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Liveblog: NARAL Virginia – The Power of Choice

7:57: Welcome to my LiveBlog of NARAL VA’s Power of Choice Event, featuring Jennifer Baumgardner, as well as other speakers, who will be highlighting the importance of choice in an era of increasing restrictions on people’s reproductive rights in the state.  Right now people are moving from a reception hall to the seating area, where we will be listening to several speakers.8:05: Y’all it’s standing room only here.  There is a good showing considering that this is NARAL’s first Power of Choice event.  Right now the executive director of NARAL VA, Tarina Keene, is introducing the board of directors.

8:06: Ms. Keene is now introducing the Master of Ceremonies, Delegate David Englin who has been a champion for reproductive rights.  Mr. Englin is the state representative for Alexandria.

8:08: Mr. Englin is now speaking about his interest in abortion rights.  Mr. Englin is introducing some of the VIP’s who are attending this event – notably Senator Mary Margaret Whipple. It’s refreshing to see so many important players in the state government who have an investment in pro-choice rights.

8:11: Mr. Englin is discussing the importance of wining politics to make sure that the people in government who are making decisions are the ones who have reproductive rights and accessibility of such rights.

8:13: Mr. Englin has turned the floor over to Ms. Keene.  Ms. Keene is talking about the elections in 2009, which were a turning point against reproductive rights with the election of Governor McDonald and two other anti-choice “zealots.”  The Virginia House is now anti-choice.  In Virginia the deck is stacked against choice.  There have been two important bills about choice that have come up this year.  When the bills were voted on in the senate there was a 20/20 tie, which the lieutenant governor votes to break the tie and he is firmly anti-choice.

8:17: Ms. Keene is emphasizing the importance of grass-roots efforts to ensure that pro-choice candidates are voted in to the senate in the elections this fall, so that pro-choice candidates can re-take the senate.

8:19: Mr. Englin is listing off the candidates in the primaries, to be held August 23rd.

Libby Garvey – running for state senate

Stephanie Clifford – running for House of delegates

Jaime Areizaga-Soto – state senate

Barbara Favola – Running for state senate

Bob Brink – running for re-election as a delegate

8:22 – Mr. Englin is thanking the sponsors of the event, which are way too many for me to list here.

8:24 – Ms. Keene is presenting awards.  The first award is in honor of Aggie Wolf, an 89-year-old pro-choice advocate who became pro-choice after seeking a back-alley abortion in the 50s after becoming unexpectedly pregnant at an inconvenient time.  She has called it a degrading illegal abortion.  I am kind of obsessed with this woman after hearing about her.  She’s a Persephone Pioneer for sure.  She is not here tonight because she had a stroke.  You can read her story here.  The Aggie Wolf Award for Defenders of Choice is being presented to Senator Mary Margaret Whipple.  She received a standing ovation.

8:30 – Senator Whipple is accepting her award and giving a brief speech about speaking out for choice.  Guys, I’m feeling kind of inspired! I want to go march in the streets or something for choice!

8:32 – The second award, called the Advocate for Choice award.  It is being given to Karen Kirchoff who helped restore NARAL in 2007 when it was at risk of dissolving.  Ms. Kirchoff also received a standing ovation.

8:35 – Ms. Kirchoff is accepting her award.  She says that this isn’t about abortion, but being about to plan your family and choice when you want to have children.

8:37 – Mr. Englin is introducing Jennifer Baumgardner.  Ms. Baumgardner is the youngest editor of Ms. Magazine and has written books about feminism and bisexuality.  In 2004 she created the “I Had An Abortion” campaign to encourage women to discuss their abortions.  She also started a similar project called “I Was Raped.”

8:40 – Ms. Baumgardner is talking about the positive energy in the room, which I can attest to, is palpable and optimistic here. Ms. Baumgardner says she feels that people’s personal stories are what drives politics – not just abortion, but birth stories, adoption, and miscarriages.   Ms. Baumgardner says she is Christian and thinks that abortion rights are in keeping with Christianity and that reproductive rights are in keeping with Christianity.

8:43 – Ms. Baumgardner lives in New York, which tends to be more accessible in terms of choice.  She is discussing her own abortion, which was last year.  She was (and is) married and felt like even though she’s always been pro-choice that it wasn’t something she ever thought she would face.  She said it brought up a lot of questions for her.  She was raised in South Dakota, in a feminist, liberal, pro-choice household by open parents.  When Ms. Baumgardner was 15 and her sister was 16, her sister got pregnant and wanted an abortion.  However they couldn’t raise the money to pay for the abortion, and the friend she thought would pay for it said that he wouldn’t because he was Catholic – but he was willing to help her find someone else who could give her the money.  Ms Baumgardner said that through this experience she became really impassioned to deal with pro-choice issues.  She dedicated her career to writing about abortion, until she got burnt out on it, feeling that there was no good way to discuss abortion.

8:53:  Ms. Baumgardner is now saying that in 2004, after she was feeling burnt-out, she wanted to come up with a t-shirt that would make a controversial statement.  That was how she came up with the “I Had An Abortion” t-shirts, which got on Rush Limbaugh’s radar and then sold thousands.

8:55: Feeling bolstered by the sales of the “I Had An Abortion” shirts, Ms. Baumgardner started to ask for people’s personal stories about abortion.  She says that through her interviews, and reading personal stories, that she began to see other perspectives – such as those from women who, while still pro-choice, do consider a fetus a baby and not just a clump of cells.  She’s saying that she began to think more about the issue as not being so black and white.

8:58: Ms. Baumgardner is now sharing stories that were featured in her film, “I Had An Abortion.”  One story was about a white teenage girl who became pregnant and wanted to give her baby up for adoption.  She found that the adoption agency was very thrilled to have a white baby and discussed how there are so many babies in demand to be adopted…until they learned that the baby’s father was black.  They said there was no market for biracial babies.  She learned that there is a racist component to pro-life politics, eventually this girl had an abortion and became actively pro-choice.

9:03 – “It was women speaking up and telling the truth about their lives [that led to Roe v. Wade]. – J. Baumgardner.

9:04 – Ms. Baumgardner has opened the floor up for questions.  One woman comments that she thinks that the debate has been framed by religious people on one side, and secular on the other, and she is thankful that Ms. Baumgardner started by saying that she’s Christian because it demonstrates that it’s not one side vs. the other.

9:05 – A woman in the audience mentions that she feels that there is a lot of anti-choice sentiment among the Latino community, which is predominantly Catholic.  She mentioned that she feels a lot of anti-choice pressure from her mother.

9:08 – One woman asks “What is the deal with men?” Specifically in terms of men who refuse to vote for candidates who are pro-choice.  Ms. Baumgardner says that men don’t have a voice in the abortion discussion. Specifically men who have feelings about what their partner’s abortion was like.  There is not a space for those men to speak, so the ones who are vocal are the ones who are anti-choice.  Ms. Baumgardner feels like men have a stake in being pro-choice as well.

9:10 – A woman mentions that she feels that she hears from a lot of her friends that they have become more pro-choice after they were pregnant.  Ms. Baumgardner said she felt the same way.  She’s also discussing how women, even those who are intending to terminate their pregnancies, think of their fetus as a baby. Again this speaks to the larger theme of this event, which is that these issues are not black and white.  She’s emphasizing that women’s experiences are subjective – meaning that women can choose the language they use to discuss their pregnancy, as well as the reasons why they choose to terminate (or not) a pregnancy.

9:13 – Ms. Baumgardner has finished speaking and received a standing ovation.  Mr. Englin is thanking her for her speech.

9:15 – They are ending the evening with a personal story from a pro-choice advocate, emphasizing the importance of reproductive choice.

9:20 – Guys, I don’t even live in Virginia and I’m ready to donate my life savings to NARAL.  If I had any.  Seriously, the energy and dedication to reproductive freedom in this room is infectious.  Jennifer Baumgardner’s speech has highlighted a lot of my own personal beliefs about abortion, and how it’s not as much of a black and white issue as it seems in mass media.

9:22 – That’s it! We are off to mingle and there is a book signing.  Thank you so much for joining me in this live blog!  Don’t forget to submit your thoughts in the comments!

By Luci Furious

There are no bad times, only good stories.

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