Interview with Joyce Schorr and Sylvia Ghazarian of WRAPP on Abortion Rights and Reproductive Rights

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Joyce Schorr and Sylvia Ghazarian from WRAPP discuss abortion rights and reproductive rights.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s give some sense of where you’re coming from, when you’re speaking. What is family/personal background, for instance, geography, culture, religion or lack thereof, and so on?

Joyce Schorr: I was with a woman who had an illegal abortion firsthand. She was very fortunate as she survived the illegal procedure. Illegal abortions cause harm and death.

Jacobsen: What has been the main battleground of reproductive rights for women in The United States in the past 28 years that you have been doing this?

Schorr: It is about keeping abortion safe and legal. In addition to safe abortion, autonomy of your own body, making your own decisions about birth control, equal pay, and gender neutrality is part of this fight. You should be able to control how many children you want and when you want to have them.

Jacobsen: If we are looking at people entering the political arena or making commentary and activism in the social arena, who are working to progress women’s rights in these arenas? Who is working to regress them in general?

Schorr: WRRAP and other abortion funds are working tirelessly on this issue.  WRRAP helped launch the National Network of Abortion Funds in the early 1990s.

Their goal is reproductive justice for all women regardless of their ability to pay for the procedure. This includes all low-income women whether they are African-American, Latina, Asian, Native American, or LGBTQ.

Poor women of all races, including poor white families, know this is an economic issue. Even protestors, against abortion, come into the clinics when they are faced with a crisis pregnancy.

Across the board agencies such as NARAL, NOW and Planned Parenthood are focusing on this. I am encouraged that the young people are getting more involved as they are the group these laws will affect the most.

Jacobsen: What is some specific legislation?

Schorr: There is an attempt to pass all sorts of bills regarding reproductive rights. The Each Women Act is being pursued at the federal level to protect women, but there are also other groups that are working on different initiatives and narrative.

Jacobsen: Not always but, how is fundamentalist religious faith being used to deny women fundamental rights of autonomy over their body?

Schorr: They believe life begins at conception, which is their view. They are willing to deny you that right to abortion once you are pregnant and many of the laws do not include exceptions such as rape, incest, and health of the fetus or the woman.  

The big issue is “fetal rights” over that of the woman. The “heartbeat legislation” is popping up all over the nation in the states.  Especially those that are hostile to reproductive justice, they are setting up trigger laws with the hope the Supreme Court will use them to overturn Roe v Wade.

They have been very successful with this strategy as there are over a dozen trigger laws and they are waiting for the court to decide which, if any, they will fully hear. The court now has a solid 5 votes to overturn Roe.

On the state and national level, they are trying to legislate the “Born Alive Bill.” There are already laws, in effect, which protect any infant that is born. Most disturbing are the laws that will prevent a family from aborting a fetus with any fetal abnormalities.

However, once they are in the world, they cut off all care and programs to help these families.  It is going to be a political issue for the upcoming 2020 election, a very big issue.

Jacobsen: If people are looking for the dog whistles in the political arena now, what are they?

Schorr: Again “Fetal rights,” and “Infanticide” is also being used.

Jacobsen: What organizations are spreading misinformation, disinformation, and lies?

Schorr: I would say all our opponents who claim to be protecting women. Their whole premise of abortion is based on things that are really based on their ideologies or their religion. Abortion is never mentioned in the bible!

Another great concern are the crisis pregnancy centers. They are set up by religious entities to discourage women from having abortions. There are thousands of them and they now receive federal, local and state funding.

These centers pass themselves off as wanting to help women, but do not have any intention of telling women their full range of options.

Jacobsen: Does this impact the young or the old more? Moreover, is it impacting young people more in the short term but also impacting older people in the long term in terms of seeing the direction of the lives of young people?

Many of whom will be their children. It is almost their legacy being impacted through the denial of these bodily autonomy rights. In terms of the attitudinal stances, are younger people more in line with standard human rights frameworks or not?

Schorr: Young people are more in line with this issue. The other side would have you believe it is the “pro-life generation.” We believe we have the momentum on our side.

Young people are fully aware and want their full range of reproductive rights. They need to be able to make that decision on their own. We have a culture, by our opponents, of not being truthful about abortion and contraception.

Young people, especially those who live in very religious homes, are not able to get the education they need and have their heads filled with inaccurate information.

Many of them are thrown out of their homes, once they become pregnant, and many are physically abused due to their situation.

Jacobsen: Of course, as you mentioned about economic insecurity as an issue with regards to reproductive rights and health and wellness access, this will impact people of color – e.g., Indigenous people – and women of color more in particular, and rural people, will have lesser access and will be lower SES in the United States, thus making them even more negatively impacted by legislation that would deny fundamental reproductive rights access.

Schorr: There are abortion deserts; they don’t have family planning clinics. They don’t have doctors to access the procedure. These areas of the country are very conservative and they are controlled by anti-choice legislators. It does carry over to all women who live there.

Jacobsen: If we’re looking at the long-term life impacts, or short-term in fact, whether it is death due to unsafe clandestine abortions given a lack of safe and equitable access or damage internally based on botched abortions that are done in potentially unsanitary and unsafe conditions and assistance, what are the conditions women are facing when they’re in those illegal abortion settings?

Schorr: Again, they are faced with little hope or help. Women are focusing on DIY abortions by buying substances on line to get it done. Women in rural areas are the ones most likely to be doing this.

Some are buying the abortion pill online, while considered safe there are protocols that need to be followed and having the assistance of a legitimate health clinic is important.

Jacobsen: What are some positive developments seen in 2018 and early 2019?

Schorr: The awakening of the nation; the groups that were once not quite as vocal are all rising. Ireland and South Korea have made abortion legal. In many other nations, they are women rising up to have safe access.

Unfortunately, as authoritative people come into power, one thing they do is limit reproductive rights. They need growing populations, for tax money and the military. I am seeing people rise. I am loving it.

Jacobsen: What would you consider the most concerning or depressing developments?

Schorr: I go back to “fetal rights” and what they’re doing in the states, how they’re trying to limit women in so many areas. To me, it is an assault on women.

Jacobsen: If you are looking at the landscape of the people who are out, speaking, active, and writing, who are the people to pay attention to in the current period? Those are who really nailing it, in terms of hitting the right topics, speaking at the right tone, and so on.

Schorr: I read Rewire. I follow Jodi Lynn Jacobson, Marcy Bloom, Renee Bracy Sherman and many others who are on the front lines of this movement. I love Gloria Steinem. She loves WRRAP.

Jacobsen: What are ways in which people can become involved?

Sylvia Ghazarian: We are non-profit. What we do is support women across the United States, so, the best way people can volunteer or become a part of our organization is to fundraise for us. Because we are, basically, using those funds directly to help the clinics that help these patients.

Jacobsen: What states in the United States are having the hardest time in terms of the provision of service?

Schorr: [Laughing] The entire South.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Schorr: Mostly the deep South and the far North, as they call it; those states are having a lot of restrictions hurled at the local level. The South is an abortion dead zone for women and is a dangerous place for women. There are also Midwest states that are passing restrictive laws.

Jacobsen: Some of the serious statistics, including Human Rights Watch provides some at the international level. How many women in the United States die every year via abortion?

Schorr: I don’t have that. I don’t know anybody keeping track of that.

Jacobsen: In terms of qualitative analysis, what is the feedback you’re getting in terms of WRAPP’s initiative, work, what it stands for, whether it’s a famous person or simply an ordinary American citizen?

Schorr: We have wonderful feedback from the clinics as one of the best abortion funds. We are the only proclaimed national fund. The other funds are local or will help nationally for certain cases. The clinics are forever grateful that we’re there to assist these women.

Once these women get to the clinic, they have to be able to find the additional funds. We are thankful the clinics reach out to us for assistance. WRRAP’s goal, above all, is to keep the women safe.

Jacobsen: Does part of the problem stem from a lack of proper evidence-based sexual education in many parts of the U.S.?

Schorr: Yes, it’s a problem. Abstinence does not work. It is a Band-Aid that does not stick. This is especially happening in the same demographics, the deep South and the far North.

Jacobsen: What are ways for men to become involved? How have men been poorly involved? How have men been well-involved in terms of positive change?

Schorr: I am going to give you the pleasure, Sylvia.

Ghazarian: Okay, I think the big thing is that I look at is not from a gender point of view. I look at it from the point of view as this is a human rights issue. That affects all of us.

As a human rights issue, every gender needs to come aboard and make sure this is known as something that affects women in a negative way when they don’t have the opportunity or choice to make decisions about their own bodies.

The support system needs to be such that we have a following of anybody who believes this philosophy, and who moves forward in that regard.

Schorr: Over 70% of the men are gone from the women that we help. Men are not standing up for this right. They are late to the party. Yet, they benefit from the active right of women to control their bodies. To me, that is a very troubling stat.

Jacobsen: If you’re looking at other countries around the world, what ones most concern you, in terms of some of the ones before, e.g., reproductive rights access acknowledged and implemented?

Schorr:  There are many nations where people are demanding safe abortions. Italy, Argentina, and Poland are just a few.

Jacobsen: Is a blunt or direct way to state the case that it is in men’s self-interest?

Schorr: I think it is very much in their interest. Many of them would have many children to support if not for legal abortions. Men face the same issues, economic, fetal problems etc. It is not just women who benefit.

Jacobsen: What seem like the sources of this regressive masculinity or hypermasculinity reflected in reactionary nationalism or even ultra-nationalism?

Schorr: We see a lot of people in power who are considered strong men. I think that it is appealing, certainly, to some. Women attend college in greater numbers than men. More women are breadwinners. Culturally, things have changed.

I think a lot of men are feeling that they are losing their power. I see white nationalism rising because we’re becoming a browner nation. When people feel as if they’re losing something, this is what they do.

Jacobsen: What are their tactics? How can we counter them in advance?

Schorr: You can see them outside of the clinics. Recently, a militia group appeared on the Capitol steps in Atlanta, Georgia, claiming they will “kick some ass” to protect the fetus.

We see, right now, the rise of white nationalists getting involved in the anti-choice movement. This is very frightening. Tempers get flared. Nobody is safe. I think we’re facing a lot of situations, where you really must be careful.

Jacobsen: In the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, New York was a holdout. What states appear more as a holdout for full or almost full protection of women’s rights in the United States?

Schorr: Washington state, Oregon, California, New York and IL. Those are really the safest. These states are making sure the pre-Roe laws are removed from their state’s constitution.

New Mexico tried to take pre-Roe laws off the books and were not able to do that. If Roe falls, these states will be unable to protect and maintain women’s abortion rights. We feel WRAPP is more important than ever to able to assist women when they travel to one of these states.

Jacobsen: For someone who is working in this for 28 years, and someone who has seen, in terms of the 70% number given before, men not be involved, even when it is in their self-interest, when they don’t come, what are the reason that they give in terms of simply not coming those times?

Schorr: I can’t answer that. I have my own opinion. But I am surrounded by men in my life who are part of the movement. They do show up. As for the rest, I just think they feel as if it doesn’t affect them. It absolutely affects them. Abortion is a human issue.

Jacobsen: In terms of building that decent society for everyone, in terms of having men and women involved in the human issue rather than the women’s rights issue alone, what are some next steps that could be done, not only leading up to the next election but after the next election however it turns out?

Schorr: The first thing that we must do is fight back against the misleading information coming from religious right organizations. We should not allow the church to dictate to us what is moral.

Abortion is a safe medical procedure and it has been legal for a long time. We need to fight back against people who push their religion on others, whether by ideology or preferences.

We also need to provide much-needed sex education early on in the schools. However, that is not going to happen because the same people who are so against abortion are also against any kind of sex education and birth control. They are all interconnected.

This is something that we need to protect; something that we all need to uphold. If it is not talked about in their home, we must rely on available information in the schools. Unfortunately, many states will not allow this, so more unplanned pregnancies and abortions will continue to happen.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Joyce and Sylvia.

Schorr: Thank you.

Ghazarian: Thank you.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

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