by SONA ZEITLIAN

On August 20, 2022, AGBU Hye Geen and the Armenian Bar Association organized a timely public debate about women’s reproductive rights and domestic violence in Armenia and California. The event took place at AGBU Vatche’ & Tamar Manoukian Center in Pasadena at the Boyadjian Hall in the presence of an audience interested in women’s access to abortion as a constitutional right, as well as the effective enforcement of laws designed to protect vulnerable women, children and the elderly from domestic abuse.

In her opening remarks, AGBU Hye Geen member Sevan Deirbadrossian set the tone of the day’s debate by referring to the Supreme Court’s reversal of the 1973 federal right to abortion that women had relied on for nearly half a century, then on June 24 restored to the 50 states the power to pass their own abortion laws. She also cited the consequences of these changes impacting women’s mental and emotional being.

Moving to the first order of the day, Sevan introduced Marina Manoukian, of the Armenian Bar Association, a lawyer specializing in family law and civil litigation.

The speaker began by expressing her disapproval of the Supreme Court’s reversal of precedent, making way for what it promoted as “rights deeply rooted in history and traditions. ”This was a vague expression replacing the fundamental ruling of a woman’s access to abortion as a basic human right. She also expressed concern about Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrent reservations about issues related to a woman’s reproductive health. Finally, she indicated the fact that legislators, not medical experts were issuing abortion laws, with no exception for rape, incest, medical emergencies, or what endangered a mother’s health. In fact, according to collected data, America had the highest maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world.

Next, Sevan called upon Knar Kahkejian, a clinical social worker providing psychological services to Glendale Unified School District. She has also provided mental health services to at risk youths, adolescents, adults and families. She has been active in the post Artsakh war of 2020, working alongside social workers in Armenia caring for the needs of displaced families. She expressed concern about prevailing physical and sexual abuse, as well as widespread discrimination. The need was urgent for women to be involved in enacting laws about women’s health care. Women were also needed to join the law enforcing personnel.

Finally, Sevan introduced Nora Chitilian, a marriage and family therapist. She dwelt on family relations, the marked preference for boys, the prevalence of sex selective abortions and outright discrimination of girls causing anxiety, depression, pent up anger, even attempted suicide. She stressed the need to empower girls and strengthen family connections to remove the pain and fear latent in domestic traumas. During the post Artsakh war of 2020, she was involved in training the personnel of Armenia’s mental health hotline.

Following the three presentations and subsequent luncheon served by AGBU Hye Geen members, there was a lively exchange of ideas about current nation wide challenges to women’s reproductive rights, the Kansas decisive rejection of the Supreme Court’s abortion ban, the movements of energized women in other states and finally the need for the U.S. Congress to pass laws that reflect public opinion.

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