Public Stands on Personal Abortion Choices

Thousands of women signed a petition in this month's issue of Ms. Magazine declaring they had an abortion. Tonight Show musician Vicki Randle was one of them. Farai Chideya talks with Randle about her reasons for signing the declaration.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

The abortion debate has long divided communities across the nation. Many elections have been won and lost on which side, if any, politicians stand.

Today, Ms. Magazine is giving proponents of the cause the ultimate platform in the cover story titled We Had Abortions. They are publishing the names of thousands of women nationwide who signed a petition making that declaration.

That includes Gloria Steinem, Judging Amy star Amy Brenneman and Vicki Randle, best known as part of Jay Leno's Tonight Show Band. Vicki, welcome.

Ms. VICKI RANDLE (Tonight Show Band Member): Hi there.

CHIDEYA: So why did you decide to join this declaration?

Ms. RANDLE: It felt like the right thing to do. There are so many of us who have not spoken out about this for so long. It's one thing to, you know, wear a bumper sticker, but it's another thing to make a personal declaration and let people see that women of all walks of life, you know, let people see who we are, you know? And hear our stories.

CHIDEYA: There's public figures, there's a lot of everyday sisters, moms, cousins who also have signed up. What was your personal decision-making process when you said, okay, I want to do this because I believe in it, but what if?

Ms. RANDLE: Yeah. It took me about 10 minutes to think, hmm, there are people out there who have for decades been willing to do violence against anyone who is a proponent of a woman's right to choose. And so I was a little nervous about putting my name anywhere and becoming public. But I thought about the fact that I'm a public figure anyway and it hasn't stopped, you know, the legion of stalkers from tracking me down for no reason, and so I thought I can be brave enough to do this.

CHIDEYA: You know, there was a book that came out a few years ago called The Choices We Made in which Whoopi Goldberg talked about having an abortion, and many other women wrote their stories in that book as well. But I wonder as a black woman whether you feel there's an added layer of complexity. Because some of the African-American community is very socially conservative and may be liberal on, you know, issues of public welfare for example, but really totally against abortion. Do you ever worry about friction from within the African-American community?

Ms. RANDLE: Often, especially since the African-American community I grew up in was the Catholic African-American community. I was at that time 15, so I really wasn't in charge essentially of those decisions. But I still felt deep down inside of me, I knew it was the right decision even though it caused me a lot of grief and it caused my family and the people around me a lot of grief and caused a lot of soul-searching, you know.

I was immediately kicked out of the house when my mother found out, and tried to get me arrested. It wasn't a small thing; it was a big thing. It changed my life forever. But I still knew inside myself and that's - to me that's the only issue is that whatever decision you make about this it's a personal decision. I have the right only over my own body and no one can take that away.

CHIDEYA: You know, some black ministers met over the weekend about abortion and they claimed that abortions in the black community take away from the black population, are a form of, you know, wiping out the black community. What would you say to something like that?

Ms. RANDLE: The day that anti-abortion advocates take responsibility for all the babies born, all the babies who are not able to be cared for, all the babies who sit in foster homes, sit in adoption agencies waiting for parents, for all the abused children, for all the children that are out there that are poor, that are starving, that can't get adequate healthcare, that - I mean when we as a society take responsibility for the living, that's when I think I'll be able to have a discussion with somebody about whether or not abortion is - this is such an emotional issue to me because as the oldest of eight kids, you know, I love children.

I've wanted children my whole life. And if in another time and place, I might have had that child. But I was 15, I had been sexually abused. I had no way to take care of this child and I knew that my parents weren't going to help me, you know?

So - and I know that there are so many young women in this position, and to make it impossible for them to get medical legal abortions is not going to make it impossible for them to get abortions. It's just going to make it deadly.

(Soundbite of song from CD “Sleep City”)

Ms. RANDLE: (Singing) I once had a broken heart. I once had a broken heart.

CHIDEYA: You know, you have a new CD, Sleep City, and one of the songs on it is about sexual abuse.

Ms. RANDLE: That's right.

CHIDEYA: Is that based on what happened to you before you got pregnant?

Ms. RANDLE: That's - yes, it is. It took me years and years and years to write that, you know. And I daresay I wouldn't have had that same experience if I had, you know, been forced to raise a child under those circumstances. No.

CHIDEYA: Vicki Randle, thank you so much.

Ms. RANDLE: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of song from CD “Sleep City”)

Ms. RANDLE: (Singing) It taught me how (unintelligible) can mean. Attempt to crack the cipher of my heart.

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