a bird and a bottle


Final thoughts from Atlanta (now from NYC)
January 21, 2007, 10:40 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender

 It’s taken me all day to unpack everything I heard at NAPW’s conference (and it will take even longer to unpack my suitcase…still sitting zipped up on my floor). I’m going to try to pull the threads together at the end of this post, but first a recap of last night and this morning.

At the end of the day yesterday, I attended a panel about pregnant and parenting women in prison. The speakers (who included the brazilliant Rachel Roth) touched on a wide range of issues, from the shackling of women giving birth while incarcerated to the application of international human rights concepts to prison conditions to prison nurseries to the connection between the War on Drugs and the ballooning number of women in prison. There were a few questions that I found particularly interesting. First, how can we balance advocacy for improved prison conditions with advocacy that calls for the abolition of prisons, since it’s easier to call for the abolition of prisons when conditions are really abysmal? What’s up with the term “rehabilitation”? Though most of us acknowledge prisons are not rehabilitative, what exactly do we think incarcerated women (and men, but this panel was about women) need to be rehabilitated from? What can be done to improve access to real birth choices for incarcerated women? (NB: one amazing program called The Birth Attendants, based in Seattle, is already providing doulas to women who give birth while incarcerated.) I don’t have the answers to these questions – nor did the panel aim to provide them..

This morning, we listened to two incredible – and incredibly different – women address issues of faith, sexuality, success, parenting, and privilege. Debra Haffner gave what amounted to our Sunday morning sermon…only it’s the first sermon I’ve ever heard from a minister-slash-sexologist. She wove analysis of Biblical texts in to demonstrate that even in the Bible, sex and sexuality and encouraged and sometimes mandated, even aside from procreation. Deborah Small, Executive Director of Break the Chains who as a single mother in the 1980s went on welfare so that she could go to college, and then went on to Harvard Law School (note that today her story would not be possible, because the 1996 welfare “reform” changed the law such that education does not meet the employment requirements in order to receive benefits). She spoke at length about her own inspiring story, and about how socioeconomic privilege can mean as much in today’s stratified society as race.

After so much listening and thinking and…conferencing, I am exhausted. But before I close out my NAPW conference blogging series, I want to try to make some sense out of the whirlwind that was this weekend. First, I think the conference’s central message – that birthing rights advocates and reproductive justice advocates should work together (even if we may disagree on abortion itself) because we are all equally affected by state control over women’s reproductive choices – came through loud and clear. Whether the staet interference takes the form of a forced c-section, a law banning home births for women who have had cesareans before, prosecutions of pregnant women for child abuse and even murder because of their decision to become mothers despite their addictions, the lack of national healthcare, or laws restricting the right to abortion, the result is the same, and the ramifications for women, children, and families, just as devastating (and enraging!). While I certainly didn’t agree with everyone I spoke to or listened to this weekend, I was encouraged to listen to so many people who care deeply about the women and our choices, whether about how to become a mother or how to not become a mother.

I’m sure there’s much (much) more to say. But I am too damn tired. For more on Days 2 and 3, check out BrownFemiPower over at Women of Color Blog,  Shark-Fu at AngryBlackBitch, and Megan at Gymno.

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3 Comments so far
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“how can we balance advocacy for improved prison conditions with advocacy that calls for the abolition of prisons, since it’s easier to call for the abolition of prisons when conditions are really abysmal?”
I think the “things have to get worse so they can get better” position on prisons is not a winning strategy. Nevertheless, a certain abolitionist impulse must be at the core of any serious prison reform: unless we see locking people up as a morally compromised position, there’s little incentive to improve conditions and post-prison prospects.
Thanks for your great posts from the conference!

Comment by professorplum

You may be interested in Jessica Arons’ guest blog at RH Reality Check. She wrote about NAPW’s conference and the connections between the pro-choice & maternal rights communities.

http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/node/2144

Comment by Tyler LePard

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