Archive | August, 2010

Even in the U.S. Cost, Inconvenience, and Stigma Push Women Toward Self-Induced Abortion

31 Aug

A recent article in The Nation, “Crossing the Line,” tells the story of Diana, a single mother of two living in Brownsville near the Texas-Mexico border who needed an abortion. But she faced a few obstacles: The nearest abortion clinic was 30 miles away. Since Texas believes women on Medicaid should have to pay for an abortion out of pocket, the procedure could have cost her almost $1,000. And, perhaps worst of all, the stigma of being seen at an abortion clinic in her conservative community seemed too much for her to bear.

So instead Diana bought Misoprostol, an ulcer medication that is 80-85% effective at causing a process identical to a miscarriage, at a pharmacy across the border for a fraction of the price and self-induced an abortion at home.

Use of Misoprostol as an alternative abortion method, particularly by low-income and immigrant women, is hardly a new phenomenon but has popped up in the news a lot lately. Last month, Nicholas Kristof hailed Misoprostol as a drug that could revolutionize abortion around the world. And as far as do-it-yourself abortion goes, Misoprostol certainly has a lot going for it: It’s relatively safe—much safer than other methods the Planned Parenthood in Brownsville has seen over the years: “women who have used syringes, taken cocktails of prescription drugs, douched with battery acid and beaten themselves in the abdomen.” It’s cheap: $87 to $167 per bottle in a Mexican pharmacy, just pennies per pill in India. Since its primary use isn’t as an abortifacient, it’s hard for governments to restrict—and is likely to become even more widely accessible. Since it causes a miscarriage that looks indistinguishable from a natural one, in places where abortion is illegal, if there’s a complication or it doesn’t work completely, a woman can seek help at a hospital instead of risking either arrest or death. It’s taken in the privacy of her own home, so in conservative communities like Diana’s, she can avoid the stigma of the clinic, the harassment of anti-choice protesters, the “feeling of being judged by the strangers around her.”

In short, Misoprostol could do a lot of good around the world and save the lives of some of the up to 70,000 women worldwide who die from complications of unsafe (usually illegal) abortions each year. And I’m happy Diana could get it and that it worked for her.

But I’m not happy that abortion is so stigmatized in the Rio Grande Valley that many women don’t even realize it is legal. I’m not happy that because of the Hyde Amendment, those women who are least able to afford it are forced to pay between $450 and more than $900 for an abortion in a clinic. I’m not happy that the nearest abortion clinic to Diana is 30 miles away and 35% of women in the U.S. live in counties that lack an abortion provider. I’m not happy that the clinic is so embattled that the doctor wears a bulletproof vest to work and says that many of his clients first find out about the facility when they are brought there by church groups to protest. I’m not happy that he says that about 20% of his patients have tried Misoprostol first before coming to the clinic. I’m not happy that due to cost, inconvenience, and shame, women in the U.S., where abortion is legal, are turning to Mexico, where it is largely illegal, to find alternative ways to end their pregnancies.

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Parental Notification, a New Reality in Alaska

30 Aug

If you are a teen in Alaska, click here for more information about your rights under this new law.

Last Tuesday in Juneau Alaska, it was announced that a battle was lost for women’s rights; Ballot Measure 2 was approved by voters. As a result, any person under the age of 17 wishing to have an abortion will have to wait 48 hours before having the procedure, while her doctor notifies at least one parent. If the doctor cannot make telephone contact with a parent, Ballot Measure 2 states that they are to continue to “call, in not less than two-hour increments, for not less than five attempts in a 24-hour period.” This will be putting a huge amount of pressure on the doctor who will likely have to adjust previously booked appointments so that they may call the women’s parents no less than five times a day. If the doctor does not follow these procedures, he or she will face criminal felony charges. The only way the teen’s parents would not have to be notified is if she goes before a judge and asks permission to get an abortion. Though the teen’s parents do not necessarily have to approve of her choice, they must be notified. After that, the judge may let her doctor proceed without notifying her parents. Two days after the doctor notifies her parents or she goes before a judge, she may finally be allowed to exercise her reproductive rights and have an abortion.

The majority of teens, who have an abortion, do voluntarily involve at least one parent in the process. Therefore the fact that a teen has not already told one of her parents shows it is likely to be dangerous for her family to know she is planning an abortion. More than 20% of young women, who choose not to tell their family about their abortion, do so because of fear that they may be kicked out of the house. Another 8% choose not to tell their family for fear of physical abuse, because they have been abused in the past. Even if she was not being abused, the outcome of her being forced to inform her parents would most likely be an unparallel amount of anguish and stress to everyone involved. To better understand what this would be like I reached out to several female teens who have a better understanding of what this would be like.

I posed the question to one teen named Jessica*: “What would happen to you if you were pregnant? What would your first step be, and who would you tell?” She said that she would first call her boyfriend Seth* to tell him. They have already discussed what would happen if she got pregnant and both have agreed that abortion would be the way to go, though Seth was slightly uneasy about it. Then, she said she would call Planned Parenthood to schedule the procedure. We both agreed that this is what most teens wanting an abortion would do.

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Pro-Life Propaganda: Weapons of Mass Destruction

28 Aug

Not sure if anyone saw it, but there used to be a show on TV called Lost. Two of the central characters that were at odds with one another through the entire series were the aptly charged Man of Faith (John Locke) and the Man of Science (Jack Shephard). And it got me thinking about the divide between the Pro- and Anti-choice crowds, and how we essentially have this same dynamic affecting these movements. You have the antis, whose faith tends to guide their approach and their dialogue on this issue. And you have the pros, who tend more towards using scientific facts to guide their dialogue and mission. Wherein lies the issue that I want to discuss today.

Earlier this week, here on the Gang, Persephone had a fantastic article that debunked a number of the myths that the Antis use to try and pollute this discussion of facts. It’s odd that so many who use their faith to guide them through this struggle would so boldly use lies to misinform and frighten the public away from this medical procedure. They make up propagandized talking points to willfully corrupt and program the thinking of the masses with lies. How is this okay? How can a group of self-proclaimed moralists use underhanded and dishonest means to attack this issue in such a disgraceful Machiavellian manner? They cling to their godly assertion that the ends justify the means…and that works for them. But what about the rest of us?

For you see, when you are talking about a portion of the masses using false information to steer an issue that affects every single person in our society, their justification does not matter because it only satisfies their positions, which are obviously at odds with the majority of the people. Because their ends affect us all, then said justification would have to satisfy our concerns as well. However, society has demonstrated repeatedly that it does not share their faith-based outlook on this issue. Time and again, society has gone the way of science on this matter. So they lie, trying to manipulate the science that has built the foundation beneath the pro-choice arguments. Why? For the purpose of turning facts to propaganda, and to confuse people into buying into their lies.

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Where, Oh, Where Have All the Young Feminists Gone?

27 Aug

We’ve been accused time and time again of not existing. Young women today either aren’t feminists or, even if they have feminist opinions, we’re told they don’t want to be called the dreaded F-word. Some might ask why, but that’s not the question. It’s true that there are young women out there who reject the term, or feminism altogether. But we’re not talking about them. The real question is where are the people who claim young feminists don’t exist looking?

Sometimes I feel like I never stop virtually waving my arms and yelling through cyberspace, “I’m here! I’m here!” Because that’s where I am–in cyberspace, most of the time. It has been said time and time again that this next wave of feminism (if you subscribe to the “wave” idea) is online. We’re blogging, facebooking, podcasting, tweeting about feminism. If there’s a way to bring the activism to the larger stage that is the World Wide Web, feminists are going to find that way in. It’s a way to reach more people; it’s worldwide. Many teachers are embracing technology in the classroom–my literary theory prof might ask us to pull out our smartphones or iPads to look something up, and my sister recently wrote a grant to get a couple of iPods for her fifth grade class. Similarly, feminists are using technology as a way to reach out to the masses, including the younger generation who know nothing about a world where computers didn’t exist.

So where are these people looking? I don’t have an answer. Obviously they’re not looking in the right place because we’re all pretty easy to find. It’s true that the first Google search result for “young feminism” is an outdated NOW page. But the third result is the fbomb, an awesome blog by and for young feminists. Maybe the problem is that those who are accusing us of not existing don’t consider online activism as “real” activism. I mean, shouldn’t we be out there in the world holding our signs and wearing our This is What a Feminist Looks Like t-shirts? If you do that, great. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s more than many people will ever do.

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This is What a Young Feminist Looks Like

27 Aug

Part of the This is What a Young Feminist Looks Like Blog Carnival

I am an accountant, clawing my way upwards in the proverbial “man’s world.”  If I don’t make it to the top,  I want it to be because I am truly not good enough, not because anyone expects me to get knocked up and drop out of the workforce before I turn 30.  When I make it to the top, it will be because I am the best – not because I am a token minority gender in my field.

I am a feminist because I believe that having a uterus should not be a liability.

I am a reproductive justice advocate because I believe that a failure in birth control or error in judgment is not a good enough reason to drastically alter the course of a life.

I am a feminist because I believe that we all should have control over our bodies and our destinies.

I am a volunteer with a group the helps women enter the workforce for the first time and empowers them to pursue careers.

I am a feminist because I am trying to close the wage gap one woman at a time.

I am 25, have both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and own my own home.

I am a feminist because I believe that we all should be able to chase our dreams.

I am passionate about accounting because it is a way to be able to compare totally different companies to each other, to know which one is healthier, which one is better to partner with, which one is the better choice to lend money to.  Accounting leads to greater transparency, and greater transparency leads to greater fairness.

I am a feminist because I believe that the world should be a fair place – for everyone, and that with fairness comes greater opportunity.  Greater opportunity means that we all do better – and when we all do better, we all do better.

Sex and Quinoa

25 Aug

The other day my boyfriend and I were in Chapters to pick up a sex book. We found one that we both liked and on the way out, I saw a cookbook with recipes for quinoa, a grain we’ve recently discovered and loved. So we head to the check out with a big pink book titled Sex: How to do Everything, and Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood. As we are leaving the bookstore, my boyfriend comments about how jealous the checkout guy must have been because my boyfriend just bought a sex book and a cookbook with his girlfriend, so clearly I am awesome.

In this sex book (which is really awesome) we read that the clitoris is the only organ in the human body, male or female, with the sole purpose of sexual pleasure. I found this really fascinating and, of course, it got the wheels in my head spinning. Here we have women with the only organ in a human being that is meant solely to make sex feel good. And yet, many antis believe that motherhood should be the punishment for having sex. How is it that women can have this awesome sex organ that makes us want to have sex, and yet the consequence is motherhood? I have a friend who told me this to my face: if I were to get pregnant in my monogamous relationship, even though I am on birth control, I should have to have the child; sex is for procreation so abortion should not be an option in such a case. The fact that a child would derail the career I’ve been working towards for 15 years is irrelevant. I know the “risks” of having sex, so I should have to live with the consequences. I feel like reconciling this awesome fact of nature with this human moral “risk” is easy, but in the U.S., the fact of nature has no bearing when anti-choice abortion laws are enacted.

One thing that I didn’t bring up to my friend, though I was tempted to, was her daughters. I wanted to ask her if she would deny her young daughters an abortion (or wish for them to be denied one) because they had consensual sex. This type of attitude bothers me quite a bit. I tried to impress upon her that she was imposing her values on other women. Her response was it was just her opinion and since it would never actually affect another woman, it didn’t matter. I suppose she isn’t wrong, but the attitude still bothers me. I know that if I were to need an abortion, I could go to my mother, no matter “how” I became pregnant. I worry that her daughters would not feel that they would have that same luxury. I hope to be a strong feminist role model in their world, and if I am the person they come to in such a situation, I will gladly be there; but their mother should be as well.

I am not sure which kind of anti I dislike more, ones like my friend, or ones like Sharron Angle. I suppose at least Angle is consistent in her imposition of her morals, but is it better to impose a narrow subset of your morals on others rather than all your morals? In my case it doesn’t matter. My boyfriend is pro-choice and would want me to come to him if I were to get pregnant; he knows that it is half his responsibility. We have already made use of the sex book, and tonight I will be making quinoa and goat cheese stuffed chicken breast knowing that I will never be punished with motherhood for having sex. It still makes me wonder how people can impose their morals on me and not understand that it is wrong. Has anybody dealt with similar anti friends? Were you able to help them change their mind?

A Battle for Our Rights, Caught on Camera

24 Aug

Last week I watched the new HBO documentary, 12th & Delaware. It documents two clinics located across the street from each other in Fort Pierce, FL. One is called A Woman’s World Medical Center and the other is called Pregnancy Care Center. A Woman’s World, opened in 1994, provides comprehensive reproductive services, including abortion. Pregnancy Care Center is a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC), founded on “pro-life” ideas and does not provide birth control or any sort of comprehensive services. It was opened in 1999.

When I began to write about 12th & Delaware I didn’t know how to organize my thoughts. I tried different approaches and none of them sounded like anything more than a rant from an angry person. So I took a step back and thought about the film for a week. I also saved it on my boyfriend’s dvr in hopes that he would watch it. What helped me organize how I feel about it was explaining him why it is important to me that he watch it.

First I explained to him what it was about and why it’s important. Then I told him the problems with crisis pregnancy centers. I explained that they disguise themselves as women’s clinics that provide services related to pregnancy but they do not provide abortions. He looked at me and said, “okay, so what’s problem with that?” I went on to tell him that the big deal is that these CPCs lure (young) women through the door with signs that, for example, say “Pregnant? Need Help?” These messages give the idea that a pregnant woman could go into the clinic and receive the services they need or want, whether that be prenatal care, an abortion, adoption services, or other reproductive health services. I told him that this is not the case. CPCs do not perform abortions. Not only do they not perform abortions, they are extremely anti-aboriton and anti-choice. They believe that the only answer is to carry the pregnancy to full term. He understood what I was saying and seemed to have one of those ah-ha moments. I continued talking. I told him that these clinics scare me and in my opinion they are horrible. They lie to women who walk in looking for help and support and until recently they were not obligated to tell women upfront that abortion is not an option at their facility. I was upset and could have gone on forever but I stopped and he agreed to watch it.

The juxtaposition of the two clinics might have left some pro-choice viewers with something to be desired. There was not much focus on the pro-choice clinic. I definitely think that it is important to recognize the amazing work that the employees of Women’s World Medical (and the other clinics like it) do. The doctors and support staff that work at clinics that provide abortion services and comprehensive reproductive health services are heros in my eyes. But by highlighting the behavior of the employees of the CPC and the anti-choice protestors outside the pro-choice clinic, 12th & Delaware showed the closed minded, immoral, dishonest, dangerous, and harassing behavior of the pro-life movement.
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Debunking Popular Anti-Choice Myths

23 Aug

Often times anti-choicers will use misinformation and biased sources to turn people onto their way of thinking. I wanted to take this opportunity to debunk a number of popular anti-choice myths using statistics and studies from non-biased sources.

Myth: Pro-choice really just means pro-abortion

Fact: Pro-choice activists fight for much more than just abortion rights. The basis of the pro-choice argument is that individual women should be able to make choices about their own bodies. In addition to abortion rights, we push for comprehensive sex education, easier and cheaper/free access to birth control, and the right of pregnant women to give birth the way they choose.

Myth: The fetus can feel pain

Fact: According to the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, fetuses under 24 weeks do not have the capacity to feel pain. According to the RCOG

In reviewing the neuroanatomical and physiological evidence in the fetus, it was apparent that connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation.

The majority of abortions are done long before this. The roughly 1% of abortions performed after the 24th week are generally wanted pregnancies that are being terminated due to serious health problems or complications.

Myth: Adoption is an alternative to abortion

Fact: While adoption is an alternative to being a parent, abortion is the only alternative to being pregnant. There are multiple reasons a woman may not want to be pregnant for 9 months including mental health issues, rape, incest, physical or mental disabilities, health problems, monetary issues, and lack of healthcare.

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The “Intensity Gap”: Our Young Voters Verses Theirs

22 Aug

Last April when Newsweek published an article that asked, “How can the next generation defend abortion rights when they don’t think abortion rights need defending?” the feminist blogosphere exploded in anger.

“I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist,” wrote Jessica Valenti on Feministing. Steph Herold, founder of this very blog, recently said she created AbortionGang in part as a response to Newsweek’s article. I could cite blog after blog that wasn’t very happy with either Newsweek or NARAL.

Which is a shame, because what NARAL was trying to talk about is something all of us in the pro-choice movement need to be concerned with. The other side does care more than we do. Or at least their voters do. The statement about the next generation not defending abortion wasn’t about our activists. It was about the vast swath of voters under age 30 who are pro-choice or moderately pro-choice but not at all concerned about losing their rights.

I will say that NARAL’s handling of the poll they commissioned by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research was an absolute fiasco. They wanted to counter some recent polling released by Gallup and Pew Research Center that suggested a softening of the public towards legal abortion. As you might expect, their poll, which focused on those under 30, found that the majority of the country still supports legal abortion but that “younger people are solidly pro-choice, though there is more intensity among anti-choice young people than prochoice young people.”

Translation: Under 30 pro-choice voters were more openly accepting of pro-life Democrats than pro-life Republicans were of politicians who were pro-choice.

NARAL shared with me some PowerPoint slides of their polling and it highlights what they call the “intensity gap” between pro-choice voters (ages 18-29) and anti-choice voters of the same age. When asked “In making a voting decision, how important is the issue of abortion for you when deciding how to vote–very important, somewhat important, not very important or not at all important” 51 percent of the anti-choice voters said it was “very important.” But only 26 percent of the pro-choice voters said the same.

Around the time of the Newsweek article I talked to a few of my pro-choice friends who aren’t activists. I would define an activist as anyone who does anything — phone-banking, donating money, sending an email to a politician, or writing for the web – on behalf of pro-choice rights. But we all know there are a lot of people who vote solid pro-choice in November but don’t pay attention to the issue at any other time. Some of those people are my friends.

To be fair, this was a small circle of white (I’ll be honest), urban, and middle-class women. But what I found out was they don’t really think their right to an abortion is at risk. And you know what? They might just be right. If you are the kind of person who can afford to take up to two days off from work, live in an urban area, and could potentially gather $1000 in an emergency (perhaps from family), then your access to an abortion probably isn’t at risk.

State restrictions on abortion are far more common than federal, and abortion clinics tend to be located in the most populous cities of any state. Which is where a heck of a lot of pro-choice voters are located.

I’m very concerned about motivating pro-choice voters to activism without using the threat of “abortion will be outlawed.” It may become unavailable in some states, but if voters on “our side” assume it will be available to them somewhere (perhaps in the big city they live in) then how do we convince them to be concerned?

NARAL is trying to garner focus on the state-sponsored attempts to restrict access and reach out to youth with their Vision to Win campaign. Is the movement doing enough? I don’t know. But I know that I’ll probably always be able to get an abortion should I need it because I have the resources and the geographic proximity. The question is will everyone?

Problem Patients: I think Abortion is Murder, but I Still Need One

20 Aug

Sometimes working in abortion care is not so different from other parts of the medical field. There are patients you love to work with, who appreciate your expertise and compassionate care, and others who are more frustrating, who require more of your time, energy, and patience. One particular brand of complicated abortion patients is the woman who says some variation of, “I think abortion is murder, but I want to have one anyway” or “I think you should be in jail for working here, but I need a procedure done.” How do you interact with this patient in a way that is healthy and preserves both your rights as a care provider and her rights as a woman?

I recently finished reading Dr. Susan Wicklund’s book This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor. One of the many powerful stories she tells is about her interaction with a patient like the one I described above. Dr. Wicklund had a detailed conversation with the patient about the patient’s view on abortion, and ultimately Dr. Wicklund decides not perform the abortion. This is both for her sanity as well as the emotional health of the patient. Dr. Wicklund explains her decision by saying that the patient has the right to her own opinion on abortion, just as Dr. Wicklund has the right to refuse to see patients who she doesn’t think are making a healthy medical decision, patients who thinks she is a murderer, yet want her to perform the procedure anyway. “I have rights too,” she powerfully declares.

When I read that, I had to put the book down. I never thought about it that way. Does this woman have the right to have an abortion? Absolutely. Does she have the right to violate an abortion provider’s emotional security and moral center? Hell no. I had this conversation with women time and again and was always torn — yes, they deserve to decide what medical care they receive. But do they have the right to tear down my profession in the process, calling us murderers and then demanding services? It’s not exactly something they go over in basic training, is it?

What do you think? I’d love to hear from other abortion land workers as well as pro-choice activists about this one.