Archive | November, 2011

Ten Questions for Merle Hoffman

25 Nov

1. What made you decide to write a memoir, and why at this particular point in your life?

This year is the 40th anniversary of  my founding Choices–I felt that 4 decades was a good time to look back and reflect on the history of my life and times. I also had lost the 4 people closest to me in the two years prior to writing–so that the process of creating a narrative of my life was therapeutic.

2. In your book you mention many times that a choice you made caused other feminists to critique or challenge your commitment to the movement. How would you characterize your role in the feminist movement and why is/was it necessary?

They did not challenge my commitment but felt that I was not “pure” enough because I was also “making money off the movement”–There was this thinking that one had to be a socialist to be a feminist–that being an entrepreneur -and a successful business person was antithetical to being a radical feminist. I never agreed with this–but knew that I could be a capitalist with a conscience– developing a business model that served the needs and interests of women–both as patients and as staff.

My role in the movement was and is multi-faceted–I took theory and put it into practice by creating and developing one of the first legal abortion clinics in the country–Developed the concepts of Patient Power–engaged women’s health care–defined abortion as a Mothers Act–was consistently out front on major political issues–debates–ectc–so in a sense I bridged the gap between theory and practice–by being both a provider and an activist.

I also see myself as a gadfly–pricking the consciousness of not only the opposition but of the pro-choice forces–always challenging them to go deeper and further in their thinking and in their pro-activism.

3. How has the feminist movement (and specifically the pro-choice/reproductive rights movement) changed over the last 10-20 years? Do you see these changes as positive?

In many ways it has been institutionalized–and as a result much of the argument is stale and far too responsive.–There is now more of an apologetic feel to the political discussions–In a sense it has become even more difficult to have “abortion without apology” because of the success of the opposition in placing abortion within an ‘immoral context” the pro-choice movement has to OCCUPY the ABORTION DIAGLOGUE AND THE DISCUSSION.

4. What are some of the challenges of being a single parent to a child over fifty years younger than you? What are some advantages?

Having to explain my decision–which was the most natural for me at the time that I made it.

The first challenge was to become comfortable with the title of ‘Sasha’s Mom”-which I met rather quickly. The next was finding my way after landing on Planet Parenthood- and dealing with situations I had never been exposed to before–but that was extremely stimulating–so it was also an advantage–and I would say that about all of it–that the challenges are advantages for me.

The challenge of having to deal with the reality that I will not live to see a great part of her life–is an advantage of keeping me living so much in the present–realizing and appreciating the preciousness of it all–and having to deal head on with my own mortality.

It is also a kind of enchantment–being able to play with Sasha and  her stuffed dinosaurs after coming home from the intensity of my other activities.

Fortunately I have the resources to give me the support that is necessary–which privileges me in relationship to so many other single mothers–I would obviously never be able to do my work and be a mom if I did not have great people around me to support this and I would also state that I love being a single parent because there is no negotiation with anyone else about how I want to raise and educate my child.

5. How did your own pregnancy decisions (abortion and adoption) change your relationship to the pro-choice movement?

It did not change it at all–just deepened it–I love being a mother because I could become one at the right time for me–so it just reinforced how critical that choice is for all women.

6. How do you think your marriage to an older man who was also your mentor gave you an advantage in your professional and/or activist life?

It allowed me to enter worlds I would never have had an opportunity to go into–he gave me  the love and support to fulfill my dreams without having to fulfill his.–And it allowed me to found Choices–to eventually own and operate the largest women’s medical center in the country.

7. What were some of the challenges of writing a memoir? Did you ever find yourself not wanting to write about certain things, or changing events to give them a better flow?

I start my first chapter with a quote from Wittengestein–”Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself”Of course, it takes a great deal of psychological courage to look into your own mirror without flinching—I wrote out all of it–but edited quite a bit also–so there was a distinction about what I could and wanted to look at-and how much I wanted to share–but the book is a truly authentic narrative of my life.

8. What was the hardest part of running an abortion clinic?

Operating Choices is really like operating a midsize hospital–we see around 40,000 patients per year for a variety of services including pre-natal care–so the challenges are similar–hiring the best staff–meeting the stringent requirement for the regulators and the accreditations-insuring financial viability-insuring that each woman receives compassion and support for her reproductive choices–BUT doing all of this in a WAR ZONE–with constant demonstrators–death threats bomb threats–landlords that are attempting to evict you by not providing services–etc.etc

9. What is the most important thing you want to say to young feminist activists today?

Be Bold–Have Courage–engage joyfully in the struggle to change the world from what is to what should be.

10. What are your hopes for the world Sasha will live in when she is your age?

I hope it will be easier for her to live an actualized meaningful life as a woman–and I know that she will find that large part of that meaning in the struggle to achieve that for others–because the world changes very slowly.

*****

Check out my review of Merle Hoffman’s new memoir, Intimate Wars, at my blog.

How effective is corporate feminism?

21 Nov

A guest post by ninersgal.

A recent article over at Daily Kos slammed mainstream feminist organizations, such as NOW and NARAL, for constantly asking their supporters for money. The author, Kaili Joy Gray, also criticized these groups for swooping in at the last minute and claiming victory for the defeat of Initiative 26 in Mississippi, when grassroots groups had been doing the mobilizing all along.

I agree with Gray’s critique, but I think she may have been a bit too kind with her criticism. There are several other big name feminist organizations that should have been called out in her post – and I think you know exactly who has the finger pointed at them when I say that.

I have been volunteering for Planned Parenthood for the past three years. At first I was a clinic escort, but that role has shifted over to their advocacy department since the clinic escort program has been eliminated in our state. I volunteer because I want to give back for the health care that I have received over the last ten years. I cannot afford to attend $85 luncheons, let alone write a $250 check. The core volunteer group that I work with has similar motivations – we love Planned Parenthood, but sometimes it feels like our contributions are completely overlooked, especially when we constantly get emails from PPFA asking for more and more money.

My problem doesn’t just reside with Planned Parenthood. Every nonprofit that I have ever worked for, either as a volunteer or a staff member, seems to discount the donor who can only afford to give $5 or $10. Volunteer hours are never calculated in terms of their economic value to the organization. And staff who already contribute to the organization by working long hours for very little pay are also disrespected when they are hit up for money by the development officers. When you’re only making $27,000 a year, how in the hell are you supposed to afford spending $250 a month in financial contributions to your employer?

Here’s the scoop: if PPFA didn’t spend so much money on fancy pink posters and snazzy T-shirts, they might not need to shake the money tree so often. How about asking for money to fund abortions, rather than political lobbying? Oh wait . . . that’s the job of your local abortion fund.

My tenure as a Planned Parenthood volunteer is rapidly coming to a close. I will be shifting my efforts over to my state’s abortion fund for many reasons. The main reason is that I want to know that my efforts are actually contributing to the ability of patients to access care. When the abortion fund asks for money, it’s very happy to accept those $5 and $10 donations – and I know that every penny of it is going directly towards patients’ health care costs. Every hour that I donate of my time goes towards the same goal.

So click on over to Gray’s article and see if you agree or disagree with her criticism of mainstream feminism. I’d love to get your take on the situation.

Life Choices: The Teachings of Abortion

20 Nov

I had the privilege of being asked to read and review a Life Choices: The Teachings of Abortion by abortion care pioneer Linda Weber. As someone who’s worked in abortion care myself, I was curious to hear what someone who’s worked in the field for decades had to say about the future of abortion care and how we can improve it. Instead of telling you how fantastic the book is (it is!), below is a glimpse into Weber’s beliefs and experiences first hand. In bold are the questions I asked her, followed by her thoughtful answers.

Your book revolves around your 40 years of experience as a counselor in an abortion clinic. You share the stories of many of your patients as well as your reflections on what these stories taught you. Can you share some of your self-care strategies? What kept you in abortion care work for 40 years?

I am a private psychotherapist, spiritual counselor, and women’s vision quest guide. I was in direct abortion services from 1970 to 1972 in New York City and from 1973 to 1987 in Boulder, Colorado. As you see, the forty years of counseling work has taken different forms. This keeps it interesting and stimulating to say the least. As a psychotherapist I hear all kinds of stories. Some of these are “gut-wrenching,” but mostly for the client. Part of the skill of a good counselor is to know how to receive people’s stories; in other words, how to listen correctly and reflect back to the person telling the story what it is I think I’m hearing along with insights into the importance of her story.

Care for myself is essential to be able to stay strong, centered, and receptive. In the early years of my work, I was occasionally overwhelmed by the intensity of what I was observing in my patients. As I matured and became more experienced, that kind of reaction to the work subsided. My self-care includes meditation, time in nature, journal writing, and making music, as well as regular down time. These things help me to maintain my perspective, which includes the understanding that whatever someone is going through holds the possibility for self-understanding and self-acceptance. As long as I am energized by the work I do, I will continue to do it.

You frequently discuss how “legal, freely chosen abortion” can lead to “authentic empowerment and autonomy for women.” Why do you frame abortion in this way? What role do you think women who’ve had abortions should play in the abortion rights movement? How can the abortion rights movement empower women who’ve had abortions without giving them the burden of speaking out about their experiences?

Illegal abortion is a truly horrible thing. It is not empowering; it is dangerous and traumatizing. Legal abortion is the opposite. While it can be difficult for women, it represents an expansion of the freedom to choose the direction of our lives. Reproductive choice making recognizes the individuality of a woman and her power to bring life through her body or not. The or not is of course the issue. Legal abortion raises profound issues about the role of women in society. This role has been determined for centuries by patriarchal law, which keeps women in limited roles defined primarily by marriage and motherhood. It is not coincidental that we are seeing significant societal changes at the same time that abortion has been legalized. It seems clear that we as a species have moved into a time of history when it is no longer necessary to be focused so exclusively on reproduction. As for individual psychology, I have witnessed life-changing growth for women when they courageously confront internal pain and conflicts about abortion. I have seen them step into their essence and life purpose with increased self-awareness that came directly from their willingness to address all the issues in their lives that were raised by their experience of abortion. Some of those stories are in the book.

As for political activism, that is up to the individual. There is no should with regard to women who have had abortions. With regard to empowering women, I think the pro-choice movement does that just by its existence and commitment to staying strong in the political arena. It can do more by embracing the full range of sensibilities among women. An organization that leads the way with this is Exhale, a post-abortion hotline out of Oakland, California. They describe themselves as pro-voice. It’s a good way to think about it.

You mention that working in abortion care lead you to see the lines blur between “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” It seems like most people identify somewhere in between those labels. How can the pro-choice movement both keep this in mind and continue to fight for abortion rights? Is there a way to change our messaging to better reflect the experience of women who’ve had abortions?


Most women making a decision about pregnancy are concerned about and feel responsible for life. This is as it should be given that pregnancy by definition is the channeling of life through the body. The attacks on women by the so-called pro-life movement make some women feel that somehow they are against life by choosing to have an abortion. In fact, the opposite is true. The choice of abortion is an active exercise of women’s role throughout history of making judgments about if, when, and where to bring life through. Abortion is just as pro-life as having a baby.

The pro-choice movement has to reclaim the word life. One way to do this is to talk about real life and to orient towards a perspective that embraces the way of life on Earth, which includes death (what I call taking life back into itself) as part of the flow. I think the recent “personhood” vote in Mississippi shows that most people whether they consider themselves pro-choice or pro-life, understand how real life works and will vote accordingly. So, I am suggesting that the best way to counter narrow ideological arguments is to broaden and deepen our own thinking.

You mention a medical model of abortion care, which isn’t sensitive to the emotional or spiritual needs of women seeking abortions. What do you propose as an alternative model? Some people say that having separate clinics that only perform abortions, for example, may further stigmatize abortion instead of incorporating the procedure into general medical practice. How do you negotiate both the need for feminist women’s health centers and the fact that they may further stigmatize abortion?

Women’s health clinics arose out of the women’s health movement, which was part of the women’s liberation movement. They filled a gap in care and emphasized education and empowerment. The movement was represented by the classic book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, and the feminist lobbying organization, the National Women’s Health Network (since 1975). Some abortion clinics follow this feminist model. Others are more like hospitals and follow traditional western medicine. Some are creative combinations of philosophies.

The medical model organizes care around the condition or disease, instead of centered in the person needing care. It recognizes the doctor as supreme. The alternative is to create forms that address medical needs in the context of people’s lives and that respect the narrative of those lives. It incorporates psychological and spiritual needs as intrinsic parts of treatment. Professionals act as a team and the patient has a central role in what happens. This would apply to all health care, not just women’s health. It’s a very large subject that I can’t go into depth about here.

The reason for separate services for abortion is mainly political. Abortion services have been ostracized in many communities. Many medical schools don’t even train physicians to perform abortions. I’ve heard that this is getting worse with the increase in the virulence of the fundamentalist religious influence on political discourse and the election of right wing legislators. I don’t think that having separate feminist health clinics stigmatizes abortion. I think that quite the opposite is true. Abortion is stigmatized because society is not yet able to fully embrace it as a legitimate part of life and a necessary and good health service. It is still in the shadow of social consciousness. Feminist health clinics lift abortion out of the shadow and into the light of legitimate experience. Just like safehouses and rape crisis teams, we look forward to a day when all women’s health services are incorporated as part of complete care.

Linda’s book is published by Sentient Publications. This post is part of a blog tour for her book. The next post will be at Feminists for Choice and the previous post was at Women’s Glib. If you’re interested in hearing Linda speak about her book, she’s going on a book tour on the West Coast of the US in February. 

If Abortion Really Was A Baby Killing Business, Then Could Women Get Some Consumer Protection?

18 Nov

On November 16, 2011, First Resort, a San Francisco organization that describes itself as existing “solely to provide free medical care and counseling services to assist women in making fully informed decisions about unplanned pregnancies,” filed a lawsuit against the City of San Francisco, alleging that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ ban on crisis pregnancy centers’ engagement in “false or misleading advertising practices,” interfered with their First Amendment rights.

First Resort is one of many so-called crisis pregnancy centers (also called CPCs) across the country which claim to provide accurate medical information to women considering abortions, but instead engage in practices that range from spouting total falsehoods to bullying.  Reports surfaced in North Carolina recently that a Jewish woman visiting a number of CPCs was told not only to not have an abortion, but that she would go to hell.  At one, she was even told to become a born again virgin.

The Huffington Post has reported that at First Resort in San Francisco, these baby hungry anti-choice mavens are not satisfied with walk in traffic to the clinic style offices, whose awning reads “A Woman’s Choice Resource Center.”  Instead, according to San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, First Resort actively recruits women unsure of their options by purchasing Google ads for the term “abortion San Francisco,” so that they could ensure that their website would be at the top of results for anyone searching for abortion services in the area.

Unfortunately, laws protecting women from organizations whose singular focus on babies and controlling women’s bodies leads them to lie do not have a great track record for survival in our legal system.  Earlier this year, a Federal judge struck down a similar law in New York, on the grounds that the First Amendment should somehow be extrapolated and perverted to mean that it is okay to lie to women when they are at their most vulnerable.

SF Appeal reported that Bayview Supervisor Malia Cohen put a great deal of effort into writing the law in such a way that it “both protects free speech as well as any women at risk of being misled.”  She clarified to reporters this week that, “this legislation does not limit or prescribe what views groups or individuals may express.  Rather it prevents groups from knowingly engaging in false or misleading advertising about the pregnancy related services they offer.”

Which, I suppose means that any San Francisco abortion clinics cannot, unfortunately, tell potential clients that having an abortion will make them thinner or blonder without incurring the city’s new $500-per-infraction fine.  If there is a San Francisco Planned Parenthood location, then they better not promise a free cruise or day at Disneyland following each procedure without following through.

Except that, as far as I know, there are no abortion clinics offering designer shoes as gifts-with-purchase-of-abortion or failing to provide full medical information to their patients.  So, if First Resort, or other CPCs feel like they are being singled out for providing misinformation, then maybe they should start asking themselves why they need to lie, instead of sucking up the courts’ time and money by suing.

Choosing Life: Thoughts on National Adoption Month

15 Nov

“Choose life” is a favorite slogan among those who, of course, focus only on the “life” part while ignoring the “choice.” For those women who do choose life, the vast majority are also choosing parenting. Yet, for those women who are pregnant but don’t want to parent, anti-choicers offer one seemingly simple solution: adoption.

But it’s not simple, not even close. Historically, adoption in the United States was built on stigma, shame, and frequently coercion. When faced with unplanned pregnancy, young women had no good options. Single, nonmarital motherhood was shamed to the point of invisibility – it virtually did not exist among White, middle-class women. Women who wanted to have and raise their children were ostracized from their families and communities, and were told their children would be taunted on the playground as a “bastard,” and were denied information about public services that might have helped them establish greater self-sufficiency and venture out on their own – a feat which would have been an anomaly, with or without children. Women could also choose to have an illegal abortion, if they knew where to find one and were willing to take a serious risk with their health and safety. And finally, there was adoption, which before Roe v. Wade was the most common response. (At least among White women; black women almost always raised their children. Single motherhood has a longer history of acceptance in Black communities, and there was no market for Black children, and thus no financial incentive for the adoption industry to reach out to Black women.)

Adoption before Roe v. Wade was predicated on emotional and financial coercion. I have interviewed many women who were funneled into maternity homes where they wished and begged for better options, where they were shamed and ridiculed by those purporting to “help” them, and where they were promised they would walk away after giving birth and soon forget about their child.

I spoke with these women nearly half a century after their adoptions, and they were still traumatized.

These abuses are anti-choice, and today’s adoptions have evolved from this anti-choice history. In some places, at some agencies, adoption has evolved far more than in others. But there are still many, many fundamental problems with the way the adoption industry is set up. (Please note that I am specifically discussing voluntary domestic adoption here – international adoption has further complications, and foster care adoptions are a whole different story. Because adoption is so complicated and good discussion of it requires such nuance, I’m limiting the scope of my discussion to be able to do it some amount of justice.)

So, what does pro-choice adoption look like?

1. Pro-choice adoption is not-for-profit. Yes, adoptions will always cost money – there are legal fees, medical fees (if the mother is uninsured), and travel costs that the agency, and consequently the adoptive parents, usually cover. And the level of post-adoption services that birth parents and adoptive parents deserve will require skilled professionals to administer them. This is not about making adoption inexpensive; it’s about removing any potential for profit-motive from the adoption system. (Yes, there are still for-profit agencies and private lawyers. How will this influence their ability to present young women with whom they’re working with all the available options?)

2. Pro-choice adoption should be open. Open adoptions, where there is ongoing contact between birth family and adoptive family after the adoption placement, are essential to improved outcomes among all members of the adoption triad. Openness is not just for the benefit of the birth parent – it also helps the child know where they came from (which all adopted people hope to know), and can increase the stability of the adoptive family by building trust and opening lines of communication. Openness is not easy. It requires a lot of emotional (as well as logistical) work. It requires trust where society presumes there should be conflict. And it requires a new idea of what a family should be – not a nuclear, isolated core, but a group of people bonded by different degrees of biology, legality, and emotional connectedness.

To achieve openness, adoption agencies must recognize that when the child is placed, their work is only beginning. They need to provide professional support in navigating and negotiating openness, in keeping lines of communication open, and helping resolve conflicts if and when they do emerge.

What about the women who would choose a closed adoption? I acknowledge that there must be some birth mothers out there who prefer closed adoptions, but I have met and interviewed many, many birth mothers over the years, and I have never met one. Futhermore, among those who were initially interested in a closed adoption but were encouraged (either by the agency they were working with, or by the adoptive parents they chose) to have a more open adoption, they welcomed and appreciated the openness after the adoption was finalized. Perhaps most tellingly, none of the women I’ve interviewed have wanted less contact with their child after the adoption. We should respect a woman’s desire for a closed adoption, but we should also recognize that it is easier to have periods of limited contact in an open adoption than it is to open up a closed adoption – working towards greater openness preserves more options for women throughout the course of their lives, as they live out the adoption.

Finally, there should be some legally enforceable degree of openness. Some states allow this; some do not. This prevents either party (though it’s usually the adoptive family) from completely ceasing communication with the other, especially without legitimate concern for the child’s safety or well-being. (Please remember that no adoptive parent would be forced to actively include an abusive or seriously unstable birth parent in their child’s lives; enforceability would simply require that they – at minimum – maintain some level of contact with their child’s birth parents.)

Openness is not easy, and it will not solve all of adoption’s problems. But it is a necessary first step.

3. Pro-choice adoption recognizes the problems with adoption’s past and present and seeks to fix them; specifically, it advocates for open records and against child-trafficking.

Currently in many states, adult adopted people who were raised in closed adoptions do not have access to their own original birth certificates. This denies them access to their own legal records and to their own original identity. Those in support of keeping records closed say that birth parents where promised anonymity – this is fundamentally untrue. In fact, most birth parents were never promised anything (other than, of course, that they would forget) and were forced to make the promise that they would never search for their child. In my experience, most birth parents want to be reunited with the (now adult) children they placed for adoption. In states where records are open, birth parents are allowed to place a hold on the records if they wish to maintain the secrecy around their adoption; less than 2% have done this.

Regarding child-trafficking, there is much to say that goes beyond the scope of this post. I will simply state the manipulative adoptions, child stealing, and baby selling are not solely in our past (particularly in international adoption), and that advocating for their investigation and prohibition is absolutely necessary to a pro-choice concept of adoption.

4. Pro-choice adoption supports unbiased counseling. This one is pretty intuitive, but adoption counseling should not be solely within the realm of anti-choice advocates working out of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (the modern-day equivalent of the maternity home). If a counselor doesn’t feel comfortable providing a woman with accurate information about abortion and parenting, that counselor has no business talking to a woman about adoption.

5. Pro-choice adoption does not glamorize or create a martyr out of the birth parent. Birth parents are simply people trying to make the best out of an incredibly difficult situation. Narratives that present them as especially selfless, as “giving their child something better” makes, by inverse, the mothers that choose to parent selfish or even irresponsible. While it’s true that many birth parents do choose adoption because they want their child to have a different life than the one they can provide, this usually (but not always) boils down to two things: having two, married parents and money. If we consistently frame two parents as always better than one, we’re stigmatizing single mothers. And if we’re framing more money as always better than less – well, then should we all just be transferring our children to a family with more means? All of these narratives create martyrs of birth parents in a way that also highlights their inevitable shortcomings and denies them of any capability.

There are other, more specific policies and practices that can go in to building a better, more pro-choice adoption industry. I’ve refrained from discussing all of them because I’ve already said a lot that I hope you’ll think about, and because there’s less consensus (within the birth parent community) over those specific ideas than those that I have chosen to discuss. For example, pre-birth matching: some birth parents find it coercive to have to select adoptive parents before the child is born, it can create an obligation which they must fulfill and denies them the room to freely make a choice once the baby arrives; other birth parents find it necessary to select adoptive parents while they’re still pregnant in order to feel in control of the situation and be able to make a long-term plan and discuss what the adoption will look like. This one example highlights how diverse birth parents are – they are not a homogenous group, and they certainly do not agree on everything. This is just another reason why we must focus more on listening to their experiences, not just within the context of adoption, but in speaking to a larger, reproductive justice framework.

I wanted to reiterate that there are some agencies out there that are actively working towards pro-choice adoption, but adoption still has not been embraced as a core issue by the larger choice community. This National Adoption Month I encourage you to consider the ways in which your concept of choice is accountable to women who choose adoption, and how we can work to build a better model of a respectful, safe, accessible, pro-choice adoption system.

Call and Response: Occupy Wall Street and Reproductive Justice

10 Nov

Everything I ever thought I knew about organizing may now be irrelevant, thanks to the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park.

Like many of you, I marched alongside a million women in DC in 2004, like less of you I helped organize a 500,000 person march against the RNC invading New York City that same year.  Both massively attended and well-organized and they only ended up in the papers for next few days.  Yes, those moments remain dear to me and others who participated, and I do believe they brought unity and helped encourage individuals on the ground but they didn’t necessarily “do” anything.  So how were a few hundred unorganized folks camping in a park going to?

Well, I was wrong.  Maybe it is simply being at the right place at the right time, but I believe Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has changed the organizing game forever.

Non-hierarchical, egalitarian models of conversation and decision-making are now the model, not the exception.  As strange as it may be to wave one’s spirit fingers in agreement like a sorority sister, it is such a clear and powerful visual of group agreement. Many folks naturally don’t send out any visual cues of agreement at all.  So how do you know if the group is on board?  Well, you don’t unless someone interjects which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re supposedly representing a collective.

Symbolism in demonstration, which was once a matter of screaming in front of the guilty party’s front door, is now all the more essential.  Organizers need to be more than strategic with location and think about a location that resonates globally.  This not only encourages global media coverage, but sets the framework of understanding to the wider scope of individuals paying attention who are ready and willing to engage for your demo whether it is a tweet or a status update.

Most importantly, OWS demonstrates intersectionalities in action.  As part of one organizing meeting a gentleman brought up how occupying any park was worth it just to show that New Yorkers should have 24-7 access to the parks, public or private. To be honest, I almost laughed.  I thought the point was demonstrating against the banks?  I thought this was about capitalism gone horribly astray?  How could something like that be relevant?  One issue at a time buddy.  And that’s when it came to me. Theoretically and in practice we are way beyond one issue at a time—we just haven’t seen intersectionalities in the streets until now.

Like OWS, reproductive justice is clearly beyond grappling with one issue at a time, as perhaps all “movements” are.  We are in need of the recognition that taking to the streets to keep Planned Parenthood’s doors open is not enough.  At the same time we need to discuss AND protest the cultural conscience targeting poor women and the cultural discomfort with women’s sexuality. Theory has linked issues like these for years.  Practice has begun to effectively connect people to a wider range of services to attack the many facets of reproductive injustice. But to my knowledge, the progress of incorporating the complexity of intersectionalities in these other realms is not being seen in demonstrations.  We have been so reactionary with the egregious seemingly unending attacks that we have not tackled this gap. It is time reproductive justice advocates looked to the OWS model and heeded its call for intersectional demonstration.  Whose streets?  Our streets!

It is Time for a New Approach to Activism

8 Nov

Every day politicians attack women’s right to choice somewhere around the world. The U.S. seems to be leading the charge with the GOP focusing on regulating women’s uteri rather than corporations. As activists we are fighting an uphill battle against politicians who are bound and determined to crush choice for all but the wealthiest women, the women who can afford to fly someplace to get an abortion. Abortion is becoming a 99% vs 1% issue where the 99% will soon not be able to afford a safe abortion. It is time for us to change tactics. Reacting and defending choice is not sufficient. We must be proactive. We have to stop reacting to new anti-choice laws and we must begin creating pro-choice laws.

recent report on global gender equality by the World Economic Forum places Canada 18th overall and the U.S. 17th behind such countries as Burundi and the Philippines,

… in business — where the study measured inequality in wages and management positions — Canadian women have only about three-quarters of the attainment level of men. The gender inequality is starkest in politics, where, judging by the number of female legislators and cabinet ministers, Canada has closed just 21 per cent of the gap, placing it behind Sri Lanka, Uganda, Burundi and Latvia, among others.

Even Iceland where the leader is a lesbian woman, women in general only attain 70% of the level of men. Worldwide women have closed less than 20% of the gender gap in politics. It is no wonder that anti-women laws are rampant: there are almost no women with a voice in politics!

What this means is that the politicians making the laws that affect women are most likely men. It is insufficient for women to constantly react to the laws of men. Activists can no longer just volunteer at clinics, speak out for abortion rights and be satisfied. More pro-choice women, and men, must become politicians; we have to be the ones making the laws. We must be lawyers and judges, interpreting the laws and striking down the unconstitutional ones. We must be involved in municipal/county politics, provincial/state politics, and federal politics.

Men have made the decision in Topeka, Kansas to stop prosecuting domestic violence, leaving women terrified as their abusive partners are released from jail because the city doesn’t want to spend the money to prosecute them. A male politician claims that a woman can’t be raped by her husband if she is wearing a “nightie.” In an article in Forbes online, a man suggested that women won’t become CEOs because women are more concerned about gossip and looking pretty. There is no shortage of women who hold these archaic beliefs, but I find mansplaining far more offensive. And the anti-women men are prevalent, powerful, and dangerous.

Activism is great, it is a grassroots fight for rights. It is relevant but it is insufficient. We must approach women’s rights from both directions: from the grassroots and from the glass ceiling. We must have a coordinated attack on anti-women lawmakers and politicians. I beg of you, please consider running for politics, of any level. Even one pro-woman voice among the anti-women contingent that speaks out will help. When the only voice people hear is anti-choice, anti-women, they start to believe that is the only voice. We must make the pro-women voices heard from positions of authority. First it will start as a whisper, but your pro-women voice will reach another person and inspire them to speak out for women. We must become more than a mere annoyance. We must begin reversing the anti-women laws until being pro-choice is the norm. It won’t be easy. Politics is draining and it is hard work, but unless we only want the richest 1% of women to have access to safe abortion, we must sacrifice our time. Being a politician can be a thankless job but if a pro-choice politician can help one more woman get a safe abortion it would be a worthwhile sacrifice.

It’s time for a new approach.

 

What is really at stake in Mississippi?

7 Nov

Mississippi’s “personhood” amendment – up for a vote on November 8th – would certainly be damaging to women’s reproductive health and rights. But the media has consistently reported its implications incorrectly. Even if passed, emergency contraception using levonorgestrel (Plan B) and IUDs should still be accessible.

According to the New York Times, the amendment, if passed, “would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person.” The Times goes on to report that abortion, in-vitro fertilization, and even IUDs and emergency contraception might become unavailable as a result. The Guardian relays the same message.

But here’s the thing. IUDs and emergency contraception do not do anything to fertilized eggs. All the most recent science shows this. Both contraceptive methods prevent fertilization (the mainstream media has continued to repeat this flawed interpretation). In fact, just this week yet another study showing that Plan B works by preventing ovulation was published. The study measured women’s hormone levels to determine where they were in their menstrual cycle at the time of unprotected sex. They identified 103 women who had sex in the 5 days prior to ovulation, and 45 who had sex in the 5 days after ovulation. Among the 103 who had sex prior to ovulation and took plan B, none got pregnant, though statistically if Plan B doesn’t work 16 should have gotten pregnant. Meanwhile in the other group 8 got pregnant, while statistically 8.7 should have gotten pregnant. In other words, Plan B only works if you haven’t ovulated yet. If you’ve ovulated, the hormones don’t do anything to prevent sperm and egg from joining and implanting in the uterus. It has no effect on fertilized eggs.

The IUD is a bit more complicated because it works in multiple ways, and there are 2 different kinds of IUDs. However, the preponderance of evidence shows that the IUD also does not do anything to fertilized eggs. Rather, it prevents fertilization. The copper IUD alters the cervical mucus, making it nearly impossible for sperm to enter the uterus to meet an egg. If sperm do enter, their motility and ability to fertilize an egg are reduced due to the inflammatory reaction induced by the IUD. Those few studies that have looks at intra-uterine sperm after IUD placement have found that there are many fewer sperm and that they aren’t able to move like those sperm found in the uterus of a woman without an IUD. The copper IUD works by keeping sperm from getting to and fertilizing the egg; no evidence suggests it has any effect on fertilized eggs. The levonorgestrel IUD (Mirena) is less well-studied than the copper IUD, but evidence suggests it also impacts the cervical mucus, decreasing the number of sperm that enter the uterus, and decreases the chance of ovulation by releasing levonorgestrel into the bloodstream. In other words, it prevents fertilization. No fertilization means no blastocyst, which means no embryo, which certainly means this amendment has no bearing on IUDs.

Yes, there are some unanswered questions. What happens if you insert an IUD between the time an egg has been fertilized and it has implanted, or if it has just implanted? Nobody knows, and nobody ever will know, because it’s just too hard to study. It’s possible that there are some little embryos out there that get dislodged without anyone ever knowing it during IUD insertions. We also don’t know nearly as much about the new emergency contraception pill, Ella (ullipristal), as we do about Plan B, and it’s possible it works by preventing implantation of a fertilized embryo. Probably because of these uncertainties, and because it was approved by the FDA years ago before we had this recent research, packaging for products like the IUD and emergency contraception often perpetuates misconceptions about their mechanism of action. But all the recent science points away from any effects on fertilized eggs, and frankly, I’m not losing a lot of sleep about those rare situations where a fertilized egg might be affected. Every medical procedure or drug has the possibility of a negative impact. If I were to lose sleep about things like this, I’d never be able to practice medicine. I’d always be worrying if the person I recommended a cholesterol-lowering drug to was one of the rare people who would develop liver failure as a result, or if the person I recommended to start biking to work for more exercise would be one of the few people to get hit by a car. I’m certainly not going to worry about the theoretical possibility of disrupting a fertilized egg.

In medicine, we can’t allow speculation and worry about what might be to overshadow the facts. The facts are that, based on the most recent science, IUDs and emergency contraception do nothing to fertilized eggs, much less embryos or fetuses, and the mainstream media needs to stop repeating tired, disproven theories in reporting on this amendment.

On Motherhood, Feminism, and Choice

2 Nov

My last post on breastfeeding, and finding ways to support both nursing moms and formula-feeding moms, seemed to make few people happy.  It’s likely my fault – it wasn’t my debate to enter.  However, I felt that, as someone who works as both a birth-rights activist and a strong supporter of breastfeeding and as an abortion-rights activist and a strong supporter of choice that I could somehow contribute to the discussion.  I learned a lot from the response: don’t use the word “jerk” in the title of a blog post, even in the abstract; it alienates people.  Don’t go for brevity over nuance when the topic requires that nuance.  And, at the end of the day, recognize when the people who disagree with you on the details are ultimately on your side.

The most startling feedback I received, however, were comments to the effect of (and I’m paraphrasing, but not exaggerating): “Feminism doesn’t support breastfeeding and motherhood because it requires women to stay home for longer after giving birth and recognizes biological differences between men and women.”

I was shocked and disappointed that someone could think this, and that they could use something I’d written as an example of this.  At first I dismissed it as an extreme response, but similar sentiments kept cropping up: feminists parents do seem to feel marginalized from the rest of the feminist blogosphere. This post on The Mamafesto yesterday drove home the point for me, and I really encourage you to read it.

The thing is, my idea of feminism is absolutely contingent upon the acceptance of motherhood, of birth, of breastfeeding, of parenting, of stay-at-home moms.  In fact, this is where my feminism began, with a focus on motherhood not only as a source of personal fulfillment, but of public activism.  Many women are empowered by motherhood, not only for themselves, but also out of the desire to create a better world for their children.  Much of my daily research and work focuses on not only the rights of parents (breastfeeding support initiatives, healthcare reform, paid maternity leave, paid sick days, affordable childcare) and soon-to-be parents (adoption reform, infertility insurance coverage, birth advocacy, childbirth education, labor support), but the rights of those parents on the margins that are frequently told by society that they should never, never parent: young (teen) parents, very low-income families that receive public benefits, undocumented immigrants, etc.  These issues are not superficial or tangential to my feminist belief structure: they are the crux, the very heart of the issue.

The thing is, I know I’m not the exception.  I suspect most feminists, even young feminists, even feminists who aren’t parents or don’t want to be parents, feel this way, too.  But for some reason, we’re not doing a good job of communicating that and making our conversations inclusive of feminists who are parenting.

I am very sincerely discouraged that feminist parent bloggers feel they’re excluded or marginalized because of the form their feminism takes, and I’m even more disappointed if my earlier post contributed to that in any way. I am going to take it upon myself to more actively try to include discussions of motherhood in my writing, and I encourage others to do the same.  While I stand by the points I made in my earlier post – that we should support new mothers who breastfeed as well as those who formula feed – the primary point I was hoping to make was that we should ultimately support women and trust them to make the best decisions for themselves.  These beliefs are what unite us as feminists, and remembering what bring us together is always more important that arguing over the smaller things that may divide.

Young Feminists: Alive, Kicking, Writing LTEs!

1 Nov

In response to this awful piece erasing young feminists and claiming that feminism is “over the hill,” Shelby and I wrote to USA Today and asked them to get the real story. A bit of our letter to the editor:

Contrary to the article’s claims, we know our movement’s history, and we are carrying it into the future. We don’t just identify with feminism; we live it day to day. We fight for reproductive, economic, racial and social justice online, in the streets, and side by side with our friends and family members. We’re questioning, bending and breaking down social norms, including sexuality, gender, age, class and race. We are abortion clinic escorts, online organizers, rape crisis center volunteers, radical journalists and sometimes even presidents of NOW chapters.

Read the rest for yourself.