Protecting reproductive rights is about equity and economic justice

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Nora Gruenberg.

She was 15.

“Twenty-one years ago, I was assaulted by my boyfriend at the time,” Nora Gruenberg told me. “He was my boyfriend, we had had consensual sex, but there were two particular times when it was not consensual.”

“I was young and inexperienced, and it took me quite some time to realize the extent of the harm it had done.”

OPINION

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was also 15 when, she says, Brett Kavanaugh, now a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, sexually assaulted her at a party.

Gruenberg grew up in Green Garden Township, “in the cornfields” of conservative, rural Will County. No one talked about “date rape” back then. She confided to a “trusted adult,” she said, who confirmed her fears. She couldn’t prove it. No one would believe her.

“I knew instinctively at age 15 that I would be the one on trial,” she recalled. “That I would be the perpetrator. That I would be the problem. So, I just didn’t say anything.”

Gruenberg, now 41, shared her dark story last week in a sunny corner of a South Loop coffee shop.

She first spoke out at an August press conference organized with the help of Personal PAC, the political action committee that works to elect pro-choice candidates in Illinois.

“I was scared to death. I am still scared to death.”

Today she is married and lives in Will County with her husband and two children. The Personal PAC organizer and consultant is working to elect pro-choice legislators in 14 targeted state House and Senate districts in the Nov. 6 election.

“We are living in atime right now when the oppression of women and anti-women legislation has reached a fever pitch,” she said. “The advances that have been made over the last 50 years are in peril of being rolled back.”

In Illinois, conservative lawmakers and activists are pushing hard to overturn House Bill 40, which has expanded taxpayer-subsidized abortions for state employees and women covered by Medicaid. The law could also protect abortion rights if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. If Kavanaugh is elevated to the Supreme Court, that’s a real threat.

Gruenberg is working at the grassroots, setting up candidate meet-and-greets, providing field training, recruiting volunteers. Her team knocked on 5,000 doors this summer.

Her story reminds her us that protecting reproductive rights is about ensuring equity and economic justice for all women and girls.

What if she had gotten pregnant by her rapist boyfriend? What if she wanted to file charges? What if she could not afford to get medical and legal help and advice?

Women and girls “may not receive support or guidance or have the options to survive or thrive after that. The majority of women are not given full agency over their bodies and their choices.”

The national conversation about Kavanaugh shows that men still hold the power. Men are believed. Women are scorned.

Gruenberg aims to change that by electing “a leadership that is going to stand for the rights of women. And a leadership that will acknowledge completely that women are equals.”

On Oct. 11, she plans to attend Personal PAC’s annual luncheon, to help raise funds for the November campaigns. You can join her at personalpac.org.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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