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Activist wants changes in anti-abortion movement

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[UPDATED] As far as Hannah Murphy is concerned, Bernie Sanders is more "pro-life" than Donald Trump, even though Sanders supports abortion rights and Trump has started to attack abortion programs and funding, both domestic and global.

Murphy herself is anti-abortion, but she says her distinction deals with broader matters. In simple terms: Sanders is more focused on policies that would benefit women socially, including pregnant women who choose to give birth, she says.

The Brighton resident's view of the two politicians, however, reflects her broader views of the so-called pro-life movement, of which she has become something of an internal critic.

She refers to herself as a nonviolent feminist, and she follows the consistent life ethic: a principle that opposes abortion and views it as a form of violence but also opposes poverty, racism, war, the death penalty, and assisted suicide, all of which it also considers violence. Murphy wants to see a movement that addresses the underlying social issues that lead women to seek abortions and one that doesn't shame women who have the procedure, she says.

"No woman wants to have an abortion," Murphy says. "It's not like, 'I'm going to go get pregnant just so I can experience an abortion.' That's bullshit."

The mainstream anti-abortion movement focuses almost entirely on the fetus and pays too little attention to empowering women, pregnant or not, Murphy says. It equates womanhood with procreation and too often is misogynistic and patriarchal, she says.

Murphy has also taken the movement to task over a well-worn protest tactic. In February, she penned an op-ed for the Democrat and Chronicle urging abortion opponents to stop protesting outside of Planned Parenthood and, in particular, to stop using signs with pictures of dismembered fetuses.

"What I was asking those people to do was really reflect on if they were being peaceful," Murphy said during a recent interview. "I don't think doing that is peaceful. I think that it's causing harm. And even for the people who, you changed their minds, you still inflicted harm on them."

Abortion is an extremely volatile issue, especially right now. Abortion rights advocates have been in fight mode for years, as state after state placed severe restrictions on abortion clinics. The new laws forced the last remaining facilities in some states to close their doors.

Right now, advocates are fighting a Republican bill in Congress that would strip funding from Planned Parenthood facilities, which at best would hurt the ability of clinics across the country to provide reproductive health services and breast cancer screenings.

Murphy doesn't support defunding or dismantling Planned Parenthood, because people rely on it for so many services other than abortion; she does object to the state covering abortions through Medicaid. She believes sex education and accessible, free birth control would go a long way toward preventing unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. And she wants abortion to be unnecessary, not illegal.

She's not alone in her views. Other members of Feminists for Nonviolent Choices, the consistent life ethic organization of which she is vice president, share her criticisms of the mainstream anti-abortion movement. They, too, do not want Planned Parenthood defunded, Murphy says. [As of this article's publication, Murphy had resigned from the Feminists for Nonviolent Choices board. She was speaking for herself during the interview, not the group.]

But she also critiques some people – not all – in abortion rights circles for their reluctance to work with abortion opponents on issues where they agree. She feels that for abortion rights advocates to be truly pro-choice, they too must work to improve society for women who choose to give birth.

Murphy talked to CITY recently about her criticisms of the anti-abortion movement, her thoughts on Planned Parenthood, and her interest in working with abortion rights supporters on issues where they agree. The following is an edited version of that discussion.

CITY: Why do you object to abortion opponents protesting outside of Planned Parenthood and holding pictures of fetuses?

Murphy: They're gruesome images. I think that using those violates the dignity of that person, violates the dignity of whomever created that person. I also think that it does harm to the intended audience. I think that it's just mean.

I guess my argument, though, to people who use them, is: It's not working, so just stop. It's not necessary. There are other things and approaches; I don't find it to be a non-violent approach. I find it to be very judgmental and aggressive.

A lot of people assume that Planned Parenthood is Enemy No. 1 of abortion opponents. But it sounds like you see Planned Parenthood as a valuable health care provider. Is that fair?

People see them as the enemy, people see them as evil, and I think that's a really uncivilized, backward – I don't know what the good word to use is – way of thinking. It's a very separatist way.

I just don't know that there are enough of these accessible, non-faith-based health centers. There are some, but are there enough? I don't know. I don't think so.

I also know that people who have gone other places feel comfortable at Planned Parenthood. So who am I to say that they shouldn't have access to the type of environment where they feel comfortable? I think Planned Parenthood has done a really commendable job reaching out, expanding itself to, like, the LGBT-plus community. That's not happening elsewhere. And that's what I think a lot of people get wrong.

Do you, or would you, advocate for a legal ban on abortion?

I think that's a slippery slope. So what happens if I do that? If abortion becomes illegal, what happens? Women still get abortions, right? I just don't see that being the solution.

It's about education and awareness. There needs to be a more communal approach. We don't have that. We're so individualistic in this country, and that's in every space.

I feel like I stumble here because I don't have the answer, but I feel that I just am not at that point where I can say I would want to see it illegal, because I think it's too dangerous. I think it would be dangerous for women if that were the case, which kind of makes me contradictive.

How do you get to the point where activists who differ on abortion can actually work together on shared interests or goals?

We work our f**king butts off.

We [Feminsts for Nonviolent Choices] do a series where we focus on a different human-rights issue that's relevant to the Rochester community and also globally. So we've done intimate partner violence, we've done sex trafficking, we've done female gendercide, we've done disability justice. Our next project is about incarceration. We find common ground by addressing the things on which we agree, and it works.

One of the things that came out was the Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which we're a founding member of. Because at that time in 2013, there were a lot of local incidents of human trafficking. And so all of these different groups were working on the issue, and we got together for a meeting – different people – started talking, formed a coalition, and now here we are still together all these years later.

Abortion rights supporters and abortion opponents seem wary of giving a platform to the opposing side, even if they agree on other priorities.

That's a risk. My thing is, 'Change me.' I'm not afraid of listening to your story, your statistics, your experience, your point of view. I'm not afraid to change. I understand it, but if your platform, what you believe in, is true, why are you hiding what other people want to say? Transparency, people: put it out there. People are going to make up their minds. I don't think that not giving a platform to people is the way to go.

A poor woman who has an abortion is still f**kin' poor. A woman whose boyfriend is in jail for a minor drug offense, and she has an abortion: he's still in jail. We're not addressing the real problems here, and that's what pisses me off about people in the pro-choice movement who aren't willing to come to the table.

Pro-choice has to mean more than supporting abortion. It has to respect and support all reproductive choices, all reproductive rights.


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