Women's Group Advocates For Abortion Alternatives

Host Michel Martin continues the conversation marking the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Serrin Foster explains the mission behind her group Feminists For Life. Foster says her goal is finding alternatives to abortion.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, the Barbershop guys talk about the political upset in Massachusetts and the upset in late-night TV.

But first, we're continuing our conversation marking the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to an abortion in this country. We heard earlier from Dr. LeRoy Carhart. He's one of the few doctors in this country who perform so-called later-term abortions.

Now, a different perspective. I'm joined by Serrin Foster. She's president of Feminists for Life. That's a national organization that advocates for alternatives to abortion. She's with us on the phone from her home in Washington, D.C. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

Ms. SERRIN FOSTER (President, Feminists for Life): Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, you heard earlier when I talked with Dr. Carhart about his life and philosophy. So, I'd like to ask you about your life and philosophy. I wanted to ask you, what does it mean to be a feminist to you, and how that intersects with your advocacy around the abortion issue.

Ms. FOSTER: Well, I remember during college where the big discussion about the Equal Rights Amendment was going on, and I was adamantly a feminist. And I believe that the that all people are equal and therefore, all choices are not. And I could not connect to the fact that women were chanting equality on one hand, and bringing in the idea that our rights would come - our rights to advance in the workplace or in college - would come in at the expense of our own children.

It didn't make any sense to me. And knowing women who had had abortions then -because Roe v. Wade was the law of the land by then - it didn't make any sense that people were talking philosophically about equality while I heard her misery and the fear and the lack of resources, the lack of support, the lack of love from those she counted on the most - lack of support and flexibility from the, you know, school we were attending, you know, and the problems that you would face in the workplace, the lack of insurance. So, you know, all the lack of's.

And so, I totally understood why women were driven to abortion. I just kept on thinking, this isn't good enough for anybody I care about, and what are we're going to do about it? And chanting it's my body, it's my choice up and down the street, all it did was make men result in saying, yeah, and it's your problem. And disproportionately, women were getting more and more of the burden of raising children that a man and a woman had helped to bring into this world.

MARTIN: You, of course, understand the perspective that the ability to control one's reproductive choices is central for - the perspective that, the idea that if women can't control their ability to have children, the timing, the circumstances, then they really don't have any ultimate control over their lives because biologically and culturally, the primary responsible - for child rearing still seems to fall mainly on women. How do you respond to that argument?

Ms. FOSTER: One, there were many ways to make choices in that regard, you know. So, Feminist for Life has people in our organization who support contraception across the board, who just support contraception that may not have a class I carcinogen, therefore only using condoms and foams. Some believe in using contraception only when somebody is having a loving and responsible relationship inside a marriage, or a loving and responsible relationship outside a marriage. Some are against it until somebody is old enough or in college.

I mean, you know, we have a million different conversations in this organization. The conversations that is central to what we do is say, OK, let's say she is pregnant. Let's say she and her husband decided they wanted to have a baby, and maybe they have a couple of children and they can't afford to have another one. What do we do then? What do we do when somebody says they love her unconditionally, and the moment she finds out she's pregnant, he abandons her. What do we do then?

MARTIN: What do you do? What are some of your answers to that question? What is the focus of your advocacy? What do you believe? What do you believe - I think women need to choose alternatives to abortion?

Ms. FOSTER: Yes. And therefore, you know, we have had some unusual alliances along the way, fighting against the family cap and welfare reform, which would have taken away the benefits for poor women who had additional children, who are in welfare. And we successfully worked with NARAL and NOW and Planned Parenthood and the ACLU on that.

We worked with Aces, the group that promotes women getting child support - or non-custodial parents getting child support because we know that child support - threats of lack of child support will also coerce a woman into an abortion. It's a huge weapon to use against women. We listened to the Gutmaker Institute, who has a list of reasons that drive women to abortion.

And it's not about having it or not, the maybe. It truly comes down to a much more sophisticated, much more thoughtful conversation that a women's had about the lack of assistance when she's in college -

MARTIN: What about the overall social safety net argument? There are those who argue - particularly in the area of people who now choose abortion when they find that they have a profoundly disabled fetus...

Ms. FOSTER: Right.

MARTIN: ...for example, that the issue is, I'm not going to get any help once this child is born.

Ms. FOSTER: Right.

MARTIN: ...so what about the issue of a comprehensive safety net, particularly for people who, well, don't have the resources, perhaps, to take care of a profoundly disabled child? What about that?

Ms. FOSTER: Well, as a feminist, we don't discriminate against someone by their size, age, location, or their physical abilities or disabilities. And, you know, nondiscrimination and non-violence are key to feminism. And so deciding if someone's worth is based on their special abilities would be absolutely outside of feminism.

So what we do is, we have - well, we have - one of our latest publications, it's called "Raising Kids on a Shoestring" - which reaches out to women who are pregnant or parents who are struggling, and especially in this economy, to give them ways to find assistance. And we've devoted one special section to those parents with special needs.

My mom was a special ed teacher and, you know, we have people who have disability issues in our family, like most people in America. And you know, we're fortunate enough to know how to access help. And what we want to do is connect women to help and connect fathers to help, and remember that there's a father in this story, too.

And so that if she isn't truly ready to take care of a child that is severely handicapped in one way or the other because she is incapable of doing it if she does not have the economic resources, then if it's all about the economic, then get her the resources she can through gifts to her.

MARTIN: I asked Dr. Carhart this question...

Ms. FOSTER: And if they couldn't have that then and if she can't do it, if she can't emotionally handle it, then have an abortion have an adoption rather than an abortion. And through adoption, there are a number of people in this country who take many disabled people into their families, very lovingly raise them.

MARTIN: I understand, I understand. I asked Dr. Carhart a couple of these sort of broader philosophical questions. I wanted to leave some time to ask you as well. I was asking him why you think this issue is still so intensely dividing this country. And do you think it will be resolved in our lifetime, in your and mine?

Ms. FOSTER: Well, I hope so. But I don't think this is the first time we've had this conversation. The early American feminists had the same conversation back then. They worked for the rights of slaves to be free, then found out they didn't have a right as women to advocate against slavery. Then they advocated the rights of women to vote, and then after that they started advocating the rights of children to be born.

The media and the doctors at that time were in an alliance with the feminists to create these consumer protection laws that would prevent women from being coerced into an abortion. Susan B. Anthony wrote, you know, sweeter than ever having a child for myself was to help other mothers generally so that their unborn little ones could not be rolled away from them.

So, Feminists for Life focus on this, is not doing what - you know, Dr. Carhart deals with people in the movement that I don't usually deal with. I talk to people on a daily basis who are very loving, who are non-confrontational, who really just want to do the heavy lifting of caring for women so that they can bring their children into this world, whether they choose marital parenthood, single parenthood or many adoption options. And so, we have, you know, like he was saying, he was pro-life. I can tell you we're pro-choice. We're just pro non-violent choices, and choices that would ultimately answer the real and underlying questions that would drive a woman to abortion. The same reasons that women are driven to abortion in this country are the same challenges that families have in this country: economic and lack of emotional support. And we believe that women deserve better.

MARTIN: All right, Serrin, thank you so much for speaking with us. We appreciate it. Serrin Foster is president of Feminists for Life, and she joined us from her home office in Washington, D.C. I thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. FOSTER: Thank you, Michel.

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