By: Emily Hom
Abortion, right or wrong? As this ethical issue has never been resolved, I believe that the only way we will ever get close to doing so it to listen to each other. In order to give an opportunity to at least one side of the issue to be heard, I conducted a Q&A with Alie Lahey, program manager at the San Francisco office for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). NARAL is a multi million membership organization that fights for access to abortion care, birth control, paid parental leave and protections from pregnancy discrimination. I felt it would be worth it to take a moment to consider an opposing argument.
Q: Who are you? Where do you work? What is your position?
My name is Alie Lahey and I live in Oakland but I’m from Toledo, Ohio. I actually moved because of this job, I just moved here in February. A little scary but I’m here. I am the program manager at NARAL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws). At NARAL I work with our members and I really make sure they’re engaged in every level in all of our work, whether it’s volunteering, phone banking, or getting engaged in the legislation or electoral process.
Q: What made you interested in women’s reproductive rights?
Well, I started organizing in college, but I have this story where I started organizing in seventh grade, well kind of. So they have this thing in Ohio called Donkey Basketball where people rode on donkeys and played basketball, literally. That shows you where in Ohio I’m from. And so I organized my friends to boycott it because it abused animals. So that was my first, like, organizing act so I’ve always had the organizing blood running through my veins. In college I just fel a personal stake in reproductive rights…I just like hearing the story of my grandmother having illegal abortions and my mother having abortions and watching my friends need access to reproductive healthcare. So I started to feel really invested in the issues.
Q: Can you go into more detail about what you do?
So one of the bills we’re working on right now is…called the reproductive right nondiscrimination act. What this does is that…it ends discrimination based on personal reproductive health care and decisions in the workplace. So if I had a job and I started birth control or fertility services or if I had sex outside of marriage I couldn’t get fired for making those decisions. [Because] sometimes employers, particularly at religious institutions, fire people from their jobs for doing that… So with that law we’ve done a lot of different actions… We had a campaign to get small businesses to sign on in support of the bill and we had press conferences. Right now our big push to get the Governor to make sure that he signs the bill so we’re collecting petitions …and generating phone calls. I’m also running a phone bank to get all of our NARAL members to get them to call the governor, and we’re doing tweet storms. So that’s like one example of how I fold our members into the work that we’re doing.
Q: What is it about women’s reproductive rights that makes you so passionate about it?
I mean I feel like it’s the crux of our existence…the way I experience my day-to-day life is shaped by my fertility and whether or not I’m allowed to choose to have children right now. It impacts all of my relationships. …Whether or not I get pregnant impacts and being able to control…my pregnancies impact my entire life. I mean I just helped a friend get an abortion recently and I watched everything. It just puts your whole life in perspective when you accidentally get pregnant… Watching her go through that just..totally affirmed why I’m doing this work and why it’s such an important right to protect.
Q: So how hard is it to access abortion?
The really scary thing about abortion access in America is that it totally..depends on..where you live… So for example, my friend here in California, when she needed her abortion, took her lunch break, went to a clinic, got her medication, paid $20, which is unheard of…and then took her medication at home with me. It was fairly simple…she didn’t have to walk through anyone harassing her and she didn’t have to wait a while. I’ll contrast that to…folks in Ohio that often- times have to drive multiple hours to get to a clinic, or they have to wait a long time because the clinics are so congested. They have to pay out of pocket, oftentimes up to $500 because insurance doesn’t cover abortion.. They have to wait 24 hours, they have to get parental consent, they take multiple days off of work, they have to walk through a throng of protesters.ome states have disclosure agreements that are basically like fake signs saying that abortion will cause breast cancer or that abortion will [lead to] suicide…the difference is the world, it just depends on your zip code, really.
Q: How would you respond to someone who would say that abortion is murder?
I would say that I don’t think it’s murder…first of all murder would have to be a person, I don’t think that a fetus or an embryo is a person. I think that it has the potential to become a person.But it’s also about what’s happening in a woman’s life.I think that her life is more important than something that has potential to become a person. It doesn’t even really matter whether or not it’s murder, the reality is that when women don’t have access to safe and legal abortion, they will turn to more harmful ways like ordering pills online, or using herbal tea, or throwing themselves down a flight of stairs…..I literally have a coat hanger tattoo because women used to use knitting needles and coat hangers in the 60’s and 70’s.I don’t think we should have to go back to that.
Q: California does not have parental consent. What are your thoughts on that?
I think that’s great. I think parental consent is a huge barrier. I mean first off, most young people who have an abortion do tell their parents, because it’s really hard not to. When they don’t tell them, it’s for a good reason: there’s incest, abuse, or they would refuse. I think that when you create parental consent laws, that only puts young people in danger and rips their own autonomy and their future.
I’ll also add that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. It’s safer than a colonoscopy, it’s safer than getting your wisdom teeth removed.
Q: If you could say something to someone who is pro-life what would you say?
I would say that they should try to listen to stories of women who are really glad they had their abortions…to stories of women who didn’t have access to abortions but wished they did. Read some of the studies and statistic on the impact of abortion access on women’s autonomy and our lives.
Q: What would you say to young men?
I would say to young men,.they should always respect whatever decision if they have a partner who’s pregnant,and always respect their decisions. Understand that pregnancy can be a huge burden, and that it’s something that you shouldn’t take lightly. Always watch yourself and make sure you have yourself covered if you’re trying to not get someone pregnant. Listen to stories about women and our stories about reproductive rights and abortion access.
Q: What would you say to any woman considering an abortion?
I would say do what is best for you, you know your life better than anyone else. Don’t let stigma influence your decision. At the same time, if it’s not what you want, you don’t have to have an abortion.