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Poor Women, Abortion Access, And Fighting Anti-Choice Legislation

11 Mar

In this week’s edition of Totally Not Surprising News: restricting access to abortion services makes women upset, doesn’t change their mind about having an abortion.

Abortion activists have known for a while now that bills that require waiting periods and mandatory sonograms, including trans vaginal ultrasounds, don’t change the minds of women seeking an abortion. A recently released study from the University of Texas Austin, University of Alabama Birmingham, and Ibis Reproductive Health reveals that 1/3 women felt upset after mandatory waiting periods and increased regulations. A gross majority of women reported that forced waiting periods and ultrasounds did not change their mind.

But that’s okay, these committed conservative lawmakers keep passing laws that restrict access to abortion because Jesus and God and Guns and Fetus and Sanctity of Life, but not the sanctity of women that are living and poor children and women of color because that would be SOCIALISM.

The study suggests that waiting periods have nothing to do with women’s health, as preliminary results of the study indicate an increased negative impact upon women. The impact is particularly felt by poor women and women of color. Minority women in Texas suffer more from the restrictions, a fact that highlights how race, class, and access to abortion intersect to reinforce a monstrously oppressive system.

This news came days after Arkansas legislators instituted a 12 week abortion ban. Any woman seeking to exercise her constitutional right to have an abortion in Arkansas now is shit out of luck if she’s more than 3 months along. In a state with some of the highest rates of poverty in the nation, including a 23% poverty rate amongst children and a disturbing 40% poverty rate amongst African Americans, restricting health care access to the most vulnerable is downright evil. Would it kill them to pass some laws to take care of their record number of poor and starving children?

Considering that women often do not even realize they are pregnant until the tenth or twelfth week, the new ban is in essence, a full abortion ban. Thinking about this is mind-numbingly terrifying. I don’t want to drop into a ball of terror but this stuff is getting disturbingly close to A Handmaid’s Tale and I’m becoming less able to deal with my rage. Our rights are systematically going out the window like yesterday’s trash.

State by state, women’s rights are being rolled back in the name of deliberately misleading notions of women’s health. For instance, as if they did not want to be outdone by Arkansas, news is breaking that another restrictive abortion ban bill is making its way through the Kansas legislature.

Even our activism is being hijacked. The word “choice” has been used against abortion access and reproductive justice to sell an idea that women need an ultrasound and waiting period to “make the best choice.” Sean Hannity of Fox News recently argued that women should have the “choice to protect themselves from a rapist with their guns.”

I can’t emphasize enough that these bills are mainly impacting poor women. The Lilith Fund, an abortion fund that provides money to women that cannot afford an abortion on their own, reported on twitter that in “2012, 74% of the women we helped on our hotline were already mothers and 85% were women of color.” In Texas , Republican Gov. Rick Perry and the conservative legislature blocked thousands of poor women from access basic health care in their quest to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Family planning clinics have been forced to close because Perry directly cut their funds. Cutting funding leads directly to cutting services for women, particularly poor women, and women of color. No money, no care.

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Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Are Not Persons

4 Feb

On January 25, 2013, anti-choicers from across the country gathered to march on Washington DC, in a show of their support for fetal life. This year, I’d almost forgotten about the March for Life- mostly because the event is a ton of high schoolers who are bused in to increase numbers. It’s a way for teenagers to travel, have time off from school, and hang with their friends- and sometimes they even get a little extra credit for going. So I’m not really worried about hundreds of kids taking a vacation (although you should listen to @ClinicEscort talk to a train full of them about her abortion experience here).

What reminded me that the March of Life was happening soon, was an article posted on January 23 on a Colorado news website titled “In malpractice case, Catholic hospital argues fetuses aren’t people.

What?

Here’s a summary of what happened: in 2006, a woman who was 7 months pregnant with twins arrived at the hospital short of breath and vomiting. She passed out, and had a massive heart attack because of a clog in her artery. The doctor on call never showed up that night, the woman died less than an hour after entering the hospital, and the twins died in the womb. A terribly heartbreaking situation. The  husband is filing a wrongful-death lawsuit for the twins–he realized that his wife was beyond saving, but argues that the doctor should have arrived to perform a cesarean and saved the twins.

The Catholic hospital’s lawyers countered that fetuses aren’t people, and therefore the husband cannot file a wrongful-death suit for them.

What?

If you ever want to know if someone REALLY believes what they are saying, pin it against money, apparently. The hospital has twice–before a court, and an appeals court–argued that persons are born, and therefore the viable, 7 month gestation fetuses are not persons. Once again: the lawyers for a Catholic hospital which has a mission stating, “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” have said,

…the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

Now, there is a very important point here I’d like to make- if the Catholic lawyers had argued the other way, things could have been very different. If they had agreed that the twin fetuses could have a wrongful-death lawsuit filed for them, and that the Catholic hospitals recognized their personhood, they could have had the beginnings of legal precedent for recognizing fetuses as persons. Of course, many hospitals and laws already recognize the value of a viable fetus to a family, and this case couldn’t have banned abortion overnight. But they didn’t choose to do that- for this Catholic hospital, it seems that money is more important than fetal life.

I probably sound like I’m repeating myself a lot, but this is a big deal. If a Catholic hospital will argue in a court of law that fetuses aren’t persons, then perhaps we shouldn’t respect their argument when it’s based upon the concept that fetuses are persons (which is quite often). If they really, truly believed and supported their position, they wouldn’t argue against it. If even Catholic hospitals following the rules of the US Catholic Bishops (some of the biggest fighters against abortion) don’t believe their ideas, why should we consider laws they try to pass? Or let them have ways to opt out of the birth control mandate?

I don’t think we should. Of course, these types of things aren’t decisions I get to make personally. But I can remember these facts about antichoicers while I am having discussions with them: that anti-choice people get abortions too; that more people are calling themselves pro-life, but support for legal abortion has not decreased; that Catholic hospitals don’t always follow the idea that life begins at conception. Some people are incredibly sure of themselves, until they face a trial of their beliefs. My goal is not to change minds overnight, or push people further into their beliefs, but to open their mind to the vast possibilities around them. Sharing this story about a Catholic hospital denying the personhood of fetuses is one way to show the world is not completely black and white for anyone, but a huge ball of gray.

Do not let an anti-choice youth conference fool you. Young people are pro-choice.

9 Nov

This weekend, the International Prolife Youth Conference will be happening in California. Their theme is “Abolitionist Rising,” an attempt to compare the abhorrent practice of slavery to legal abortion. Hosted by Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust & Priests for Life, the conference’s goal is to equip youth to fight against abortion and change their perspective of the anti-choice movement.

While many anti-choice supporters, websites and blogs are mourning the election results, the IPYC facebook (which we will not link to) has stayed upbeat. I wondered if perhaps they thought they found the cure to the dying GOP platform: getting youth involved. While it sounds like a good idea, the anti-choice movement gravely misunderstands today’s youth.

The Presidential election just a few days ago tells us a lot about millennials. Sixty percent of those 18-29 years old voted for President Obama, compared to 44% of those 65 and older. There is a clear trend towards younger people being more progressive. The Center for American Progress found that of 21 core values and beliefs held by America’s youth, only four of them could be deemed conservative. They also found that 84% of today’s youth believe that “we should do everything we can to make sure that people who want to use prescription birth control have affordable access to it and that cost is not an obstacle.” Remember that anti-choicers are strongly against birth control, including financial coverage of it and the use of it by women of all ages.

Advocates for Youth researched what today’s young people think about abortion. 68% of Millennials believe abortion should be available in their community, compared to 60% of the Boomer generation (interesting to note the high majority of both; this is one explanation for why the majority of anti-choice leaders are older people). Today’s youth are more multicultural; there are more people of color among today’s youth than among previous generations. This diversity is another point against conservative, anti-choice groups who have a difficult time reaching out to people of color (their “black genocide” movement seems to incite more anger than anything).

Perhaps the IPYC leaders are excited because they believe they can mold young people’s minds into becoming anti-choice? Their facebook description states the conference will “change your perspective of the pro-life movement across the nation.” They might have a point there–until these young people decide to educate themselves on the issues instead of just listening to speakers. Take the example of Libby Anne. Upon doing her own research, Libby Anne realized that the anti-choice movement actually does more to cause abortions than stop them. She realized that the policies of the pro-choice movement reduces unplanned pregnancies and helps women around the world. Youth attending the IPYC will likely listen to speakers this weekend claim they want to “help women,” but many will soon see that the anti-choice movement is causing a lot more harm than good.

So this weekend, when you see anti-choice activists tweeting about the IPYC, remember that just because the election is over, it doesn’t mean the anti-choice movement is going to give up or go home. They didn’t four years ago, and they definitely won’t now. We can’t stop caring either! Sign the Bill of Reproductive Rights, tell the American Association of University Women what you think Obama and Congress should do on Day One,  join the fight to repeal the Hyde Amendment–let’s set our own priorities!

How One Far-Right Piece of Legislation Passes in Twenty States

21 Aug

You may have noticed over the last few years that anti-abortion legislation is passing at an alarming rate, down at the state level, where legislation is not considered super-sexy and sometimes people don’t even notice – especially when it’s not their state going for anti-choice gold.

Rep. Todd Akin has experienced an enormous amount of backlash for his claim that women’s uteri magically reject a pregnancy that is the product of rape. He’s running for a national senate seat. State legislators say equally atrocious things almost every day, and while they draw some attention, they aren’t the subjects of this kind of media storm. Remember when a Representative from Oklahoma said being gay was worse than being a terrorist? There was a some noise about – the story was even featured onEllen – but eventually the dust settled and it was business as usual. Rep. Todd Akin is now a pariah to the national Republican party. I guarantee you, his career will never recover, even if he’s elected.

Same principle applies to completely nutters anti-choice and anti-abortion legislation at the state level as opposed to the federal level. Introduce a “personhood” bill at the federal level, House or Senate, and you will have a media circus and angry constituents, phone calls from states you don’t even represent, and national party spokespeople trying to explain that you need the Independent vote to try and win in November. So far-right anti-choice groups did what the progressive movement doesn’t seem to know how to do. They got down on the ground in the states, where frankly, it’s pretty boring, and they did a lot of long, hard, involved leg-work over almost a decade. Now we’re all reaping what they sowed: regulations on our bodies and our sex lives like nothing we’ve seen since Roe, and a good chance they could bring that very case before the Supreme Court to try and overturn it. Then again, they may not bother. They’ve made abortion so inaccessible at the state level that Roe can remain technically the law of the land while millions of desperate people go without badly needed, still-legal health and reproductive care.

So how does one far-right piece of legislation – personhood, Crisis Pregnancy Center lies, transvaginal ultrasounds, waiting periods, just to name a few one pieces of legislation introduced in dozens of states – manage to get introduced, and passed, at the state level across the country? Isn’t legislation complicated? No, actually, it isn’t, and that is both to our benefit and detriment as citizens. Passing legislation is an uphill battle. Writing legislation is a piece of cake.

I worked as a an assistant to registered lobbyists at a non-profit in Washington, D.C. Lobbyists get a bad rep, but you could be a lobbyist. Go talk to your representative – and you should – and you’re a lobbyist. Now, if you’re a group of parents whose children have severe autism, and you live far from Washington, D.C., and you want someone to speak to members of Congress on your behalf, that person you hire to do that – someone who ispaid to lobby – is a registered lobbyist. For better or worse, almost everything you value has a lobbyist (like the environment? LOBBYISTS. like funds that help unwed teen mothers get day-care so they can finish high school? LOBBYISTS. like marriage equality? YOU’RE WELCOME.), as does almost everything you despise (I’m looking at you, Big Oil).

People think lobbyists go ask representatives to vote a certain way, or to earmark money a certain way, and they do. But you know what takes up a lot of time for lobbyists? You know why so many lobbyists are lawyers (trufax)? Lobbyists write legislation. They write it, they give it to a sympathetic representative’s office, the Representative or Senator in question introduces it on the floor, and then the office and the lobbyists go around and try to whip up votes.

Getting legislation passed is really hard. Introducing legislation is super easy.

Legislation doesn’t have to be constitutional to be introduced. It doesn’t have to be constitutional to pass and become law. Legislation, like citizens, is innocent until proven guilty; someone or some group has to drag that ish to court and a judge has to declare it Conduct Unbecoming before it can be overturned. It’s easier to introduce and pass bad, unconstitutional legislation than it is to get it off the books once it’s there. A lot of the crap anti-choice bills passed lately at the state level actually are unconstitutional, but the current condition of our Supreme Court has the pro-choice mainstream movement – the people who can afford to challenge bad laws (Abortion Gangsters, want to raise a few million for a court case or six?) – spinning its wheels, scared that if we challenge the constitutionality of these laws, the SC will turn around and say, “Actually, it’s Roe that has been unconstitutional all along.” Roe isn’t much good to us now, what with not stopping terrible laws from going into effect in half the states, but the mainstream is still clinging to it like it’s a life raft that is mostly saving the First Class passengers from drowning. Sorry, steerage.

So this is what happened: a bunch of smart anti-choicers thought, you know what, if ladies go slutting around and getting pregnant and then want to kill an innocent baby, they should have to suffer for it. What’s a good punishment for having things up inside you? Things up inside you you don’t want there! That will teach you. So they concocted this trans-vaginal ultrasound nonsense, and then they, or a lawyer friend, or a lobbyist, wrote it up and passed it to state reps who agreed with them, state reps they worked tirelessly for years to insure would have control of the state legislatures and a fetus-friendly governor who wouldn’t veto, and the state reps introduced it, it passed, and it was signed into law. They did this over and over and over again, with every weird notion or draconian punishment for being biologically female they could dream up in their wildest imaginations. Once the groundwork was laid – and they’ve been at this for a good long while – this was the easy part. This is fun. Even in the rare case that the national media notices, like the first time the trans-vaginal ultrasound law was introduced in Virginia, or a governor changes their mind and won’t back your play, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got 20 – 50 more buns in the oven. And this is working.

I feel like School House Rocks should probably review this. This is how you change a nation: from the bottom up.

South Dakota: Where We Don’t Practice Science

27 Jul

In 2005, South Dakota passed a law which at the time was the pinnacle of crazy anti-abortion laws.  It contained a wide range of provisions which ended up going back and forth in the courts for the past several years.  Ultimately, the biological disclosure and “all known medical risks” disclosure stayed on the books, but the decision on a suicide advisory remained divided in the courts.  It became its own spin-off case, and only this week did a decision come down.

Though you may have already read how the 8th circuit ruled , 7-4, with the majority in favor of keeping the suicide advisory, i.e. doctors must tell women seeking abortions that they have an increased risk of suicide if they seek an abortion, on the grounds that is not misleading and irrelevant.

Some things you should know about the case before we dive into this:

  1. The parties are two crisis pregnancy centers versus Planned Parenthood.
  2.  The “friends of the court” of the crisis pregnancy centers include: Christian Medical & Dental Associations; American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians & Gynecologists; Catholic Medical Association; Physicians for Life; National Association of Pro-Life Nurses; Family Research Council; Care Net; Heartbeat International, Incorporated; National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Incorporated; Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund; and the American College of Pediatricians.  Yes, you read that last one right.  Who knew?
  3.  The author most cited in the majority opinion for the “evidence” of an increased risk of suicide and suicidal ideation among women who had an abortion might have her major paper on the topic retracted because it is not scientifically sound.  Said author, Coleman, is referenced 14 times by name in the majority opinion.

But what stood out to me was the bizarre argument throughout the majority opinion about relative risk, increased risk, and causation.  Anyone who has taken epidemiology 101 can parrot that correlation is not causation.  Essentially, science is all about theories and making your way as close to the “truth” as possible.  But will we ever know an absolute truth?  No, we wouldn’t.  This is 7th grade science people.  Stay with me.

The majority opinion states how the suicide disclosure cannot be misleading or irrelevant only if there is “medical and scientific uncertainty,” then goes on to say “in order to render the suicide advisory unconstitutionally misleading or irrelevant, Planned Parenthood would have to show that abortion has been ruled out, to a degree of scientifically accepted certainty, as a statistically significance causal factor in post-abortion suicides.”

So for example let’s say I have a theory that doughnuts cure cancer and I go out there and find some evidence of this and get published, but someone retorts saying this is blatantly false.  We now have medical and scientific uncertainty.  Fine.  But then according to the 8thcircuit the only reason I can’t force pediatricians to tell children to eat doughnuts is if I can show that doughnuts don’t cure cancer.   Doughnuts for everyone?

Now let’s return to 7th grade.   You can’t prove something is not a causal factor.  You can no less prove it is a causal factor.  You can be very sure one thing leads to another, e.g. smoking and cancer.  But proving that the doughnuts do not cure cancer is impossible, so it would be impossible to fulfill this alleged requirement.  Then what does the evidence tell us?

What we do know is that most scientists agree that risk of suicide does not increase with abortion.  There is some shaky evidence of a possible association between abortion and suicide due outside underlying factors, i.e. if you have poor mental health you are more likely to seek an abortion and more likely to be suicidal.   But it is a spurious relationship, it is the outside factor that connects them, the connection between the two is completely unfounded.

What is most upsetting is that the four dissenting justices even say how the majority recognizes that there is no proof in the literature that abortion causes suicide and that telling women that abortion causes an increased risk of suicide is untruthful.  They know this, they recognize it, and yet here we are.  Women across South Dakota will now be forced to listen to these lies before obtaining an abortion.   How is that not misleading and irrelevant?

The real problem with girls and gendercide

6 Jun

There has been a lot of talk about sex-selection and abortion in the news lately. Anti-choicers have created misleading videos to lie about Planned Parenthood’s stance on sex-selective abortions, PRENDA (a bill that would outlaw sex-selective abortions) was facing a vote, and some twitter users have begun using the term “gendercide.”

But the real issue here isn’t sex-selection. The real issue is that anti-choicers don’t believe that women and girls are capable of taking care of their own lives.

While this extreme level of obsession with female fetuses is new, anti-choicers have long used the female fetus as a symbol for “someone in need.” Their own version of a “damsel in distress,” if you will. The thinking goes like this: people want to take care of those whom they believe are helpless. For a long time, women and girls were thought to be weaker than men and boys, incapable of taking care of themselves. That’s why women in decades past were not allowed to own property, or were themselves property of their fathers and husbands. If anti-choicers can convince you that women are still incapable of taking care of themselves, they might be able to convince you to step in and “help.”

We’ve come a long way since women were property in America. We now know that women and girls are just as capable as men and boys. Anything men can do, women can do. We can own property, vote, and even run for President if we like (whether we can win is another story).

But anti-choicers haven’t caught up with us, and they’re hoping they can bank on that historical sense of “need to help the helpless” people might still feel. And because they believe girls are weak and helpless, they use that to their supposed advantage. This is why sidewalk harassers tell women that their “baby girl” needs them to choose life, or why every anti-choice fetus is a “she” with “her” this and that. It’s even why those creepy stories written to be seen from the point of view of a fetus to their “mommy” is a written by a female fetus.

It’s also why many anti-choicers say that the women who choose abortion shouldn’t be punished, because they were mislead and ignorant and didn’t know what they were doing.

Anti-choicers aren’t worried about sex-selection because they value women and girls; on the contrary, they are worried about sex-selection because they think it will help them take away more rights from women. I find it hard to believe that any anti-choicer would actually care if girls are aborted for their gender, with how little respect they often show for women. Instead, I see this as another slap in the face. Anti-choicers are pretending to care about my gender so that they can hurt my gender more.

This type of behavior must be recognized, called out, and stopped. We must show that we value, respect and trust women and girls to make the correct, moral choices for their lives. Only by valuing women as capable moral agents can we teach others that women are of value.

The Abortion ‘Debate’ and Refusing to Engage

28 May

Anti-choice Canadians are likely feeling pretty heady right now with Stephen Woodworth’s Motion-312, which seeks to examine when a fetus becomes a human being within the meaning of the Criminal Code. Despite being absolutely trounced in the House of Commons during the first hour of debate, the antis may be down but they are certainly not out. Round 2 is Thursday June 7, and the vote is June 13. We cannot let our guard down yet.

Woodworth asks pro-choicers what are we “afraid of,” why are we afraid of the “truth” since all he proposes is that we “look at the evidence.” As NDP MP Boivin pointed out, this would be the first time that the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) would be interested in evidence and science. Well I am here to tell Mr. Woodworth that I am not afraid of the evidence, I am not afraid of the ‘debate’, and I would be happy to ‘debate’ him, if only he would agree to stay away from logical fallacies, references to religion/god, and actually look at the evidence.

Antis have taken to quoting Madame Justice Bertha Wilson, who wrote the decision for the majority in the R. v. Morgentaler in 1988, the case that declared Canada’s abortion restriction unconstitutional. Despite finding that the criminalization of abortion was unconstitutional, she left the door open for Parliament to legislation when she wrote,

I think s. 1 of the Charter authorizes reasonable limits to be put upon the woman’s right having regard to the fact of the developing foetus within her body. The question is: at what point in the pregnancy does the protection of the foetus become such a pressing and substantial concern as to outweigh the fundamental right of the woman to decide whether or not to carry the foetus to term?

Antis have jumped on this as “support” from feminist ally Justice Wilson to restrict later term abortions, or at least have a ‘debate’ about them. Andrew Coyne of the National Post, in criticizing pro-choicer’s staunch “defence of the status quo” wrote,

…it is dishonest to pretend [R. v. Morgentaler] means the matter has been settled, now and forever, or that dissenters from the status quo are, by definition, extremists.

He has unfortunately missed a glaring fact: when Justice Wilson wrote that decision she could not have anticipated that almost 25 years later Canada would still have no abortion law and that statistics would show that 90% of abortions occur between 0 and 12 weeks, 9% between 12 and 20 weeks, and only 0.4% after 20 weeks. When she wrote that she could foresee limitations on later term abortions, she could not have known that women could be trusted to make the correct moral decision relating to termination. I can only speculate as to whether Justice Wilson would have made that statement had she known that abortions after 20 weeks are incredibly rare but I can certainly criticize those who, knowing those facts, still continue to quote her when suggesting that not having the ‘debate’ is ‘anti-democratic,’ as Mr. Coyne does.

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