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Unite Against the War on Women Rally – Speech by RI NOW President Carolyn Mark

April 28, 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. It is a great honor to be among so many women and men who are literally making history. I want to thank Lauren Neidel and the amazing women who have made this rally a reality here in Rhode Island. And I want to thank Karen Teegarden from Michigan and Desiree Jordan from New York for igniting the spark that has rekindled the women’s movement in this country.

I am Carolyn Mark, President of the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization for Women. We are a membership-based advocacy organization whose sole purpose is to take action to bring women into full equality in all aspects of their lives. We fight for reproductive justice, to end violence against women, for economic equity, to secure rights for our lesbian sisters and the rest of LGBT community, and to end racism.

I came to be President of RI NOW in a milestone year. It was the 40th anniversary of Griswold vs. Connecticut, when the Supreme Court struck down as a violation of privacy a Connecticut law that attempted to criminalize the use of birth control. It was also the 40th anniversary of the passing of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. It was the 40th anniversary of the founding of the National Organization for Women. And, coincidentally, it was my 40th birthday.  As a direct product of the modern day women’s rights movement, I realized several things:

  • That my whole life had been made possible by the women who came before me.
  • That they were the ones that ensured that I had access to birth control when I needed it. (And a mom who would be PROUD of me for using it.)
  • That they were the ones that made me think that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up.
  • That they were the ones that made it possible for me to EXPECT an even playing field for women.

But, I also realized a very sobering reality.

  • That, in many important ways, this country was moving in the wrong direction with respect to women’s rights. (And that was even before the current War on Women began!)
  • And, I realized that my OWN children were no longer going to be able to take for granted so many of the rights I was born having because of the courage of women who fought for those rights before and while I was in diapers.

In Washington, DC, and all around this country, the conservative right has been engaged in an all-out assault on our rights as women. If they have their way:

  • Women all across this country will have to undergo ultrasounds, 24 hour waiting periods and state-mandated, biased counseling before being able to exercise their right to access abortion services;
  • Women will not be able to get insurance coverage for abortion services, even if they buy that insurance with their own money.
  • Viagra will continue to be covered by insurance, but birth control pills will not.
  • Women will lose access to basic health care services because they will no longer be able to find a Planned Parenthood clinic to serve them.

And lest you think these things can’t happen in Rhode Island, think again. Our General Assembly is made up of more anti-choice legislators than many people realize, and every year we have to fight bills that would seriously erode our rights.

On April 13, I was about to head to the State House to attend a hearing in which many anti-choice bills were being heard at the General Assembly, including bills that would establish fetal personhood and mandate ultrasounds before a woman could obtain an abortion. Before leaving, I explained to my 10 year old daughter where I was going, and she asked me: “Mom, why do you care so much?” She is with me here today, and to her I want to say: I care because I want you to grow up in a world where you can be everything you want to be, to have the family you want to have when you want to have it, to be free from violence, to have every opportunity that your brother has to achieve and to be paid the same as a man doing the same job.  I care, because I want you to spend your life realizing your potential as a human being – not having to fight for your basic rights.

At so many moments in history, women have had to band together to stand up for our rights as women, from the original suffragists to those that marched over the last 50 years for civil rights, equal rights, equal pay, ending violence, and reproductive rights. And, here we are. On April 28, 2012, we are rallying again. Women and men in major cities in almost every state of these United States of America, are uniting together to call for an end to the War on Women. And the stakes are higher than ever. Never, in my lifetime, have I felt more at risk of losing so many of the gains we have made over the decades. And, so, together, we are saying “Enough is Enough”!

That’s right. Today, we are making history. Today will become known as the day when, collectively, we decided to take our country back.   When we said:

  • NO MORE to women being labeled as sluts for using birth control;
  • NO MORE to a media culture that degrades and devalues women;
  • NO MORE to the nearly 1 in 4 women in this country that have experienced intimate partner violence; or, the 1 in 5 women who have been sexually assaulted;
  • NO MORE to making 77cents on the dollar compared to men;
  • NO MORE to governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin who think they can quietly repeal the state’s Equal Pay Act and get away with it.
  • NO MORE to the government telling us who we can marry;
  • NO MORE to religious conservatives who want to dictate what we can and cannot do with our own bodies;
  • And, NO MORE to politicians who won’t stand up for our rights.

But, today is just the beginning. We need each and everyone one of you to speak out against injustice, to hold your elected officials accountable for their actions or inaction, and to commit yourselves to electing a president, a Congress, state leaders, and a General Assembly that truly reflect our values and will stand up for women. And, if we can’t find someone to vote for that can do that, than we need to run for office ourselves.

Thank you.

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