Author, activist Lindy West partners with Emma Goldman Clinic for annual fundraiser

Photo by Jenny Jimenez via Lindy West
Photo by Jenny Jimenez via Lindy West

Emma Goldman Clinic Choice Fundraiser

The Englert — Friday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m.

On Thursday, Jan. 5, House Speaker Paul Ryan made explicit the Republican plan to defund Planned Parenthood as part of their overall efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

On Monday, Jan. 9, it was clear at the opening of the Iowa legislative session that Iowa Republicans had their own intentions to take aim at Planned Parenthood.

On Thursday, Jan. 12, just before 1:30 a.m., the U.S. Senate approved the first steps towards dismantling the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, putting at risk nearly 20 million Americans served through the health care exchange.

These moves surprised exactly no one.

What these moves did, however, was underscore the urgency surrounding alternate treatment sources for lower-income Americans, especially women.

The Emma Goldman Clinic has been serving Iowa City in this capacity since 1973, seeing 1,400 unique clients each year, according an email exchange with board member Courtenay Bouvier, who is also on the clinic’s development committee, which plans its fundraising events. As written in its mission statement, the clinic exists “to empower women and men in all life stages through the provision of quality reproductive health care that includes abortion services, gynecology services, safer sex promotion and active education.”

These services are increasingly at risk. This is where the Emma Goldman Clinic’s yearly Choice Event comes in.

Now, in the face of both national and state plans to dismantle access, it’s crucial to raise awareness and money for low-income health options and women’s health issues in particular. The first Choice Dinner was held in 1994, and has hosted speakers such as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders; women’s rights activist, author and former University of Iowa professor Jael Silliman; and co-founder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Loretta Ross.

This year, they’re doing things a little bit differently. Instead of the dinner-and-speaker model in place for the last several years, the clinic is bringing in writer, film critic and body image activist Lindy West, who Bouvier calls, “a staunch feminist and activist for bodily autonomy,” and is moving the event to the Englert Theatre.

“We are hoping to draw a larger crowd, which the Englert can accommodate,” explained Bouvier, “and we are also expecting the event to be as entertaining as it is informative. A theater seemed like the most fitting venue for someone as entertaining as Lindy West is known to be.”

West — whose first book, Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, was released on Hachette last year — is known across the internet as bold and brash in all the best ways. In 2015, Jill Filipovic at Cosmopolitan called her “the ultimate internet troll slayer.” She is a fearless and relentless advocate for women on all platforms, but the internet is unquestionably her home base.

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She is co-founder, with Amelia Bonow and Kimberly Morrison, of the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign. Writing about it for The Guardian last year, she recalled, “Suddenly, … a thought bowled me over: I never, ever talk about my abortion … I write confessionally about myself for a living — so why is it that I never speak about abortion in anything beyond an abstract way, even with my closest friends?”

West went on to say how Bonow’s plainspeak Facebook post about her own abortion — “so obvious, so simple and so revolutionary” — stood in comparison to the “flimsy ouroboros of obfuscation” that was her own silence. So she took action. She shared the post on her Twitter feed and coined the hashtag that inspired so many women to take ownership of a silent part of their lives. #ShoutYourAbortion even spurred Vauhini Vara at The New York Times to wonder if “hashtag activism” could morph into an actual movement.

That’s the kind of force that West is. She sees, she acts, the world listens.

On Jan. 3, she took another bold, decisive step. In an article in The Guardian, she announced that she had quit Twitter, which had been a major platform for her over the past five years. “I’m pretty sure ‘ushered in kleptocracy’ would be a dealbreaker for any other company that wanted my business,” she wrote. “If my gynaecologist regularly hosted neo-Nazi rallies in the exam room, I would find someone else to swab my cervix.”

That move came on the heels of the departures of novelist Sherman Alexie (Jan. 1) and politics and culture writer Ta-Nehisi Coates (Jan. 2). The addition of West led to speculation, such as the suggestion from Paul Constant of the Seattle Review of Books that “it’s clear that Twitter is approaching a tipping point.”

As is typical for her, she made a very personal choice in a very public way, that had much broader implications.
All of this makes her a perfect match for the Emma Goldman Clinic’s annual fundraiser.

“[H]er attitude toward reproductive rights, sexuality, politics and feminism is brazen, enthusiastic and energetic,” said Bouvier. “She is outspoken and political in ways that complement both what we do at the clinic and what feminists have been fighting for for years.”

West’s performance at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City falls on Friday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. The clinic offers two tiers of ticket prices for the event, as it has for years. The standard ticket price is $60; student and low-income tickets are $25.

“Thanks to generous donations from local businesses, we are able to make the ticket cost tax-deductible,” said Bouvier. “This allows the entirety of the ticket prices to benefit the clinic.”

The ticket price goes to the deProsse Access Fund, which helps low-income clients cover the cost of care at Emma Goldman Clinic. Bouvier noted that the clinic is one of only about a dozen remaining members of the Feminist Abortion Network, a group of non-profit, independent health care providers.

“The independent nature of the clinic appeals to me, as I tend to prefer to offer my voice and support to entities that need these things most. People don’t often realize that an independent non-profit faces many of the same challenges, and also offers many of the same benefits, as an independently owned business, and I think it’s important to remind the community of this.”

What’s at stake?

We explore what the Emma Goldman Clinic’s directors feel are the biggest current threats to reproductive health in Iowa

Trump’s Reproductive Stance
On Nov. 20, Donald Trump will officially be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. He has made several statements that threaten the reproductive rights of women across the country. In a September 2016 letter to pro-life leaders, he promised, among other things, to sign into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, banning abortions after 20 weeks.

The Dismantling of the ACA
The impact of dismantling the Affordable Care Act will be felt keenly in Iowa, as well as across the country. According to data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the uninsured rate in Iowa dropped 46 percent since the passage of the ACA, meaning about 132,000 Iowans who are at risk of losing coverage as GOP plans to get rid of it proceed.

Defunding Planned Parenthood
This is hardly Congress’ first rodeo — attempts to defund Planned Parenthood have been passed before, and vetoed by the president before. In his January, 2016 veto, President Obama stated that defunding Planned Parenthood would “disproportionately impact low-income individuals.” There is no such likely veto on the horizon this time.

Supreme Court Appointments
Thanks to the historic GOP block of Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, at least one seat is available for Trump to fill as he wishes. With Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 83 and Stephen Breyer at 78, there’s a good chance that retirement might give him a second or third vacancy. During the third presidential debate, Trump answered a question about overturning Roe v. Wade by stating, “That’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”

Iowa Anti-Choice Legislation
Despite data from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland showing that less than three percent of the services performed there in fiscal year 2015 were abortions, the Iowa GOP went ahead with a plan to work towards defunding the organization. On Jan. 11, they officially declined to pay the $300,000 that would trigger $3 million dollars in federal funds for family planning.

The Impact of Jeff Sessions
On Jan. 11, Senator Cory Booker (D, NJ) became the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow senator in a confirmation hearing. His assertion? Jeff Sessions (R, AL) would not equally defend the safety of all Americans as Attorney General. If Sessions, who has called the ACLU “communist-inspired” and un-American,” were to fail to prosecute all crimes equally, that could have repercussions for the harassment and violence often faced at clinics across the country.

Genevieve Trainor wants each of you to take a step towards living your beliefs more truly and more loudly today. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 213.