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"Rights" of Passage: Reflections on a Pro-Choice Journey

by Ebony BarleyPEP Young Women's Leadership Council

In 1996, I entered the pro-choice movement as an intern. At 19, I was bright eyed, passionate, and eager to learn. My opinions formed instantly, but I lacked confidence, so I began to retreat from the conversation. Compounded by expert religious thought, issues of ageism and my lack of experience, I spent several years measuring the output of my thoughts as it related to “choice.”

I then decided I needed a vastly different experience. No longer in a sea of religious experts or highly opinionated men who would never give birth to life in this lifetime, I found myself in an organization of good ole girls who were nuanced in their opinions on sexuality, but not in their stance on race, class and gender as it relates to choice. A black woman in the choice movement is a rarity, but her limited presence at “the table,” often signifies a faux diversity—merely satisfying the mainstream outward appearance. It was at this place I claimed my voice in this false sense of reality.

Thinking that my opinion held some weight in this heavy matter of choice, I spent several more years working to push forward an agenda that places race, class and gender in a similar scope. But I soon learned that the mask of support only thrust me deeper into a pool of confusion and dispassionate feelings about my own choices.
Moving on, feeling isolated again, age was no longer the central opposition to my mainstream ambitions. Race and class were now the determining issues that propelled my distrust of the movement. I felt myself having an out-of-body experience with the choice movement. My soul had departed this body of activists and I no longer felt the connection I thought once connected me to these women and the movement we all fought for.

At age 27, now a fairly seasoned proponent of choice, my passion was gone. I felt betrayed, no longer wanting to be in the forefront of choice issues and now doubting the difference I thought I could make. I asked God for clarity and validation of my activism. I feared the answer, but what I received was PEP.

The Pro-Choice Public Education Project’s Young Women’s Leadership Council invited me to join, not as an employee, but as a volunteer who could speak truth to power and express all that I had been holding back for so long. I had prayed for an opportunity to not simply work within the movement, but also to voice my opinions with the freedom the movement spoke so vividly of. I was thankful for the life lessons learned from working within the pro-choice movement, but I now had a voice parallel to those at the table, a table full of women from all walks of life, educational backgrounds, races, cultures and sexualities. It would be best described as finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I remember my first convening of these women and how empowered I felt simply sitting next to them—women who held little to no inhibitions regarding their opinions and needs when it came to “choice.” PEP gave me back my passion and even strengthened my resolve as the years passed. As I reflect on my experience on the YWLC, I am grateful for the opportunity I had to grow and to learn from the women at this table. I am also thankful to these women for listening and being open to my opinions.

So now, at 29, ten years after my initial entry into the pro-choice movement, I am departing the Young Women’s Leadership Council with the passion that first connected me to this movement at the tender age of 19. Although, I thought my passion was lost, PEP gave me an opportunity that my spirit will never forget. PEP’s YWLC invoked my passion again and validated my needs and desires as a woman, a  young woman and a young woman of color in this movement. For me, choice is a way of life. And in this life we make choices every minute of each day.

I am so happy and grateful to the women of PEP for choosing me and allowing me to share my energy and regain my passion through the Young Women’s Leadership Council.

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