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.

Animals and Abortion: Similar Movements?

20 Jul

Hello readers of Abortioneers and Abortion Gang! Welcome to the second installment of our Abortion and Animals series, hosted by Vegan Vagina and ProChoiceGal. You may remember our last post which dealt with how PETA gets things wrong. Today we are blogging about intersections, similarities, and differences between the animal rights movement and anti-abortion movement. We received some good comments in response to our first blog that started to address the tactics used by both movements and we wanted to delve deeper into the issues, so here we go…

Q. Can you give a brief overview of some of the perceived similarities between the animal rights movement and anti abortion movement?

VV: First off, I do want to acknowledge that there exists much diversity within each movement and not everyone uses the same tactics or even has similar philosophies about how to impact change around their issues. However, in regards to the “extreme” members of both movements, in terms of similar tactics I immediately think of the gory images that both groups use. Anti abortion trucks will parade near shopping malls and community events (especially where kids congregate) with alleged fetuses that were aborted plastered across the exterior of their vehicles. These fetuses will be positioned next to dimes for size comparison and they are often portrayed sucking their thumbs or curled up. Animal rights groups often show animals that are mistreated in factory farms and this past year a well-known group, Mercy For Animals, launched a Farm to Ridge Tour where they went city to city showcasing the horrors of factory farming.

Another similarity that I see is coercion; anti abortion groups will convince pregnant women to keep their babies with the alluring promise of baby clothes, financial support, jobs, or housing. Mercy for Animals was offering money for people to watch their footage of factory farms and often does “feed-ins” where they provide vegan food samples.

A final similarity is violence. Many members of both movements feel violence is justified in order to take down leaders at the top. While those who advocate violence are in the minority, their extreme actions can have a huge impact. Abortion clinic workers are murdered, stalked, injured, harassed, etc, or threatened with these things constantly. CEOs who run animal testing facilities and labs are also stalked and threatened, and a common tactic of arson has done millions of dollars of damage to facilities that partake in animal cruelty. A common tactic used by both movements is picketing outside of homes and distributing fliers to neighbors in order to shame those who support abortion or animal cruelty. Members of both movements are tracked on FBI lists and are often labeled as domestic terrorists. I am currently reading a great new book by Will Potter that outlines the history of “eco terrorists” and there are many mentions to the anti abortion movement and how the government tracks crimes against abortion providers differently than eco crimes (I really recommend this book!).

Q. Do you think that gory images are an effective way or converting people, either to veganism or to anti-choice?

PCG: In general, no. There are exceptions, but I believe that gory images and videos, especially when they’re forced upon the public, generally turn people away from both veganism and from the anti-choice movement. Whenever I hear people react to anti-choicers flaunting alleged aborted fetus photos in public, their reactions are always, without exception, angry, annoyed, and all around negative. This holds true for veganism, as well. I believe that one of the worst things that a movement can do for itself is forcing people to look at these kinds of pictures. People just do not react well to it in my experience.

Q. Did gory images or videos influence your decision to become vegan?

PCG: Somewhat. Gory photos and videos would not have given me enough of a push by themselves to convert me to veganism. They were, however, a small part of the big picture. I almost definitely would still be vegan even if I had never seen gory slaughterhouse videos and pictures. The thing is, I didn’t need those pictures and videos to know that animals are sentient beings who are very capable of feeling pain. What I needed to push me to choose veganism were facts. For example, for the longest time, I had no idea that there was so much cruelty involved in the dairy industry. I did not know that it was so closely linked to the veal industry. It was facts like that that got me from saying “I could NEVER give up cheese!” to being the vegan I am today.

VV: I went vegetarian without ever seeing a gory picture, but I will admit that a PETA brochure is what pushed me over the edge to become vegan. The images still gross me out when I see them and I choose to look away, but it’s ok for me to look away because I don’t need convincing. I fear that everyone else looks away and just chooses not to think about the processes involved in where their food comes from, so ultimately the animal rights movement could spend their money in better places that won’t be ignored.

Q. Vegan organizations and anti-choice organizations have both been known for using coercive tactics to convert people to their movement, such as putting up fliers in the neighborhoods of people who oppose them, paying people to watch gory videos, etc. How do you feel about this?

PCG: I disagree with coercive tactics being used to convert people. I consider them not only morally wrong, but also highly ineffective. Putting up fliers in the neighborhoods of “higher ups” in order to shame them is a tactic that both groups have used in the past. I find this behavior awful. To me, it’s stalking behavior. Anti-choicers have been doing this for ages, in order to shame, stalk, and draw attention to abortion providers and their families, and the pro-choice community knows very well that it incites violence. As for paying people to watch gory videos, while I think this is wrong, I actually don’t think this is as bad as just flaunting huge gory pictures outside in public, so that anyone who walks by has no choice but to look. I also don’t see it as an effective way of converting people. Again, gory videos and pictures which are not backed up with facts hardly ever do any good.

VV: I disagree with any group or movement using coercive tactics, specifically money to win people over to their point of view. I also feel it is not a sustainable way to change behavior, because the money will eventually go away and people will go back to their usual ways.

Q. Do you think it’s fair to compare the tactics of animal rights groups to the tactics of anti-choice groups?

PCG: I believe that vegans and anti-choicers are coming from two vastly different belief systems. As far as the message behind the movements, I see absolutely no comparison. Vegans fight for the bodily autonomy of sentient beings while anti-choicers do just the opposite. However, vegans and anti-choicers have both resorted to some of the same tactics. As a vegan, I think that it’s intensely important to recognize the problems that reside within veganism and to take action to fix them. Still, despite these similarities, I don’t think that the problems within vegan activism are nearly as prominent as those in the anti-choice movement. For example, when vegans resort to problematic bullying tactics, it’s targeted towards the “higher ups” in animal abuse. When anti-choicers resort to bullying and stalking tactics, it’s targeted towards absolutely anyone who opposes them. Veganism does have its problems which we need to recognize. I just don’t think that these problems are as extreme as the hatred that goes on within the anti-choice movement.

VV: Obviously since I am vegan my natural tendency is to support most tactics used to convince the entire world to GO VEGAN. Although, I realize it is something people need to come to on their own, without coercion or bribes. However, people often need education on this issue since we are really told nothing about where our food comes from, and sometimes a picture of the reality of what animals goes through does hit home. I do not think this is the same as what anti abortion people do; I think their images are falsified and manipulative and taken out of context.

Thank you for reading the second installment of our series Animals and Abortion! You can look forward to more posts soon, including posts on topics such as vegan birth control, vegan sex toys, and more. Also, your feedback and ideas for future posts are more than welcome! We hope that you enjoyed this installment of Animals and Abortion!

Adoption, Abortion, or Parenting : What Matters Is Access and Choice

19 Jul

Last week, MTV aired another “16 & Pregnant” Special, but instead of following young women that elected abortion or parenting, this special focused on adoption. The hour-long program followed three young women as they shared they heart-wrenching and heart-warming stories about how they came to choose adoption, what form of adoption is available and how their lives have changed as a result.

Previously, we’ve posted on how important it is that women have agency, have a choice – that includes abortion, adoption, or parenting. What’s key here is the choice is not a reality unless you have the ability to make the decision for yourself. Forced abortion is wrong, forced adoption is wrong, and forced parenting is wrong. Additionally, some of the  amazing bloggers here have shared their personal stories about the egg donation process, child rearing, and abortion. All of that is to say we here at Abortion Gang aren’t just “talking the talk,” we as women and men have been through the struggle, know the peaks and valleys of reproductive justice, and don’t just walk around pointing at young women thinking, “she should abort!”

Back to the adoption special on MTV. Three young mothers chose adoption, but perhaps the most familiar of the three is Caitlynn. Her case is an interesting one because of the three young women profiled, Caitlynn is the only young woman to not come from an affluent and privileged background. Her access to resources was limited, but with the help of the show, she was empowered to choose adoption. She was able make the best decision for herself.  The other women were aided by their families in both the decision making process and financial considerations. Navigating the landscape of abortion, adoption, or parenting is hard for anyone, but can be especially intimidating for a young woman without access to emotional and financial support.

The point here is that adoption isn’t something that is accessible to everyone. For adoption to be successful, from selecting the right parents, access to pre- and post-birth counseling, and coping with the bevy of emotions in healthy ways, the sheer amount of financial, social, and cultural support is absolutely crucial. Without support, the ability for a mother and the adoptive parents to find success  becomes much less likely.

Of course, this goes for abortion as well. But the emotional needs after an abortion are different than those after an adoption, and of course, both differ from those when parenting. In each case, however, a complex combination of social support, cultural support, and financial assistance are required in order for a women have all reproductive options available to her. In many cases, however, women do not have access to enough resources to make the reproductive decision she wants to make.

Far too many women in the U.S. don’t have what Caitlynn or the other women on MTV’s adoption special have. There are so many barriers preventing them from making the choice they want to make, and so, they are forced into an option they otherwise wouldn’t chose, trapped, alone, and suffering. Any piece of legislation or pop culture phenomenon that supports limiting a woman’s access to cultural, social, or financial resources, I am going to call out for doing just that: restricting a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her body and her future.

It’s not about whether a woman decides to parent, abort, or place for adoption. It’s about whether she has the ability to make the decision at all  that really matters. MTV is trying to make that point clear, although many times they fall short of projecting the obvious: that without their help, many of the women featured on their shows and specials would not have the ability to make the choices they have made. It would be another positive step forward for MTV to make that point aggressively, because  it is no longer enough to help  the women on their television programs get to a position to make the best choice for themselves. If MTV, Dr. Drew and others affiliated with the “Teen Mom” and “16 & Pregnant” projects really care about advocating for increased awareness and options for the reproductive rights of women, their next step has to advocate for increasing reproductive health access in all communities,  not just project a story of modern teen pregnancy on our TV screens.

Throwing Youth Potential under the Abortion Bus, Not a Good Call

18 Jul

2011 is proving to be a record year in laws proposed to restrict abortion providers’ services and abortion patients’ access to those services. The laws that have passed are atrocious enough alone, but add in the laws “only” proposed, like Sen. John Boozman’s (R-AR) federal law that would Nationalize parental consent laws to prohibit teens from crossing state lines to obtain abortion services; the mid-June Kansas Department of Health regulations threatening to make Kansas the first State without a single abortion provider; and the defunding of Planned Parenthoods around the country, and it ain’t hard to tell why this era is being dubbed as a War On Women.

As a young American, who had vaginal heterosexual sex (hellooo pregnancy risk) throughout my teens and relied on Planned Parenthood for free contraception, I can’t stop focusing on what messages these restrictions and proposals are sending to the current teens in America. Defunding contraceptive services, mandatory sonogram requirements, insurance and Medicaid restrictions, waiting periods, and other restrictive abortion care laws are offensive to all women; they undermine our rationality, independence, and our right to not bear children. But these restrictions also create systematic inequalities in birth control (including abortion) access for specific groups of women. Particularly, the young and the resource (money, car, support) poor, which, in many instances, overlap. While feminist and the prochoice community widely discuss how restricting control over reproduction is ideologically harmful and disrespectful to women,  the same big-ideological-picture on the laws’ impact on youth as a population group is less addressed.

In July we came very close to having our first ever no-provider state. Hypothetically, if the pending Boozman proposal became law at the same time there were no abortion clinics in Kansas, and teen females in KS would come have absolutely no legal, independent access to abortion. This law, along with the others proposed this year, sends a message about how we value youth’s potential and agency that has widespread and harmful implications for male and female teens, parents of these teens, schools and society alike.

We spend infinite social and financial resources on protecting young persons’ potential contribution to society. Our fascination with the American dream, innovation, individualism each stem from our deep appreciation of human potential. We value youth so much that our legal system and social structures operate on many levels to protect against the “wasting” of youth potential (in car accidents, by drinking, by skipping school, going to war, by suffering parental neglect etc.). Age-based laws which mitigate harmful outcomes are symbols of us positively valuing youth; when the measures are protective they point out that we respect youths’ potential and life force. Conversely, age-based laws which are controlling, but not protective, are degrading: They iterate that we both do not value youths potential (as we are willing to put blatantly put it in harm’s way) and that we do not trust youth to take on the responsibility of their potential.

By disallowing abortion as a choice for youth we are saying we want adults to define youths’ potential for them, and sends a very dangerous message: That youth has no control over their own potential. Why is this dangerous? Because we rely on the value of potential to motivate youth to invest in themselves—if adults (law makers etc.) degrade and define the value of youth’s potential, we in turn encourage youth to forgo ownership over their future. Why would youth want to invest in themselves and their dreams if they can not define what that their dreams are and if those dreams can be easily taken away? If we say that women (and men) are not able to choose alternative life paths to early parenthood, we are taking away our faith in their potential and, at the same time, our desire for them to be interested in planning and managing their life options.

I am not saying that becoming a teen or young parent inherently means one’s potential will be lost; not at all. I am, however, saying that when we ask teens to respect their potential by investing in it (staying in school etc) in one hand, and on the other hand say they do not trust them to manage and preserve their own potential, we end up with a byproduct that encourages a de-investment in self. Doing so for our young men and women will not result in an improved society despite claims of the opposite by Boozman and the like.

Though many of the anti-abortion access laws proposed are not realities yet, the increased proposal of the laws are signally we are at the verge of losing faith in rational autonomy and human dignity of women and youth. And, in turn, we are telling youth nationwide to lose faith in themselves. In limiting abortion service access in this manner, state legislatures like that in Kansas and federal politicians like Boozman are telling youth that they are not able to define and work towards their own definitions of “fulfilling potential”. These messages are degrading and harmful to our current and future society. If we value youth for what they will and do contribute to society, we must allow and trust them to define their potential and choose what their contribution will be.