Launched in 1991, The Body Politic, an engaging national reproductive rights news magazine, is published by Anne Bower. "We cover all aspects of reproductive rights, women's health care issues, news and analysis, original research, first-hand reporting, and, on occasion, poetry," Bower told Freedom Writer. As an independent, interactive magazine, The Body Politic solicits information, articles, and clippings from its readers. Readers include women and men, most of whom are prochoice activists, service providers, and others engaged in fighting the Radical Religious Right.
Significantly, considering the magazine's focus on reproductive rights, The Body Politic is based in Binghamton, New York. Binghamton is the birthplace of the radical antiabortion group Operation Rescue (OR). Today, OR's founder, Randall Terry, lives 25 miles away, where he runs his Christian Leadership Institute at Outlook Farm.
"I've known Randy since December 1984," Bower said. "That's when he started with his belligerent picketing outside the Southern Tier Women's Services in Binghamton. That was the first clinic in town; now we have two — which goes to show how effective he was."
According to Bower, before founding Operation Rescue, Terry and the Rev. Dan Little, pastor of the Church at Pierce Creek, started Project Life, a "pregnancy crisis center" which still operates in Binghamton. (After running full-page newspaper ads telling Christians not to vote for Bill Clinton, Rev. Little's church was the first church to lose its tax-exempt status for failing to comply with the IRS code which prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in partisan politics.) In 1986, after meeting with long-time anti-abortion activist Joe Scheidler, Terry started Operation Rescue. Scheidler wrote the book 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, which provided Terry with ammunition, so to speak, for his new organization.
Cranking out a 40-page monthly magazine is a lot of work for this tiny organization consisting mostly of Bower, the only full-time staffer. The Body Politic's associate editor, Valerie Finkelman, lives in far-off Texas, but electronic mail bridges the distance factor. A local friend contributes graphics, and Anne's husband, Dick, serves as computer consultant. As a 501 (c)(3) non-profit educational organization, Bower works under the auspices of a board of directors.
"I had absolutely no qualifications to run a magazine when I started this," a jovial Bower told Freedom Writer. "I have a degree in anthropology!" Nevertheless, Bower's life experience provided her with the knowledge and spark for the task. Anne served on the board of New York State NARAL; was the resource coordinator for Planned Parenthood in Binghamton; worked with a local prochoice coalition; ran a voter ID project; and served as an escort for clinic patients.
One might wonder why someone with limited funding would want to start a prochoice magazine. "A mid-life crisis!" Bower responded when asked the question. "What really pulled me into this was the experience of three years escorting against Randy. It was very emotional. No one would know it by watching me, because I was extremely controlled while doing it, but underneath there was anger and outrage. But, under that kind of pressure you form close bonds with service providers. The experience is one you never forget."
Bower said that through her experience in working with so many prochoice organizations she saw that often one hand didn't know what the other was doing. "A two-way flow in communication was lacking," she said, "and I thought a magazine would help meet that need. Besides, I'm too old and too fat to escort any more!"
Bower is appalled by the lack of citizen participation in the democratic process in the United States. "The whole nation needs an attitude adjustment," she said. "I am continually at wits end trying to get people to see the threats to a modern, secular democracy, and to get people to do something about it."
Bower mentioned the recent case of a Nebraska 15-year-old who was prevented from having an abortion because the district attorney and police didn't think she should. "I can see this happening in Romania — but the United States?"
She also mentioned the recent arrest of a Chicago bank robber who said he planned to use the money to blow up reproductive health-care clinics. "And these incidents just involve choice. Look at the current Congress; look at the Radical Religious Right. Now, at 52, I am watching what I cared for in the last 20 years being dismantled."
"Our elected officials are to be blamed," Bower said. "Everything that is going on is the result of elected officials. Electing a prochoice president hasn't solved our problems. People need to get involved in the electoral process. They need to register and vote."
"I think we have to put something in the water to make people wake up!" Bower said in jest. "I try to deal with it by providing information. People are so overwhelmed by their own personal problems; they don't have time to worry about anybody elses. I'm doing all I can do by publishing a magazine."
The Body Politic, according to Bower, "hasn't exactly caught fire with the foundation community yet." This year, one foundation gave a thousand dollars. Subscriptions cover only a portion of the costs involved in publishing the monthly magazine; most of the rest comes from Dick Bower's paycheck.
Now a seasoned activist, Anne Bower offers advice for other activists. "First, take care of yourself. Maintain a sense of humor. Try to find a lot of things to laugh about." Also important, she said, is developing a good network of friends. "They'll be there when you need them."
"Lastly," she said, "plan on fighting the Religious Right for the long haul. The opposition is not going away."
Subscriptions to The Body Politic are $22 a year. Subscriptions include ten 40-page issues, plus the National Pro-choice Directory published each August. Write to The Body Politic, PO Box 2363, Binghamton, NY 13902-2363. Phone 607-648-2760.