1.We are curious about who you are and what kind of work that you do; would you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a poet, teacher and the founder/director of a visiting writer program called Writers-in-the-Schools, RI. I also currently serve as the sixth Poet Laureate of the state of Rhode Island and am the mother of three children.
2. TWP has been working to pass a bill that codifies Roe v. Wade into RI state law. We are interested in the ways that Reproductive Freedom impacts your life and the work that you do?
Reproductive Freedom impacts my life and work to the extent that I am a human being living among other human beings—which is to say that all aspects of life and work for every citizen is impacted when legislation seeks to control the bodies of its people. Every action has a reaction. When a woman lives under a government that restricts her right to decide whether or not to have a baby, the reverberations reach all corners of the culture. When a child is brought into the world under duress, everyone connected to that family is affected—mother and child most of all. That family’s experience ripples out into the larger community, affecting it in ways we may not even immediately discern or recognize.
As a parent and a teacher, it is challenging to reconcile for my children and my students the mixed messages our cultures sends. My eleven-year-old daughter already jokes about the hypocrisy of “Ladies first” for lunchroom line-up and “girl power’ t-shirts at the store. When she woke up to the 2017 election results, she said through tears, “But Trump hates women.” All of these issues are connected. They weave a fabric that binds women while purporting to clothe them.
2a. What about the lives of the people who you affect with your work?
I’ve have taught pregnant and parenting teenagers at Nowell Leadership Academy, in Central Falls and Providence. Nowell is a charter school for special populations and is remarkable for the robust support network they provide young parents. I cannot say whether any of the girls I taught contemplated abortion or if the boys who fathered their children ever wrestled with the question. They were all pregnant or already parents when I worked with them and I learned a lot from their courage and their struggles. Part of me wished every single one of them could have remained free to live their teenage years unencumbered by early parenthood. Part of me understood when, even through tears of post-partum depression, they told me that their babies were the best things that ever happened to them.
Being a parent is the toughest job any of us will ever love, under even the best of circumstances. Many pregnancies are welcome surprises and the ones that aren’t often bring joy and meaning nonetheless. Still, no woman or couple should ever be cornered into starting a family. Reproductive Freedom insures everyone that they won’t have to.
2b. The lives of the women in your personal life?
My own mother had me very young, at nineteen-years-old, back in 1969 when abortion was not legal. I don’t know that if abortion had been legal, she would have made a different choice, as she was raised Catholic and women tended to have children earlier in life. Still, it’s not lost on me that her circumstances were difficult. When I speak of reverberations, I am speaking from personal experience. I’ve had several friends throughout my life who have had abortions.
Each situation was unique to the woman and each woman made her choice after a great deal of deliberation and reflection. Not everyone had the necessary support, but necessity was the common factor.
I am always struck by the fact that we would never force vasectomies on men who get women pregnant without proper planning or who abdicate the responsibilities of fatherhood. That proposition, in fact, sounds insane: forcing someone to have a procedure on their body that they don’t want done. Yet, cultures world-wide have been inured–by centuries of controlling women–to the absurdity of forcing them to bear unplanned children. When a woman cannot control whether or not she has a child, she cannot control her life. When women lose control over their lives, the progress of the entire society is impeded. It’s a special kind of arrogance to place one’s own subjective morality over the humanity and liberty of women.
3. When you think about your community (or communities) what is something you would like them to know about Reproductive Freedom in RI? Why?
Some Americans feel strongly that a baker should not be forced to make a cake against his wishes, with little concern about forcing a woman to have a baby against hers. Such a disconnect cannot stand in the state of Rhode Island, if we remember that our state’s entire existence is predicated on liberty.
Roger Williams did not want to be told how to worship his God.
Every Rhode Islander is free to feel how she wants about any aspect of reproductive freedom, but it’s a distortion of religious liberty to legislatively impose one’s will on other people’s bodies.
4. What are the best ways in your opinion to educate people about this issue?
I think it is important to recognize and validate that some people feel deep distress about abortion. Whether one’s misgivings are faith-based or simply personal, it’s important that they not be dismissed or diminished—but rather, acknowledged as legitimate.
I, myself, don’t believe that a zygote is a person, but I do know that I was jumping up and down, showing everyone the smudge on the ultrasound when I was seven weeks pregnant with my first son. And the reason why? Because I wanted that baby, at that time. Ten years earlier, I would have been terrified and I would not have been the kind of mother I was to become.
So, by respecting the anguish people experience at the prospect of erasing that “smudge,” we can move the discussion towards the issue of force—which is really at the core of this conflict. I don’t know a word that captures both “forcible” and “reversed,” but the act of making a woman have a child contains both of those meanings for me. If we must respect people’s belief that life begins at conception, we must also expect that they do not force their beliefs upon our bodies.
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Tina Cane serves as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, where she lives with her husband and their three children. She is also the founder and director of Writers-in-the-Schools, RI and is an instructor with the writing community, Frequency Providence. Her poems and translations have appeared in numerous publications, including The Literary Review, Two Serious Ladies, Tupelo Quarterly, Jubliat and The Common. She also produces, with Atticus Allen, the podcast, Poetry Dose.
Cane is the author of The Fifth Thought (Other Painters Press, 2008), Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante, poems with art by Esther Solondz (Skillman Avenue Press, 2016) and Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books, 2017). In 2016, Tina received the Fellowship Merit Award in Poetry, from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.