With New York legalizing gay marriage, more and more children will be exposed to same-sex couples (much to the chagrin of conservatives). Here is great video of one little boy's reaction to seeing his first gay couple -- watch how he figures things out:

 

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Progressives: Don’t Talk Turkey This Holiday Season

 one that shifts the conversation to the things you believe in.

Merry Thankschrismakuh! The holiday season of hollering about politics at, with, and around our beloved relatives is among us. In keeping with the season, it is appropriate, I think, that I begin this piece with a parable. A tale as old as time, a story we all know so well. Children are involved:

On Sunday morning, I had the pleasure of joining a panel of Texas political experts, party leaders, and writers for a discussion about the recent midterm elections at the fall Texas Junior State of America conference for high school students.

It was pretty cool. Students got to fill up the seats on the Texas House of Representatives floor, where our actual state reps sit in during our legislative session. They had the opportunity to ask questions of Will Hailer, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, and John McCord, the political director of the Republican Party of Texas.

They also got to see, live and in person, what happens when a Democrat tries to argue about facts with a Republican. This is where the tale-as-old-as-time part comes in. Or at least the tale as old as Texas Democrats losing every statewide race in the last two decades to Republicans.

In the course of the panel discussion, Hailer launched into a pointed criticism of Texas’ voter ID law and noted that a federal judge had called the law a racist “poll tax.” Not surprisingly, McCord jumped at the opportunity to refute Hailer’s claims, taking particular issue with a figure Hailer had mentioned—specifically, the number of people who didn’t have a valid photo identification when the voter ID law was passed. Then, of course, it was Hailer’s turn to explain his side.

Suffice to say that what ensued was a pretty predictable pissing match, with each guy jumping up to the microphone to address the other guy’s claims. Things got a little testy. A little awkward. And, frankly, kind of boring for a lot of people.

You will probably not be shocked to learn, for that matter, that Hailer wasn’t able to get McCord to concede the point he wanted him to concede: that the voter ID law is intended to disenfranchise minority voters. Instead, I watched a couple hundred politically motivated, go-getter high school eyes glaze over.

It was an instructive moment in a larger conversation about what progressives could do to encourage more Democrats and left-leaning voters to get out to the polls—something we’d discussed just minutes earlier on the same panel. And Hailer demonstrated precisely what doesn’t, and hasn’t, worked. He walked into the trap that liberals and progressives set for ourselves time and time again: He tried to use facts and logic to win a policy argument with a conservative. In the process, he lost the support—and the interest—of all the neutral potential allies standing by.

I want you to remember this throughout this holiday season, when you’re sitting down to break bread with your Tea Party uncle, your Republican aunt, or your libertarian cousin. You will never win the fights you have with these people, even if you ultimately “win” them. Hours, days, weeks later—however long it takes, you might eventually secure a grudging concession. But even if, under the best and most unlikely of circumstances, you eventually get your opponent, as it were, to agree to any part of your argument, you will have lost the ears of those around you—and a very important opportunity in the process.

What opportunity? The opportunity to stop talking about policy on conservative terms, and to shift the conversation to something more productive: offering affirmative progressive alternatives.

Sure, the Democrats in that audience on Sunday probably felt validated to hear Hailer say what was on their minds. I know I did. And no doubt the Republicans enjoyed seeing McCord refute his points; certainly McCord seemed pleased at the opportunity to tout the necessity of voter ID laws. But the debate was beneficial for us—people who already knew the answers we were looking for. It wasn’t for folks who are looking for something more relevant to their daily lives, like the high schoolers in the audience.

And I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t have discussions—even heated discussions—about voter ID, or any other political issue. I’m not saying that those topics don’t have an impact on folks’ everyday existence. They do. But although having these arguments is a necessary and important part of civic engagement, they rarely show unengaged voters a new path. Instead, they help people who have already made up their minds shore up their own points of view.

So this kind of dialogue, where folks are entrenched in their own beliefs and interested only in scoring points with the other side—if it can be called a “dialogue” at all—doesn’t advance the ball. At least, not in the meaningful way that Democrats need to advance it if, in Texas, they’re ever going to end the GOP domination of politics in a state with the lowest voter turnout in the country. People on the outside of these debates aren’t seeking “gotcha” points. They’re looking for reasons to vote for a person who espouses a policy that will help them in their daily lives. And I think a lot of what they hear when these conversations happen is something akin to Charlie Brown’s teacher: wooaaaahh waaaah waaaaaaaaah, with a Democratic or Republican accent.

Instead of getting into weedy and wonky arguments that put Republican policies and ideologies front-and-center, Democrats need to start a new conversation about what they’d like to see happen. We need to stop getting defensive, or putting Republicans on the defensive.

This holiday season—and, hell, in the months that follow—stop engaging in bad-faith debates about whether Republican policy is bad, and start talking about progressive solutions to the problems presented and magnified by right-wing legislators. There’s a fundamental disconnect that I see when progressives engage conservatives, and it has to do with the fact that we’re not engaging each other on the same basic terms. Liberals believe in battling systemic oppression perpetuated by the state, for example, in the form of things like voter ID laws and abortion restrictions; Republicans, on the other hand, couch these things as protecting fundamental freedoms.

We’re not on the same starting line. We’re not even playing on the same field when it comes to our respective political ideologies. When Democrats try to argue that voter ID laws are racist, or that abortion restrictions are meant to, well, restrict abortion access, they expect that Republicans are playing the same game. They’re not. They’re not even playing the same sport. And honestly, there are barely any spectators.

By contrast, we’ve seen that when Democrats propose progressive changes, or take bold stances on issues like abortion and immigration, the response is positive, and people who otherwise might not take an interest in politics get engaged and excited. We saw it in Texas at the state capitol during Wendy Davis’ filibuster. We’ve seen it in the days since Obama’s immigration reform announcement.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t criticisms to be made, or that every progressive is pleased with any given Democratic policy, but it shows people—potential voters who are exhausted by the talking-heads game and turned off by negative political advertising—that there’s more to politics than tit-for-tat exchanges that inevitably put Democrats on the defensive.

What if people like us simply said: I believe in ending private prisons, implementing a minimum wage increase, same-day voter registration, marriage equality, immigration reform, or affordable health care, and talked about why, and let those ideas simmer with our friends and loved ones?

Here’s what I suggest: if the conversation turns, over turkey, to the Fox News Headlines of the Day, refuse to engage. And y’all know this kind of thing is coming for you, because ole’ Uncle Tri-Corner Hat has already spent every day since last Thanksgiving thinking of new ways to get the mouthy feminist at the table all riled up over abortion again. Then he gets to give his impassioned lecture about the baybeeeees again, and you get to throw up your hands in frustration because that’s what happens when you try to argue with a self-aggrandizing brick wall.

I don’t mean refuse to speak. I don’t mean change the subject to the great Black Friday deals at Kohl’s tomorrow. I mean refuse to engage with the idea that you, as a progressive or a feminist or a liberal or a Democrat owe anyone, least of all Auntie Anchor Babies, a full accounting of your personal political beliefs.

Yes, talk about why you believe the things you do. But don’t feel obligated to respond to right-wing talking points that presume you’re the bad guy, that force you to defend positions you don’t have. Yes, Grandma They’re Taking Our Jobs thinks you want to chew the U.S. Constitution to tiny bits and grant asylum to serial killers. It’s tempting to try and refute those claims, because they feel so wrong and so hurtful. You know they don’t reflect your beliefs or your actions. Don’t give them the opportunity to entertain the idea in the first place.

What do we get at the end of these kinds of arguments, most of the time? Bad feelings, frustration, and antagonism. Maybe some validation. Maybe some more wine. What we don’t get are new conversations about solutions that might help people live more economically sound, healthier lives.

Have a look around at some proposals that Democrats have made in your particular geographic area. If you live in Texas, you can check out some of the bills that have already been filed in advance of the 84th Legislature coming up in January. Rep. Celia Israel has proposed a bill that would allow for electronic voter registration. Rep. Mary Gonzalez filed a bill that will lower the age requirement for participation in the Texas Women’s Health Program. A number of Democrats have proposed raising the minimum wage and starting universal pre-K programs for underprivileged and at-risk kids.

Talk about why you support these ideas. Talk about why you think they’re good for your city, your county, your state. Acknowledge that Cousin Pull Up Your Pants disagrees, and move on.

Because somebody at your table is dying to witness more than a pissing match that taints the gravy. Somebody at your table is dying to hear new alternatives, and they’re anxious to hear about them from someone they love.

Image: Shutterstock

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‘We Still Don’t Have Justice’: An Open Letter From Ferguson Protesters and Supporters

"For 108 days, we have continuously been admonished that we should 'let the system work,' and wait to see what the results are," protesters and supporters in Ferguson explain in their open letter. "The results are in. And we still don’t have justice."

Following Monday night’s grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, protesters and supporters in Ferguson, Missouri, released an open letter.

“For 108 days, we have continuously been admonished that we should ‘let the system work,’ and wait to see what the results are,” they explain. “The results are in.”

“And we still don’t have justice.”

Read the full letter here: The Results Are in Open Letter 11.24.14

Image: KTVU.com

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Walmart Hosts Food Drive for Its Own Employees

Walmart, for the second consecutive year, is holding a holiday food drive for its own employees. The retail giant has decided once again that instead of raising the wages of its 2.1 million employees, it will ask workers with a bit more disposable income to donate food to their associates with less.

Walmart, for the second consecutive year, is holding a holiday food drive for its own employees. The retail giant has decided once again that instead of raising the wages of its 2.1 million employees, it will ask workers with a bit more disposable income to donate food to their associates with less.

A Walmart store in Ohio gained national attention last year when it hosted a Thanksgiving food drive for workers who don’t make enough money at the store to buy food for dinners. About 825,000 hourly employees at Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, make less than $25,000 a year.

OUR Walmart, a union-backed organizing group, has estimated that most employees make less than $9 per hour.

An Oklahoma store this month is hosting a similar drive. A picture of a bin reading “Let’s succeed by donating to associates in need!!!” was posted to the Making Change Facebook page and attributed to a Walmart in the state.

The company is owned by the six members of the Walton family, who, in 2012 had a collective net worth of $90 billion, or more than the combined income of the lowest-earning 42 percent of Americans. That year, Walmart’s net sales added up to $419 billion, more than the GDP of Norway.

Walmart employees and labor justice groups have targeted the company for its low-wage jobs and lack of support for employees. Since 2012, Walmart workers and allies have organized one-day walkout protests, culminating in strikes during Black Friday, the largest retail event of the year, starting the day after Thanksgiving.

Democrats in the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce concluded in a 2013 study that Walmart’s low wages and benefits force its employees to turn to government aid and cost taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, every year.

Speaking out for better working conditions comes with a price; early this year, the National Labor Relations Board found that Walmart illegally fired, disciplined, or threatened at least 60 employees for complaining publicly about wages.

“The Walmart economy—a business model where a few profit significantly on the backs of the working poor and a diminishing middle class—perpetuates the income inequality problems that are devastating our country,” OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement Monday.

The supplementing of Walmart workers comes during a national economic recovery fueled mostly by low-paying jobs. And it’s a recovery that has left many groups behind.

The unemployment rates from August to September went down about a full percentage point for African-American women (down from 10.6 to 9.6 percent), Hispanic women (down from 8.1 to 7.2 percent) and Hispanic men (down from 5.9 to 4.8 percent), and single mothers (down from 9.3 to 8.3 percent).

Image: Shutterstock

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Temple University Facing Scrutiny for Cosby Ties, Title IX Sexual Assault Complaints

Bill Cosby has been an active member of the Temple community and a significant donor, and is a member of the school's board of trustees. Temple is also one of 55 colleges under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for allegedly mishandling students' sexual assault claims under Title IX.

Bill Cosby has donated millions and been involved with myriad charitable organizations over his decades-long career. Yet few organizations are publicly distancing themselves in the wake of sexual assault allegations made against the comedian and former sitcom star, which have both increased in number and received a greater amount of media attention in recent weeks.

At least 13 women have said publicly that Cosby sexually assaulted them, including several who have come forward over the past week alone, while nine others have made similar allegations anonymously.

A defiant Cosby has largely responded to these allegations with silence.

The allegations have led some larger companies to cancel projects and appearances tied to Cosby: NBC cancelled a comedy special that was under development, and TV Land will stop airing reruns of The Cosby Show, while Netflix indefinitely postponed a Cosby stand-up comedy special.

But colleges and charitable organizations that are affiliated with Cosby have, for the most part, not responded in the same way.

This is perhaps most notable at Temple University, home to the Camille and Bill Cosby Scholarship in Science and where Cosby has in other ways been an active member of the campus community, a significant donor, and a member of the school’s board of trustees. As the Washington Post reported this weekend, Andrea Constand, the school’s former basketball operations director, who had gotten to know Cosby in his capacity as a supporter of the school’s basketball team, sued Cosby in 2005, alleging sexual assault; she is the only person so far to file suit against Cosby for sexual assault.

Constand and Cosby settled their case, which at the time “largely made the Cosby story go away,” as the Post reports.

The topic of sexual assault at Temple has recently resurfaced for a very different reason: Temple is one of 55 colleges under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for allegedly mishandling students’ sexual assault claims, which is a violation of the Title IX federal statute. Temple was cited for a Title IX violation in 2007, and promised to reform its policies.

The university seems to be standing behind Cosby; when asked for comment by RH Reality Check, the college responded by email and said only that “Bill Cosby remains a member of the Temple University Board of Trustees.” However, faculty at the college are raising questions about that decision.

“Given the very disturbing history of women who have been sexually assaulted having their credibility doubted and given how many women have come forward [to accuse Cosby] both in the past and now, I think the board of trustees should think hard about Mr. Cosby’s status and not wait on the courts to have that discussion,” Steve Newman, an associate professor of English and acting president of the faculty union, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Harmony Rodriguez, one of the Title IX complainants at Temple, told RH Reality Check that because of her experienced with Temple University’s “hostile environment,” she was not surprised by the decision made by campus officials.

“Temple has a major problem with gendered violence, including rape, that they address only with platitudes and bluster,” Rodriguez said. “[Cosby] fits in perfectly with frat boys, athletes, professors, and other serial rapists and abusers that are given sanctuary at Temple University.”

She said Temple officials have repeatedly vowed to “fight sexual assault,” but allowing Cosby to continue his association with the college has caused her to question the school’s dedication to that fight.

“They’re not dedicated at all,” said Rodriguez. “Temple University doesn’t stand with survivors, it stands with rapists and abusers, so it fits their M.O. perfectly to keep Cosby on the board of trustees.”

Meanwhile, a Change.org petition posted Monday is calling for Temple to drop Cosby from its board.

Other schools and organizations that have benefited from Cosby’s largesse have similarly declined to address the allegations.

Cosby donated $20 million to Spelman College in 1989—money that was used to construct the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby, Ed.D. Academic Center and create the the $4 million program called the William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship in Fine Arts.

Spelman College officials declined to respond to RH Reality Check’s request for comment on whether the college would continue the program and keep Cosby’s name on the academic facility. “Spelman College has no comment on the Bill Cosby matter,” a spokesperson said in an email.

Cosby earned master’s and doctorate degrees in education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In the years since has had significant involvement on campus including often leading student discussions. When asked for comment, a spokesperson said in an email that “the university is not commenting on the matter.”

“UMass Amherst having ‘No Comment’ on Bill Cosby’s allegations seems to be an attempt to ‘stay out of it,'”Liz Mungovan, Vice President of the Coalition to End Rape Culture (CERC) at UMass Amherst told RH Reality Check.

Mungovan said that the unwillingness of the university to speak out “speaks volumes” about the university’s commitment to help survivors of sexual violence. “By refusing to comment, UMass is silencing the survivors who attend the university,” Mungovan said. “Institutions remaining silent in the face of rape allegations perpetuates an environment where survivors’ stories are not being heard, validated or legitimized.”

St. Frances Academy is a Catholic school that serves mostly low-income high school students in the Baltimore area. Cosby is the largest donor in the school’s history, and the Drs. Camille and Bill Cosby Community Center was named in his and his wife’s honor.

St. Frances has not responded to RH Reality Check’s request for comment on the allegations.

Prevent Child Abuse America is a national organization that works to prevent instances of abuse and neglect around the country. Cosby was previously a member of the group’s National Honor Board, but his name has since been removed from that list. It is unclear when he name was scrubbed from the group’s website, but Cosby was mentioned as a member of the board as recently as December 2013.

When asked for comment, James M. Hmurovich, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America, said in an email only that Cosby “has been removed from the Prevent Child Abuse America Honorary Board”; he declined to say why.

Jumpstart is an early education organization that uses college students to serve children in low-income neighborhoods. Cosby has been involved with the organization for the past few years, mostly consisting of promotional appearances for Jumpstart’s “Read for the Record” program.

Jumpstart declined to comment for this story.

Cosby is a member of the board of directors of both the V Foundation and the anti-union group StudentsFirst; neither organization has responded to RH Reality Check’s request for comment.

The Berklee College of Music did withdraw Cosby’s sponsorship of Berklee Online, as reported in the International Business Times. “With the best of intentions for our student population at heart, we’re going to withdraw Mr. Cosby’s scholarship while things get sorted out,” Allen Bush, Berklee College of Music spokesman, told the Times.

Image: Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com

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‘Personhood’ Leader: Localize the Fight Against Abortion Rights

A leading "personhood" activist, in the wake of repeated losses, is advocating for his allies to focus on municipal measures instead of statewide initiatives. And a national anti-choice group, launched in October, has announced plans to do  just that.

A leading advocate for “personhood” laws—a backdoor approach to outlawing abortion—lamented in a recent op-ed that “the statewide personhood ballot measure is dead for now,” after voters rejected “personhood” measures in Colorado and North Dakota.

But in his LifeSiteNews opinion piece, Gualberto Garcia Jones, who authored Colorado’s failed 2014 personhood initiative, didn’t advise his fellow anti-choice activists to give up the cause of pushing ballot initiatives aimed at banning abortion by granting legal rights to zygotes (fertilized eggs).

Garcia Jones made the case that his allies should forgo statewide votes and place personhood proposals on municipal ballots, chipping away at abortion rights on a much smaller scale. This comes after the third rejection of personhood measures in Colorado.

In a news release last month, the Personhood Alliance, an anti-choice organization run by ardent anti-abortion activists from around the country, announced plans to do just that.

Launched this year and claiming member organizations in Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin, the Personhood Alliance aims to insert anti-choice language in local “ordinances and codes,” according to the news release, which points to local efforts in Alabama, New Hampshire, and Mississippi as examples of what its future activism might look like.

“Local laws deal with many powers that touch upon the personhood of the preborn, from local health and building codes to local law enforcement such as child abuse prevention,” Garcia Jones, policy director for the Personhood Alliance, wrote in his opinion piece. “It is time to establish the recognition of universal human personhood into these laws.”

“Even at the local level, where anti-abortion groups tried to ban abortion at 20 weeks in Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters upheld the value that women should be making their own health-care decisions in consultation with their doctor and their family and without government interference,” Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told RH Reality Check. “The fact that the proponents of personhood measures claim that they will continue to push their extreme political agenda on voters despite being defeated time and time again demonstrates a true failure to respect that voters have spoken, time and time again to protect a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortion services.”

Voters defeated a municipal ballot measure last November in Albuquerque that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. Twenty-week abortion bans are considered some of the most extreme anti-choice measures, and one the U.S. Senate could consider in 2015.

In his opinion piece, Garcia Jones, who did not return an email seeking comment, acknowledged his repeated defeats. “As it is, the crushing defeat of the North Dakota amendment and the lackluster improvement in Colorado should make Personhood supporters stop to think about the strategy going forward,” he wrote. “Right now, fighting the abortion industry at the state level is akin to having lined up a battalion of colonists against the well-trained and well-armed redcoats.”

He conceded that voters in metropolitan areas roundly reject the radical right-wing views of personhood supporters, leaving personhood activists no choice but to engage “the enemy in municipalities and counties that we know we control.”

“The personhood movement has fought honorably and maintained the standard of the sanctity of life, but it is time to switch up the strategy,” Garcia Jones wrote.

Pro-choice activists said they are preparing for the ultra-local fight about to be waged by personhood extremists, and they’re confident that voters will strike down ballot initiatives in municipalities as readily as they did on the state level.

“Because of the overwhelming and repeated defeats of so called ‘Personhood’ measures at the state level, we believe they will be defeated at the municipal level as well,” Cristina Aguilar, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, told RH Reality Check via email. “We’ve already seen municipal defeats in Albuquerque where our Latino community came out powerfully against the measure. In any event, we welcome the opportunity to use these municipal efforts to expose the fact that what these measures are really about is creating the basis for punishing pregnant women, new mothers and taking away their ability to make personal and private decisions.”

Image: PersonhoodUSA/Youtube

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New Research on How to Support Abortion Storytellers

This week, we released Saying Abortion Aloud, a report and set of recommendations for those sharing their personal abortion stories publicly and the advocates who support them.

Sharing stories has long been a method of communication and culture change for social justice movements. It allows our movements’ oppressed and vulnerable to speak their truth, often when they have no capital or power. It can be difficult to do, in particular when the story they’re sharing is one deeply entrenched in stigma, and is often met with hate, harassment, and isolation. All too often, people become fed up with the narratives told about them, and the weight of keeping that secret is far heavier and outweighs that of speaking out. Sharing an abortion story publicly is no different.

In our recent research of people who share their abortion stories publicly, this was one of the main reasons many chose to speak out: to change the narrative, fight for their political power, and make their voices heard. But all too often, the storytellers were nervous to speak out publicly. They found themselves asking questions like: Who will have my back? How can I get the support I need from organizations in the movement? What can advocates do to ensure that I have a safe and supported experience?

This week, we released Saying Abortion Aloud, a report and set of recommendations for those sharing their personal abortion stories publicly and the advocates who support them. The recommendations are based on both qualitative and quantitative data from 39 survey respondents and 13 in-depth interviews—eight with experienced public abortion storytellers and five with storytellers and advocates in the HIV, LGBT, sexual assault, and teen pregnancy and parenting fields.

We limited the survey to public abortion storytellers, which we defined as “sharing in an outlet or event that is accessible to the general public for attendance and comment. This includes public workshops or events, articles and videos in the media, political office visits and testimony, and public education campaigns about abortion experiences.” The reason we focused on public abortion story-sharing is because it’s a type of sharing where the storyteller isn’t always in control where the story goes, who hears it, or how it gets used. It can be used against them at work or in certain communities, so there’s a big risk in sharing.

We sent out an open call on social media and listservs for people to fill out the survey, and the results were amazing. We were pleasantly surprised that 33 percent of our respondents were from the South, often an underrepresented area in abortion story discussions; another 21 percent were from the Midwest. We even had three people respond from outside the United States. Of our 39 respondents, 22 (56 percent) identified as white, four as Black, six as Latina, one as Middle Eastern, one as Asian, and four as mixed race; one declined to answer. While we know this isn’t representative of those who have abortions, or even those who share their stories publicly, this is the first survey we know of that collected data about public abortion storytellers. We also know that there’s an inherent privilege in being able to be public about abortion, thus our lack of racial diversity was somewhat expected. A total of 38 survey respondents identified as cisgender women, while one person identified as non-binary.

We also asked about respondents’ experiences with sharing their abortion stories publicly, working with organizations, responses from family and friends, support and self-care, and harassment. These findings were critical in shaping our recommendations in Saying Abortion Aloud.

Our survey respondents experienced both positive and negative feedback after sharing. Surprisingly, the positive had more of an impact on them than the negative. Almost 70 percent noted that when they received positive responses, it helped them feel better about their story-sharing experience. They reported feeling good about positive anonymous responses, in particular from those who had also had abortions, as well as family and friends.

The respondents also noted they were worried about negative reactions from family and friends, and harassment—both on- and offline. This became crucial when deciding whether to share again, because they weren’t sure if they would have support from the organization with which they were sharing. One respondent noted, “Organizations want me to speak up [about my abortion], but they don’t have any mechanisms for protecting people who do speak up.”

Over 40 percent of respondents said that they received little or no support from the organization with which they partnered; a few respondents said they didn’t know they could ask for it. One respondent noted that she felt nervous to admit she didn’t know how to do what the organization was asking of her, and she was afraid to ask because she didn’t want anyone to laugh at her. To deal with harassment, anxiety and self-doubt about sharing, and community reactions, respondents noted that they employed coping mechanisms like finding friendly support, talking to a counselor or therapist, and meditation or prayer. Even though respondents faced challenges when sharing their stories, 92 percent said they would continue talking about their abortions in public.

Almost 60 percent of respondents said that they were not sure of the kind of support they would want from an organization, but did note that media training, support in writing their story, support groups, and ongoing engagement would be a great start. To help facilitate this conversation between storytellers and organizations interested in working with abortion storytellers, we developed a set of recommendations based on our findings.

Storytellers must know that they can ask organizations for help writing their testimony, as well as for more information on how an event will be run and who their main point of contact is. This ensures that the process is clear and transparent. Storytellers can also ask organizations for media support, and that includes fielding media requests, monitoring anti-choice sites for vitriol, and helping in reporting harassment. This helps to reduce challenges when sharing an abortion story.

Based on our findings, storytellers believe that everyone should know that their story is simply that: theirs. They are in control of how, when, and where it’s told. We also heard from storytellers that they would like some sort of compensation for the work they do for an organization. Storytellers should not be paying out of pocket to support the organization’s mission, if they don’t want to. Organizations should offer an honorarium, or travel stipend, to cover the storyteller’s time. Storytelling is work and it should be valued as such. Additionally, just because a storyteller shared their story once, doesn’t mean they have to share again. They can take breaks and say no at any point.

When we asked storytellers what support they wanted from organizations, they said that they wanted their full stories to be honored. Abortion stories can be complex—storytellers must be allowed to share as much or as little of their story as they like. Stories should not be manipulated for mission-sake. They also noted that they wanted organizations to recognize the intersectionality of their identities and how they all impact their abortion experience. Identities might include, but are not limited to: their race, ethnicity, or nationality; their sexuality, gender identity or expression; their religion; their class background, family, citizenship status, mental illness, disabilities, intimate partner violence, sexual assault or abuse, substance use; and their other pregnancy experiences. If a storyteller wants to talk about these identities as part of their story, they should not be censored. It’s part of who they are.

When preparing storytellers, advocates should offer to help storytellers hone their stories, speak in front of audiences or the media, or even assist in composing a tweet about the speak-out. Storytellers also wanted organizations to help them manage their privacy. Advocates should also ask what types of support the storyteller would like: security at events, monitoring their name on the Internet, using a pseudonym, handling media, or reporting incidents to authorities. Storytellers must know they are not alone, and that we have their backs. After sharing, storytellers often want additional information on ways to get involved. Advocates should continue engagement to harness their power for social change; storytellers are true assets to our community.

Abortion storytellers are crucial to culture change. Their work isn’t easy, yet it creates beautiful change. We believe that they deserve to have their stories honored and their work protected. We asked them what they needed—and they have spoken. It is our hope that the Saying Abortion Aloud data and set of recommendations will help facilitate the beginning of an ongoing conversation between advocates and storytellers.

Image: Shutterstock

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Ohio’s Extremist Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Ban Headed to House Floor

HB 248, which represents at least the second time Ohio has tried to pass a heartbeat ban, was pushed hastily to a vote in the House Health and Aging Committee.

An Ohio legislative committee on Thursday passed a bill that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. HB 248 was approved by the the House Health and Aging Committee with an 11-6 vote, and will now move to the house floor.

So-called heartbeat bans, which restrict abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, are some of the most extreme anti-abortion policies in the country. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant and several months before a fetus is considered viable—the cut-off set by Roe v. Wade in protecting access to abortion. So heartbeat bans essentially make the vast majority of abortions illegal.

Legal precedent for a similar ban shows that Ohio’s far-reaching abortion regulation—pushed by the most radical elements of the state’s GOP—likely won’t pass constitutional muster.

HB 248, which represents at least the second time Ohio has tried to pass a heartbeat ban, was pushed hastily to a vote in the house committee. The bill was added at the very last minute to the committee’s Thursday calendar and was scheduled for a quick vote. Republican state leaders also altered the committee members to make the committee more friendly to the extremist bill, replacing moderate Republicans expected to vote against HB 248 with those in favor of the legislation.

Ohio in 2011 became the first state to try and pass a fetal heartbeat ban when it introduced HB 125, but the bills have since gained popularity in state legislatures. Bills like HB 125 have been introduced in Michigan, Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Even some anti-choice activists oppose heartbeat bans, which they consider extreme versions of the more popular 20-week abortion bans. The only state to successfully enact such a ban is North Dakota, but a federal judge in April permanently struck down the law, calling it “invalid and unconstitutional.”

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For Immigrants After Obama’s Executive Order, Mix of Joy, Sorrow, Determination

Juan Carlos Ramos gives an emotional speech to fellow immigrants and advocates about continuing the fight to protect his parents from deportation.

Read more of our coverage about the Obama administration and immigration reform here.

Dozens of immigrants and activists gathered at the Washington, D.C., offices of United We Dream on Thursday to hear what President Obama would say to the nation about their families and their community.

They already had some sense of what they would hear; the details of the plan had been released to advocates ahead of time.

They knew that Obama’s new executive order will give nearly five million immigrants a three-year reprieve from the daily fear of being deported and torn from their families.

They knew that those five million people would be able to apply for work permits and even get driver’s licenses, although they still wouldn’t qualify for the affordable health-care access that would lift more of them out of poverty and help their mothers care for their families.

They also knew that only some of their mothers, sisters, neighbors, and friends would be safe.

They had already made some emotional phone calls to people they knew: Good news, the president is going to announce something today that will change your life. Or, too often, I’m so sorry. We hoped for better, but your father won’t qualify after all.

Most of the newly protected immigrants, about four million, are the parents of U.S. citizens or green card holders.

Another 270,000 are so-called DREAMers who came to this country as children. The president will expand his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to people who are now over 30 and who came to the country between 2007 and 2010, but the cutoff age for having first crossed the border is still 16.

Those technical changes mean everything for Juan Carlos Ramos. He crossed the border with his brother in 2008, too late to qualify for DACA when it first came out in 2012.

He still volunteered to help sign people up as soon as he heard that the program existed, six days after his high school graduation. His activism meant constant painful small talk about whether he had applied for the program himself yet, but he was determined to help others achieve what he couldn’t.

Ramos, who was 15 when he came to the United States, now can finally sign up for the program himself. But his brother can’t; he was already 16 on the day they crossed the border.

Their parents can’t get relief either. Advocates had pushed hard for the parents of DREAMers to be included in the president’s action, but they didn’t make the cut.

The speech itself was more powerful and empathetic than some had expected. There was the usual boilerplate about people who break the laws needing to pay their taxes and get to the back of the line—a frustrating line of argument for many taxpaying undocumented immigrants who have had years-long bureaucratic headaches trying to apply for citizenship.

But Obama also made a strong moral case for doing what he can to help immigrants as long as Congress won’t. He appealed to scripture in saying, “My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once too.” He challenged America to be a nation that values families, not one that “accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms.” He called for deporting “felons, not families; criminals, not children.”

It was a deeply affecting speech, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez told RH Reality Check. The part that really touched him, he said, was “when the president acknowledged that we exist. When the president acknowledged that we contribute. When the president said that our families should not be ripped apart, that we deserve dignity, that we deserve to stay in this country.”

After the speech concluded, the United We Dream watch party attendees put their arms around each other’s shoulders and erupted into a familiar chant from their days protesting in the streets or holding sit-ins in congressional offices.

I am! Somebody! And I deserve! Full equality! Right here! Right now!

But more of the aftermath was near-silence, punctuated by sniffles around the room as people wept, comforted each other, and listened to people tell their stories.

They talked about the fears they could now be free of, the fears they were still burdened by, the dreams they may never realize or the dreams they could finally pursue.

Ramos collapsed into tears talking about his parents, and the room filled with supportive snaps while he tried to regain his composure and a friend came up to comfort him.

“They have always been there for me,” he said finally. “And I know that I will continue fighting for them and for my brother, whoever needs it, no matter who we have to talk to, if I have to stay up late doing whatever work we need to do, but we’re going to do it.”

He also dreams of becoming an architect one day and building his parents’ house, he told RH Reality Check.

Beatriz Perez, a mother of four, told the crowd in Spanish how much she celebrated in 2012 when her two undocumented children qualified for deportation relief under DACA.

Now she has even more reason to celebrate; her other children are citizens, so now she can come out of the shadows.

“Thank God that it affects me, because I’ve been here for 21 years without being able to get a driver’s license or being able to walk down the street without being afraid,” she said.

It didn’t dawn on Elena Calderon at first that the new order meant her undocumented father was safe. She’s a DACA recipient and the youngest of five, and she actually forgot that her older brother had managed to become a citizen.

One of Calderon’s earliest memories is of her father carrying her across the border as a 3-year-old because she was too small to run, of crouching to hide from the border patrol while her mother held rosary beads and prayed.

Her father was the only member of her immediate family not to qualify for protection through legal status or DACA; now, finally, all his risk and sacrifice would mean something for him too.

Still, Calderon can’t stop thinking about the families who aren’t as fortunate as hers. “You want to celebrate, but at the same time you can’t stop thinking about everyone else who is being left out,” she said.

Emotions were both high and profoundly mixed in the room for this reason. Everyone had worked hard, everyone had struggled, everyone had seen the harms that the country’s broken immigration system had visited on their community. Only some of them would benefit personally.

But those who grieved for themselves or their families refused to let that grief overtake the joy of those who would finally be protected. They couldn’t. They had worked too hard, for the entire community and not just for themselves, and they knew there was still plenty of fight ahead.

Ray Jose, a 24-year-old undocumented immigrant and DACA recipient from the Philippines, has spent a lot of time away from his family over the last year or two because of his work with United We Dream. He told RH Reality Check that the executive order is a bittersweet victory for him since his parents still won’t qualify.

But the whole reason Jose’s family came to the United States, he said, was to help him and his sister pursue their dreams. He thought his dream would come through a college education, but campus activism with other undocumented youth set him on an unexpected path.

“My dad told me, ‘God has plans.’ And although he’s not included in this one right now, that he’s proud of me. He’s happy that I’m doing this work, because it’s what I’m meant to do,” Jose said.

Image: Dante Atkins

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Abortion Speak-Outs Can Combat Our Own Stigma Too