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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Those who have been in the desert less than 15 years or so don’t remember when the anniversary of Roe v. Wade prompted anti-abortion and pro-choice counter-demonstrations along a major intersection in Palm Desert every year. Or the 1992 Desert Lights for Choice candlelight vigil along Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, when pro-choice supporters lined up three deep from Tahquitz Canyon Way to Alejo Road. Or the besieged abortion clinic in Palm Desert where local activists walked women through shouting protesters and helped keep the doors open.

Many of us have become blasé about the right to decide for oneself whether and when to birth a child. Some 42 years after the Supreme Court decision in Roe, it seems unthinkable that the constitutional right to own your own body, including whether to end an unwanted or problem pregnancy, could be revoked. Statistics indicate that about 50 percent of women will at some point in their lives experience an unwanted pregnancy, and one in three American women will have an abortion by age 45.

I was 17, single and pregnant, before Roe. I was given three choices: Go into a home for unwed mothers and get rid of the baby; go to a sanitarium and get my head shrunk; or marry the man involved, leave him immediately, and then be allowed to come home. I chose the head-shrinking and gave the baby up for adoption.

My experience was not unique. In high school, some girls “went to visit their aunt” for a while, unable to stay in school if pregnant. Many of my girlfriends got married quickly after getting pregnant. Some had illegal abortions. Some opted for adoption and spent their lives wondering, as I did, whether the decision had really been the right one for the child.

After Roe, I once again found myself facing the choice of ending an unwanted pregnancy, based on failed contraception. That time—already divorced and raising twins on my own—I opted to terminate the pregnancy. I have never doubted that it was the right decision for me at the time.

I was reminded of all that at the screening of a movie, Obvious Child, presented by Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, the Desert Stonewall Democrats and the Tolerance Education Center in Rancho Mirage on this year’s Roe anniversary. About 60 people saw this movie, which follows a feisty young woman struggling with how to deal with an unplanned, unexpected and unwanted pregnancy.

Before the film, Elizabeth Romero, local director of community and public relations for Planned Parenthood, introduced the co-sponsors. Ruth Debra, president of Desert Stonewall, unexpectedly walked up on the stage, took the mic—and spoke publicly for the first time about her own experience with illegal abortion.

It was a heartfelt and intensely personal statement. “No one should EVER have to go through what I did,” she said.

The film is not going to win any Oscars, and some in the audience were uncomfortable with the coarse language. However, it does explore how difficult it can be to decide whether to have an abortion, and shows the kind of support any woman needs while going through the experience. I admit to tears when the young woman in the film finally tells her mother, who then shares her own story of an abortion at 17.

I finally told my mother when I realized she had begun advocating for pro-choice policies and would be able to understand. She confided to me, before her recent death, that her greatest regret was that she didn’t take a stand vis-à-vis my father so that I might not have needed to give up my first-born son. (My son and I were happily reunited about 10 years ago—but not all such stories end well.)

Life is complicated. Pro-choice advocates need to acknowledge that there are too many unwanted pregnancies, and that what is being aborted is, in fact, living human tissue. We all need to support comprehensive sex education in the schools, and men need to educate boys about their role in all of this. Contraception and prevention are not exclusively the responsibility of women, but gestating that fetus is.

Anti-abortion advocates need to recognize that if abortion is once again made illegal, it won’t stop abortion—it will just take us back to when women resorted to any means necessary to address the problem, and all too often died as a result. How “pro-life” can you be if you’re willing to sacrifice women’s lives?

Republican leaders, after their recent takeover of Congress, have talked about the need to prove they can govern, not just oppose, and to appeal to women voters, especially in light of Gallup’s findings that in every category—single women, married women, divorced women—the political gender gap is real and persistent. Yet one of the first things the House did was try to push through the so-called Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks—regardless of reason (assuming a woman should have to give a reason). They also wanted to reclassify what constitutes rape as an exception, a move that went too far even for Republican female members of the House, who pointed out the vote “could threaten the party’s efforts to reach out to women and young people” who clearly do not support such restrictions.

Pregnancy is not a punishment, whether it happens to an underage young woman preyed upon by an older man, or a prostitute, or a young wife expected to push out a baby per year, or an older woman who cannot afford another child, or one who got pregnant because she didn’t insist on contraception, or a woman wanting to escape an abusive relationship, or one who finds out her wanted fetus has catastrophic deficiencies and that a continued pregnancy may mean she can never again have children—or for any other reason particular to each woman’s life.

If you don’t support abortion, don’t choose to have one. But if you are one of the many women who has made that difficult choice or supported another in that choice, heed the words of Katha Pollitt, a feminist activist and writer, who recently wrote: “Why are we so afraid to talk about it—or to acknowledge that our lives would have been so much less than we hoped for without it? Why are we pressured to feel that we should regret our choice, and that there's something wrong with us if we don't?”

In a new play, Out of Silence, produced by the 1 in 3 Campaign, one character says, “I, too, had an abortion that I do not regret. Sometimes I think that I should feel remorse or shame, but I don't. Still, I don't talk about it with anyone."

Own your own history. Share your stories. You’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On this week's healthy Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson suggests gifts for the unvaccinated; The K Chronicles yearns for the days of art patronage; The City checks in on recent efforts by the culture warriors; and Red Meat does some vacation planning.

Published in Comics

Although sexual orientation and dirty-trick campaigning have dominated the headlines regarding the Rancho Mirage City Council election, to my mind, there is a more interesting issue that has emerged: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents?

Councilmember Dana Hobart recently made that assertion, casting Councilmember Scott Hines as “younger … (with) just ambition.”

Hines attended the Air Force Academy, earning a degree in political science in 1992, and then master’s degrees in public management from the University of Maryland, and organizational management from George Washington University. With more than 20 years of business and entrepreneurial experience, he is hardly a kid.

Hobart served in the Air Force for four years, then graduated from California State University and earned a juris doctorate from the USC School of Law in 1963. In addition to a long legal career and positions of prestige within the legal community, he successfully argued a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1976. 

Assuming these are both honorable men who want to serve their community, why would age even be a factor? Do older residents only want to see people their own age elected?

Here’s what I’m wondering: Is it time for the younger generations to take over? Remember that old saying, “Never trust anyone over 30”?

Although Hines is well beyond millennial age, a recent poll by Pew Research Center sheds some light on the ongoing conflicts between the generations. 

“Millennials,” defined as people between the ages of 18 and 33 by Pew, have very different views of traditional cultural norms and institutions. The underlying struggle to redefine our society is taking place throughout the country at all levels.

A recent column in The New York Times by Charles M. Blow, discussing the Pew findings, got me thinking. Yes, there is value in the wisdom we hope to have developed over many years of experience, but there is also value in accepting that society’s norms have already changed in important ways, and public policies must adjust to reflect those changes.

For example, 69 percent of millennials believe that marijuana use should be made legal, while only 32 percent of the so-called “silent generation” (those 68 and older) support legalization (although even that number has almost doubled since 2002). On the issue of whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, 68 percent of millennials support such rights, compared to only 38 percent of the silent generation.

Millennials also largely believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (68 percent), and that immigrants in the country illegally should be allowed to stay and eventually apply to become citizens (55 percent). 

In the Coachella Valley, particularly the western and central parts, we tend to think of the local population as made up of many retirees. However, according to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), in 2011, only about 30 percent of valley residents were 55 or older.

Does that mean almost 70 percent of our residents are not having their interests represented when elected officials are from older generations?  Not necessarily. For example, in Rancho Mirage, more than half of the population is 60 or older. Yet, it is worth considering that elected officials are supposed to not only manage current realities, but plan for the future viability of their communities. That may require attitudes and philosophies that encompass the cultural changes we are already experiencing.

Local officials have to consider policy approaches that are necessary for their communities to be seen as welcoming to younger generations. At the national level, “the young-old partisan voting gaps in 2008 and 2012 were among the largest in the modern era,” said Blow. So if Rancho Mirage is largely made up of older people, does that mean their City Council representatives should disdain appealing to younger people? Not if they want their city to survive.

When I first moved to the Coachella Valley in 1985, I remember thinking that all the service employees who worked in local cities—waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms, maintaining golf courses, working in sales, etc.—could not possibly afford to live in the cities where they were employed, and thus had less invested in making those cities sustainable. I remember when, in 1988, Indian Wells, which then boasted one of the highest per-capita incomes in the state, sought an exemption from having affordable housing built within their city’s borders. Thankfully, they lost that battle, thanks to a veto by the then-Republican governor.

The Pew poll showed that millennials are more racially diverse and less disapproving of government services. They are experiencing higher student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income. However, they are the future, and we need to incorporate their attitudes and needs if we hope to sustain our communities.

So, the question remains: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents? Should age trump “ambition”? When Hobart was younger, wasn’t he ambitious?

As Blow puts it: “One might argue that millennials simply haven’t lived long enough to hit the triggers that might engender more conservatism … but it could just as well be that this group of young people is fundamentally different.” 

Is it perhaps time that older folks recognize that younger generations have something to offer as a balance, with a new approach to “the way we’ve always done it.” Our future will be as different from today as today is from the “traditional values” of a mere 50 years ago—a time that some in the older generation still cling to as what should be “normal.” Without that balance, and those new ways of looking at our culture and our institutions, we are only stalling the inevitable.

Maybe it’s time for older folks, myself included, to just get out of the way. Those with experience should teach, mentor and advise—but let younger generations lead.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On this week's sporty Independent comics page: The City bemoans the ammunition that HealthCare.gov has given to the Tea Party; Red Meat tries to survive the winter; Jen Sorenson examines political Trojan horses; and The K Chronicles pays tribute to the Boston Red Sox.

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There are some things we don’t readily share with friends and neighbors—like having paid one’s way through college by dancing around a pole. Or that romance with the golf pro. Or the nip/tuck during a “vacation” last summer.

Or that my grandmother once performed an abortion on herself using knitting needles.

With restrictions increasing on the rights granted by Roe v. Wade, women are being encouraged to talk about their experiences so that young women know what it was like—and what it could be like again.

It wasn’t until 1960 that “the pill” was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for contraceptive use. In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut struck down a state law that prohibited the use of contraceptives, because the law violated the “right to marital privacy.” Prior to that, even married women could not get doctors to prescribe contraception.

And if you were single? Forget about it.

June Pariano of La Quinta remembers well what those times were like.

“It was around 1969 in Racine, Wisc., and I was 23 or 24 years old.

“At that time, insurance did not pay for the pill, but broke as we were, I found the money and chose a doctor whose office was close to our apartment. When I went in and asked about a birth-control prescription, he gave me a sermon about how women were put on this earth to bear children, and it was ‘against nature.’ He finally agreed to give me a 6-month prescription and said he would not renew it.

“Six months later, I went to another doctor who asked me, ‘Don't you want to have children?’ I was so angry that I was being questioned about such a personal decision.

“I joined NOW (the National Organization for Women). We organized, wrote letters, drove to the state capital and fought like hell to get the politicians and the churches out of our bedrooms. Now it seems the politicians want to expand government to bedrooms again!”

Although abortions have always been a last resort for women (witness my grandmother), who have used everything from bleach douches to wire coat-hangers, it wasn’t until 1973 that the Supreme Court said the “right to privacy” protected a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy prior to “viability.” Before that, other options for American women were to go to another country, if they could afford to, or to seek out illegal abortionists—therefore risking their very lives to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

I did just that, in 1967, and would not wish the experience on anyone. It was sleazy, unprofessional and frightening—but not as frightening to me as continuing the pregnancy. I had given up a child for adoption when I was 17, and did not want to go through the daily agony of wondering whether I had done the right thing yet again.

I’ve never regretted that abortion, and react strongly to those who blithely say, “You can always give the baby up.” They’ve obviously never gone through it.

Dori Smith is a retired public-relations professional living in Palm Desert.

“In 1984, I helped my best friend’s daughter get a legal abortion when she was 18, and I realized how hard it is for any woman to even make the decision. She was so grateful. She went on to college, has two children and a great marriage, and even works with children now. She wouldn’t have been able to if we hadn’t helped her.

“Back in 1965, I got pregnant at 15 in my first sexual relationship, the one time we didn’t use any protection. I was so afraid. When I told him, he was scared. We didn’t know what to do.

“Abortion was illegal, so I asked him to find someone to do an illegal abortion. We never could find anyone. I finally told my mom after four months, and my parents gave permission to get married. I thought I was in love. What do you know at 15?

“We shouldn’t have been parents at that point in our lives. I was such a young mother; it was difficult for me to give my son as much as I could later with my daughter. I was so young and immature.”

Would Dori have made a different decision if she had been able? “Of course, it’s difficult to separate a living human being from what I wish I could have had as a choice back then. Because I was married, I couldn’t attend my senior prom, and I didn’t finish college until I was 32.

“I’m mentoring a young woman right now who’s 15. I think about myself dealing with those huge issues at that age. If my mom had just talked to me about sex and birth control. That’s what bothers me about those against abortion—they’re also against sex education. It’s as if they want us to be punished for having sex.”

Priscilla Scheldt Richardson of Cathedral City was married with two sons, 9 and 12, when she got pregnant in 1981 at the age of 38.

“Babies were being born with severe conditions to women my age. I’m so grateful I had a doctor who believed in my freedom to decide whether to continue a compromised pregnancy.

“He said there was no point to an amniocentesis unless I knew I would terminate the pregnancy if the fetus was damaged. Otherwise, he wouldn’t risk my health or the fetus with the test itself.

“My then husband and I talked carefully and decided what was most important was to protect the quality of life for our existing sons.

“As it turned out, the fetus was normal—and we went ahead with the pregnancy. My children know this story; they understand that was our thinking at the time, and they respect that.

“Some might call our decision selfish, but having that choice is so important to protect. Without that choice, our lives might have been entirely different.”

Women who have gone through these decisions are married, divorced, widowed. They teach your children, play tennis with you at the club, volunteer at local charities, participate in your organizations. They’re your friends and neighbors.

Share your stories.

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On this week's Independent comics page: Roland and Cid discuss whether the increasing acceptance of gay marriage will lead to an apocalypse for closeted conservatives; Red Meat honors the sausage ostrich; The City marks the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war; and Jen Sorenson tackles restrictive abortion law.

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