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Janna Frieman '11 street canvassing for NARAL Pro-Choice in Boston.
Janna Frieman '11 street canvassing for NARAL Pro-Choice in Boston.

Expanding Abortion Access

While street canvassing on the Boston Common, Janna Frieman realized she was being flanked by a man with a rosary and a woman with a Bible, who were trying to divert pedestrians away from her. "Street canvassing can get really intense when the short encounters with strangers go awry," says Frieman, who is interning with NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) Pro-Choice, an advocacy group that fights to protect the right to safe, legal abortion, while also promoting policies that help prevent unintended pregnancies and make abortion less necessary.

Sometimes the problem is a difference of opinion, such as when Frieman tells people that NARAL works to ensure that women have access to the full range of reproductive options, and is told that "babies should have some options, too." Sometimes it's complete miscommunication (Frieman has been told that she, the street canvasser for a pro-choice group, is the cause of women getting raped and murdered), and sometimes it's a lecture on god's will and how she is taking her chances with damnation.

"When stuff like this happens, especially the verbal altercations, it can be upsetting," says Frieman, "but I just have to remind myself that abortion is a complex and emotionally-charged issue, and you can't win 'em all."

While studying abroad last fall in Dublin, where abortion is illegal, Frieman felt particularly motivated to get back to America and do work to maintain—and expand—her country's own reproductive freedom.

Frieman, a political science major, has been doing research on the various state-level elections that NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts makes endorsements in, and has sat in on several of the candidate interviews that are key to the endorsement process. Additionally, she spends at least one day a week doing street canvassing—trying to get people to sign up to receive the Voter's Guide that NARAL will release in August containing all of the state-level election candidates and their positions on choice.

NARAL is very concerned with maintaining the pro-choice majority in the Massachusetts state legislature, which was only finally achieved in 2004, and more than half of the pro-choice seats are up for grabs this election cycle. "It is very difficult to convey these things in the seconds-long encounter with passers-by on a busy sidewalk," says Frieman. "I get the brush-off a lot of the time, but I realize that this constituency-building process is important."

Street and neighborhood canvassing have forced Frieman to get over any hesitation she had about talking to strangers and asking them to give her their time and contact information. This internship has taught her to act nicely to people canvassing on the street because "it's not at all a fun job, but is a necessary one," she says. "I've also learned that doorbells aren't always in intuitive places."

Knowing some people in the Boston non-profit/advocacy/political scenes will make the city a likely place for Frieman to look for post-graduate opportunities, whether law school or a campaign job. "From just the limited view of campaigns that I've gotten so far," she says, "I sense that I could really enjoy the pace and intensity of political work, especially for a candidate that I believe in."

--Heather Harden '11

Prof. Anita Isaacs (Political Science) and students cross Founders Green after class.

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