Tag Archives: women’s health

Ain’t I Woman? Yes, I Am.

Imageby Angela Ferrell-Zabala
Director of Field Operations, RCRC

It was a picture of Shirley Chisholm that started my obsession with old pictures of women of color. She doesn’t have the cheekbones of Lena Horne, but to me she is the absolute picture of beauty. Perhaps not by society’s typical standards, but she was unyielding courage and intelligence personified. Mostly she was life personified… LIFE! And for me, she was everything.

Like many women of color, who I am can be defined in many ways. There’s a little bit of Irish and Cherokee on my family tree several generations back, but for many years I presented solely to the world as a young black woman, a black face flattened by outside cultural norms and identities. My identity, however, is much richer than the simple fact of my skin color. Marriage has grafted Ukrainian, Puerto Rican and Japanese branches onto my family tree and my childhood blossomed with borsht, salsa music and sushi. It wasn’t until middle school that I started to address this cognitive dissonance and ask myself who I am as a woman – and a black woman – in this family made up of many cultures.

Kids will look for anything to tease you about. For me, it was the music I listened to and the way I spoke that offered me up for derision as not being black enough. So I questioned my blackness, something I would do for many years until I started to see the truer picture of who I am as a woman, and as a black woman.

It was those pictures of black women – strong, talented, beautiful, complicated women – that gave me a road map to owning my own history, and a shared history.

Joining Shirley are Eartha, Ella, Billie, Dinah, and dozens of starlets who didn’t make the big time. And there’s Angela Davis (to whom I owe my name), and Sojourner Truth, and Maya Angelou. There’s Cathay Williams, who was the first black woman to enlist in the U.S. Army; she served as a Buffalo soldier after the Civil War under the pseudonym William Cathay, presenting as a man in order to serve our country. There’s Constance Baker Motley, a civil rights activist, lawyer, judge and state senator who wrote the original complaint for the Brown v. Board of Education, and was the first black woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. And there’s Mary Church Terrell, who was one of the first black women to attain a college degree, and who worked on civil rights issues alongside Frederick Douglas, who was a member of the National American Women Suffrage Association, and a founder of the NAACP.

There are my aunts, grandmothers stretching back generations (including my maternal grandmother who raised eight boys and two girls on her own) and my mother – my beautiful, strong mother – all smiling back at me in pictures. All these women, from world famous to famous just to me, have taught me an incredibly valuable lesson: there is nothing about being a woman of color that makes me ‘less than.’ Nothing. Where I get my strength and my identity is not from a narrow definition of what others think, but from the strong women I come from.

In fact, all those influences – culinary and musical, literary and cultural, familial and spiritual – are good, rich, glittering gifts that only add to me. They shine on me, and through me. There is not one thing about those influences, coupled with my own unique experiences, that does anything but add to me. It’s a history that lays about my shoulders and enfolds me. The voices of those women – sometimes just one, often in concert – are in my head when I’m phone banking in Florida, or organizing in Mississippi, or on a conference call with activists in Ohio and Wisconsin. Those voices whisper wisdom to me as I parent my 11 y.o. twins with my wife, and as I continue to grow myself.

As we begin Black History Month, I have the words of Rumi in my head, “Maybe you are searching among branches for what only appears in the roots.”

I am grateful for the roots – the grounding – of all those women in my life… because they make the tree that I am.


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Bans on Insurance for Abortion – Misguided & Harmful

By Reverend Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, RCRC President and CEO

Legislation to ban or restrict insurance    coverage for abortion is sweeping through the states. Other than a Supreme Court case, these state bills may be more devastating to women’s access to reproductive health care than anything else. That is precisely why there is a huge national drive by Religious Right and anti-choice organizations to introduce and pass them.

By one estimate, 14.5 million women will lose the coverage they already have. That is in addition to women whose coverage for abortion is already restricted to the narrow cases of incest, rape or life endangerment: women who receive Medicaid, federal workers, the military, the American Indian health service, women in federal prisons and even Peace Corps volunteers.

Some background: the reason this is happening is anti-choice state legislators and governors are introducing bills or amendments to ban or limit coverage of abortion on the state insurance exchanges, which are in effect marketplaces. State insurance exchanges do not exist at this time. Most states are setting them up as a part of health care reform legislation (the Affordable Care Act) and they will go into effect in 2014. Many people who are underinsured or non-insured or want to change insurers will purchase insurance on the exchanges. So whatever happens to an exchange will affect many people.

By federal law, states do not have to offer coverage for abortion. That’s where opponents of comprehensive health care have found an opportunity to do even more damage to women’s health coverage. Five states have already passed bills to limit or ban insurance coverage of abortion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-two more are considering bills. Just yesterday (3/31/11), Gov.  Robert McDonnell of Virginia added an amendment to a bill setting up an insurance exchange in Virginia that will forbid coverage for abortion except in the very limited cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the woman. That amendment is actually telling women what coverage they can buy with their own insurance dolalrs and telling insurers what services they can cover!

This is a dangerous situation – but it also offers a chance to explain why access to abortion is so critical to women’s lives.  As I wrote on Religion Dispatches:

Narrow attacks on abortion, whether from the Catholic or Protestant right, ignore the full range of issues that are  involved in an unintentional pregnancy, including poverty, discrimination, abuse and violence, lack of jobs and health care, and – underlying it all – the effects of racism and sexism.  They ignore the serious health issues that can affect a pregnancy and a woman’s life. They ignore the realities of young women and men who have no information or inaccurate information about sexuality, poor role models, and limited options for the future. They target abortion rather than the conditions that lead to unintended pregnancies.

We want to change that mindset. While opponents of comprehensive reproductive health care want to control women’s decision-making, we talk about the importance of options and resources in the lives of women, families and communities. While they demand “no taxpayer funding for abortion,” we explain that ample funding restrictions are already in place. While they stigmatize women who seek to end a pregnancy, we assert that abortion is an integral part of comprehensive reproductive health care and that one in three women will have an abortion procedure at some point in her life. While they demean women who choose abortion, we make it clear that forcing women to continue an unwanted pregnancy is wrong. While they rail against abortion, we elevate the discussion to consider the moral complexities of decisions about bearing children.

Insurance coverage for pregnancy termination has had a low profile until now because it was not threatened. Now that it is, it is critical to understand that insurance helps to guarantee access to reproductive health care services and – from a moral perspective – enables a woman to make a decision about childbearing according to her conscience, not what the government says is acceptable.

Progress in expanding health care coverage to millions of Americans and doing away with injustices in the system is long overdue and should be celebrated. But victory at the expense of women’s comprehensive reproductive health care is no victory at all.

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