This afternoon, I participated in a conference call with Loretta Ross, National Coordinator of SisterSong Reproductive Health Collective on the notorious Stupak Amendment. I have known her for years and she has mentored me from fledgling feminist thought to where I am today. I hopped on the call while my head was still reeling from the auctioning of women’s rights on Saturday. But hearing the voice of Loretta, a woman who once regaled me with stories about her days tracking extremist hate groups in the South, made everything all right. She is that elder feminist that puts her hand on your shoulder and makes you feel like the impossible is in reach.
What I admire most about Loretta Ross is that preserving and restoring women’s human rights is central to her analysis. “Health care,” she said “is not an option, not a privilege — but a human right.” She described Stupak’s amendment as “a loss and injury to the human rights of women” and referred all members on the call to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the U.S. government in 1948. Articles 12, 16 and 18 discuss privacy, the right to find a family and the right to “manifest faith” as one sees fit — all tenets that Stupak ignored. This isn’t just a document that has shaped America’s Bill of Rights. In it lies the ethics that encompass what Obama has referred to as the character of our country. “This frame of human rights,” Loretta argues, “has potential for feminists to situate women at the center of the debate allowing us to call attention to our rights to our body and control over our money.”
But it wouldn’t have been a feminist call without a few words on the opposition’s framing. First, it was the Christian Right’s seemingly contradictory statements about the $1.1 trillion for health care as excessive while stressing the value of human life. Loretta summed up the ironic logic of abortion rights opponents, “You can’t put a price on a human life, but you can put a price on a human right?” Then she anguished over some lawmakers calling the bill “a benefit to all Americans.” She asked, “Aren’t women Americans, too?”
In the end, she had no negative sentiment towards Obama, who in recent days has voiced dissatisfaction with the Stupak Amendment. But she maintains that this has got to be an approach from the bottom-up. “Sending an e-mail,” she said, “may not establish a long-term relationship that will allow us to advance the agenda for women’s rights.” Of the hundreds of protesters affiliated with SisterSong who banded together on Saturday in DC to oppose the bill, “70 percent made advocacy visits,” she said. The callers agreed that a reenactment of 2004′s March for Women’s Lives may very well be on the table.