Why ‘W’ Doesn’t Stand for Women

Why ‘W’ Doesn’t Stand for Women

On January 31, less than two weeks after George W. Bush became the forty-third president of the United States of America, the Six Rivers Planned Parenthood in Eureka, California, was fielding calls from worried patients. The clinic is nestled near the Oregon border, just north of a breathtaking Redwood forest, and is the only abortion provider within a hundred miles. Although the Six Rivers area is fairly conservative politically, California itself has a strong majority of pro-choice representatives. My writing partner, Amy Richards, and I were interviewing staff at abortion clinics, gathering data as we traveled around the country on a book tour. We wanted to figure out how to bridge the gap between patients and politicians, with the hope that, armed with knowledge of what Americans really want, we could reinforce the will of the pro-choice-but-passive legislators who are as responsible as the conservatives for encroachments on abortion rights. Clinics, even those that do not provide abortions, are already political spaces, whether clients realize it or not. Thus, another aim we had was to see how the clinic could be used as an organizing space, much like women’s bookstores and certain kinds of churches tend to be.

Clinics house many contradictions—or at least complexities. For example, polls show the majority of Americans to be pro-choice. We might assume, then, that the thirteen thousand clients who pass through the Six Rivers clinic are part of that majority. The truth is that many people who use services such as those offered at Six Rivers (contraception, prenatal care, Pap smears, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases [STDs], as well as abortion) probably don’t vote, just as 50 percent of the eligible electorate does not vote. Further, even among those who do make it to the polls, there’s no guarantee that they vote for pro-choice candidates or even link the clinic’s existence with pro-choice representation and policies.

Our late-January visit coincided with a spate of calls from clients who wanted to know if Six Rivers Planned Parenthood was still open. After all, they had heard on the news that Bush’s first act as president was to reinstate the Mexico City Policy or “global gag rule,” which Bill Clinton had reversed as his first order of business eight years earlier. “Clients didn’t understand what this policy meant for them,” the clinic director told us. Nor did they understand what the Bush presidency meant for them: “Many of the callers didn’t even know that Bush was pro-life until after he got into office.”

The next day, Amy and I visited a high school in Petaluma, California. The kids—most of whom were working class and middle class—were very interested in the concept of the male pill, wondering when it would be available (not for a while). They were also extremely concerned that abortion had just been “overturned.” We explained that abortion was still legal, althoug...

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