Archive | April, 2011

Want To Eliminate The Need For Abortion? Make Contraception Accessible

29 Apr

According to Reuters, the number of women who say they have used emergency contraception has more than doubled – from about 4% in 2002 to 10% in less than 10 years. This is likely due to the decision to make the “morning after pill” available over the counter. In other words, when you make contraception safe, accessible, and affordable*, people will use it, thereby preventing the unintended pregnancies that often result in termination.

If you are under 17, you must have a prescription, which requires a doctor’s note, which in many cases requires involving a parent. EC also needs to be taken within 120 hours (5 days), and the sooner, the better. If you’ve ever tried to get an appointment with your doctor in a timely manner, you know how difficult that can be unless you show up at the emergency room having been both stabbed and shot – and even then, you’re probably behind a guy with a tree trunk through his torso. This arbitrary rule would seem to indicate that teenagers’ contraceptive needs are not as important to lawmakers as the ongoing desire to (inadequately) police their morals and values.

Let us be clear: emergency contraception is called that for a reason. It is contraception. If you are pregnant, it will not terminate the pregnancy. It is the equivalent of a condom, or the pill – but it can work after those have failed, preventing sperm from fertilizing the egg. It is the “oops the condom broke” answer we never used to have. It is the “crap – did I take my pill this morning??” you may not need to panic about the answer to. Emergency contraception is a lovely solution to the impasse between “I don’t want to get pregnant” and “I got pregnant and don’t want to be pregnant.” If the goal is really to lower the number of abortions people have, the simplest, most graceful solution is to lower the number of unintended pregnancies. Lawmakers, take note: promoting the availability, accessibility, and affordability of contraception serves to prove that people want to make the best decisions for themselves. Catch your policy up to our reality.

*According to Planned Parenthood, the pill can cost $10-$70. Imagine how helpful it is to have it covered by insurance or a co-pay. It can cost up to $250 if you’re under 17 and need a doctor’s visit and a prescription – imagine how many young people could prevent a pregnancy and avoid an abortion entirely if some strange moral social code decided that access was better for them than an unintended pregnancy!

Will.I.Am Gives the Wrong Message on Safe Sex

28 Apr

The slew of famous people that have come out with statements about American sexuality of late, has been annoying, to say the least. The slew of men that have recently come out with statements about women’s sexuality has been infuriating. But that’s not really anything new, is it?

Will.I.Am- producer, actor, singer, songwriter, Black Eyed Peas member, among other things- sat down with Andrew Goldman of Elle magazine and spoke about several random topics, thrown together by Goldman to create the portrait of a complex, philosophical, highly intriguing man that seems to be at the forefront of pop culture (He’s not really any of those things, but that’s the crux of Goldman’s article).

Naturally, because Will.I.Am is a rock star and rock stars are pegged as sexy sex-machines, the topic of sex does arise during the interview, and boy oh boy (should I say, “girl oh girl?”) does Will.I.Am really tell us women how it is.

“If she had condoms in her house, that would just fuckin’ throw me off. That’s just tacky.”

Okay, Will.I.Am, thanks for letting us know. But before we get into what this type of comment even means, let’s go back to the beginning of the piece, shall we. Create some context, as it were.

Prior to that little gem, Will.I.Am spoke about waiting until 19 to masturbate and insinuated that he didn’t lose his virginity until some time after that point. When asked why that was, Will.I.Am’s response was to place his mother on a pedestal and solemnly intone that, “we never talked about [sex] growing up.”

And then he takes it one step further, making a comment, which I think really encapsulates and in part, explains, the conservative piety that comes through in the condom remark:

“To me, sex isn’t like an extracurricular activity that you do because you’re [feeling amorous]. Because I was raised around girls, I think I’ve adopted that perspective on sex. When you’re with somebody and you love them, then you’re going to do it and you’re going to do it a lot. On tour, the band started calling me G. S., for the Good Samaritan.”

In this one comment, Will.I.Am makes two really stereotypical assumptions about what he thinks is “normal” female sexual behavior. One: since he’s been raised around girls, he insinuates that he has a “female” perspective on sex, meaning he has sex with only women that he loves, because, you know, women just sleep with a person they are in love with. Two: he says that he is considered a Good Samaritan because he’s presumably not promiscuous when on tour, meaning of course, that morality and sexuality are inextricably linked; a suggestion I am not going to try to defend or explain and neither should he–it’s above our pay grade.

So, back to the remark about the condoms. With the above context, sure, someone that considers them self to be so “morally good,” is going to consider the responsible act of a woman keeping condoms to use during sexual encounters “tacky.” Because, to mister G.S., such a display of wanton disregard for feminine sexual ideals and American puritanical society’s disinclination toward acceptance of female sexual responsibility, is tacky. I mean really! She’s sexual active, and keeping condoms to prevent pregnancy and STI’s! What is this madness?

Okay, enough with the snark. Will.I.Am’s comment is not only dripping with pious condescension, it’s also very dangerous. As I remarked above, Will.I.Am has been at the forefront of mainstream pop culture for upwards of 5 years, he’s campaigned with President Obama, performed at the super bowl, and remarked on many political topics throughout the past decade. Suffice it to say, people pay attention to this silly man, and what is more, they listen to what he says.

Remarking about condoms in a way other than, “wear a condom to protect yourself and your partner” is just plain irresponsible.

Violence towards the Anti-Abortion Right

27 Apr

Personally, I find any form of violence against another person to be abhorrent. I don’t support war or the death penalty, which are generally approved of by the public. Obviously, I don’t believe a fetus is a person, or I wouldn’t be writing for the Abortion Gang.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, let’s discuss Ted Schulman. Raised by a famous women’s-lib activist, Alix Kates Schulman, who was very vocal about her own abortions, it makes sense that Ted would be passionate about the subject. But, when does passion go too far?

Ted is accused of threatening anti-abortion organizations and outspoken members of that community through phone calls, in writing, and online. His threats implied that violence would follow the actions of the harassed, never explicitly stating that he would be the perpetrator of this violence.  But, as anyone who has experience harassment knows, an implied threat is the same thing as an explicit one. Violence would have been visited on these people, likely perpetrated by Mr. Schulman.

I am not here to play the finger-pointing game nor am I going to write a comparative essay. I don’t live by an eye-for-any-eye philosophy. I understand “cause and effect,” but that is not the topic of my discourse. If this is what you are looking to read, please go elsewhere.

I digress. The behavior that Mr. Schulman is exhibiting is repugnant. Every person born in this country has the right to live free of fear. Our society states that this is the case. People seek situations that make them feel safe. It is a human desire. To cause someone else to fear, especially for their lives and the lives of their loved ones, is not only morally appalling, but it is, thankfully, illegal.

This behavior is not condoned by the Abortion Gang. The idea that Mr. Schulman holds dear, that violence will solve our struggles, is incorrect. Peaceful discussion, disagreement and discourse are the only way for progress to be made. Radicals on either side who use violence to make their point only serve to hurt their cause, regardless of where they stand.

We expect and hope that Mr. Schulman will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And we would also hope that this serves as an example to both sides of the abortion debate: violence is never the answer.

The Shame Game

26 Apr

Every Saturday I wander my way to Union Square to see a lady with a mohawk to move among her garbage cans and worms and dump my frozen compost.  This particular Saturday, the copious April showers forced my adventure there subterranean.  Sitting on the subway with a clear plastic bag of rotting fruit and vegetables, I began to notice my car mates staring and sniffing.  At some point it became a challenge to see how many people would look, would anyone say anything?  Would they scoot away to escape the smell?  To not be associated with the trash girl?

Well, as much as pride myself on my little social experiment I was topped this week by a brave young woman who subjected herself to such a trial for six months.  She sacrificed much of her senior year to her mission.  Lying to even her best friend for what she believed would be a greater good.  At 17, that alone is no easy feat.  But what she lied about makes it all the more complicated: she faked a pregnancy.

Now in her words she, was “fighting against those stereotypes and rumors because the reality is I’m not pregnant.”  By “those  stereotypes” she referred to the nasty things her peers had said about her in the six months prior at school, before they knew she was not truly pregnant.

But a reproductive justice frame—well that tells a different story.  The media attention and stigma around pregnant teens is very powerful, unless you happen to be on Teen Mom.  National media is, perhaps, the most powerful advocacy tool we have.  But what was the message transmitted here?  Everything’s okay because she’s not pregnant?  She was an A-student so she couldn’t have really been pregnant, it’s only those dumb people who go around having babies “too young.”  You should lie to your partner’s family about pregnancy?  Lie to your siblings?  Lie to your best friend?

At 17, I was barely aware of anything besides an overwhelming urge to leave the burbs and spread my wings.  There was no way I would have had the forethought or persistence to pursue any cause, let alone commit myself to something so time intensive.  For that I give Ms. Gaby Rodriguez all the credit in the world.  She is very brave, and I have no doubt will go far.   But I think by accident she may have propagated her own shame game when she said, “I’m not planning to have a child until after I graduate.”

Unto itself it is a fine decision, and in a lot of cases logical.  But after all that effort to support young pregnant women I would have hoped that one of the two quotes she gave wasn’t othering herself from the women she was so eager to fight for.  It would be simple to blame the media, and it may be true.  But then you return to the question of the advocacy message being projected.  Most of the articles I saw ended on this note that she wouldn’t be breeding for years, with the implication that’s the happy ending.  Bright young girl survives social experiment to not have babies.

With that we return to trash girl.  Now that shame game had few consequences beyond my blushing.  No media attention, no lies, no wider motivation.  Simply an interest in human reaction.  What I pose to you is tomorrow (or perhaps the next day) prompting your own shame game.  Ideally it would be reproductively related.  I recommend whipping your birth control on the subway, flaunting tampons on the trip from your desk to the bathroom, or perhaps even * gasp * pulling a condom out of your purse in a bar.  See who looks, see who doesn’t, and let us know.

What Voting and Fetal Pain Laws Have in Common

25 Apr

The right to vote is guaranteed to every single United States citizen over the age of 18, that’s common knowledge.  What if one state, say Iowa, was trying to change that?  Maybe they decided that in their state people had to wait until they were 20 to vote.  In their mind, they’re not breaking the law; just refining it.

A few months go by and Iowa decides to add some more measurements to their voting law.  You can still vote when you’re 20, but you just have to wait a little while.  Instead of being able to vote as soon as you turn in your voting registration papers, you have to wait 72 hours; to make sure voting is something you really want to do.

Still a few more months go by and the local government isn’t seeing the decline in voting that they wanted to, so they decide to institute new regulations.  Now when you go to vote, the person running the voting both must tell you that voting causes cancer.  Even though there is absolutely no crediable proof that voting does cause cancer, you must be told that before you are allowed to vote.

Sounds crazy, right?  Well laws such as these are currently being put in place in an effort to regulate abortion.  So maybe abortion is a little more controversial than voting, but the same principal is in each.  Roe v. Wade protects a women’s right to abort her fetus into the second trimester, the same way that the 26th amendment protect a US citizen’s right to vote at age of 18.  Several states, including Iowa, have been trying to challenge that and pass laws that make abortions illegal after 20 weeks.  They’re still keeping abortion legal, but adding restrictions on how late into pregnancy abortions can be preformed.

The list of absurd laws goes on: South Dakota has a new law that forces women to wait 3 days before having an abortion and Indiana even has a bill working its way up to the governor that would force doctors to tell women in writing that abortion causes cancer (yet there is medical no link between the two).  Abortions cause cancer the same way voting causes cancer: it doesn’t.

These attacks are not only immoral, some should be considered illegal under Roe.  For more information about your states laws and restrictions on abortion, the Guttmacher Institute breaks it down state-by-state in an easy to read chart here.


A Pro-Choice Canadian Voter’s Guide

21 Apr
So there is a federal election coming up in Canada (on May 2nd), and a lot of people are hoping that a large percentage of the electorate is finally over their inexplicable love affair with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Obviously there are many issues that may influence your vote, but if you are concerned about abortion (and you should be: in the last couple of years the Conservatives have made several efforts to chip away at access), here are some things you should know. 

First, is your MP anti-choice? To find out, have a look at the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s list of anti-choice MPs, which has been updated for this election. Please note, it’s not just Conservatives – so voting “anyone but Cons” is not a guarantee of a pro-choice MP!

Second, campaign time is a great time to let the candidates know what matters to you. Call, email or write to the candidates in your riding and let them know how integral abortion rights and access are to gaining your vote! If an incumbent comes to your door, look up their record on women’s issues and ask them about their votes.  This is the time when candidates will be listening to the people and finding out what issues need to be dealt with. Make sure you find out who all the candidates in your riding are – for instance, I had no idea that the Marxist-Leninist Party was running a candidate in my riding!

Don’t just focus on individual candidates either: have a look at party leaders, and party platforms as a whole. For example, many people believe that the Green Party is socially liberal because of their environmental message, but you might be surprised at what you discover in their platform. Remember that issues intersect: a party that does not specifically address abortion can sometimes be judged on their position on other social issues. 

Something simple you can do is talk to others about abortion and other social issues that mean a lot to you. You don’t need to tell people who to vote for; just get the ideas flowing around government and what it actually means. Remember, the personal is political. A lot of people think politics don’t touch their lives; however, everything you worry about in the day, whether it is traffic or childcare or the price of gas, can be traced back to government. So ask the people in your life: what concerns you in your day to day life? And take it from there!

If you are someone who is concerned about splitting the non-Conservative vote, please inform yourself before voting strategically. I personally am absolutely opposed to strategic voting and cannot recommend or endorse it, but I can’t stop you from doing whatever you want with your vote, so make sure to check out the Catch 22 campaign.

For all the resources you need on when, where, and how to vote, check out Elections Canada. Happy voting!

What Kind Of Fuckery Is This?: An Anti-choice Legislative Primer

14 Apr

This past weekend at the CLPP conference, Amanda Allen, a Legal Fellow from the Center for Reproductive Rights, gave a quick-and-dirty breakdown of the legislative shenanigans no reproductive rights activist could possibly have failed to notice. Amanda tracks these bills at the state and federal level as part of her fellowship. In addition to the kind of anecdotal evidence we’ve all been tossing around – she mentioned that no one at the Center can remember a legislative season which so clearly had it in for the health and choice of female-bodied persons – she’s got cold hard numbers that speak volumes; this amazing woman is tracking hundreds of anti-choice bills right now.

The hundreds of anti-choice bills, however, aren’t the big problem. There have always been anti-choice bills, if the numbers have perhaps been less staggering. The real problem, as Amanda noted, is that the last election cycle brought changes in state legislatures and, even more importantly, governorships, which means that bucket-o-crazy bills like the Ohio “heartbeat” legislation can now pass the state House and Senate and be signed into law. It’s that last bit – the actually-a-snowball’s-chance-in-hell-of-being-signed-into-law bit – that is relatively new, unusual, and highly alarming.

Amanda pointed to 5 distinct trends in the ever-evolving whirligig of fun that is the avalanche of anti-choice legislation we are currently facing:

1) Later abortion bans and complete abortion bans. The Ohio “heartbeat” bill, which would prevent abortions as early as 18 days into pregnancy, falls under this category, as does the Nebraska ban on abortions after 20 weeks. It is very possible that a challenge to these will eventually end up in the Supreme Court, where a 5 to 4 conservative majority that recently declared that corporations have the same rights as individuals could very well do the same with fetuses. I don’t mean to be alarmist here; this possibility is very real and in fact, in my opinion, very likely.

2) Personhood laws.
These laws give a fetus the legal protections of a person. One of these bills passed the North Dakota House but died in the state Senate; more have been put forth in the last two weeks in Alabama. For my part, I would like it noted here that my spellcheck does not recognize “personhood” as a word. My spellcheck is probably pro-choice.

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How to Be an Accountable Ally

13 Apr

I was at CLPP this past weekend — a yearly conference at Hampshire College called From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Advancing the Movement for Reproductive Freedom. As you can imagine, a lot of shit goes down in this space, most of it good, some of it ugly, all of it challenging and inspiring. One big theme of the conference was how some organizations are not accountable allies. What we didn’t talk about, at least at the panels I attended, was HOW to be an accountable ally. How do you make sure that in fighting for your own rights, you’re not trampling on someone else’s?

Let me put a disclaimer on this: I’m no authority on the subject. I have a shitload of privilege and am unpacking it as we go along. If you see a gaping hole, please speak up! This is not the end all, be all — it’s the start of a conversation.

So. How do you be an accountable ally?

1. Own your history. This came up frequently at CLPP, mostly in reference to Planned Parenthood and their failure to message effectively on Margaret Sanger and her history with eugenics. In order to be an ally, you have to be willing to talk about the uncomfortable shit, especially when it involves racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, etc. Before you think about helping transform another person’s history, confront your own.

2. Examine your privilege. I’ll go on the record as saying that I hate the word privilege. It reeks of jargon and academic superiority, but it’s important nonetheless. A non-exhaustive list of articles to read on privilege:

3. Do some learning. The last thing you want to do is show up in someone else’s space and expect them to educate you about their lives, their struggle, their issues. Do some research on your own. Asking questions is fine, but expecting someone else to break it down for you is not. What do I mean, exactly? Asking a woman of color to explain the rocky history between feminism and racism is not acceptable. Most people are not walking encyclopedias, and it is not her job to educate you. At the very least, do some googling before you approach someone about their history.

4. Admit it when you screw up and apologize. I’m 100% guilty of being defensive instead of making a disagreement or confrontation into a learning opportunity. This is critical — we’re going to fuck up in this work, and we have to be humble enough to admit it when we do. Claiming that you had good intentions is not enough — own your mistakes! I’ll be the first to tell you that this is pretty freaking painful in the moment (not to mention an ego blow), but well worth it in the long run. No one is The Perfect Ally, an admitting it proves that you’re aware of your own faults.

5. This is a process, and it won’t be easy. So forgive yourself when you make mistakes, because you will. Just because you intend to become an ally doesn’t mean that you are one — being an ally is a two way street. It’s an honor and privilege (!) to be trusted by a community that’s not your own.

For more on CLPP, take a look herehere and here. And please add your comments and additions to this list.

Lying about Rape

12 Apr

Most of us have seen the video of Indiana State Rep. Eric Turner (R) expressing his “concerns” with the rape exception for HB 1210, which would make most abortions illegal after 20 weeks. He stated,

I just want you to think about this, in my view, giant loophole that could be created where someone who could — now I want to be careful, I don’t want to disparage in any way someone who has gone through the experience of a rape or incest — but someone who is desirous of an abortion could simply say that they’ve been raped or there’s incest.

Basically he is afraid that some slutty woman is going to want an abortion at 24 weeks and she is going to use the rape loophole to her advantage. The feminist world was rightfully outraged. Or were they?

I’ve been thinking about this since the story broke. We know that women have died to get an abortion. Women self-aborted or had abortions by unlicensed practitioners in back alleys before abortion was legal. Even while legal, but often prohibitively expensive or with numerous hoops to jump through, women have died in unsafe clinics like ‘Dr.’ Kermit Gosnell’s in order to obtain an abortion. We know that a desperate woman will do anything to get an abortion – including risking her own life. Place yourself in the shoes of a woman in Indiana who finds out at 16, 17 or 18 weeks that she is pregnant and she needs an abortion. Maybe I didn’t know, maybe you ignored the signs because you were desperate for it not to be true. Somehow you’ve gotten to 20 weeks and abortion is only legal in 2 circumstances: rape or incest. Now you have a few choices: 1) carry to term, 2) self-abort and risk your life, 3) say you were raped. Option 3 gets you what you need without risking your life. Damn right you are going to do whatever you need to do to get that abortion; damn right you will say you’ve been raped.

Review of MTV Canada Show “Impact: Abortion Stories”

11 Apr

Last night, MTV Canada aired a half-hour special called “Impact: Abortion Stories.” So I watched it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, although I was certainly wary of a network that expends entire series (and countless hours of specials) on teen motherhood and one half-hour on abortion (and nothing at all on adoption, as far as I can tell). Certainly the show was aimed at teens, and so I was bracing myself for a certain amount of drama and sensationalism.

The format of the show was in seven segments of a young person talking into the camera about their experience with abortion (or pregnancy or activism), interspersed with footage of protests (both pro-choice and anti-abortion) and myths and facts about abortion.

Let’s start with the myths, because that was the best feature of the show, and the deciding factor in my decision that this was, indeed, a pro-choice special. They presented five myths and quickly debunked them using simple, clear language. If the show had just been this, it would have been a great teaching tool for teens – good for sex ed classes, if we were ever that progressive. The myths they chose to include were: abortion causes breast cancer; only young women/teenagers have abortions; post-abortion syndrome exists; abortion affects future fertility; and outlawing abortion will reduce the number of abortions.

The rest of the show involved seven young people talking about their experiences, over a horrendous, soap opera-style backing track. Each of them probably got about two minutes of screen time, so you would think they would want to maximize the number of women actually talking about abortion. But of the seven people involved, only four had actually had abortions – one had decided to parent (even though, as mentioned previously, there are numerous shows on this network alone about teen parenting), one was an anti-choice activist (WTF?) and one was a man whose girlfriend had an abortion.

The inclusion of the man was the most troubling for me. I do realize that men can experience a lot of pain around abortion, and certainly this man was hurting. But for a half hour special, you need to pick and choose. Let’s talk about men and abortion, sure; but let’s make sure women’s voices are heard first. And I would have loved to have heard from this man’s ex-girlfriend, the one who had the abortion. According to him, she didn’t want him to go with her to the appointment. There seemed to be a lot more going on there than he was telling. And then when his next girlfriend became pregnant, HE decided that HE couldn’t  bear to go through that again, so he told her “we are having this child no matter what.” So they did. Presenting this story in the same sympathetic light as the five young  women’s stories was an idiotic and alienating move on MTV’s part. I wanted to throw something at the television. What is the matter with this guy?? And why are we privileging his story over either of the young women he was  involved with (because yes, the woman who had a child with him also broke up with him)?

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