On April 17 and 19, the University’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action hosted a two-night film series entitled “Reproductive Justice at Home and Abroad.”
The organization, which is new to campus this term, was founded by Rachele Merliss ’19 and Celeste Smith ’19 in hopes of unifying students belonging to different clubs at the University that advocate for reproductive justice.
Merliss and Smith were initially inspired to found a Generation Action chapter at the University following the events of this year’s presidential election.
“We both went to the Women’s March in January and we were like ‘Now what do we do?’” Merliss said.
The pair realized that there were many students interested in reproductive justice, yet they were spread across several different groups on campus.
“There’s a lot of really amazing reproductive justice work happening on campus, but we saw that there was kind of a hole that hadn’t been filled yet, which is doing quick and effective actions to help the movement,” Merliss explained. “We got all of the email addresses [of people who were involved] from other leaders of different groups…. We had a meeting with them at the beginning of the semester, saying what can we do to help fill this niche, and they gave us all those peoples emails.”
“We’re basically trying to create little actions based on values like equal rights for people who are not cis male,” added Smith.
According to Merliss, the group has already hosted a variety of successful events such as petition signing, letter writing, and phone banking.
“We did a menstrual materials drive which was our first big event,” Merliss said. “It worked out really well because people who typically couldn’t be involved in this type of work were able to make a quick donation.”
The film series is the group’s latest attempt to bring people together to discuss issues surrounding women’s rights and abortion.
Merliss and Smith chose two films that depicted the continuing difficulties facing many women in the United States and around the world.
The first film, “Trapped,” focused on states such as Georgia and Alabama, where abortion is de facto outlawed. Merliss, a native of Nebraska, said the film hit especially close to home.
“I worked at our local Planned Parenthood,” Merliss recounted. “We got audited by the state when I was there because our governor desperately wants to shut us down. Every employee had to be interviewed and it was a huge deal. They came in and inspected everything and measured all the hallways. It took a couple weeks…. It just shows how much people will try to do to deny women’s reproductive rights.”
The second film in the series, “El Salvador: From the Moment of Conception,” was a Spanish-language film about reproductive rights in El Salvador, a country in which abortion is completely outlawed by the Penal Code of 1973. When the code was revised in 1998, legislators removed all exceptions to the prohibition of abortions, even in cases where the mother’s life was in serious risk. The Salvadorian government takes the law so seriously that it often arrests women who have experienced miscarriages, under the allegation that those women had attempted to undergo an illegal abortion. This is what happened to Karina Clímaco in 2002, who was arrested for aggravated homicide following her miscarriage.
Like Clímaco, many Salvadorian mothers are extremely young, which means their pregnancies are considered especially high-risk. Though abortion is often the best option for these young women, they are actively discouraged from seeking illegal abortions through graphic and deeply disturbing propaganda. In one video, a doctor shows the audience a tiny model of a baby, which he claims resembles a fetus after twelve weeks. He says that if he were to attach a stethoscope to a woman’s stomach during an abortion, he could hear the baby scream. The woman showing the film to a young girl tells her that if she were to get an abortion, she could get gangrene, that her chances of getting breast cancer would rise exponentially, and that she would be committing a crime against God.
Merliss and Smith hope that these films will open a discussion about the work that needs to be done at home and abroad, as well as inspire students to get involved in whatever ways they can.
“This is one of the most important issues, and I hope we can get more people together to discuss reproductive justice,” Merliss concluded.