Sometimes endorsements by even the best lobbying groups must favor the incumbent. For example, recently my opponent was endorsed by two major groups that champion reproductive healthcare and abortion rights. I’ve talked to voters who saw this and worried that I was not pro-choice. I’d like to explain my track record of choice, which has been reinforced by my lived experience.
This is me in 1989 in D.C., headed to the protest in front of the Supreme Court that coincided with the Webster v. Reproductive Healthcare decision. At the time, I was a volunteer escort for patients at the local reproductive health care clinic for the day that they provided abortions. However, my main volunteer gig at that point was serving in family court in Providence in the domestic relations unit, helping victims to get restraining orders, and answering the hotline and helping with the kids at the city’s women’s shelter. I also wrote my honors thesis the next year on the prosecution of domestic violence misdemeanor assaults, in the case of a victim who was reluctant to testify.
The photo on the left is also me, probably in my first year in college, in our dorm room, explaining to my friends how to put on a condom. I apologize for the glare; it’s a photo of a photo, and I’m a notoriously bad photographer. Why was I wearing sun glasses inside? It’s a mystery. Neither fashion or photography are among my talents. What is not a mystery is whether this person was and is pro-choice or pro-sex ed.
This is me at my last day at my first professional job, at the YWCA domestic violence shelter in Camden County, NJ. My co-workers made me hold the cordless phone, because they said they were going to make me take it with me to Massachusetts to answer the hotline from there. At that job, I worked with a researcher, who became a friend, Dr. Raquel Bergen, on her study of marital rape, which became the first book on the topic. My role was letting survivors know about the study and helping them decide whether to participate. By the way, the women in this photo also all told me how we were no different than our clients, and how we were in fact one paycheck away from needing a shelter. The lady on the left, a grandmother, worked two full-time jobs, back to back, and she sometimes fell asleep in our break room at lunch. My co-workers at the SOLACE shelter were, by and large, religious Christian women who recognized how necessity and desperation drove women’s choices. For many of the mothers we served, abortion was essential both for economic realities, and because the pregnancy and parenthood would tie her permanently to the abuser, if he wasn’t already the father of her children. People who commit domestic violence or sexual assault typically still are given visitation, often unsupervised visitation, of their children with the victim, and child handoffs and visitation become a way to continue to control her.
I have spoken to victims and survivors about their rights and accompanied them to the hospital to complete the rape kit and to court for restraining orders and hearings. I do not say trial because it is very rare for rapists to be charged. One of the things that they had to endure was interminable waiting: waiting for a trained sexual assault nurse, waiting for the doctor, waiting for the police, and waiting to hear how the district attorney would proceed. When we were waiting in the hallway at the Hall of Justice, I was often hungry. I would not bring lunch unless I could bring enough for everyone, including the victim’s kids, who would be there, too. We ate a lot of pbj sandwiches and dry peanut butter crackers from the vending machine. During those long waits, and during hotline calls and over the shelter kitchen table, we helped victims to know their rights so they could decide what was best for them and their other children, if they became pregnant. The vast majority of the guests of that shelter were already mothers.
Here I am at my first professional job back in Massachusetts, as the head of the domestic violence and rape crisis center in Framingham. My work in the field, and my life, too, taught me how critical reproductive healthcare and abortion rights are to our self-determination. I ultimately left this job to work in legal aid, taking a statewide role at the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, where, among other things, I helped secure major increases in state funding for state assistance for victims of domestic violence.
Living through two miscarriages, including one that required a D&C, and hearing from women I knew who experienced diagnoses of fatal fetal abnormalities, taught me more about the range of human experience, and the need for choice and support. Being a mother has been a privilege and a humbling experience at times. I believe even more strongly now that babies and children deserve to have parents who are ready and able to make sacrifices and to put their child’s needs first.
I have been a donor, volunteer, patient, and vocal supporter of Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the National Network for Abortion Funds. When I worked at that shelter in New Jersey, I made $17,000, working 60-70 hour weeks. Getting my birth control from Planned Parenthood was cheaper than using my insurance, and I needed my medication to be cheap. I will be forever grateful.
Our reproductive choices and rights are not separate from our bodily and mental health. They are intrinsic. Our rights as humans to have bodily autonomy are fundamental. Similarly, my support for this movement is fundamental to who I am and where I’ve come from.
Recently, my last name has become an important mnemonic in teaching kids about consent, and I could not be more tickled. Consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific: FRIES. The sexual education that my kid and her peers have had has centered consent, and it has normalized discussion of sexuality and gender identity. These lessons reinforce our values.
I bring my life experience when I talk to voters about the ROE Act. I know why every provision is important, and I can explain why in simple, clear examples that voters understand. None of this is an abstraction to me. It comes from my lived experience and from my heart.
71% of our representatives in the State House are men. That figure has barely budged in three decades. People making decisions about our lives may not know exactly why and how these rights matter. When I doubt myself, I remember the women in the photos above, some of the best people I know, and I keep going.