Rebirth of an Activist

Rebirth of an Activist

by Pamela Leigh

Although I was relatively engaged with feminist issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s, these matters later took a back seat to career and marriage and for too many years languished. These feminist passions were reignited one night this past March after viewing the nightly news.

One of the lead stories that evening was how the State Legislature of Virginia was poised to enact legislation that would force women to endure a vaginal probe and ultra sound prior to electing an abortion. (For an update see editor’s note below).

I was slack jawed. Where had this come from? I listen to the news every day, but I hadn’t heard of this, and I live in Virginia! Clearly, and as I was soon to learn, many women here felt blindsided. I spent the better part of that night wide awake, angry, and feeling like I had been transported back in time to pre-1972, before Roe versus Wade resulted in legalized abortion.

As the night wore on, I remembered the spring of 1970 when I was a junior at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. Like many college women then, I was keenly interested in what was happening with women’s reproductive rights and attended many rallies and meetings. It was also that spring when my best friend, also a junior at SMU, was into her first trimester of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. She was frightened and didn’t know where to go or what to do. At first, her boyfriend (who after graduation became her husband) with the help of his older brother were going to arrange a trip to London, where abortion was legal. But time was running out for my friend to be eligible for an abortion within the safe time frame. Then someone told them about a former nurse who performed abortions, and they decided to use her services. The caveat: The nurse would come to them, operating out of a hotel room, and if anything went wrong and my friend needed hospitalization, they would be on their own. In fact, some problems did occur after the procedure, although hospitalization was not required. My friend was lucky on two counts: She survived, and she went on to have several children as the years went by.

My best friend’s experience, however, left an indelible mark on me, and I told friends over the passing decades that there was one issue that would galvanize me into taking political action: if women’s reproductive rights were threatened again. But I never thought in my wildest imaginings that this would ever come to pass. By the time the sun rose this past March morning, I was determined to do more than just vote for candidates who support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. The idea of a T-shirt was born, with a percentage of the profits going to organizations such as NOW and Planned Parenthood. The next night, I told my friend Marilyn about my idea for a T-shirt slogan. Marilyn contributed her thoughts on the wording and design, and that night a partnership and feminist T-shirt, one that only works if a woman wears it was created. It says: “Keep Your Laws Off MY” and has an arrow pointing in the direction of the vagina.

By the end of April, we had our manufactured T-shirts and were selling them at local NOW meetings. In June we sold the shirts at the National Now Conference in Baltimore, and in every instance, we have donated back a percentage of the profits to the cause of keeping birth control affordable and accessible — contributing in our own way to helping preserve the reproductive rights of women. We are passionate and dedicated to this cause, and we invite all women to become involved in whatever way they can. To order a T-shirt, please visit our website:

Editor’s Note: On February 29, 2012 Reuters reported: “The Virginia state Senate on Tuesday approved a law forcing a woman to have an ultrasound before an abortion but left out a provision harshly criticized by women’s rights groups that might have required a more intrusive vaginal probe.


Pamela Leigh is currently an editor for a Reston, VA-based firm. She is also a freelance writer whose  articles have appeared in various magazines, including The Washingtonian; Elan; Common Boundary; Lodging; Where, among others.