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Speech given by Kathy Najimy at Planned Parenthood Annual Luncheon, January 17, 2003

Thank you. I am very honored to be here.  People always start off that way don't they?  It's an honor to be here.  Really.  No matter where they are.  It's an honor to be here at the opening of the Boise Big K.  It is my honor to be here at the New Jersey Waste Association Dinner or What an Honor to be here at the State Penitentiary Sadie Hawkins Ball.  Huh?  But truly... It is a real honor to be right here, in Houston ... with you all ... And especially for an occasion as important as the 30th Anniversary of Roe v Wade.  Thank you for having me.

I love Texas, actually, I am an honorary Texan, from a Little town called Arlen... Yep, every week I get to spend 22 minutes in Arlen as Peggy Hill and I tell you, I jump at any chance I get to get out of that theme park of a city that we call Los Angeles.... Even if it is in the animated body of a cartoon character ... and especially as a Texan ... it is a relief and an Honor.  Besides I would go just about anywhere for the women and men of Planned Parenthood and the glorious work you do, not to mention that 5 of the most fulfilling years of my life, were working for Planned Parenthood....and on top of all that ... its an anniversary? ... hell let's have a party.

When they asked me to come speak to you, they said: "Just tell your story." 

Well, it all began when I was an awkward 11 year old who didn't fit in..., (OH, weren't we all?) becoming very aware of imbalance and injustice . . . but the thing that affected me the most was seeing girls my age starting to act very strange.  In fact, I remember one event so clearly... I was playing with my best friend since kindergarten...Cheryl Gaulin ...and we were in the midst of some great adventure when Nicky Asaro came in the room.

Nicky was 14 and cute.  I watched in amazement as regular ol' normal Cheryl underwent this startling .... metamorphosis.  True Story.  Her head went down like this...her eyes rolled up like this and she started batting her lashes furiously, and her voice got all high and unintelligible and I sat there and watched in horror as my smart, fun, friend Cheryl turned into this . . .  freakish Midge doll. 

It was then I realized there was a difference between the way girls really were.... and how we were "supposed" to be--- (especially around boys).  And there was also a difference between what girls were supposed to be and the way boys were encouraged to be ... and no question boys got the better gig.

Not only did I not like how I was supposed to be ... but I actually tried doing it and failed . . . I failed miserably. So, right around that time, is when I found a book called Sisterhood is Powerful... I remember sitting in my "dad's" big chair ... (Isn't it interesting how every family has a "dad's" chair but never even a "moms" footstool?)  Anywho, I sat down and opened the book and discovered . . .  Gloria.  (sings) Glo-ooo-ooo-ria... Gloria Steinem.  (Now here is where the angels singing sound effect should come in.) Gloria. I read about independence and freedom, and self worth and pride, and anger and opportunity, and equality and choice and education.  Most important, I learned there were others out there like me. And that there was a name for what I was.

I was a feminist.

So, I became an activist at 12 and it was almost entirely due to the relentless dedication of all those fierce feminists like Gloria and Margaret Sanger and the countless courageous women who came before me.

OK so another reason I jumped at the chance to be with you all is because it gives me a chance to thank Planned Parenthood and everyone involved for what you're doing to defend the right to choose in Texas.

The last time I spoke publicly about the issue of choice was in Illinois last year, ... but before that . . .  It was about 10 years ago and ... things were ... a little different.

I was living in New York, then.  Back when we thought New York would always be there ... forever, no matter what. And back when we thought that a woman's right to choose would be around, forever, no matter what.

Times have changed. The threat to our freedom has grown more real ... more present ... than ever before.  And the threat to our Choice just as terrifying.

I was as passionate -- then -- about choice as I am now. I was as outspoken -- then -- about choice ... as I am now. But there is another thing that is now different.  Now, I have a daughter.

I have a daughter who's going to have questions about her body ... and about boys.  I have a daughter who's going to need information that's accurate and available.  I have a daughter who's going to grow up and have to make important choices about her body and about her life.  And when I look around at what's happening in this country ... especially after the last elections ... I seriously wonder if she will have the freedom to make those choices ... the freedom so many of my generation take for granted.

So, where I was once active, now I am fierce. Where I was once committed, now I am rooted with claws of steel. Where I was once asked to speak a lot, and sometimes said "no," now it's because of my 6-year-old daughter Samia -- that NOW . . .  I always say... yes, Yes, it is my pleasure.

It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you considering what you all do for women and for girls...

So, what else do I have to talk about with you very serious scholars and committed advocates for social justice and equality?  I am going to talk about the first time I had sex.

When I was 18 I had sex for the very first time, with my very first boyfriend, in the back seat of his father's Lincoln. True Story.  And swear to God, his leg hit the stick and put the car into neutral and we smashed into the parked car in front of us.

Exactly 6 months and a dozen auto insurance claims later we decided to break up.  Right afterwards (even though we'd used birth control) I found out I was pregnant. I knew immediately that I was in no position to be a parent.

I was a college student on a scholarship with no job, no money, barely my own apartment, and of all things . . . a theater major, not even something real. And, although he was a very nice guy, my ex-boyfriend was also in no condition to parent...(c'mon he was 19 and I think off touring in a community college production of Godspell.)

Now before I go on with my story, I have to say that my circumstances are unusual in that there were no unusual circumstances. Because of Roe v Wade, I was entitled to a safe and legal abortion. I knew that my situation was rare ... that I was part of an elite, privileged group and that my choice was only possible because of the treacherous, hard-won battle of those who came before me. Not only those who fought the battle for my right to choose, but also those thousands of women -- mothers, sisters, and daughters -- who could not exercise that right in safety and freedom. Who literally lost their lives in illegal, non-safe abortions. I knew and I know that my situation was Disneyland compared to that of others.

OK so, I'm 18 and to be sure I was pregnant, I went to the health services department at my college. When the handsome, very uptight conservative doctor came into the room... he said: "You're pregnant, do you know who the father is?" And even though I had only ever slept with one person ... my radical "I'm- a feminist- rebel -don't fuck- with- me" personality took over and I said. "No, I have no idea who the father is. Could be any one of oh, a couple dozen shriners . . . a crap shoot really."

He then turned, took a quick peek in the mirror at his almost perfect swoop of doctor hair, turned around and shoved a box of Kleenex at me and said, "Here, you are going to need this." I looked back up at him . . .  right into his patronizing, indicting eyes and said, "No thanks . . .  I'm just fine."

Dr. Kildare shrugged and said, "Well, you got yourself into this, have you thought about what you are going to do?" And I said, "I am going to have an abortion." He said "Really? Are you sure? "

"Yes," I said, ... even though I wasn't.

In this 2-minute exchange, I felt it all. I felt his judgment, I felt his contempt, I felt his disgust, I felt his control and I felt his feeling of superiority.  I felt this hatred of women just seeping out of his pores and I felt he was a representation of the hundreds of thousands just like him who feel they -- and they alone -- should decide how a woman should be, look, feel, and behave.

Simultaneously... I felt deeply protective of our right to choose and at that moment... I struck an immovable, forceful pose of defense for myself and for all women that I would not let down ... for the next 8 years ... Because I was scared to death that we would lose our rights to our bodies ... I would let myself feel nothing emotionally about my decision...for 8 years.

So, I left his office without the Kleenex. I knew my options and made my decision pretty quickly. I called the number Dr. Hairdo referred me to. They gave me their address and told me to check in at 8 p.m. the next Friday. Why 8 p.m.? Because we have to wake you at 4 a.m. for meds. My best friend Steven and I showed up at 4 a.m. for the meds.

As we drove into the parking lot of Scripps Memorial we were greeted ... and I am not kidding, by a huge statue of a smiling Stork carrying a baby bundle. We walked into the waiting room and like some slow-motion Peckinpah movie...I saw we were sitting with pregnant women waiting to be admitted to deliver, and surrounded by "what to name your baby" books, tiny blue and pink precious moments trinket booties, with framed photos of smiling newborns on every wall.

I grabbed Steven, and blurred out into the lot to wait and scream on a parking bumper. How could they do this? What if this wasn't me? What if this were someone more fragile, or confused.  Another girl might walk into that waiting room and then dart right back out into the middle of oncoming traffic. This is unacceptable... I will write a letter to the head of this hospital ... and I did...and I felt so angry. But I never felt.

Eight years later when Mo Gaffney and I were putting together our off Broadway play, the Kathy and Mo Show...we wanted to write something about choice..."Well, you had an abortion" Mo said, "what did you feel?"

I had no answer . . .  I searched and searched but could remember feeling nothing but political. I woke up in the middle of that night, called Mo and read her this short, difficult piece, which would end up being the only 2 minutes in our whole show with not one line of comedy before, during or after it.

Its called:

-- I Don't remember Feeling Bad-

"I don't remember feeling bad, well no I do, I remember not letting myself feel bad. That would be like giving in, you know? If I let myself feel bad it would make those people who are so against it think that they're right. Like Proof. A chance for them to say, you feel awful therefore you shouldn't have done it...you're wrong.

And the last thing you want to do when you're going through the whole... "ordeal" is something that might make them think that you don't have a choice. So you don't think about it ... because if you think about it you might feel bad or guilty and have to give up your choice.

So no, I don't remember feeling bad. It was too scary for me to feel because then maybe they would seem right ... and they're not right. See, when you do something like that, you do if because for you it is your only choice. The sad thing is you really want to feel bad about it without feeling wrong ... so, no, I don't remember feeling bad."

What inspired me to write that piece is the same thing that drives my pro-choice activism today: Of course, first and foremost we must be ever vigilant.  We must be consumed with our passion to win this battle to insure that women are guaranteed safe, legal, affordable abortions should they choose, forever. That is and has always been the bottom line . . .  But we also need to create a truly safe emotional environment for choice. Women need the freedom to have a range of feelings about their decisions without fearing that our rights will be taken away as a result.

It's appalling that we even have to have this conversation, isn't it? I hear the words coming out of my mouth and I am still astonished that we are begging for the basic rights to OUR bodies! It's simply absurd. Some things just shouldn't be questioned. The sun rises in the East, vertical stripes are slimming, chips and salsa are indeed, a food group . . .  And women should be able to do what they choose with their own bodies and feel whatever way they do, without threat to that right. Simple.

Why DO we have to fight? We shouldn't but we do. We have to organize and educate. We have to vote ... and get everyone else to vote. We have to do everything in our power to protect choice and women from the tyranny of ignorance, hatred and control. And control is what it's all about, isn't it?

Controlling a woman's uterus is the most ruthless and effective way controlling the entirety of her life.

Just ask the women of Afghanistan.

I've been thinking about this a lot since September 11th. Almost immediately after the attacks on America, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell - otherwise known as People Magazine's runners up for the Sexiest Man Alive - these two felt the burning need to put the event into some kind of "context" for their followers.  I know you all read what they said. They blamed the entire tragedy on  "the gays, the feminists, and the ACLU and the abortionists"

I'm surprised they didn't add public television, maybe offer up the theory that Bert and Ernie hijacked those planes.

Now, I don't much mind that Pat and Jerry tried to pin the most devastating acts of terrorism in US history on just about everyone on my holiday card list. It's what I expect of them.  But do they NOT see the ironies here?

Do they NOT see that the people they blame have been the VICTIMS of terror in this country? The people who work at the US Congress may not have known how to handle a bomb or an anthrax scare. But every Planned Parenthood in America knows ... because you've had years of practice!

And do Pat and Jerry NOT see that what Afghan women have suffered under the Taliban bears a not-so-passing resemblance to what anti-choice zealots like themselves have in mind for women in America? Women having no voice ... no say about what happens to their bodies?  and their lives?

What is scary, is that these zealots...( and I keep saying "zealots" instead of "idiots" because it is a new year and I am trying to be a better person and.c'mom no negativity? Bless and release...bless and release) anywho, these 'zealots' are playing a greater role in our courts and in our government since these last elections.  Just recently, your Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state could decline to fund abortions for poor women covered by Medicaid, basically saying to Texas women that you have the right to choose ONLY if you can afford it.

Just look at what's been happening since these last elections.    

George W's current approval ratings notwithstanding, we can't let voters forget that this man has filled his administration with religious conservatives who are aggressively anti-choice ... and anti-common sense.  One of his appointees to his Committee for Reproductive Health is Dr. Hager, a doctor who refuses to prescribe contraceptives of any sort for any reason.

The good doctor also authored a book on women's health in which he prescribes Scripture readings to relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.  I don't know, Scripture as a cure for PMS? 

Actually, I think PMS is the only 4 days a month that most women really feel and say what they really feel and mean with no remorse or excuses.  I feel like it is the time we are most our true selves and not scurrying around like wine up Stepford dolls trying to please everyone, seem nice and polite and be "how we are supposed to be."

Instead of indicting women who are premenstrual for being honest, what if instead of "oh sally ... you must be "on the rag'?  we heard .."You know sally, you don't quite seem genuine...are you on your 24 day "non-period" because you appear a bit fakey and subdued?  c'mon sally...what are you REALLY feeling"!!???

Actually it's no laughing matter when extremists who think the Crusades were a humanitarian effort can make policy decisions about approving new methods of contraception.  It's no laughing matter when extremists who probably think AIDS is God's idea of thinning the herd are put in charge of our nation's response to the AIDS crisis.  Or when extremists who believe any kind of birth control is immoral are in a position to cut family planning funding for programs in poor countries where they're needed most. its scary and sad.

And it's no laughing matter when the same President of the United States who appointed these extremists and who allows them to dictate U.S. policy is almost certain to pick the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  And that could mean the end of Roe v. Wade.  And should that happen, the women and girls of Texas and across America would be thrust back into the dark ages.

Well, I don't know about you, but I think at age 30, Roe v. Wade is too young to die.  We have to stand up, speak out, and fight back!

When it comes to our fundamental rights, I believe what Thomas Moore says in his book "Care of the Soul"....  There is no "Other"... Everything wonderful in the world and everything difficult is shared by us all. If you're silenced for your beliefs ... then I cannot speak freely. If you're denied a voice in your government ... then I am gagged. If you're beaten, shackled, stripped of your humanity for the crime of being a woman ... then no woman can live without fear.

If I suffer ... and you turn your back ... you will only find that pain and suffering waiting for you at your doorstep. There is no OTHER... All of it ... belongs to all of "US."

So yes, the struggle for freedom is the same struggle, anywhere in the world.

That's how I propose we look at things.

You and I know that I'm not exaggerating. We know that the reality of women without choices is closer than ever.

I love the argument that the anti-choice extremists are doing all this because they value "life." No, not when they also oppose sex education and birth control, which would help prevent life threatening situations in the first place.

They virtually usher 15-year-old girls into unwanted pregnancies -- not to mention the threat of AIDS - by withholding valuable sex education that could build their self worth and save their lives.

If you are pro life, be pro the lives that are already here.

Don't say you value life when you exit stage left as soon as these "precious" babies are born, leaving them and their mothers without health care or financial support. Not when you judge these women and stigmatize them for their so-called "immoral" lifestyle. Not when you wash your hands of responsibility when the extremists among you pick up guns and use them. Value life?

If your respect for life stops at the bloody attacks of terror on abortion clinics, and its clients and providers, then you're about death, not life.

So, I'm here in Texas to honor all of you who are fighting to make sure these extremists do not succeed. I'm here to honor you who work the phones and faxes, who do the legwork, who educate and activate the public. I'm here to honor the women and men who make magic happen at the polls so the rest of us can go to sleep secure that we'll wake up in a country where no one can decide for a woman if and when to be a parent.

Your good work has put you so close to God that I bet you could turn this water into wine. (Although make mine a Bloody Mary...wine makes me sweat.) 

I don't have to tell you how important your efforts are. I don't have to tell you about the providers who are counting on you to be their advocates. In fact, there's nothing I can tell you that you don't already know. What I CAN do... is thank you.

Thank you on behalf of that young girl who has been molested by her father and has nowhere to turn.

Thank you on behalf of that 44-year-old woman with high blood pressure who's found herself unexpectedly pregnant.

Thank you on behalf of the ignored and uneducated women with no access to sex education or a sense of self.

And thank you on behalf of that 18-year-old college girl whose protection failed just as her soon to be ex-boyfriend was preparing to knock 'em dead in Godspell.

Please know from my heart that I am grateful to all of you for what you're doing.  I mean...I really don't know you...(well, I do know YOU but we were drunk what can I say)...no, I don't know you, but I do know this ... you are fighting the fight for a future where my daughter will not have to violate government restrictions to save her own life.  A future where my daughter will not be condescended to by politicians ... or by stuffy doctors with puffy haircuts and Kleenex.

A future where my daughter's choice will not be threatened by her desire to feel or to grieve.

A future where she will not be judged by those who presume to tell her how she should behave or how she is supposed to be.

And most crucially a future where my daughter will not have to endure an existence without the protection of Roe v. Wade.

I'm not one to quote quotables in my speeches ... you know. "Thoreau once said"...or "Charro once said"... But Gloria Steinem once wrote to me "Everything you do matters. A butterfly's wings change the weather": (Although my husband misread it as "Everything you do matters, A butterflies Urine changes the water")...kind of the same message . . . 

Everything we do matters and what you all are doing really matters...

Thank you so much Houston.  And Happy Roe v. Wade Day.  It's been an honor.


COPYRIGHTED BY KATHY NAJIMY

 

 

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