Archive | January, 2011

Now Republicans Want to Change the Definition of Rape?

31 Jan

Under the new extreme anti-choice leadership of the House of Representatives, Republicans are coming out of the woodwork to propose and pass legislation radically restricting women’s access to abortion services.

For instance, Rep. Chris Smith (R- N.J.) introduced the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” earlier this month which would radically change tax credits for health care plans in the U.S. This Act would deny tax credits to businesses that provide abortion services (even if no federal funds are used to fund abortions), and would even prevent someone from taking income tax deductions for medical expenses for any health plan that covered abortions.

But that’s not all that the Act would do. The act would also redefine the exemption for federal funded abortions in cases of rape to only apply to instances of “forcible rape.” What does that mean, you ask? Well, the criminal code of the US has no definition for “forcible rape,” and the bill sponsored by Rep. Smith doesn’t provide a definition either. This leaves the door open for anyone to make an interpretation of what forcible rape means to them — but this leaves out a critical truth: rape can take place without the use of force.

This new definition of rape means that victims of rape who are drugged, given excessive amounts of alcohol, mentally unable to give consent, or underage victims of statutory rape will NOT be able to receive federal funds for an abortion under the proposed law.

Obviously, this is ridiculous. Just saying “no” or refusal to give consent is enough, in the criminal code, to constitute rape. Anti-choice members of Congress are developing their own definition to try to find more ways to restrict women’s access to abortion. Not only is it disgusting and insulting to men and women, but it promotes a culture that treats rape as an acceptable offense. We can not go back to a culture and legal system that says some instances of rape are okay, or that rape is alright as long as you don’t hit the woman. Rape is never okay, and a woman should never be required to bear the consequences of a crime that she did nothing to deserve.

Shortchanging Men

28 Jan

Picture this. You’re in a grocery store with your child or a friend’s child. Your child is around 4 years old. You’re looking at something on the shelf and next thing you know, your child is gone. You look up and down the aisle but they are nowhere to be seen. Starting to panic, but not in full-blown panic mode yet, you start looking around the store. All of a sudden you see your child hand in hand with a woman who is walking towards the exit. What goes through your mind? If you are like me, and I suspect most women, you assume that the woman is going to the nearest checkout or customer service desk so an announcement can be made. You breathe a sigh of relief and hustle over to thank the woman.

Now re-read that story but instead of seeing your child walking away with a woman, what if your child was being lead by a man to the exit? Would you have the same sense of relief? Would you assume that he was taking the child to a store employee, or would you would tense up and wonder/worry/fear that he was going to exit the store with your child and do who-knows-what to your child? Be honest. How would you feel?

We are all well aware of how gender stereotypes hurt women and most of us realize the often subtle, negative effects on men. My boyfriend pointed this one out to me, one I had never considered for the simple reason that I am not a man and it never occurred to me. The fact is, parents have been teaching their children to fear men. It may not be intentional and most of us aren’t even aware of it, but if we see a child crying on the street, if a woman is comforting the child, we think nothing of it. But if a man is comforting that child, we wonder. This is something I never ever considered, but it is explained well in this article. My boyfriend has told me that if he saw a child crying on the street or lost in a store, he would walk away. He wouldn’t do anything to help the child. This is not because he is a heartless bastard, it’s because he is terrified of being accused of abusing or hurting the child, or worse, of attempting to kidnap the child.

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Later Abortions and Reproductive Justice

27 Jan

“You will see me on the news.” Stella* said this with complete seriousness, the gravity of her statement not hitting me at once.

“What do you mean?” I asked cautiously.

“I’ll throw myself down the stairs. I’ll do what it takes. I need to get rid of this baby.”

Stella presented at my clinic at 28 weeks in her pregnancy. She had no insurance, had become pregnant as a result of rape, and because she had still been getting her periods until about one month prior, had no idea that she was past the legal abortion limit in Pennsylvania. She said this to me from behind sunglasses, her hands tensely gipping the chair’s armrests. I can only imagine the thoughts going through her head. I talked to her about the possibility of going to Kansas (Dr. Tiller’s clinic was still an option at that time) or Nebraska, but she didn’t have the money for a first trimester abortion in her home state, much less the finances to travel across the country. As I was explaining what her options were, including adoption and trying to fundraise to travel to another state, she got up and left. She didn’t slam the door. She collected her things and without looking at me, closed the door and walked out of the clinic.

I didn’t see her on the news. Despite the calls I made to her apartment, her place of work, her partner, I have no idea what happened to this woman. What I do know is that her desperation and anxiety were palpable, and I felt powerless to help her, to empower her to make the right decision for herself regarding her pregnancy.

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From the Outside Looking In

26 Jan

Some people (antis mainly) have questioned why I, a Canadian, am involved in American abortion rights issues. I could give the simple answers, such as the fact that I lived in Hawaii and Texas from ages 5-9, thus giving me a connection. Or I could argue that since I know American women the issue affects me. These are both good reasons and I will use any of them to dismiss an anti, but I have a better one. Regardless of where a woman lives, her access to safe and legal abortion services affects me as a woman.

At one time women worldwide weren’t allowed to vote, they were property of their father or husband, and they had next to no rights. Then a mass wave began washing across the world and women in most countries were given independence from men: the right to own property rather than be traded as property, and the right to vote. There are still some countries where women don’t have all these rights, but for a time those countries were the majority. One country started the “revolution” of independence for women and it spread. Waves can go both ways; we can progress forwards or we can regress backwards. Forwards would be all women having access to safe, legal and cheap/free abortion services. Backwards would be the situation in many third world countries where women die frequently from a lack of safe abortion services. The U.S. straddles the border between progressive first world country and regressive third world country. Abortion is legal and generally safe but it is becoming increasingly inaccessible. The fate of American women affects me because simply caring about my own situation is unacceptable.

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Abortion Is Not A Game Show Prize

25 Jan

In the state of Texas, if you want to have an abortion you have to do so much more than just locate a clinic and scrounge up a few hundred dollars to pay for the procedure. Here are some of the hoops you have to jump through:

  • Listen to lecture on “fetal pain” (although it has been scientifically proven that fetuses cannot feel pain until 23 weeks).
  • 24 hour waiting period … so get ready to take not one, but two days off from work, ladies!
  • Despite the National Cancer Institute concluding that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer, get ready for a stimulating lecture on the topic.
  • Every woman feels different emotions after an abortion – some even feel relief to no longer be pregnant! – but in Texas and five other states, you will be told that you will feel depressed, and may even be suicidal post abortion.

Louisiana leaves out the psycho-babble and breast cancer fiction, but adds in a required ultrasound. Alaska likes to spin a good yarn, and tells women seeking abortions in Sarah Palin’s homeland that they will get breast cancer … right after they cause the fetus (no matter how small) pain while murdering it.

Texas Governor Rick Perry wants to up the ante for women seeking an abortion by requiring them to undergo a sonogram at least 24 hours prior to accessing a legal abortion. He wants it so badly, in fact, that he has made his bill, Senate 16, into “emergency legislation” that the state legislators must decide on within 30 days.

Is there a reason for any of these steps? No. Getting an abortion is not a scavenger hunt, nor is it an application to college or for a summer job.

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Why Escorting Is Not Counter-Protesting

24 Jan

I’ve been volunteering one Saturday a month as a clinic escort for a clinic that’s some distance from where I live. This clinic has to draw volunteers from some distance because the town it’s located in doesn’t have enough of a population of activists to have volunteers every Saturday.

I don’t know where the protesters come from, maybe they are driving the same distances we are, but they are there every Saturday. They draw some perky women protesters. They have a smile plastered on their faces even as they tell us escorts that we’re helping kill children. At this location the protesters will also talk to (harass) the escorts when there aren’t patients around. It takes a strong constitution to ignore them. It’s a good reminder what it’s like for a patient to have strange people talking at you.

I know mostly pro-choice people read this blog, but I also know that not everyone who does is. So I want to spell out where escorts differ from protesters in a way that might not be obvious. Escorts are not the salesmen of abortion. We’re not standing outside to sell women on abortion. We’re there to make sure they’re not harassed if they want to walk into the clinic.

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Blog for Choice: Dear Congress, Women are Taxpayers, Too.

21 Jan

Blog for ChoiceIt is scary to admit this, but the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress do put women’s rights to their own bodies at risk now, and in the future. In the past year alone so many bills have come before state legislatures that would all but eliminate abortion in those states. While I live in New Jersey, a state so small that were abortion to be outlawed I could go to any one of three or four nearby states within an hour or two to have an abortion, many states are so physically large that if abortion is not available to a woman in that state, then it will not be available to her at all.

Meanwhile, as I write this there is a war being fought on the floor of Congress over the “Obamacare” health care act passed last year. Rep. Boehner, the House’s Republican Speaker gave a press conference, with the express goal to “make clear that taxpayer funding of elective abortion will not be the policy of this government.” Rep. Smith, from New Jersey (no, not my district), gave a speech filled with anti-choice dialect and vitriol, saying, that their bill, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” will mean that taxpayers “no longer are coerced into using taxpayer money to subsidize the killing of an unborn child.”

1 in 3 women will have an abortion before she is 45 … and every last one of those women is a taxpayer as well. But that logic eludes these anti choice men, whose numbers have swelled to the point where they may be able to pass their laws. They may be able to coerce women into having unwanted pregnancies because they cannot afford to have an abortion. Smith had the gall to intimate that taking away federal funding for abortion would mean reducing the need for abortion, arguing that abortion rates drop without federal subsidies.

Yes, the number of women who are able to access legal, safe, abortions goes down when more women cannot afford them. Of course, that does not mean that just as many women do not need abortion access. Only that they are being forced to underground abortion providers, like Gosnell, that they are carrying a pregnancy to term that they do not want and cannot afford. Because if a woman cannot afford an abortion, then what makes Boehner, Smith, or any other anti choice proponent think she can afford to take care of herself and have a healthy pregnancy? Afford expensive hospital bills when she gives birth?

And even if they are to patronize women with the offer of a free hospital stay to give birth, who are they to belittle women – who are taxpayers just like they are – into being no more than cows giving birth to veal in a pen? It is scary that a country that was founded on principles of liberty and justice for all has leaders at every level of government who have thoughtlessly thrown away my rights to my own body.

Sizing Up the Maryland Attack on Women’s Rights

20 Jan

In case you missed the latest news coming out of Maryland, I have a breakdown of this recycled attack coming from the right under the guises of health and safety. Once again anti-choice proponents have levied an attack on the clinics filling the much needed role of providers of complete reproductive health for women given that hospitals across the country no longer can be counted on in this capacity. So what are they trying to pull now? Chances are, you will recognize the tactic, as they have attempted this in the past on a grander scale. Perhaps that defeat did not cause them to see the errors of their thinking on this issue, as much as it did just make them retreat for a time until the public’s mind was elsewhere when they could relapse and try again on a smaller, one community at a time, kind of approach.

The story, as reported by Change.Org’s Women’s Rights blog:

Delegates Adelaide C. Eckardt and Pamela Beidle have… introduced a bill requiring abortion providers to be regulated as surgical centers. Senator Nancy Jacobs plans to introduce a similar bill in the State Senate.

Surgical centers are held to tougher requirements than clinics and doctors offices, where 95% of abortions are performed, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Surgical centers must have wider doors and hallways, and specialized medical equipment, like ventilators, that are not required at clinics. According to John Nugent, President of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, few (if any) of the 41 abortion providers in the state have the financial means to implement such medically unnecessary changes. Probably because they’re spending their money, you know, treating their patients.

So what is this really about? Is it about the patient as the dressing of the bills would have us believe? In this case, it is only about the patient in so much as they are attempting to keep the patients from having access to abortions. By enforcing unnecessary regulations like these, anti-choice advocates are attempting to find a way to sneak their agendas in through the back door without anyone paying attention to their true motivations. This has nothing to do with the patient experience or well being. It is simply about shutting down as many clinics as possible through their inability to finance the reconstruction these new regulations would demand. If you think that I am just being paranoid, just look a little deeper.

Similar bills in prior legislative session have failed, but legislators and advocates believe these bills have a stronger chance this time, in part because Dr. LeRoy Carhart began practicing in Maryland in December. After the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Dr. Carhart is one of the few remaining late-term abortion providers in the country.

Perhaps it is the cynic within, but when I hear things like this, I cannot help but see any motivations behind the actions of these delegates other than to shut down a clinic that stands as a target to the anti movement. Especially when they are not seeking to regulate plastic surgeons and other health care providers with this legislation as well. Which is understandable, given that said accompanying regulation on other providers is what stopped these kinds of legislative attacks in the past.

The hallway extension to 12ft. that clinics would have to comply with, is one of the unnecessary additions being called for. Presumably, surgical centers are required to have such large hallways because they have to have room for multiple gurneys to go through the hall at once, or to turn around, etc. But that is not necessary in these clinics and our delegates should be better informed about what is needed in the clinics before they attempt to regulate them. Especially when their acts will knowingly limit access to the services that women can get from these clinics that no other health care providers offer.

In short, this is an underhanded attempt to revive a failed attack from the right and hopefully the public will see it for what it is. Sad. Unnecessary. And a move that has already been rejected in the past. Perhaps our side should take comfort in this act, and see this recycling as a sign that they are scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel of ideas. A sign that they are running on empty.

The Dangers and Implications of Medical Murder

19 Jan

In a shocking article recently published by the Associated Press, it was revealed that a Pennsylvania doctor has been charged with eight counts of murder in a case that screams for the public’s attention for many reasons. I will go ahead and warn you now, this is a horribly graphic and heartbreaking account, so please read with discretion. Now it is also important to note that this story is just coming to light, and so the full scope and validity of all of the allegations put forth in the article have yet to be fully substantiated. However, if true, this does highlight a number of points that need to be examined.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 69, made millions of dollars over 30 years, performing as many illegal, late-term abortions as he could, prosecutors said. State regulators ignored complaints about him and failed to inspect his clinic since 1993, but no charges were warranted against them given time limits and existing law, District Attorney Seth Williams said. Nine of Gosnell’s employees also were charged.

Gosnell “induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord,” Williams said.

What makes this story ever the more tragic, is that there were complaints lodged to the State that were not investigated for so long. In fact, if it had not been for complaints about drugs that stemmed from the clinic, investigators would seemingly never have looked into the complaints that were filed. How many of these victims could have been prevented had the State not only listened to the complaints being filed, but acknowledged the overwhelming number of women finding themselves in need of services they could not get anywhere else. So there are numerous implications that Pennsylvanian representatives need to address, and now!

This is a prime example of how the stigma attached to abortion, and the attacks on abortion which limit a woman’s access to safe procedures, gives rise to this kind of barbarism. If you thought that the ‘back-alley’ abortions were just a horror story of the past, then think again. Just now there are clinics like this one where women are subjected to opportunistic and conscienceless practitioners who do not have the patient’s care as a priority at all.

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Connect and Breathe : Someone to Listen on the East Coast

19 Jan

One in three women will have an abortion by the time she is 45. This is a basic fact of life, whether anti-choice activists like it or not. It has also been shown that the statistics change very minimally whether abortion is illegal or not, about one in three women will have an abortion either way. One in three will walk into a clinic, sometimes past protesters, to get an abortion. Most women don’t want to have an abortion, but it’s a necessity to them for whatever reason.

Our reproductive health care community has made it fairly easy for a women to get the treatment she needs, but there is a flaw in the system; there is only minimal support for women after abortions. Many clinics do require follow up appointments with counseling sessions within the days or weeks after an abortion, but what about months or even years later? This is where not for profit organizations like Exhale and Connect & Breathe come in. They are both non-judgmental after abortion talk lines. These talk lines are places where women are able to freely discuss, with trained operators, their experiences with abortion. Exhale has been in existence for awhile providing helpful care and support over the phone to women on the West Coast, while Connect & Breathe is fairly new.

Connect & Breathe was created to fill the gap for a talk line, similar to Exhale, but on the East Coast. Their vision at Connect & Breath is to create “a world where women are listened to and trusted, where the stigma of abortion is lifted, and women serve as their own moral agents regarding their reproductive health.” Their phone lines officially become operational on January 20th, at 5pm EST. From then on there will be trained operators on the phones, waiting to help, every Tuesday and Thursday from 6pm-9pm and Saturdays from 10am-2pm.

If you are having any emotional difficulties after you have had an abortion, whether it be one that you had yesterday or years ago, I encourage you to seek out support from Exhale if you are on the West Coast, or Connect & Breathe on the East. These are both fabulous organizations, waiting to help women everywhere.