Archive | July, 2011

Summer of Choice: What Are You Waiting For?

29 Jul

As pro-choice and reproductive justice activists, we talk a lot about creating change. We call our legislators, sign petitions, and rally our friends and family to donate to our favorite abortion-loving organization. While we’re often on the phone or face to face with other activists, we don’t get many opportunities to support those we so fiercely defend and honor: abortion providers.

Over the next week, you have an opportunity to do just that by attending the Summer of Choice at Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s clinic in Germantown, Maryland. A tsunami of anti-abortion foes are descending on his clinic starting this weekend with one goal in mind: to stop Dr. Carhart from practicing medicine by any means necessary. They call their event the “Summer of Mercy 2.0,” a blatant reference to their horrific “Summer of Mercy” protests of Dr. Tiller in 1991. We know that “mercy” is really anything but what will be on display at their event.

Dr. Carhart, his staff, and fantastic volunteers are organizing the Summer of Choice not as a raucous counter-protest, but as a peaceful display of pro-choice solidarity with the clinic. Dr. Carhart and his staff need our support now more than ever. It’s time to do more than sign a petition or make a donation. It’s time to show up and be heard.

So what are you waiting for? Get yourself down to Maryland and register to participate in the Kick-Off Walk, sign up for their peaceful pro-choice presence, or if you can’t make it, donate so that someone else can.

PS: Need a ride? Talk to these people or these people and they will do their best to hook you up.

Of clinics and coffee shops

28 Jul

Steph’s post here at Abortion Gang back in November, prompted by the closing of the 30-year-old Cedar River Clinic in Yakima, asserted that “we need to value independent clinics.” That got me thinking – how exactly and actually do we as repro justice activists go about “valuing” independent women’s clinics? And is valuing indie women’s clinics in some tangible way enough to keep the rest of our indie women’s clinics from going the way of the dodo?

Let me start with some analogizing. It’s a terrible analogy for a dozen reasons, but I think it’s a good analogy for a few particular reasons, so bear with me: Planned Parenthood is to Starbucks as any given independent women’s clinic is to your independent corner coffee joint.

Now it’s not inherently bad for there to be a Starbucks of reproductive healthcare providers. The fact that nearly everyone short of my mom (and maybe even she does) thinks of Planned Parenthood as the go-to for reproductive services means that at least there IS an obvious choice – which seems good for choice and thus inherently good for women. As the 800-pound gorilla in the room of reproductive healthcare, Planned Parenthood is positioned organizationally, resource-wise, and politically as a force with which to be reckoned, rather than a single ignorable voice in the wilderness.

Indie women’s clinics, on the other hand, get to be the mavericks (can we please have that word back now?) of reproductive healthcare. Because they operate independently rather than under the auspices and directives of a larger parent entity, indie clinics can highlight, focus on, or be particularly stellar on individual facets of patient care and operations in ways that Planned Parenthood often can’t or won’t.

Where the women’s clinic to coffee shop analogy falls off of course is that all repro healthcare clinics, unlike their coffee-shop counterparts, have to grapple with factors borne out of an atmosphere of increasing hostility towards reproductive healthcare issues and politics. This drastically impacts their ability to establish and increase their respective visibility within the community, and to cross-promote their particular character and range of products and services.

For example – any coffee shop is pretty obviously a coffee shop; they tend to be in visible, highly trafficked areas, often capitalizing on the presence of adjacent shops and businesses, and wouldn’t likely set up shop in a completely deserted, hard-to-access or other area that left them functionally invisible. However many women’s clinics either by dictum of building owners and/or trying to keep a low profile to avoid unwanted attention end up understating their presence such that even folks who set out to get there have trouble finding it.

Also contrasting with coffee shops, women’s clinics often have a hell of a time leasing space. It’s probably not surprising to learn that building and business owners frequently just flat out refuse to lease to an organization that provides abortions services. So rather than being able to cherry pick an ideally visible and accessible location, women’s clinics are often relegated to whatever non-ideal location they’re able to procure – including locations that are some combination of unsecured, not accessible via public transit, or difficult to find, drive to, or park near.

Other factors to consider include the ability to court customers for an entire range of offered products, and to bring back repeat customers. A coffee shop would never survive if their clientele were only comprised of folks who dropped in once or a few times then never again, nor would they thrive if most customers only ever bought a cup of black coffee. Women’s clinics face the challenge of promoting themselves to the masses as not only a place for quality abortion care, but the range of other repro health services they offer as well. Couple that with the tendency for most possessed-of-healthcare adult women to seek out their primary health care providers for run-of-the-mill birth control, STI testing, gynecological exams, or other repro/sexual health needs, and women’s clinics have a sizeable hole where there should be a lucrative demographic.

Then there’s the factor of word-of mouth. If there’s a great coffee shop you happen to find – what’s the first thing you do? You mention it to your friends. So what about word of mouth for abortion services, STI testing, birth-control and gynecological exams? Probably not something most women will tweet about or check into on Foursquare, or likely to mention in casual conversation even to good friends.

Which brings us back to indie women’s clinics versus Planned Parenthood. An indie coffee shop survives not only because they have a product that’s competitive with (and likely exceeds) that of the Starbucks, but because they’re effectively able to capitalize on factors like location, visibility and word of mouth in conjunction with their charm and quality products to generate loyalty and repeat business. Where independent women’s clinics should be able to continue to survive, if not thrive, capitalizing on those same elements of the indie business model, they instead continue to experience more and more barriers to their existence and operations that indie businesses simply don’t have to struggle against.

It’s those factors which I assert are inching independent women’s clinics closer to extinction in a way that Planned Parenthood will likely be able to largely withstand. Individual Planned Parenthood clinics may likewise suffer from some of the above factors – but Planned Parenthood as an entity, like Starbucks, will survive if for no other reason than merit of its brand recognition, reach and strength-in-numbers. As one who feels that choice within the realm of reproductive healthcare is nearly as important as the right to reproductive choice itself, I worry that we may already be past the point where no amount of “valuing” done by us well-meaning repro justice activists will matter to the survival of indie women’s clinics.

When reproductive rights are intertwined with state rights

27 Jul

When someone says the term “battleground state,” Mississippi is not one that comes to mind. But in 2012, that’s exactly what Mississippi will be.  The Republican-dominated state is the focus of Personhood USA’s next attack, and this time it’s about more than abortion.

Personhood USA has become well known over the last several years in the reproductive rights world for their work on attempting to pass “personhood” legislation to get embryos, zygotes, and fetsues recognized as full, social security card-carrying people.  In most cases they put this personhood legislation to a vote in a normal election by adding an amendment or initiative to the ballot (which are called ballot measures).  Just like we vote into office our elected officials, these amendments and initiatives are put to a vote.

A “normal” personhood ballot measure’s goals are to do a couple of key things:  First, it defines life as starting at conception, and second, it ensures that every single “person” or living thing– and remember life now starts at conception—has the same rights.  This means that miscarriages can become the subject of murder investigations and most forms of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and stem cells research become illegal. Of course, this also makes abortion illegal.  If a majority of voters approves this type of personhood ballot measure, it becomes law—it’s important to note that this has not happened yet.

Every state has different laws regarding how initiatives and amendments can get on the ballot.  Each state requires a different number of signatures from voters showing support for the measure.  Some states don’t even allow types of ballot measures, and Mississippi is one of those states.

Ballot measures in Mississippi may not be used to alter the state constitution’s Bill of Rights, but Personhood USA’s ballot initiative (officially named Initiative 26) would do exactly that.  If approved it would alter the Bill of Rights and re-define the term person to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”

The ACLU filed a lawsuit to have it struck from the ballot, but it was overturned by a local judge, Malcolm Harrison, in a political ruling.  He was up for re-election and the measure had been receiving support in his district, so he overturned the lawsuit.  Ironically, he lost the election, but the damage had already been done.  The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have appealed to the Mississippi State Supreme Court to rule on this issue and are currently waiting for a verdict, but here’s where it really gets tricky. Mississippi’s Republican-run Supreme Court’s verdict could mean a lot.  Not only will their verdict set a precedent, but it will also affect another ballot measure.

Mississippi Eminent Domain Amendment (or Initiative 31) is a ballot measure that would restrict the government’s ability to take private property and transfer it to a separate person or private business.  If passed, it would amend the Mississippi Bill of Rights, the same docment that the Personhood ballot measure would impact.  Initiative 31 is also the subject of a legal battle.  This means that if the Republican-dominated court strikes down the Eminent Domain Amendment (which they are against) they will also be forced to strike down the Personhood Amendment (which they support).

This legal conundrum goes well beyond any issue of reproductive rights.  If the measure is kept on the ballot, it will make a legal precedent that ballot measures may be used to alter the State Bill of Rights.  This could have unheard of long term consequences with future ballot measures.  Hopefully the court is able to look past their anti-abortion views and see that taking both initiatives off of the Mississippi ballot is the right thing to do for their state.

“Pro-Life Silly Bandz” — What will they think of next?

26 Jul

As a new Aborton Gang blogger, I was (and still am) very nervous about my first post.  Thoughts kept running through my head: “What will be my blogging ‘voice’? Will I be able to live up to my fellow bloggers’ expectations?” Hence, it was super difficult for my overactive brain to decide on topic for this first post, and trust me, staring at a blank Word document, cursor blinking, just gets more and more stressful as the minutes pass by.  Then I stumbled across this image.

The Indiana Right to Life county fair booth was actually distributing Pro-Life Silly Bandz. And upon further research, you can actually buy these things in bulk!

Silly Bandz are marketed primary towards pre-teens and adolescents. Personally my three nieces, all between the ages of eight and ten, are completely obsessed, excitedly ripping open each package, trading shapes, arguing over who has the “best” Band, Well girls, how would you like to wear an unborn fetus on your wrist?

As someone who has worked in the movement for many years, I’m no stranger to anti-choice propaganda for children, but how far is too far? (Shockingly, a search for “Pro Choice Silly Bandz” yielded no results.) This is how one particular website, Heritage House, advertises their Silly Band packages for purchase:

“Kids aren’t collecting Silly Bands, the Silly Bands are collecting kids! Lead-free, PVC-free, safety-tested silicone and FUN! Share these six brand new pro-life designs with youth groups, school groups, church groups and centers. They are light-weight and fun to wear.”

Elsewhere they write, ”What’s the latest rage kids are into? SILLY BANDS!! These crazy little shaped bracelets are making a huge hit all around the country! Now we carry them in Pro-Life words and shapes! Take advantage of this kid-friendly trend and share the messages of LIFE.”

This is outright propaganda and a blatant attempt to exploit a harmless childhood trend for a political (and religious) cause. In general, the ethics of marketing to children is highly debated.  Some countries (hello Sweden!) have gone so far as to completely outlaw advertising directly to children under 12. Usually this debate is focused around unhealthy foods such as Happy Meals and bubble gum; however, it is even more dangerous to bring this issue into the abortion debate.

In one scene in the documentary “Jesus Camp,” children are shown playing with a series of plastic fetus models, their mouths covered with red tape with the word ‘life’ written across…..ultimately these children, some no more than eight years old, begin praying to overturn Roe v. Wade.  With camps like these across the country, and parents and churches indoctrinating children before they are old enough to read, do we really need to add products like Pro-Life Silly Bandz into our lives? It’s just scary. What will they think of next? Needless to say, I will definitely be adding “Pro-Life Silly Bandz” to the list of things I will not be buying my nieces next year for Christmas.

Egg Donation Chronicles: An Update

25 Jul

Columbia University Medical Center has been a godsend in my egg donation quest. They have a delightful coordinator who is communicative and they have great policies that actually allow a donor to remain anonymous. They’re awesome.

I’ve been working with them for several weeks now, going through the same process as before (all the same paperwork), but this time, I didn’t need to submit a picture, because, get this, the recipients will never actually see what I look like. Love! This is how the process can remain anonymous. The other company requested not one, but TEN, pictures of me. Which meant that they were showing them to recipients, and making the process less than anonymous. Hypothetically, these people could somehow run across my information online (I DO have a Facebook account, because, who doesn’t, really?…) and remember my photos and figure out that I’m me. They would be breaking all sorts of laws, but it’s totally possible, and it could even happen accidentally.

Anyway, so Columbia is awesome and simply snapped a photo of me for their records while I was in the office. They assured me it would never be shown to the recipients and thus, actual anonymity is secured.

More about Columbia being awesome: I didn’t have to wait until the 3rd day after my period to have my physical. They just did it when they could fit me in and when it worked in my schedule, and they could figure out how fertile I was during my last period from that. Stellar. So, I found out I ovulated out of my right ovary during my last cycle, and my left ovary already has 15+ active follicles (she couldn’t see ALL of them, just most). The doctor said that this was perfect for my age, and that I was an excellent candidate. They didn’t even give me any issues about a recent sports-related injury that I sustained, even though I was on crutches. They made a note, of course, but assured me that this would not effect my desirability, primarily because sports injuries are not genetic and there is no need to share that information with potential recipients.

Long story short, Columbia > Private Egg Donation Company. If you’re thinking about going through this process and you have the choice of a university supervised program or a private company, please use the university program. You will undoubtedly have a much better experience.

How to be an Everyday Reproductive Justice Hero

22 Jul

Recently, I left my job in abortion care. Although I have a social justice, nonprofit, world-saving job that I love now, I miss the clinic, as I knew I would. I knew I would miss my coworkers of course, and the patients and their amazing stories. But what I didn’t realize was what a huge part of my identity it was. I had grown complacent in the knowledge that working in an abortion clinic was a noble act (instead of a privilege), and that my work was what defined me as an activist. Since leaving, I have had to have some serious, soul-searching conversations with myself about what truly constitutes activism, and how to continue and expand my fight for reproductive justice.

I feel that I have not given enough credit during my time in the movement to those who work outside of the clinics and advocacy organizations, who are reproductive justice freedom fighters on top of their day jobs. Unpaid activists who truly act out of the goodness of their hearts. And now that I no longer work in abortion care, it is no longer assumed that I care deeply about reproductive justice – I have to prove that I want it through my unpaid actions.

For my own benefit and for others like me, I have written the following list of how those of us with little time, money and energy to spare can be everyday heroes and activists.

1. Support a friend through a pregnancy.
When a friend tells you she is pregnant, be there for her. There is no need to be overbearing, but just let her know that you are there every step of the way if she needs you. If she decides to terminate, offer to go with her to the clinic, and check in with her afterwards. If she is continuing the pregnancy, ask her what she needs – time, ice cream, someone to hold back her hair, space. And when the baby comes, be a supporter, a babysitter, a researcher of daycare options, if that’s what she wants/needs. Show through your love and trust of the women in your life that women are worthy of love and trust.

2. Be a safe sex educator to your friends.
I know there is somewhere in your area where you can get free condoms. Go get some, and give them out to your friends. Keep a dish in your bathroom with a “help yourself!” sign on it for visitors. Hand them out relentlessly. Ask your friends what method of birth control they are using. Educate yourself and be a source of information and support. Use whatever you have up your sleeve – an air of compassion, a sense of humour – to make it ok to talk openly about sex around you.

3. Volunteer at your local clinic.
Always contact a clinic first and find out what they need. Most clinics do not need counter-protesters; they make patients nervous and incite anger. See if you can be a clinic escort: usually it’s a weekly commitment of a couple hours, and you will be directly helping women accessing sexual health services. Some clinics need other support – people to drive patients from the airport or neighbouring towns; people to host out-of-town patients overnight; people to answer phones or stuff envelopes. If you have the time to give to make yourself useful at a clinic, I promise you it will go far and be very much appreciated.

4. Lead a creative resistance.
If you are a creative person, create something. Write a letter to your representative or to the newspaper; write a blog; paint, write poetry, build a sculpture; do something big and amazing and thought-provoking or something small and quiet and cathartic. Sometimes the challenge of the movement can be so frustrating and make you so angry and sad and lost; express yourself. Often art has a way of reaching others and clarifying the issue in a way that simple explanations cannot.

5. Be an ally.
Who are the people in your community who are suffering most from the lack of access to reproductive healthcare services? Find out what they have to say. Figure out a way to use what privilege you have to be of service. This is a hard one, and a longterm thing. You will screw up. But it’s worth the effort.

6. Learn.
In whatever spare time you have, read about reproductive justice, and ask questions. Talk to people, whoever you can access – doctors, nurses, friends who have had abortions, friends who have had babies, doulas, midwives, your mother, your partner. Read blogs and articles. Inform yourself as much as possible; put yourself in a position of being able to speak to this issue and to help and support and inform the people around you. Knowledge is power.

7. Love.
I feel that this is at the root of it – true activism is an act of love. Never forget why we fight for access and the health and lives of our sisters. If we live every day and act out of love, we can’t lose. When in doubt, follow your heart.

Please feel free to comment with your own ideas and suggestions. Remember, the revolution will not be funded; we all have to keep in mind that service provision, while good and essential work, is only one piece of the puzzle. The battle will be won by the small, everyday acts of resistance that all of us can do.

Free Birth Control?! Implausible. Well, maybe.

21 Jul

This post is part of the Birth Control Blog Carnival sponsored by the National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood.

Birth control should be free for women. We’ve all heard that every dollar spent on family planning saves four. Economically, it is a no brainer. Politically, it becomes a bit more complicated as, heaven forbid, a politician endorses happy and safe sex lives. Personally, I would like stop spending 35 bucks a month on pills. That money could easily be reallocated to Chinese food or shoes, still fueling our ailing economy. The problem is there are many other players between me and my pink round pill pack. In fact, there are so many that I’m not going to list them all here (think insurers, pharmaceutical firms, pharmacists, pharmacies, etc). So how can we make birth control free?

Just on Tuesday an advisory panel from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended eight women’s health preventive services be added to the government mandated list of services provided and paid for by health insurance companies at no cost to patients. Included in the list was the following: “a fuller range of contraceptive education, counseling, methods, and services so that women can better avoid unwanted pregnancies and space their pregnancies to promote optimal birth outcomes.”

So now birth control will be “free” (if by free you mean still paying an arm and a leg to health insurers who will end-up economically benefiting from paying for your said “free” birth control)? Right? Well, not quite. IOM made the recommendation to yet another government body, Health and Human Services (HHS). The big kahuna if you will. Now HHS needs to decide if these recommendations will actually be included on the no cost consumer list.

All said this is probably not going to change overnight. If it does, Chinese takeout for all! But in the interim, as a public health nerd, I have to ponder if free birth control is even a good idea. Hear me out.

I want you to imagine two shopping bags. One full of free swag from an event you paid to attend, the other a brand new purchase of totally your own choosing. Think about the contents of each, number of items, colors, shapes, perhaps even smells. Okay. Now you only get to keep one, which one do you take?

The purchased one, right? Unless of course your free swag bag is from the Oscars, I imagine it contains flyers, shampoo samples, and, if you’re lucky, a few granola bars. I cannot imagine getting a new pair of shoes or hot General Tso’s chicken for free, and I’m pretty sure neither can you. That’s the problem. Although birth control should be free for women and society would benefit on a multitude of levels from it being so, women might not take the same stock in their birth control if it’s handed to them. It might not seem as valuable, and then possibly effective, or useful, and that is exactly what we want to try and avoid.

Not convinced? Neither am I. Most women, most of the time, don’t want babies. I watched a documentary this week where a woman walked three hours in the blistering African sun just to see if contraception had arrived at her “local” clinic. Women everywhere really want this stuff. They will go to great lengths to get it whether it is walking miles or listening to Michael Bolton on hold for three hours. What really sold me on women’s value of even free birth control was asking friends this question: what is the best part about going to the gyno? I know, I know, it is all awful. I too have seen the Vagina Monologues 12 times. But there is one good thing. Free samples! Everyone uses those free birth control samples and they get so excited. It’s a little surprise win for suffering the fate of the duck lips. Everyone who I talked to, in my very limited and skewed but loving sample, agreed that they actually use them. That in fact they end up using them more correctly and consistently because they are just sitting around their apartment and there is no need to go to the pharmacy once a month (but that is another battle altogether).

So women use free birth control. We’ve seen it in action. Maybe getting it for “free” from insurers would *gasp* encourage women to use birth control more consistently and correctly. Maybe that could make for happier, healthier families, women and sex lives. Maybe.