Reproductive Rights at Salem State and Beyond: A Curated Collection

Reproductive health resources have been made available to the public overtime. This curated collection seeks to assess the global, national, and local impact reproductive health resources has had on society. We seek to analyze community attitudes and structuring while honing in on the Salem State (formerly College) University community. This community analysis has been structured to take on a cause and effect lens to show social change and reactions.

1950s

Country/Worldwide:

-One of the most popular health services that is provided in today’s society is gynecology. Gynecology is a medical practice that deals with the reproductive anatomy. These specialists work to educate patients, and prevent any abnormalities that could possibly develop in the process of reproduction. Gynecology was first discovered in 1954 by James Marion Sims as a different branch of medicine, and is now recognized as the top gynecologist of his time (Sims, 2006). Despite his recognition, he was known to be impulsive and allowed two females to die because of two improper surgical procedures. However, he is credited as the founding father of gynecology, and specialization benefits communities worldwide.

-‘In Vitro Fertilization is used for research investigations, for treating human infertility, for enhancing the productivity of food animals, and for conservation of endangered mammals’. The 1950’s and 60’s were golden age for In Vitro Fertilization. After discovering sperm capacitation, the ability for a male’s sperm to enter a female’s reproductive tract and penetrate eggs causing fertilization, researchers were able to test on mammals and draw conclusions from those tests to use on humans. Chang (1959) showed that in vitro fertilized eggs could develop normally through experimentation on rabbit eggs.

1960s

Country/Worldwide:

-After more tests on mammals, fertilization of human eggs in vitro was first successfully done in 1969.

-The ‘hippie’ movement brought about a parallel movement for natural, simple living, including natural birth control methods and home birthing, reaching its first peak in the 70’s and making a recent resurgence in popularity.

Early 1970s

Country/Worldwide:

-Reproductive health is built up on the idea that all people, regardless of age or gender, should be allowed to have the freedom to reproduce and make decisions at their own discretion. This idea has been a prime topic for debate for decades, and various opinions in society still spike heated controversy. Before this issue expanded and entered the courtroom, abortions were minimally practiced and severely restricted in almost every state. As time passed, the fight whether to legalize abortion or not became a nation wide issue when Norma McCorvey also referred to as “Jane Roe” filed a lawsuit. She fought for this lawsuit because she wanted to have an abortion but was denied in doing so because a Texan law claimed that no abortion should be deemed acceptable unless the mother’s life was in danger (Garrow, D. J. 1999). Although her life was not in danger, she expressed that she should have the right to decide what happens to her body. She did not have the money to have the procedure done outside of Texas, which fed her incentive to fight for her rights, and the rights of other women in her position. In result of this, Jane Roe came to the conclusion that the Texan law marginalized her constitutional rights, and brought this case to court against Henry Wade who at the time was the Dallas County District Attorney. In particular, she felt that the state of Texas violated the first amendment of free speech, assembly, and religious exercise, the third amendment of freedom from quartering of troops, the fourth amendment of unreasonable search and seizures, and finally the fifth amendment of forced self-incrimination (Garrow, D. J. 1999). However, when Roe Vs. Wade passed in 1973, abortion only became illegal in the first trimester. In the following second and third trimesters, abortions could only take place if the mother’s health was at stake.

Salem State:

The Salem State College Women’s Caucus was first mentioned in April 1971. On April 16th 1972, the Women’s Center was open. In conjunction with the Women’s Center’s opening, the college hosted a series of ten feminist, women centered films; family planning experts were invited to the college to provide family planning services, and have conversations with people in the SSC community. The grand opening of this women-centered facility was open to all genders, sexes, and people despite enrollment status and or employment status at SSC. On May 1st 1974, the Student Sexuality Information Service was developed. This was a mobile program on campus providing reproductive information and women’s health literature.

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February 1972: the letter to the editor titled “a concerned student” is published. A student writes to publicly combat the anti-pro choice ideas featured in an earlier letter to the editor. This student writes to share her experience with abortion and continues to talk about how abortion was the right choice for her as a student. This concerned students public outcry begins to show the social and political climate on campus at this time. The concerned students public outcry gives researchers an idea of what the push pull feelings may have looked like in terms of pregnancy and choice during the 70’s.

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In comparison, “a concerned student” was responding to “against abortion” a letter to the editor which called abortion “murder” and boldly claimed abortion is a contributor to the “growing crime rates.” What was most interesting is the women who wrote the letter to the editor titled “Against Abortion” signed her name. Thinking critically, it looks like the writer was looking for a space to speak her mind and did not fear the repercussions of people knowing her personal identity. Whereas, the person who authored “a concerned student” was careful to use a pseudonym, which could foreshadow a blaming climate on campus despite Salem State’s movement towards a more progressive inclusive space.

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Lastly, the Salem State News Paper had little information on reproductive equality as in worthy and unworthy parenting, intersectionality, a social locations of parents on campus. What was found was evidence of Salem State’s active movement towards reproductive justice and women’s rights. It was also noteworthy that through archival exploration, it was noticed that the newspaper had spreads of adds sometimes up to four ads on a page for abortion services. These ads were primarily heavy between 1970 and 1974. These ads became less frequent between 1975 and 1977, and today, in the 2000’s, are completely absent.

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Late 1970s

Country/Worldwide: 

-Since Roe v Wade, a battle has broken out between pro-choice groups and pro-life groups. The Hyde Amendment of 1976 blocked federal Medicaid funding for abortion services, which meant that Medicaid could not cover an abortion even if a doctor suggested one because the health of the women was at risk. Medicaid aims to help people with low-incomes or who are uninsured get the health care coverage they need and deserve. It also covers critical primary and preventive care services — including birth control, family planning, STD testing, well-woman exams, and lifesaving cancer screenings.” This was particularly harmful to those who are low-income, women of color, and people who rely solely on Medicaid for funding such as immigrants or young people.

The first human birth from IVF embryo was reported in 1978. Others had previously failed due to complications in pregnancy or incompetent eggs produced.

1990s

Country/Worldwide:

1992- Planned Parenthood vs. Casey reaffirmed the state’s ruling from Roe v Wade. The court ruled that states could not ban abortions before the “viability” point (the point at which a fetus can hold life and sustain itself outside of the womb) and that courts cannot ban abortions if it is for the better health of the mother. They also voted to keep the 24 hr rule which basically states that a women will be given information about the information and take 24 hours to decide if that’s what she wants. The most controversial part of Planned Parenthood vs Casey was the ruling that “any regulation that imposes a “substantial obstacle” preventing a woman from obtaining a legal abortion is an “undue burden” that violates the woman’s constitutional right to an abortion”. This was controversial because “undue burden” can be considered very ambiguous and hard to work with.

1993- Global gag rule put in place by Ronald Reagan prevented overseas organizations that receive aid from US from talking about abortion or even mentioning abortion. This created dangerous and unsafe health environments for women in the countries affected by this rule.

Now

Country/Worldwide:

2010- Affordable Care Act signed by Obama. Helped ensure that women’s preventative health be covered and made it easier for women to help get the care necessary. Covered specific birth control methods, emergency contraception, patient education, counseling, etc.

2017:

-Women’s March takes place the day after the election of Donald J. Trump, an intersectional show of support for women’s issues and a catch-all event for frustration over the election

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A. Shannon and J. Melvin, Boston Women’s March, 21 Jan. 2017

While still very lacking, reproductive health education has been on the rise around the globe. Places all over are doing more and more to teach communities about reproductive health, and are doing more to protect and help. Many high schools and colleges (Salem State included) are now passing out free condoms for students to spread the practice of safe sex. Women’s birth control is also fairly easy to get, one simply has to get a prescription. On top of schools stepping up to educate, organizations like Planned Parenthood (which has been around for about 100 years now) have numerous clinics around the country, and go to schools, state houses, and courts to fight for reproductive rights for all. “These health centers provide a wide range of safe, reliable health care — and the majority is preventive care, which helps prevent unintended pregnancies through contraception, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections through testing and treatment, and screen for cervical and other cancers” (Planned Parenthood). One thing Planned Parenthood is also well known for is providing abortions for women who both want or need them. Planned Parenthood isn’t strictly in America, either. They work internationally to help people worldwide to get the best reproductive healthcare they can.
While there’s more support now than ever before for reproductive rights, there’s also intensely violent backlash. People are putting a lot of effort into making it as difficult as possible for women to get the proper help they need with their reproductive health, especially when it comes to abortions. Trump has reinstated the Global Gag rule, which cuts funding to other countries’ reproductive health services. He also stated his view on Planned Parenthood, saying “The problem that I have with Planned Parenthood is the abortion situation. It is like an abortion factory, frankly.” In November 2015, a man named Robert L. Dear Jr. went to the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs and opened fire, killing three people, and leaving nine wounded. This was one example of extreme violence in protest of reproductive rights, and while we’re a long way from things being perfect, in the big picture, we’re moving in the right direction.

Salem State:

-The services and resources that Salem State University offers its students is varied, representing its roots in the Second Wave of feminism while also providing updated access and materials. Listed below are the currents offerings:

 

 

at the Women’s Health Center:
-Free pads, tampons
-Peer counseling
-Participation in Women’s March; took a van in to Boston
at the Alliance:
-Free condoms & dental dams
-LGBTQIA+ peer counseling
at Health Services:
-Free condoms & lubricant samples
-STD testing- relatively inexpensive with insurance coverage
-Birth control advising & prescriptions
-Counseling, sexual health info, and pamphlets

Present at Salem State is also our own branch of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) which aims to promote pro-choice decision-making and legal justice to the masses.

In order to better understand Salem State’s present-day role in reproductive justice and rights, two faculty members and one student were asked about their roles as on-campus facilitators of reproductive health and safety. Kalei Ensminger is a faculty member from health services, Colleen Armstrong is a faculty member from the crisis PEAR program, and Kalen O’Hare is a student volunteer through NARAL.

When or what made you want to get involved with reproductive health?

Ensminger: I have always wanted to work in medicine, and what attracted me to providing reproductive health services is similar to why I became a Nurse Practitioner: to help people live healthy by providing education, care, and empathy. I also always work with patients to help them advocate for themselves, for health and wellness related things, specifically when in regards to their reproductive health needs.

Armstrong: A lot of the work I do in my role, because I deal with a lot of folks who deal with sexual assault and domestic violence, is seeing reproductive health in that context. For me, parts of it is being able to talk about how it looks like in a relationship, and how do you make those choices. Or even getting folks kind of thinking about or understanding that it can be part of abusive and sexual assault. There is a lot of folks who I work with, who talk about ‘oh, well I don’t use birth control’. And I ask them if they know they have resources on campus, or do you know you can get it. I also have students come to me that say, ‘well, my partner doesn’t want me to use protection or won’t let me’. I think it is important to get people talking about it, having them be really open about it and really talk about their experience. [ ] want people to understand that they are not the only ones that go through it and kind of normalize it. I get people in that mindset that they are not alone, there are others out there and there are other who can help me.

O’Hare: My grandmother was pro-choice and worked for a pro abortion provider, it was always a value we had. Freshman year, NARAL came to Salem State and wanted to start a chapter here. And that’s how I got involved more into reproductive health field, and the rest is history. There was a group of us who founded NARAL pro-choice chapter on campus, and I worked for NARAL pro-choice over the summer, and this is what I want to do.

Planned Parenthood specifically has done more than any other private organization in this country to help prevent unwanted pregnancy. What are their specific strategies, and how can we contribute to that cause?

Esminger: I cannot provide specific strategies that Planned parenthood utilizes. I would try to contact someone at Planned Parenthood or check their website. SSU health services partners with Health Quarters in Beverly, which is another Title X family planning clinic, similar to Planned Parenthood. Strategies that we utilize, which is likely similar to Planned Parenthood and other Title X clinics is reducing barriers to care by reducing costs for those who cannot afford it or do not have insurance, providing on site access to contraception and treatment of reproductive related health problems, and provide stigma free care to all people who need the services.

O’Hare: Planned Parenthood has two sides to their organization: there is the legislative and lobbying side, and there is their providing side, with their clinics and services. And they do amazing work and there are different ways to get involved with them. You can be a clinic escort, become a volunteer, join their email list; all of these different things. They are super easy to do and super essential. Building a relationship with Planned Parenthood and other organizations and showing them that you are pro-choice. Contribute to their cause. Money, Money. We need money to help fight the pro-life organizations, because they are founded by rich “alt-right” conservatives.

Do we see a direct tie in terms of economic freedom and reproductive freedom?

Esminger: Although this is not my area of expertise, I would say absolutely. Until women are free to make their own choices about their body can we attain full economic freedom. Pregnancy, prenatal care, postpartum care, etc all affect a women’s economic status in so many ways. The obvious ways being impact on academic career, impact on professional career, impact on quality of life if child unplanned and not wanted, cost of raising children, etc.

Armstrong: This is the ability to make decision about your self and health is directly tied to make economic decisions for yourself. If I have this thing taken away from me or someone isn’t able to make decisions about their own reproductive health choice, something that we see is that, there is there is a study done that looked at women from the ages of 16 to 24 who go their primary health care from community health centers, who were also parenting. Obviously if you are getting your primary health care from community health centers, you are getting some type of public assistance whether it be MassHealth or WIC. You’re on some type of public assistance . The study also reported that almost half of those women were reporting, experiencing reproductive coercion within a abuse relationship. And see what happens with reproductive coercion is someone is taking away your reproductive freedom for yourself. Think of all those factors coming in and all the things you can’t do, so absolutely making your own decision on reproductive health, whatever those are are directly tied to the ability to make economic choices you’re going to make.

O’Hare: Oh god yeah. The barrier to access are so, so affected by the people who do not have economic equality. Their economic disparity, the access to healthcare starts to decrease as your income goes down. It is a direct correlation. That is so much more true when it comes reproductive health and the family planning, and the access to clinics and the high amendment. Barriers. Rich White women will always be able to get an abortion. We need to be focusing on Women of Color who are disproportionate by the barriers of access by our legislators.

How can we individually help women retain their reproductive freedom with the new administration defunding Planned Parenthood?

Esminger: Title X clinics and the Affordable Care Act are essential legislation in helping women retain their reproductive freedom. We must continue to fight for funding for Title X, ACA, and other health initiatives. Here in MA, there is currently a bill introduced this year called ACCESS, which will protect access to contraception should the ACA be repealed or replaced. Knowing about current legislation and being active in the process by contacting your legislators, showing up at town halls, calling in support or in disapproval of applicable bills, and voting are all so crucial.

Armstrong: Talk about and treat it like everything else in health care. Reproductive Health is Health Care.With the Affordable Care Act something that was included was screening need to happen with sexual assault and domestic violence. The doctor will ask, ‘Do you feel safe at home?’ By forcing that conversation, we can provide that type of healthcare for everyone. We need to start having this conversation because we all know someone who has been impacted by it. Kind of normalizing it. Reproductive Health is Health Care.

O’Hare: Fight [expletive] Hard. Resist Hard. Join the organizations around you that you know of. Start organizing, organizing is one of the most essential tools, they help really create change, at such a grassroots level. Donating, donating. These organizations need money. Just being a voice, if there is a protest or an event happening go to it.

How were American women’s lives before Roe vs Wade, in terms of reproductive health?

Armstrong: There is an incredible book called THE GIRLS WHO WENT AWAY and it talks about the girls decisions to terminate pregnancies before Roe vs Wade and what it talked about a lot is this idea, the two things that really stuck with me was how many women who talked about it later found out how many people had been through something similar. It was just something that didn’t get talked about and also this piece of just because it was illegal doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We’re moving from, kind of from the legality of trying to terminate a pregnancy, doesn’t mean people are going to stop  terminating a pregnancy. It just mean they are going to stop terminating them safely. And people are going to die.

O’Hare: Women were dying. There was about 5,000 women a year, from unsafe abortions. There were back alley and coat hanger abortions. They were unsafe and detrimental to women’s health, maternal health, infant health; when it comes to women of color and low income women who were seeking help. Women’s lives were lost and they were directly affected by health precautions, when we had the tools and the resources, to do a safe legal abortion. Why would we put women’s lives at risk?

Before Roe Vs Wade, was there access to birth control, or was that heavily restricted as well?

Armstrong: Yes there were, before they were called the Comstock laws. The Comstock laws basically prohibited disputing information about Reproductive health, birth control. Came about through the end of 1800 that stated you couldn’t send things through the mail, like condoms or birth control. Also [there was] a famous Freedom of Speech Case as well. Sending information about it wasn’t allowed either. Federal crime to send thing through the mail . Lot of it was State by State. Margaret Sanger broke these laws a lot [one of the founders of Planned Parenthood]. Griswold v. Connecticut, a famous case [Supreme Court ruled that a state’s ban on the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy]. Doctor might only prescribe to married women. Women would have to lie about being married or telling the doctor that their periods were bad. So it’s medical, so she needs it.

Why do you think men are so obsessed with women’s reproductive health?

Ensminger: This is a complicated question, and I cannot provide the entire answer, but it ultimately comes down to a White hetero-normative misogynistic patriarchal society wanting to maintain control and power over marginalized communities and their bodies and rights.

Armstrong: They like to think of it as something in addition to healthcare. It’s something extra or special. Most studies use male participants and so there is little done on studies for women. Female reproductive organ change but when you are in medical school you might get a cadaver who is an elderly women. So this soon to doctor getting trained on older women and when they have to deal with someone who much more living and younger, they don’t really what to do because of the anatomy. We crafted people stories, around our experiences, we are not meeting people’s need. Most people who pass laws are passing them not on others lived experience. They should be putting in the perspective of ‘oh, my wife or daughter has been through this’, or pass this law keeping them in mind because that because part of your lived experience,

O’Hare Heteropatriarchy. Patriarchy. The idea that women can’t be trusted and can’t have full control over their body, in order to tell what best for them and their future. I believe it’s just a form of control and a form of reinforcing this Patriarchy hierarchy that we have in our country. Women need to be trusted and need to be given the right to decide for their own future. And men are obsessed with not letting that happen, based on the history of country. Think it’s a mix of Patriarchy beliefs from the alt right religious groups which are seen all through their religious organizations.
Final words: Get involved, Help make reproductive health more talked about and more accessible for women. Destigmatize abortion and help normalize it.1-3 women have an abortion, it’s something that need to be talked about.

Thanks to these interviews, it is easy to see that the present and future of Salem State’s reproductive rights fight is in very capable hands.

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