Chicago Foundation for Women,
and the Our Voices, Our Choices Reproductive Health Coalition celebrated the 34th anniversary of Roe v Wade by hosting a screening of the film "Speak Out: I Had An Abortion."
Immediately following the screening, we had the opportunity to hear from Robin Ringleka-Kottke, a woman profiled in the film. Below is an interview with Ringleka-Kottke, by Patricia Williams Lessane.
(Jan. 21, 2007) Robin Ringleka-Kottke, with her light brown pigtails, blue eyes and bright smile, could be the girl next door.
Robin Ringleka-Kottke responds to audience questions and comments after the viewing of "Speak Out: I Had an Abortion" on Jan. 22.
But there is more to it—and more to her—than that.
It was only a few years ago that she was, in her own words, a pro-life “zealot.” She had even she joined a pro-life march on Washington D.C.
Six months later she became one of 43 percent of American women who, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, have chosen to seek an abortion.
Therein lies her story—one of 10 compelling stories told in “Speak Out: I Had an Abortion,” a documentary by filmmakers Gillian Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgardner.
Chicago Foundation for Women hosted a free public screening of the film to mark the 34th anniversary of the landmark decision Roe v Wade, which gave protection to the right to have safe and legal abortions in this country.
The screening, which marked only the second time Ringleka-Kottke has seen the film, brought back many memories.
When she first became pregnant, she thought she knew what to do, recalling that she was basically a “self-righteous religious zealot [who had been taught] pretty rigorous, hateful anti-choice rhetoric.”
The plan was to have her child in a different state with the help of an agency that would care for her during her pregnancy. The agency, citing the “child shortage” that the religious right often touts, would then place her child for adoption.
“I called this place out East because I didn’t want to have the baby in [her home town in the South],” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to know. I talked to the woman at the agency at length. She was great. She said, ‘You’re great, so brave.’ ”
But then something happened—something that made Ringleka-Kottke start to re-examine her life, her beliefs and her situation.
The agency found out the baby’s father was black.
“I had another conversation. She had questions about my boyfriend. It was like the needle scratching off a record. She said, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t help you. There isn’t a demand for biracial babies.’
“It was a huge blow. What occurred to me was there isn’t a shortage of children at all.”
At least not a shortage of non-white children.
“I remember having a tremendous amount of hate for this thing growing inside me,” she said. “I didn’t think racism extended anywhere outside the South.”
It was the racism, she said, and the sudden seeming emptiness of much of the pro-life rhetoric she had known, that empowered her to confront her thoughts and feelings—and ultimately to choose to have an abortion.
And she made another choice. She thought about how the people she knew might react and chose to keep the abortion a secret. It was a secret that lasted seven years.
“I kept thinking, what if they knew this one thing? After a while, it was the one thing that would level a friendship. I even thought the ladies [at church] wouldn’t let me watch their children if they knew.”
None of it was easy. And it took a variety of experiences—from women’s studies at college to spending a year offering non-directed counseling at an abortion clinic—to finally come to terms with the fact she had had an abortion.
And as she finally came to terms, she realized something important. This wasn’t something to be kept secret. Too many women were keeping secrets. This was a story that needed to be told—and not just to family or friends. It was important for everyone to know her story and other stories like hers.
“It’s so seldom that we hear actual women’s stories,” Ringleka-Kottke said. “And one of the reasons people cite for being pro-choice is knowing someone who has had an abortion.”
Which meant there was now more work to do.
“I talked to my best girlfriend, who lives in New York, about doing a film project,” she said. “We put up a website to call for submissions.”
The stories from other women started coming in. A film started to take shape. And then another turn happened in a life full of turns.
“We were about a month into this when she called and said, ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is this project is already being done. The bad news is this project is already being done.’ ”
An established filmmaker was already at work on the subject. But, as her friend had said, this was both bad news and good. Determined that the stories they had collected would be told, Ringleka-Kottke called filmmaker Gillian Aldrich and offered to send the materials. This led to another offer, this one from Aldrich. Would Ringleka-Kottke care to be featured in the film?
Her story, and those of nine others, are now out there, projected on many film screens, for everyone to see and learn from.
“I don’t necessarily want it to be the first thing people know about me,” Ringleka-Kottke said.
But her experience—the good and bad of it, she said—remains one that should be shared.
“That experience was one of the greatest gifts of my life. It made me a more compassionate person. I look at the world differently. It doesn’t define me, but the issue has become a part of my life’s work. I know some people will scream to hear me say that.”
Let them scream. Ringleka-Kottke, having been through what she has been through, having shared what she has shared, is now ready to follow her life’s work where it will take her.
There is bad news and good news:
“I can honestly say I’m concerned because there is an incremental chipping away of women’s rights and I don’t see a whole lot of sexual education. But I’m also hopeful because I see a lot of people coming forward.
“It’s making the climate ripe for a revolution.”