to the reproductive health crisis of declining abortion access that is deeply impactful there, but is threatening to spread all over the country, despite Roe being in
place. Now, I see myself simply as a reproductive justice first responder, and I'm hoping that there's more help on the way. Now, in my final thoughts, I want to, as I said, speak to the horrible
actions of abortion opponents that leave me offended by the white ones, and disappointed in the black ones. While the legal battle over abortion continues to play out in the courtroom and in the
legislation, the parallel cultural war around abortion, for the hearts and minds of the public, has heated up. The most crafty and cynical tactic currently at play has been the whole notion of
abortion as black genocide, and that campaign has gained more traction. It shows up in history as not new, but it shows up cyclically, and it's become more insidious as people recognize the
long-standing discomfort that we have with talking about issues that concern race.
Now, the substance of this allegation I'm going to try and describe for you, and follow me if you can, is that abortion is a genocidal plot by the government, fronted by Planned Parenthood, to build
abortion clinics in black communities, and to coerce black women to use contraception to prevent pregnancies, and to kill their babies, as well as those contraceptives being dangerous to the health
of those women. They often allude to a Negro project put in place by the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, that is allegedly core to Planned Parenthood's mission today. Now, that sounds
pretty horrific, right? Meanwhile, back here on Planet Earth - [LAUGHTER] - there's a different reality.
Now, let's say that I conceded all of these points as being true. The following question is, what would any of that have to do in 2015 with a woman, whatever her background, choosing to discontinue an
unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, or wanted, but [INAUDIBLE]? To embrace the black genocide rhetoric is to assume that women are unable and incapable of making their own decisions, or thinking for
themselves, and I for one simply don't believe that. Now, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said a lot of things, and almost everything he said, I disagree with. But one thing that he said I
think rings true, and that is that everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but nobody's entitled to their own facts. And the facts, when it comes to reproductive health, are the following: Black
women, followed by Hispanic women, have disproportionately high rates of abortion, making them together the greater proportion of women having abortions, but the large absolute number of women having
abortions are white women, the larger population group. Abortions come from unplanned, unwanted pregnancies; not race-based allocations of abortion resources.
With regard to the location of abortion clinics, research has shown that only nine percent of abortion clinics are situated near a predominantly black community, not the 75 percent that in the last
election campaign, Herman Cain allegedly repeated over and over again. And then with regard to Margaret Sanger, for people who need to revise history and to bring up the whole notion of genocide or
eugenics, Margaret Sanger's involvement with the black community was at the invitation of black leaders of her day; namely W. E. B. Dubois, Mary McLeod Bethune and others, due to their recognition
that the birth control information and methods that she taught to the member of the community in New York where the clinic she started, they figured out that that would be in the best interest of
black women, so they invited her to bring that information to the black community, because black people were not on her radar screen.
So what these facts illuminate is the fact that the black genocide noise, as I call it, is, one, ahistorical, and therefore intentionally misleading and personally racially insulting; two, not
reflective at all of the reality of women's lives, black or white. And three, it is a very clever patriarchal and parochial effort at the reproductive control of all women by shaming black women and
paralyzing white reproductive rights defenders with allegations of racism, which is, in my opinion, a brilliant but dastardly strategy. The cleverness of the approach lies in the fact that the
reality is that most of the women, proportionately, who need or choose abortion care are women of color and poor women, but most of the providers are not. And so because of, again, our discomfort
with having spaces to have critical dialog about race, the people who are most able to provide the care are spooked when the allegation of racism comes up, and the proponents of this black genocide
argument with regard to the white ones have this pseudo transparency tactic. "See, I'm a reformed racist, I've come and seen the light. And I'm going to let you all know about the big conspiracy
against black folk, because I've had my come to Jesus moment on race, and now I'm giving you the inside scoop," and then the black people who promote this black genocide noise are the conspiracy
theorists, saying, "See, I told you they were out to get us!" And when you put those two together, you have a trap that's twisted for [INAUDIBLE] and fools, and people cannot think critically about
these issues. And so, women suffer.
And so when this is the reality, well, what are we going to do? Here are my thoughts: First of all, we have to deploy all the resources that we could muster, material and physical, to the places where
women have this need. Mississippi is one that has pronounced need, but I'm saying women all over, and there's a epidemic of erosion of reproductive rights of women in this country. I'm seeing women
every time I'm in Mississippi who, despite being abjectly poor and living hours away, somehow they come up with the money to have an abortion, and increasingly they are seeking solutions that will
allow them to not need another abortion, like asking for long-acting methods of contraception. And because of that, I would like to expand access to abortion services, as well as access to the
technologies that would allow women to determine when, whether or not and how often they want to procreate. Look, I'm in favor of women having access to all the resources that they need to live
meaningful lives.
Now, because of that, my personal conviction led me to go to Mississippi, and to hopefully lead by example by committing my clinical services to be available to women in that state, so that as I tell
them, if they can muster the courage to pass by the people that you saw in the video, that there will never be a time where there will be no one there to meet them, because I don't want them to ever
lose the notion, or to gain the notion that everyone is indifferent to the plight that they face. So what that has meant for me is, I sit across from the table and counsel women, that I'm mandated to
unsettling and rewarding. It's unsettling in that I think that no person should have that much power over another person's life, and it's rewarding that I am in a unique position that because of the
choices that I made, that I can restore that woman's hope and help her restore her ambitions towards her life's chances. What that has looked like for me specifically is, it makes me think about the
35-year-old mother of five whose two-year-old had recently died, and who came to me at nine weeks' pregnant and told me that she was not able financially or emotionally to care for another child at
this time. I also think about the 15-year-old young lady who told me that she wanted to be a pediatrician, who was brought in by her grandmother, who was her custodial parent, who was 10 weeks'
pregnant and who was only able to have an abortion because her grandmother sold her couch to come up with the money to pay for her abortion. Now, in the hood, we call that a ride or die grandma, and
I think everybody should have a ride or die grandma. But for those who don't, someone in your corner that will make you - put your dreams back on track. This young woman had her grandmother to do
One of the more profound stories that affects me, though, as I think about the significance of the work that I do is, recently I saw a 37-year-old woman who had undergone a mastectomy because she now
had an 11-month-old, she had three children, the 11-month old was the pregnancy with which she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And so they did a mastectomy, and they were waiting for her to heal so
that they could do her reconstruction. When she went for her pre-op for her reconstruction, they found a mass in her chest, which was a recurrence of her cancer. She also found out that she was 10
week's pregnant. And so she came to me to have an abortion so that she could get the chemo to remain alive for as long as she could to take care of the three kids that she already had. And the
tragedy of her presenting to me was that in Mississippi, I'm mandated by law to tell a woman that abortion will cause breast cancer. So can you imagine the insult of having to, by law, tell this
woman, who has metastatic breast cancer, that having this abortion is what will cause it? So you can sort of get the impact.
And so as I close, I want to share with you a couple of thoughts that motivate me on a daily basis, and I offer them to you, because as a scientist and sociologist, I want you to understand that not
only are you studying things, but you are participating in a study. So you are subjects, as well as investigators, in this big experiment we call "democracy" in this country. And right now, we have
women being impacted solely because by an accident of biology, they have the reproductive burden of pregnancy. What I want you to understand from a society, in order for this thing to change,
somebody said that, "Societies grow great when people plant trees under which they would never sit." And what that means to me is that everyone in this room, everyone in this country, has to have an
interest beyond their own personal interest, and to build the structures that will allow us all to live with the dignity and meaning and purpose that we deserve.
And so the final thought that empowers me to do that is sage advice from one of the wisest people who ever lived in this country, and that is Dr. Seuss. And in The Lorax, Dr. Seuss says something that
I do every morning when I look in the mirror, or at least try to do it on a regular basis, and that is, in The Lorax, Dr. Seuss says, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going
to get better, it's not."
Thank you for your attention! [APPLAUSE]
PAULA ENGLAND: Thank you, Dr. Parker. So we are going to now have some short research reports from relatively junior sociologists, whose work I thought would add to the mix before we start our
conversation together. So I would like now to introduce Zakiya Luna from U.C. Santa Barbara. So, would you please come forward? Thank you.
ZAKIYA LUNA: So thank you, Paula, for actually putting together a really amazing program for the next few days. It is really exciting to see the conversations we're going to have around sexualities,
and so many other topics, but also to start off ASA with something pretty different, talking about abortion in America, and having us think about how the issues that we study are impacting folks
beyond the academic circles in which we are constantly spinning. So thank you. I'm looking forward to the conversation.
And thank you all for being here on a Friday night. We're in Chicago, and there are so many really exciting things people could be doing besides talking about abortion. So I appreciate you taking the
time to be here. So in the next six minutes - six minutes - I am tasked with actually not talking about abortion. I'm actually sharing some of my research, which has examined the recent decades of
activism that has coalesced into a social movement called reproductive justice. And it's appropriate to be here in Chicago presenting on this, because the term, "reproductive justice," right, this is
actually the birthplace. Not this hotel, but a different hotel room in 1994, where a group of black women were meeting as they were attending a pro-choice conference here in Illinois. Now, before I
talk a little bit more about history and contemporary examples of reproductive justice activism, just humor me, and I would like you to raise your hand if the things I ask apply to you. Okay?
So how many of you have children, or have important children in your lives, like nieces, nephews, cousins? How many of you worry about their health? How many of you wonder about the education they are
going to be able to access? How many of you wonder what type of jobs they're going to be able to obtain when they grow up, and how many of you wonder, as we look at the news today, whether they'll
even be able to grow up, quite frankly? We add that altogether, and in a way, this is really the basics of reproductive justice. All of these other things beyond what people tend to associate
abortion and birth control as reproductive issues, that is really, right, the majority of people's experiences in thinking about how, as a society, we have to be able to prioritize the right to have
children, and the right to parent those children with dignity is just as important as the right to not have children. And that's been one of the central aims of the reproductive justice movement, to
push mainstream [INAUDIBLE] reproductive rights, and health activists to recognize that, but also to shift the cultural conversations around those issues.
So I'll go to a little bit of history. And you know, reproductive activists, and just regular folks, have long really criticized the language of choice, and made the point that historically, many
women and men did not have choices when it came to their reproductive lives, right? Obviously during slavery, right, slave women didn't get a choice about, one, when they got to reproduce, what
happened with their children, and people didn't get to decide how - whether or not they got to keep their families together, right? We also know from various historians and sociologists, like Alana
Gutierrez and various others that this country has a really complicated history around eugenics, right? Really, various experts, including policy makers, doctors, social workers, and yes, social
scientists, including sociologists, right, who had ideas about which group should reproduce, right, and really, they discouraged and actively constrained reproduction of poor people, people who were
deemed criminals, people who were deemed feeble-minded, minorities, and really anyone else who was not seen to be contributing to the health of society, right?
So we as a society have a long history of reproductive control of some groups, right, and reproductive possibilities at the individual and community level are affected by gender, race, class,
immigration status, disability status, and have been, right? This is not actually a new phenomenon. But we fast forward through decades of social movement struggles, right, including various waves of
feminism, civil rights advocacy, black power advocacy, Native American struggles, and we see, right, that there has continually actually been activism by women of color in these movements, and they
were very involved as well in reproductive rights advocacy as well. Even as they were involved with this, right, they were really pushing the envelope and saying, we need to talk about this
complicated history. Yes, abortion is important, but so are issues of genetic technologies, right? Medical abuses of different communities and intra-movement dynamics around racism, for example, and
that is a continuing concern and struggle that is happening.
And really, just to emphasize, right, reproductive justice is a way to, and was conceptualized as a way to connect reproductive right struggles and social justice struggles, right, because you need to
talk about issues of economics, issues of racism, issues of immigrant rights, to understand the complexity of people's lives. And reproductive justice wasn't really just about new language, right, to
swap in and out, reproductive health and reproductive rights, no. It was about also saying there needs to be different organizing strategies, right, and that you really have to center the voices of,
and take leadership from the people who were most affected by the issues, right, so at the grassroots levels, understanding what reproductive issues are important to people, such as education,
employment. What are the things that they are thinking about as they are making these decisions about family formation?
Now, you know, in practice, like, you don't have to be a social movement scholar to know that it is difficult to continue that, but that is something that the reproductive justice movement continues,
right, to really foreground. And we don't have time to get into all the details right now, but there's various sessions throughout the conference that are talking about reproductive justice in more
I'll just give a couple of examples of some of the advocacy that has been happening, some of which you might have seen in newspapers, right? So there's folks that are doing reproductive justice work
around incarceration. And this isn't an issue that people typically think about as connected to reproduction, but it certainly is when you think about the differential rates at which black and Latino
men and women, right, are incarcerated, and what that does to family formation. That is an issue of reproduction, when we think about it much more broadly, beyond abortion and birth control, per se.
Or, how it is that when you look at environmental issues, and we look at toxic waste dumps and incinerators, that there's patterns of them being placed in poorer communities, right, being placed in
minority communities. Again, not typically sites of activism that people have associated with reproductive rights, but reproductive justice activists have been working on this for decades and
linking, right, movement struggles around these issues.
We've also been doing work around young parents, and that is an issue that I think many people are uncomfortable with, right, when we talk about bodily autonomy and rights to have children, right? But
when it comes to young people, right, many people are uncomfortable with that conversation, and many reproductive justice activists have really been pushing for quite a while, right, to really think
about what it means to say, well, we really believe in reproductive freedom for all, except those who we don't deem as old enough to be able to raise children. And what would it mean if as a society
we were to give support to young people who are parenting, right, and what a cultural shift that would have to be; not just for those other people, those opponents, but also internally, because quite
frankly, there's a lot of folks who do work around reproductive rights and reproductive health for whom they're also engaged very stigmatizing campaigns around teen pregnancy, for example.
And I don't want to give the impression that reproductive justice advocates aren't doing work around birth control and abortion; they certainly are. But those campaigns often look very different.
Again, don't have lots of time to talk about that right now, but again, when we're talking about sort of pushing the envelope and thinking differently about what it would mean to talk about holistic
reproductive justice, these are just some examples of posters produced through the Repeal Hyde Art Project. Dr. Parker already mentioned the Hyde Amendment, which is a restriction around abortion,
and it affects, yes, those who are poor, but also federal employees and a whole set of other folks, right? But this is what's produced through the Hyde Art Project, thinking about again that everyone
deserves to live and play in a safe and healthy space regardless of how much money you make, right, that environmental justice is an issue of reproductive justice, right? Many reproductive activists,
particularly in the past most recent five, ten years, have talked much more explicitly around issues of queerness, and queen and reproductive justice, and really engaging around questions of gender
expression. And part of that is an influence of younger activists, and you can talk more about that as well. But talking about what it means to say everyone has the right to bodily autonomy, and also
linking that with issues of trans-inclusion, for example.
And something produced very recently through the Hyde Appeal, Hyde Art Project, particularly around Ferguson and countless shootings of young black men and women, really linking, right, the idea of
what it would mean to parent with dignity, and everyone have a safe community in which to parent their children, should they choose to have children, right, and really emphasizing how we all deserve,
if we choose to have children, the right to parent without the fear that he or she will be hurt or killed. And it seems kind of like a basic idea, but it's also quite revolutionary, right, in really
connecting different racial justice struggles to reproductive justice.
So in my last closing thought, you know, when I started these interviews and doing archival work almost a decade ago, I remember one young activist I was talking to, you know, and I was asking the
question, well, you know, why did you get involved with reproductive justice? And of course I had my own theories and social movement scholarship had some theories around this. And she said, "Well,
this movement allows me to be, like, 100 percent. And it allows me to do that cross-movement building work that we need to do to move forward." And for some people, that really means, like,
reproductive justice is so big. And I think that's something that's so funny. It's, like, our lives are so broad, how could you think about working in a movement that wasn't so expansive when your
own life is so expansive? And I think that really illustrates in the core aspects of why reproductive justice not just as a term, but as a movement, has really invigorated a new generation, different
constituencies, and a whole set of people that were not necessarily as involved in traditional reproductive rights and health advocacy, because it is a movement that has really put their experiences
at the center, and said that your life is so expansive and our movement needs to be as expansive as well, in order to obtain reproductive justice for all.
So, thank you! [APPLAUSE]
PAULA ENGLAND: So our last speaker will be Sarah Cowan from New York University.
SARAH COWAN: It's a pleasure to be with you all tonight, and I want to thank Dr. Parker for kicking off this conference of sociology with some serious sociology. I'm just going to give you a short
snippet of my research on abortion secrets and misperceptions. I begin by comparing Americans' contact with and discussion of miscarriages, compared to abortions.
So why this comparison? Well, abortion and miscarriage are demographically similar events. They are both ways that pregnancies end, and they usually occur within the first trimester, and so they are
concealable. They are also incredibly common. Twenty percent of recognized pregnancies end in abortion. Twelve to fourteen percent of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. One in three American
women will have an abortion in her lifetime, one in four will experience a miscarriage. I've noticed some surprised faces. The reason you're surprised by these facts is that people are keeping their
abortions secret from you. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So they are also similar in the diversity of women who experience these events. Ever having had a miscarriage is a near-random event. The vast majority of miscarriages are due to fetal chromosomal
abnormalities, and these abnormalities increase with maternal age, but by and large, it's considered a random event. And as such, miscarriages affect all subpopulations of women in the United States.
And we have a layman sense of this. But despite popular assumptions, women of all subpopulations also have abortions. As an example, a quarter of abortion patients are Catholic, as are a quarter of
women of childbearing age. Fifteen percent of women who have abortions attend a religious service at least once a week, as do 23 percent of women of childbearing age. Over half of women who have
abortions are already mothers, as are women of childbearing age, generally. They're also comparable in terms of marital status and education. Black, Hispanic and poor women, however, are
over-represented among women who have abortions.
Though abortion and miscarriage are remarkably similar demographically, they are quite different socially. Abortion is stigmatized to a much greater degree than miscarriage. In the next slide, I will
be showing results from a new measure that I have developed, the contact prevalence. It's the number of people in the community who personally know someone with a given condition; it's captured an
answer to the question, "Do you know anyone who has had an abortion or a miscarriage?" It's a function of the parameters listed here. I'm going to compare the prevalence of these pregnancy losses to
their contact prevalence.
So though abortion is the more common event as we can see in the first set of bars, the contact prevalence is much higher for a miscarriage. That is, many more Americans report knowing someone who has
had a miscarriage than an abortion, as you can see in the bars on the right. How does this difference come to pass? Primarily through secret-keeping and disclosure. Americans who have experienced
miscarriages, either they have had one themselves, or their partners have, tell more people than when talking about an abortion. And this is the same when people are sharing about somebody else's
pregnancy loss. Further, Americans keep abortions secret more than they keep miscarriages secret. So both telling and secreting favors the spread of news about miscarriages over abortions, and that
is how we end up with this difference where miscarriage is less common, but more Americans have contact with it.
In addition, Americans spread news about abortions to people who are pro-choice, avoiding those who hold more conservative views, and they do this to protect the woman who has had an abortion from
stigma. Here are the rates of reporting knowing someone who has had an abortion, by responding attitude toward abortion. We see that respondents who hold more liberal views on abortion are much more
likely to report knowing someone who's had an abortion than those who have more restrictive views. This is a strong gradient, and it holds in the multi-variant analyses. The result of disclosures
being told to people who are already sympathetic and kept from those who are not is that who comes into knowing contact with women who've had abortions are skewed toward the stigmatized, and what
Gothman calls "the wise," or those who are accepted by the stigmatized. Americans who have had abortions, or their partners have, are more likely to know someone else who have had these experiences
than those who have not. Further, Americans who have liberal views are more likely to be in contact than Americans who have conservative views.
Well now, why does any of this matter? It matters because we are influenced by our own experiences, and the experiences that we learn about the people who are around us. The stigmatized and the wise
imagine the typical abortion patient differently, particularly with regard to motherhood and religiosity, and they endorse a wider range of reasons for why women have abortions. I imagine the social
world as an archipelago of concealable stigmas, among which is abortion. And this archipelago is populated disproportionately by the stigmatized and the wise. When this balkanization results from
secret-keeping, then there is this curious situation where these islands are functions of disclosure; not merely of social proximity. It indicates that we tend to hear that which we want to hear, we
are not told of that which we will disapprove. And so our illusions about the world become self-fulfilling. If you believe that abortion is murder, or actions taken by a careless woman, you are less
likely to hear that someone you know has had one, even though she has. You do not have the opportunity to come into contact and possibly reconsider your perceptions and attitudes.
I'll end here, and I look forward to our discussion. [APPLAUSE]
PAULA ENGLAND: So thanks to all our panelists. You did a great job in keeping in timeframes, and having really interesting and diverse things to say.
So we are going to open things for discussion. So the way this is going to work is that you can ask a question to any of the panelists, or you can ask a general question and they can decide who's
going to field it. And I'm going to ask people who want to ask a question to walk to one of these two mikes toward the front of the room, and I'll sort of call on people and rotate back between them;
that way we'll be able to hear your question, and also, I'll be able to see you more easily.
So, do I have a first question? Excellent. And why don't people say their name and maybe their affiliation, if they want to.
MARIA SCHMEECKLE: Maria Schmeeckle, Illinois State University. Thank you very much to the panel, it's super interesting. I would like to ask the panelists what they feel we most should do to reduce
the need for abortion in America.
PAULA ENGLAND: Anyone want to take that? So you can come up here, or you can answer from sitting down.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Oh, can you? Is my mike hot? Can you hear me? Mike check, one, two. Okay. Not me, just the mike. [LAUGHTER] So thank you for the question. The, you know, I'd like to shift a frame
of what the expectations are around abortion, when you talk about the biologic reality of sexual reproduction. Of all the methods of reproduction, it is the most inefficient one, you know, what we
know about pregnancies that become clinically evident, roughly a quarter of them become clinically evident. So that means that conception occurs far more frequently than ever becomes clinically
And when it does become clinically evident, then the decision about what to do with it is multi-factorial. I think, though, for the people who ideologically are [INAUDIBLE] when they frame the
question around less abortion, the expectation is, no abortion. And so any abortion is considered some sort of failure. And so that creates a negative context. I'd like to introduce the concept of a
public health notion of how to think about to what degree abortion should occur, and that would be if we do all that we can to make sure every pregnancy's a planned pregnancy and a wanted one, and so
the ones that become necessary due to tragic circumstances would be the ones that we're left with, that would leave us not without abortions of zero, it would make us down to what we call the
irreducible minimum, which means, what number of abortions should we expect to see even under optimal circumstances, and we should understand that that number should never be zero.
So what that means is, for the determinants of health and reproduction, people having the right kind of information to understand the links between certain choices with regard to sexuality and
practices, and so then they would lose magical thinking around if there's heterosexual intercourse. And so sperm exposure - it's not like there's a shower of sperm and you get caught in it -
[LAUGHTER] but exposures that lead to the possibility of pregnancy, then there's shared responsibility. Men should have the products they need to take responsibility to prevent impregnating a woman.
A woman should have what she needs to prevent being fertile at the time that she chooses to be sexually active. And so that means that the things that are necessary for people to be empowered are,
there should not be disparate access to medically-accurate sex education and products. What we have to do is we have to tease out the discomfort we have with sexuality and the outcomes related to
sexuality. So I think it's a multi-faceted question, but I don't think it will lead us to a number. But what I do want to introduce the notion is we should be working towards what we would consider
the irreducible minimum, given that sexual activity occurs, and that there are outcomes related thereto.
PAULA ENGLAND: Other people want to ask questions? I see someone coming up over here.
REBECCA HOWLAND: Hi, Rebecca Howland, Wheaton College, Massachusetts. We heard Dr. Parker's struggles and reactions that you got from the services that you're providing, and I was just wondering for
the other panelists, have you ever experienced any sort of negative reactions for the academic work you're doing? And how have you faced any of that adversity?
DR. PHIL MORGAN: My work doesn't focus primarily on abortion, I work on fertility, so it's only one component. So abortion is one piece of it. I - I haven't experienced anything like our focus speaker
did, with people challenging me, et cetera.
SARAH COWAN: Similarly, I have never felt personally threatened. I have never - my commitment to morality has never been questioned. I have gotten some advice that it's going to be hard-going to get
federal grants on abortion, and I have also had experiences, and I can't say that this is specific to doing abortion work, if I don't have an accurate counterfactual. But I have had experiences where
sociologists have said to me, "I don't believe these numbers. I don't believe that a synthetic cohort rate of one in three American women will have an abortion." These are not my numbers, these are
the numbers from the CDC and the Allan Guttmacher Institute. But in reviews, I have gotten - they'd say things like, "I just don't believe this number. And because this number is central to your
work, I cannot accept this paper." And my reaction to that is, since I can't ask follow-up questions of the reviewer, has been to wonder whether or not that number is discomforting, and that the
reviewer has taken off her or his scholarly hat and allowed that discomfort to cloud the - or, maybe it was a bad paper. But - [LAUGHTER] - you know, when the reaction is, "I don't believe the number
from the CDC," and there's no further explanation as to why that number might not be true, then I do start to wonder whether or not there's something not scholarly happening there.
ZAKIYA LUNA: So, I will answer briefly, and I think it's important to keep in mind, just part of a larger conversation, but how sociology as a discipline is structured, keep in mind where folks are
doing work around gender and sexuality, in many ways, there's obviously - there's so much interesting work around gender and work around sexuality, yet that isn't necessarily what is the most
published. There's a really a mismatch. And I think if you talk with many senior scholars who have helped create doorways for other folks who are doing work around this, they have all sorts of
stories about trying to even get any sort of support, legitimacy around even just doing what we would consider pretty basic work around gender now.
So at first, I want to put that context there. And then say, so even though there's so many people interested in work around gender and sexuality, it's not very well-represented in many ways. And then
work around reproduction, right, is rather stigmatized as well, and then work around abortion, specifically. And there's many other scholars who have written about this, and everything from academic
papers to blog posts, various folks who are sitting here who have published around these issues. And so I think there's - while there isn't, I haven't experienced personal, formal attacks, there is
just the reality that there's not that many people, right, when you say doing any work connected to reproduction, people are like, "Oh, huh, okay, people in soc are doing that in that way?" And
you're like, "Yeah, they are." And it's such a basic aspect of our lives, it's very surprising in many ways.
But it also, right, is a very uncomfortable, because we're also talking about sex and sexualities, and people's intermittent experiences, right? And that's something that, for many people, when they
want to talk about being neutral social scientists, that feels a bit weird. And I should also say, like, I do work as a social movement scholar. There's some folks that do work around reproduction.
But when I started doing work around reproductive justice specifically, there weren't that many folks in sociology who were doing work on it at all. And there's an increasing number of folks, and I
see them at conferences, and that's great, but that's a pretty small number. And I think that there is obviously more space for it, but there's - I mean, there's a lot of complex aspects of that.
And, I mean, obviously, we're sitting here, so on one hand, it's, like, okay, yay, we're getting support for this. But it's also, I mean, this is 2015. It's a little surprising that there hasn't been
more conversation around this and much broader sort of plenaries. So -
ZAKIYA LUNA: - keep that in mind.
>> Thank you.
DEMIE KURZ: Hi. My name is Demie Kurz from the University of Pennsylvania. Thank you for this wonderful panel, and really, thank you, Dr. Parker. I don't have the words to thank you. I do say that we
should all take inspiration from your work and apply it in our own lives, in our own way. I just - a point came up just a few minutes ago that's not quite abortion, but related. And that is this
question of talking about sex in the United States. I mean, we seem to be able to talk more about sexuality these days. I mean, we did get to talk about gay marriage and do something about it. I
mean, there are Trans women on the covers of popular magazines. But, you know, talking about sex, there's something about our culture, to make a very gross generalization, that's so backward.
And I can't say I was any exemplar myself. I have two - we have two grown sons and I don't think either of us did a great job [LAUGHTER] by the time we got around to the awkward talk, they were, like,
"Oh, come on, mom!" You know, we know, we know. It's fine. Don't worry. And research backs up that parents have trouble talking about sex to their kids, and certainly, you know, in the wider culture,
there are battles about this in schools. When sex education is taught, it's often with stick figures and, you know, it's desire, as Michelle Fine wrote years ago, the missing discourse of desire. We
haven't seemed to have made any progress on that. So my question to the panel is, how important do you think it is that we be able to move on this question, and do you have any positive examples to
give that we are, again, gross generalization, as a culture making progress on just, you know, okay, sex? Part of life. Anyway, thank you again.
PAULA ENGLAND: Well, I'm not a panelist, but hey, you know, I'm the presider. [LAUGHTER] I get to call on you -
DR. WILLIE PARKER: You have the power of the podium.
PAULA ENGLAND: - yes. So I'm going to call on myself. [LAUGHTER] Because I've sort of thought a lot about this question, too, and I think that, you know, there is a general - it's so weird in
America, right, because there's a sex negativity like sex is bad. But then simultaneously, there's - it's sex-saturated, and you know, they're selling everything with sex, and both those things are
happening together. And the other thing I want to kind of throw into the conversation is the double standard of sex, wherein especially casual sex is much more stigmatized for women than for men. And
you know, particularly in male peer culture, oftentimes, you know, you get high fives for telling stories about your casual sexual escapades. And casual sex for women, obviously, has gained some
foothold, or we wouldn't have a, quote, "hookup culture" on college campuses. But on the other hand, it's going on a lot, but there is this very fine balance in this double standard. And of course
it's women that have abortions, and they're the ones whose sexual agency seems most controversial. So I do think that is part of people's attitudes toward this issue, and a difficult thing. And you
want to say something?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: I - I was listening to - I consider myself a reproductive justice convert, because that framework works for me better than reproductive rights. And, you know, the reproductive
justice framework as traditionally articulated, I would say, is like a three-legged stool. But in my conceptualization of reproductive justice, the stool has a fourth leg, you know. So you've heard
that the right to prevent pregnancies, the right to have the resources, the parent, you know, the right to end the pregnancies that you don't want. The fourth leg of the stool is that all human
beings are entitled to primary sexual pleasure. And I frame it that way is because, as you imply, we're very uncomfortable with the idea of sexual agency by women, and so we stigmatize their
sexuality, whereas we venerate the sexual practices of men.
And where that fourth leg makes - adds more capacity for reproductive justice as a movement building framework is the real power of RJ, in my opinion, is the ability of, is the tool of intersexual
analysis, where you can bring together seemingly disparate things. For example, just like I'm looking at the title of this session, or this conference, Sexuality, is to pluralize the concept of
sexuality increases the capacity to put sexuality on a continuum as opposed to a categorical - categorically be thinking about it. And so when I think about what the women suffer that I see, I end up
dealing with women whose healthcare seeking abilities in the form of abortion are modulated by this stigma and shame that we use as a social mobility tool. Or not a mobility, but in terms of that
this person, the people who were standing out there thought that they could impact my level of commitment by accusing me of killing my own race. The racialized the decision were making, and they
thought that shame would be leverage either towards me or the patient.
So that has everything to do with our perceptions about sex and sexuality, so that means part of the solution or the strategies, have to be that the deconstructing the notions of stigma and shame
around sexuality in their head. So when you see what we see with regard to abortion and women being - feeling unable to make that decision, all of the laws around trying to outlaw abortion are about
modulating the sexual - the decisions of women in a public space, because women who can get their abortions with a doctor who will hold their confidentiality, or they can travel someplace remote from
where there would be any consequences to it being known that they have an abortion, those women aren't impacted by the laws that would close the clinic in Mississippi. I call it the "perp walk." The
woman who have to walk by the folk who were out there yelling, they are having their private decision play out in the public forum. And that has everything to do with our discomfort with sex and
sexuality in this society.
PAULA ENGLAND: Did you want to comment on this, or should we go with the next? Somebody else want to comment? Phil, go ahead.
DR. PHIL MORGAN: Yeah, we're not fighting over these questions, because you guys are asking some really tough questions. To come back to, you know, precisely to Demie Kurz' question, you know,
there's nothing new about this - about my response. I think it was [INAUDIBLE] in a paper about teenage pregnancy 25 years ago said the U.S. context is sort of the worst possible situation. Young
people are taught that sex is incredible, overwhelming, exciting, but an especially good girl shouldn't be prepared to do it. So they're encouraged to think about it, be excited about it, but not be
prepared for it. In terms of positive things, teenage pregnancy and teenage childbearing have declined dramatically in recent years. And the push to encourage young men and women to be prepared for
sexuality, coupled with the availability of long-term contraceptives, it's a real, as is a real possibility. I mean, one of the reasons marital long-term couples do better is that they've resolved
this how do we not get pregnant question. That's tough for people who have sex intermittently, possibly with different partners. So being responsible, being prepared and long-term contraceptives is a
package for the future.
PAULA ENGLAND: So I'm going to take the gentleman over here.
VICTOR AKAJANIE: Yes. Victor [Akajanie?] in the University of Kansas. I'm the first man to ask a question, and naturally, my question is about men. [LAUGHTER] Where are men? Dr. Parker, in your
experience, you talk about women coming for your services. Are they, are they - where are their partners? Are they in the picture? Can - if not, can we put them in the picture to help ensure that
women, the protection of women's reproductive right and the fulfilment of reproductive preferences? And to give you a little background, I do much research in reproductive health and reproductive
behavior in international settings. I've been increasingly disappointed, disappointed about a man's role. I'm increasingly - I want you to find - give me some reason for optimism that men actually
can help.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, thank you for that question. During my fellowship in family planning, my research focus was the role of men and the capacity of men to share responsibility around
reproductive decision-making. So in order to create the expectation that men would share responsibility, part of that is a function of creating a capacity for them to share that responsibility. What
that has looked like has been an ongoing effort towards a long-acting reversible male contraceptive, and for the last 40 years, we've been five years away from that. So now there are things at
clinical trials, and yet there's kind of a mixed bag. Most of the research and development in this country is driven by private industry. And given that they've cornered the market on reproduction or
contraceptive technology, there's the notion of why - if we come up with products for men, will it represent an expanded capacity for people to contracept and prevent unplanned, unwanted pregnancies,
or will we be eating into our own market? So there's this conflict around, is there more money to be made, or are we going to cannibalize a population that we already have? So there's those, the
aspect of generating the things that would enable men to share responsibility.
And so without that capacity, it really is a more of an academic exercise to talk about shared responsibility for men. The best that we could do now is, we know that women, when they have partners who
are supportive and understanding and who are competent in contraception, those women are better contraceptors when they have the support of their partners, because some of it requires joint effort.
But it really is the shifting of this question to a human rights framework, and, you know, that men have a shared responsibility to, even if they can't directly contracept, if they have
responsibility to not imperil a woman. Because I look at men - my work with men as a woman's health provider is secondary prevention. Primary prevention is what I would do for a woman to help her to
be empowered. But secondary prevention is looking at that determinant that determines the health of a woman. And as we know, the health of many women is related to the men that they're partnered
So I think we have to think about men not as the problem, but as an opportunity. And that means some primary work with men around attitudes; knowledge and attitudes, beliefs and practices, but also
work with women around the agency that they need to be able to exercise in the context of a relationship.
PAULA ENGLAND: I'm going to go to this mike over here.
ZAKIYA LUNA: Oh, I wanted to say something, actually.
PAULA ENGLAND: Did you? Okay.
ZAKIYA LUNA: And so mention this a little bit, but part of early reproductive justice activism and what continues today is to also acknowledge, right, when people say women, as if women are just
sitting there without sons, brothers, parents, communities, that that's a pretty limited way of understanding how people's lives are lived, right, that there's relationships there. And that, when
we're broadening the perspective and thinking about - when we think about family formation, right, the reason folks who are reproductive justice activists now are concerned around Ferguson isn't just
because, like, oh, that's an interesting issue. It's to say, like, this is all connected, right? [INAUDIBLE] systems, what happens to black, Latino, all sorts of folks? Like, all of this is
connected. And that is part of where reproductive justice, right, has shifted in the sense of how people typically think about reproductions. So the question of where men are, they've been there all
along in a sense, right? It's much broader conceptualization of community and reproductive concerns. So that is also something I just want to clarify and make clear, as far as talking around
reproductive justice.
SUSAN LEE: Hi. I'm Susan Lee from Boston University. And I'm interested in some of the politics of abortion, and sort of the social movement of anti-abortion activists. And I'm wondering in
Mississippi, for instance, if laws are being passed to further restrict abortion. There must be groups that are working towards that end. And I wonder if you know who those groups are in Mississippi.
And is it across the political spectrum? Is it both Democrats and Republicans?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Thank you for that question. There are, you know, the - there's, you know, part of it is the politics of mobilizing politics. The climate about abortion-related politics in
Mississippi changed with the last election, literally because the previous governor, Haley Barbour, his power base was strong enough that he didn't need to throw women under the bus. So he was pretty
much - he was a Republican, but he was pretty much neutral on abortion. And so a lot of the mischief that's been done came with the last election, where you had the Democratic candidate and the
Republican candidate were both pro-life and they were trying to outflank each other about who could be the most conservative in a state that has one of the highest levels of religiosity in the
And so that represented a fertile opportunity for organizations like Operation Save America, and others, who've tried to nationalize their effort to work in collaboration with conservative legislators
who take boilerplate bill language from organizations like ALEC to introduce bills that are crafted in a way that they will sail through a legislature. And that's how we ended up - when I went to
Mississippi, honestly, I had no idea when my license came through in May, I had not been monitoring the legislative cycle, so I did not know that the governor who was elected had pledged to make
Mississippi an abortion-free state. And so in May, when the bill was signed to law that changed the regulations about abortion care, I had no clue, and yet I would have still gone, but the point is
that it's been this kind of like an opportunism that's been largely partisan, but not necessarily, because you have pro-life Democrats, which means that people conflate their religious identity with
the authority that they hold in public elected office.
PAULA ENGLAND: Great. Thank you. Over here.
HELENA DARWIN: Yeah. My name is Helena Darwin from Stony Brook University. We're talking a lot here about gender ideology, and we've talked a lot about the stigma and shame surrounding abortions and
surrounding female sexuality. But something that I don't hear us talking about is the need to destigmatize unhappiness with motherhood, the fact that not all women who become mothers are naturally
magically fulfilled by that transition, and that women actually do know that they don't want to be mothers. And so when you were talking about the difference between people who know someone who have
had a miscarriage versus an abortion, as a mother, who is very open about my struggles with being a mother amidst a sea of people who don't talk about what's hard, or what they don't like, whether
because of denial or because of shame for doing it, I feel like this has to be part of this same conversation. I feel like the graph would be really similar of how many mothers do you know who are
unhappy being mothers, or who have struggled with it emotionally, with not feeling fulfilled by it, versus how many who have, you know, been very fulfilled by it, and would do it again? So I was just
wondering if you could speak to that, and how much or how little you feel that that is part of this same process of destigmatizing abortion.
PAULA ENGLAND: Sarah, do you want to take that?
SARAH COWAN: Sure. I study secrets. Broadly, abortion is one of them, so people sometimes ask me what do I think is the biggest secret in America? And I always say, well, it's impossible to measure.
But regretting parenthood I think is one of the most concealed ones. So in thinking about it, I want to answer your question in two ways. The first is, you've referenced the graphs. And it would be
impossible for me to make a graph regarding that, because there is - it would be impossible for me to get accurate measurements of how many women or men regret becoming parents. The only way I could
make those graphs is because we have external clinical measures of miscarriage and abortion problems. So that's the sort of scholarly demography response.
And then the other response is yes, you're absolutely right that there are huge swaths of personal - our personal lives that we don't reveal even to our closest intimates. And you were very courageous
for discussing the disappointments or challenges or negative experiences that you have had as a mother. You know, we - there is the idea that women, for instance, regret their abortions, and is a
stronghold in the anti-choice movement. And we also see it appearing in Supreme Court cases, that women should be prevented from making decisions they might subsequently regret. And there are women
who regret becoming mothers. A lot of people regret marriage. [LAUGHTER] And yet, we still allow people to become parents, we still allow people to get married. But I think part of that is people's
reluctance to talk about the regrets that they have about parenting.
HELENA DARWIN: And just to clarify, I wasn't saying a graph of people who self-report regretting or not regretting. I'm talking about being exposed to people talking about regrets, versus only
talking about the good, and how that sets up really false expectations for women who haven't gotten pregnant yet or haven't become mothers yet, to then feel that they're alone in the negativity. And
this is probably more appropriate for a different panel at this point. But because you were talking about stigma -
HELENA DARWIN: - and we've been talking about gender ideology, I just wanted to bring that up.
SARAH COWAN: Great, thank you.
HELENA DARWIN: So thank you.
PAULA ENGLAND: Thank you. Yes, let's take the question over here.
ARUSHI: Hi. I'm Aarushi, I'm also from Stony Brook University - coincidence. So my question is for Dr. Parker. First, I wanted to thank you very much for the courageous work you do to fight for
women's rights and choices. I was very disturbed when you were showing these clips where people were equating anti-abortion agendas to, like, black genocide, and it was just very, very disappointing
to see. And it also made me wonder how the rhetoric of the opposition defers when it's not necessarily black women in Mississippi that want to get abortions. Like, I'm guessing that the population
that is not black that comes to you may not be that high, but I wanted to maybe hear more about what that looks like, and how often do you get women that are not necessarily, like, of that
demographic, and how - and if you're not getting a lot of those women, how they might be dealing with unwanted pregnancy in this very hostile environment. Thank you.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Sure. Thank you for your question, and thank you for your support of what I do. The discussion of race in the South is a very interesting one, where when we talk about black, white
dichotomy, growing up in the South before the diaspora of Latinos growing up in Alabama, race was a dichotomist there, it was black and white. White meant not black and black meant not white. And so
if you were an East Indian, Latina or something else, it depended on who was asking the question. If black person were describing you, they might say that you were white, which meant that you were
not black. That might also imply that you enjoy the same social class status as the white person. So in your mind, their mind, your diversity would be lost, because your lived experience is not
And similarly, of white people, they would automatically say you were white. And I saw this in description of patients, when people would describe - if you came in, whatever your heritage, they would
describe you as a 25-year-old white woman, when you're not white. But what it meant was that you weren't black. And so that is a broader context to say that the oversimplification of race means that
there's bleed-over, and your experience in terms of the stigma would be the same stigma and shame. But the additional filter has been the attempt to kind of require physicians to racially profile
clients who would be from South Asian populations, where they would call it, like - we would call it son preference, where they would talk about people who would terminate because they wanted a
first-born son.
And so where that's become - I guess it's a dubious honor that the politics of abortion aren't that sophisticated in the South where people - if there's not a large South Asian population, there's not
that whole explicit, oh, people are killing babies because they're girl babies. But there has been - you know, I do see, to answer part of your question, all women are in the same boat, so there, the
diaspora of people everywhere I see South Asian, Latino, and all kinds of folk. And they experience the same vitriol. But there are some people that are trying to introduce that nuance that will
require me to racially profile my patients, so in other words, if I were to perceive you as a South Asian woman and know that you came from a culture that has son preference, I would be required to
find out, are you terminating because you're carrying a female fetus? And so that effort to, again, the salami approach to parse away or find any place to get traction to minimize a woman's right to
make the decision about ending her pregnancy bubbles up.
KELSEY DEVICO: Hi. My name is Kelsey [Devico?], I'm from Western Michigan University. This question is for any panelist who would like to speak on it. Am I too close to the mike? [LAUGHS] So my
question is about the pharmaceuticalization of, like, reproductivity in the U.S.
PAULA ENGLAND: We need you to talk louder.
KELSEY DEVICO: Oh, sorry, I thought I was too close.
PAULA ENGLAND: Or get closer. Actually, get closer to the mike.
KELSEY DEVICO: Is this better?
KELSEY DEVICO: Okay. So we're all very familiar with sort of, like, the pharmaceutical discourse around male potency, you know, with Viagra and Cialis and the, you know, the little pill you can buy
at the gas station, to whatever. [LAUGHTER] But I don't, at least I am not very familiar with a pharmaceutical sort of position or discourse or anything about, like, the women's aspect of
reproduction. So I was wondering if, Dr. Parker, as your experience as a medical practitioner, or if anyone as a researcher, is familiar with what is, like, the pharmaceutical stance on, like,
women's reproductive rights in the U.S.? Or do they just not take one?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, it's interesting, I mean, was it just this week the little pink pill came out, the equivalent of female Viagra to respond to sexual desire dysfunction in women. I guess it's
kind of a mixed bag; it's one big [INAUDIBLE] that women have primary sexual desire and have sex for pleasure and can acknowledge that and could seek, you know, treatment for a perceived dysfunction
in that regard. But it's also been problematic for some about the medicalization of the sexuality of women. And so is there going to be marketing to women? You know, are they going to create a
diagnosis that needs to be treated to drive drug sales? So it's a mixed bag.
And so as a women's health provider, I was also, you know, as a part of my training, you know, required to understand sexual function and disorders related there, too. And there were no products, and
there was an attempt to try to infer that women had the same sexual physiologic functioning. And so there were people who gave women Viagra to see if it would do the same thing for men. So there's
been some targeted research resulting in an FDA-approved drug for a female sexual disorder. But again, it comes down to the medicalization of something that's a much more complex issue. But I guess
part of the progress, if you will, is that the acknowledgement that women do have primary sexual desire, and are entitled to have that and they're entitled to address it if it is not functioning to
their satisfaction.
PAULA ENGLAND: So as a presider, I need to point out a process point that we have only three minutes left, so unfortunately I may not get to everyone. I'm continue to alternate sides, but if you
could make your question quick, we'll see if we can get as many of you as we can.
LIZ CHIARELLO: I'm Liz Chiarello from St. Louis University. I have a brief question for Dr. Parker and for Dr. Cowan. Dr. Parker, I'm so glad you're here. And hearing you speak, I am struck by how
bold you are, but I'm also struck by how vulnerable you are. And I'd like to talk for a minute about vulnerability and marginality of abortion providers, and your Good Samaritan analogy and then
watching those clips was really striking. And it's a striking juxtaposition to seeing an abortion clinic in the Netherlands where there are no protesters, there are lots of abortion providers. And so
when I see the AMA, which is a really powerful lobby, get up in arms about all kinds of things, I don't see them equally up in arms about the restrictions on abortion providers. And I see that as
really feeding the centralization of abortion care, which limits abortion care. And I'm curious about what you think that the medical profession needs to do to make abortion a normalized part of
And then Dr. Cowan, I love your work, I think it's really fascinating. And, but it strikes me in terms of thinking about contact and discourse and who knows who's had what kind of abortion, the two
people, the two groups that really speak loudly about their abortions, and one you've mentioned are the people who regret their abortions.
PAULA ENGLAND: Can you speed up your question, please?
LIZ CHIARELLO: The people who regret their abortion and the people who have had abortions for medical reasons. And so I'm curious about how you think that, then, shapes the discourse in how people
PAULA ENGLAND: Thank you very much.
understand abortion?
PAULA ENGLAND: So, since my primary responsibility here is to get us out of here on time, we're not going to be able to take any more questions. And if you'll give a real short answer, and then
Sarah, and then we'll wrap up.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Yeah. I think the role that our trade organizations and representation of the interests of their membership, if part of the destigmatization of abortion and lessening my
vulnerability as a practitioner would be for the people who do abortions to be open about the fact that they do, and that allows - that makes it less possible for me to be targeted and marginalized.
And it also kind of mainstreams and normalizes that this is healthcare. I think for them to recognize that their advocacy on behalf of their patients includes building the capacity for the patients
to receive the care that they need, and that would mean supporting the people who provide the care.
PAULA ENGLAND: Thanks. Sarah? Last time.
SARAH COWAN: So you're absolutely right. The people who speak loudest about their abortions are those who regret them, and those who have had them for medical reasons. And in terms of the numbers,
those are actually very small. Very, very few women regret their abortions, any minor fraction of abortions are due to - for medical reasons. For the health of the woman, the health of the fetus,
what have you. Unless you want to think of health very broadly, which I encourage you to do, but that's not really what people are talking about. And so the effect of it is is that Americans are
ignorant about the on-the-ground realities of the average abortion. And my, you know, research demonstrates that. And as - I mean, just one example, because I know we're short on time. There is a
dominant discourse that women who have abortions are rejecting motherhood. Women who have abortions are already mothers, right? And so here we have a discourse, and the facts on the ground completely
disprove it. And that ignorance can be perpetuated by the fact that for very good reasons, typical American women who have had abortions don't talk about them.
PAULA ENGLAND: So I'd really like to thank you for coming, and I'd like to thank this wonderful panel and all of you for your questions. And before we give them a final hand, I want to invite all of
you, there's a reception with food and later some music, right next door in the next - you know, you just go out here and go this way. So please join me in a hand for our wonderful panel. [APPLAUSE]
Thank you guys, this is great!