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16 and Pregnant, Season 5, Episode 3: The Recap

5 May

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This week, we replaced the 16 and Pregnant graphic with this one, from No Teen Shame,  a movement led by young mothers, dedicated to moving the conversation around young parenting away from shame and stigma. You can follow them on Twitter .

This episode of 16 and Pregnant is about Millina, who’s from Harrison Township, Michigan (near Detroit). You can watch the whole episode here.

 

 Chanel: Okay, that bear heartbeat thing SCARES me. It seems like a CPC (crisis pregnancy center) move.

Megan: Yeah, where did she get that? Is that a thing that people do nowadays?

 C: I don’t know. Pregnant people, feel free to tell us your tales of acquiring stuffed animals at your ultrasound.

Okay, so Millina was against being on birth control. When she says, “all the  things I could have done differently”- is this an abbreviation for other parenting choices she could have made? Are we just not never going to have that conversation?

M: I also wonder what “against being on birth control” means? Especially since it seems like she has changed her mind about that. How has her environment influenced her? Peers?

 C: MTV doesn’t want us to think too hard about certain things, I think.

 M: I have to say something here about Tina’s health condition. It seems like there’s a lot of stuff going on with her besides the physical symptoms, but I do want to plug that people with epilepsy and neurological illnesses can be loving and capable parents (and should check out Girls with Nerve.  )

I wonder at what age Millina was removed from her mom’s custody. It is such a traumatic experience for kids, and you can tell from the way she talks about it how much it is still impacting her and her anxiety about having her own children. She’s used to talking about it. She’s probably had to talk to a lot of people about it over a long period of time.

C: “I’ve learned to fake a smile and tell people I’m okay.”

M: I also wonder how much of that is because she has a younger brother (who seems a lot younger) and feeling like she has to take care of him and be the adult.

C: I also wonder if having the baby is part of starting over for her. But again, MTV doesn’t seem to want to deal with the reasons why she’s choosing to raise Kayden.

M: Did her dad just say just keep the baby away from the adults in her life? Millina and Trevor need the support from others to be able to raise the baby, but they can’t trust most of the adults in their life. I can’t imagine the stress that that must cause.

 C: I think his leather jacket said that, yes.

M: Millina’s attitude and grown-up way of being also says to me that she’s had to grow up too fast. She speaks like an adult.  “I’m trying to talk to you.” She is so mature. I can’t get over it. She is so calm.

C: She has that “I have to parent my parent” tone.

M: Exactly. She is used to having to be the adult.

 C:  I’m glad to hear M say, “I’m done trying to get her to like me.” That’s a hard thing to say no matter how old you are.

 M: “A vagina to Stargate” OMG. Most accurate way to describe the miracle of life?

 C:  I forgive your mustache, Trevor. For now.

M: She is so good at telling her mom that she loves her, and forgives her, but also that she needs her to change.

 C: I hate how she has to parent the adults in her life.I hate it so much I’m mentioning it again.

 M: With most of the teens on this show, we see them trying to grow up and be adults and figure out how to do that quickly. But for Milina, I’m feeling the opposite. She’s already there, and I’m wondering if she’s ever gotten a chance to be a kid, and if she’ll ever have the chance now that she has a baby.

 C: It’s awesome how this judge thinks that keeping someone in jail because they had a drug problem is going to make them better at life when they get out AND STILL HAVE A DRUG PROBLEM. There is a lot to pay attention to here about criminalizing drug use and how it hurts everyone.

Ugh, cue handwringing from viewers freaking out because Milina referred to her baby as an “uh oh.” I remember when Briana in season 4 said she would have made a different decision about having her daughter if she could have. Because people don’t have complicated feelings.

M: Do you know who this is not about? Tina. This girl is taking care of this baby by herself, none of the adults are helping her, and now they are all shaming her for her parenting? Are you fucking kidding me?

C: I’m glad M is clear on the fact that all of this is completely bat shit.

M: Yeah. I would like to validate that they were in fact all ganging up on you, Millina!

C: Trevor, dude, the problem is that you’re trying to make everybody happy. You have to make a decision.

 M: Also making Millina feel bad when she brings the baby to see you isn’t going to make her want to do it again.

 C: Oh, Kayden’s baby mohawk, you are enjoyable.

M: I like that this recap and summary shows that having a baby can have a strong positive impact for some teens. Usually the teens talk about how bad their choice was and how sad they are in the summary, but I’m glad that Millina talks about how she feels like having a baby has made her see her life differently and make different choices.

We will end as always by sending lots of love to Millina, Trevor, and Kayden!

16 and Pregnant, Season 5, Episode 2: The Recap

27 Apr

This week on 16 and Pregnant, we have Autumn, from Richmond, Virginia. You can watch the whole episode here.

MTV

Megan: I just need to announce to the blog that I am 50% done with my MSW as of one hour ago and thus am depending on Chanel to carry this summary through.

Chanel: Whee!! Congratulations!  I will begin by sharing the vital information that everyone in this episode so far has very shiny hair.

M: Also,  they are really into camouflage.

C: I checked with someone who’s actually Southern, and it’s a thing, apparently.

Um…Dustin doesn’t believe in pregnancy tests? Cool.

M: It must be so tough to have you and your partner be in such different places and with drastically different interpretations and expectations for what is going to happen when the baby is born.

I love this mom, “Cool, but weird.” That seems like an accurate way to describe your 16 year old getting pregnant.

C: I get supporting your kid, but this is not the best situation.

M: Yeah, I guess because it was in reference to both doing activities together? Like, they have this thing to bond over.

C: So again this week there’s no discussion of whether or not people considered abortion or adoption. It’s making me uncomfortable that we’re not seeing that, because I think we should see that giving birth and raising the kid is a choice that was deliberately made, not the default.  But we know Autumn was on birth control, although she  wasn’t taking it correctly. That’s important. It basically doesn’t count unless you take it correctly.

M: I hear about the weight gain fears all the time from my patients when talking to them about contraception! It is such a pervasive and persistent worry for folks thinking about birth control options, but it’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently to different methods and will need to test out options to find out what works best for them. (Check out more info on this from Bedsider.)

C: Dustin’s mom: “YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE ME GET LOUD IN THIS RESTAURANT!”

M: While I agree that the situation dictates that Dustin will need to take more responsibility, it’s also not helpful to shame him for his decisions at this point. I’m wondering what’s going on with him that he feels the need to say that he can’t stop smoking.

C: I was thinking that too. I mean, is this an addiction issue?

Unrelatedly, Autumn just used the term “nutsack.”

M:  Most importantly, is Drake an appropriate baby name these days given the superstar?

C:  I didn’t even know about the rapper. My first thought was about cake.

M: OK, well, I didn’t know about that, so we’re even.

C: “Man up” is one of my least favorite expressions on earth. (Along with “awesomesauce” and “amazeballs.”)

I’m not sure how to process this “calling the cops on your kid” thing. Maybe it’s because I am skeptical of law enforcement, you know, given all the bullshit. By the way, if anyone wants weigh in on facts about cyber school and graduation for teen parents, we would appreciate it.

M: Also about whether these OTC drug tests work.

C: I did not need to see Dustin’s cup of pee, MTV. THANKS.

I seriously do not even believe that  anyone is ever “ready” for fatherhood, or motherhood, or parenthood, I don’t care how old you are. People need to stop acting like that’s a thing you can be. The whole idea is a trap, it sets people up to be shamed.

M: My favorite part of this episode so far is when Dustin called the doctor, “dog”. My heart went out to him though when he said that this was the first drug test he had ever passed.

C: Annnddd Drake has been birthed.

M: People had better not be taking pictures of my vag when I give birth.

C: I am sad that that is a thing that has to be said.

M:  Although that scene for some reason got my cat’s attention.

photo (5)

(this cat’s name is Bruizer)

C: Because of the screaming?

M: He just is mesmerized by the miracle of life. He’s very spiritual in that way.

insert photo of Bruizer.

M: I feel so sad for the mom who has to support both of her daughter’s babies. She is taking it so well. It must be such a stressful financial situation.

 C: Oh, Autumn. Don’t set the bar so low.  You and Drake “Maybe Named After Delicious Pastries But Probably Not” deserve so much more than a bag of diapers a week.

M: Yeah, the question is what is he currently spending the money on?

C: I think we know.

M: Yeah. It’s sad when someone who could be suffering and hurting is treated just like it’s an issue of “teenage irresponsibility”, though. I think it’s interesting that he keeps bringing up the drug use on his own too, by saying the $40 he makes could buy weed, etc. Seems like it could be a cry for help to me. But I am a social work student so I’m into pathologizing everyone.

C: Now would be a great time to remind the universe that doing drugs doesn’t not make you a bad person, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction (which also doesn’t make you a bad person). Of course, it depends on who’s doing the drugs. The consequences are different for rich white kids versus for everyone else.

M: It comes down to if it’s impairing or distressing you in your daily life. And it could definitely be the case for Dustin if he sees no other option than to spend all of his earnings on marijuana. But we are just seeing what MTV wants us to see! You are also right that smoking doesn’t necessarily imply addiction or that it’s a morally bad thing to do.

C: Which reminds me of something my therapist is always telling me that she doesn’t believe laziness is a thing- that it’s actually always about something else, usually fear. I think that’s a worthy frame for this show.

M: I agree.

C: Autumn’s mom is a boss. I’m so glad she’s pushing for child support. This  episode is another reminder of the fact that a baby plus parents doesn’t necessarily equal a family.

M: Oh,  this girl needs a hug. We are sending you a virtual hug, Autumn! You are so brave!

 

 

 

16 and Pregnant, Season 5, Episode 1: The Recap

20 Apr

We’re recapping 16 and Pregnant, Season 5!  The first episode of the season starts with Maddy, who’s 16 and from Tinley Park, Illinois. You can watch the episode online here

 

MTV

Megan: Should we start by talking about why we wanted to write about this, besides that we secretly love watching reality television?

Chanel:  I always feel like a terrible reproductive justice activist when I watch this show. I think one of my reasons for wanting to recap is to place an RJ lens onto it, if that’s possible.

M: I totally agree. I think there is a lot of possibility, and when I watch it I always find myself rooting for the moms to be able to make their own decisions without the adults in their lives telling them that they’ve messed up. But when I was thinking about us wanting to watch this for those reasons, I was also thinking about why this show is still on and why so many other people watch it? What do we see in that narrative put out by MTV to scare and shame young people? Why are we fascinated by that as a theme and willing to watch it happen over and over again? Why do people want to see that and not the story we see through our frameworks?

C:  We need to see young women as being incapable of making good choices. Like,  no matter what, I’m not sure M could have made a choice that would have made the audience feel okay about her getting pregnant. Sex is wrong and terrible, and young women are stupid and irresponsible. I think that’s pretty ingrained into our narrative.

One thing MTV has done is bust up the idea that it’s young women of color who get pregnant as teens-the girls on this show are mostly white.

M: That’s true. But while they’re defying the stereotype that it’s only poor girls of color who are getting pregnant, it’s also blocking those girls from seeing their own experiences. So we’re also choosing the narrative of middle-class white girls over low-income girls of color.

C: AGAIN. And perpetually.

M:  As Gretchen Sisson says more eloquently than I have stated here: “Teen Mom will depict an argument with a romantic partner in great detail, but consistently overlook the real sources of struggle that lots of young mothers face: constant stigma and ridicule, lack of social support, and the challenge of accessing public benefits.”

On that note, let’s get into it.

C: The Other Baby, Maddy’s half sister Alyssa, has ears that stick out and is therefore a full on distraction for me.

M: Oh poor thing! One night stand. That is rough. Wait…haven’t we already had a baby named Aubrey?

C: SO MANY Aubreys. I think this is 3?

M: I hope this guy shows up to the doctor’s appointment. It’s such a positive thing to have the boyfriend at the ultrasound appointment. Can you even imagine being 16 and then getting pregnant with someone you just met and then having to figure out what you’re going to do? Like, I couldn’t even deal with just figuring out how to dress appropriately and what to decorate my locker with, let alone plan my entire future family. I don’t think I could have handled it.

C: Cody-“I should have paid more attention in health class. I should have used a condom.” Now would not be a terrible time to mention that it’s also  important that the girl be able to say, “Hey, maybe put on a condom?”

M: Wow, Mom is laying on the shame here.

C:  Oh my gd, Maddy’s mother. SHE CAN STILL BE A LAWYER.

M: Here’s the thing, it’s not going to “be a long time” before she’s going to get to do what she wants to do. Because right now she wants to be a mom. Maddy is more “responsible”-sounding than Mom at this point. She’s able to hold both that she did something she would consider a mistake and also own up to that she can’t change the past and now sees a new vision for herself. That’s a pretty adult thing to realize. But Mom is stuck in this “either/or” thinking.

C: There was an episode a few seasons ago where the girl’s dad was also like, “Hi, just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to live with the dude.” Also, here we are again with the “He ruined your life.”

M: Yeah. I just want to yell at them, “YOUR LIFE IS NOT RUINED”. And then give them hugs. I know I’m going to just keep saying this over and over but how responsible are these kids being? They are not romantically involved but their relationship has evolved to be this mutually-beneficial partnership where they are trying to figure this out together.

C: The word “responsible” in these situations always scares me. There are a lot of ways to be responsible, right? Abortion and adoption  are also examples of being responsible.

M: So true. We throw around that word like there’s a morally right and wrong way of being and no gray area. When I was 16 I couldn’t even function in my own home let alone move to an unfamiliar environment with a baby. That is scary shit.

C: Other Baby is the real star here. Sorry, Maddy.

M: What is the plot I’m supposed to be paying attention to? Adorable Baby? Staring at camera?

C: “The only time we ever left his house was to buy a pregnancy test.” Real talk.

M: High school dates: Still as awkward even if you having a baby together.

C: HERE COMES (MORE OF) THE SEXISM. “What kid do you know who has his mom’s last name?” CODY. PLEASE GET IN THE TIME MACHINE AND COME BACK FROM THE SIXTIES.

M: After Maddy raises her baby and takes her first gender studies class she is going to be so impressed by the way she handled this situation and refused to submit to the patriarchy.

C: There’s always stuff on this show about girls going from size zero to size 14 or whatever while pregnant. No one is ever a size 14 originally.

M: Yeah, and the size difference is always talked about like it’s the worst possible thing.

C: Here I will apply my creepily encyclopedic knowledge of this show and point out that Jamie in season 3 asked her doctor  if her stretch marks would go away when asked what she was most worried about. It’s normal, I know, but the emphasis is still bothering me.

M: Is this the appropriate time to mention that my cats really are into this right now? Or they want dinner. It’s one of those.

C: Cats love MTV.

M: You’re really missing out on this nail polish commercial where models rub their hands all over men’s faces.

C: Is it disembodied hands? Or can you see the models’ faces?

M: Disembodied, obviously.

C: Of course. Faces are superfluous. Especially on women.

M: As soon as you see faces, you think “people” with “minds”.

C: Just cut to the chase! This is about nail polish! AND MEN..

M: Not just any men, “alluring men”, says Youtube. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.

C: I will be buying a lot of this nail polish. You are working, capitalism.

M: You just get me, MTV.

C: Oh, here comes Cody’s patriarchy induced temper tantrum.(re: Maddy wanting Aubrey to have her last name.)

M: The way that the men/boys act and fight about the last name stuff just reminds me about how the patriarchy hurts everyone. It makes people feel like they have to hold to these systemic ideals, and when those ideals are not met it makes people feel bad, like something is being taken away from them and like they’re not in control.

C: Yes! And not being able to show that something (a lady, a child, etc) is YOURS is threatening. It undercuts your masculinity.

M: Now is the only part where I feel old and yell, “Are you seriously telling them you’re not moving in via text?” Is that what the kids are doing these days?

C: Ughh. This makes me want to get a lawn so I can tell kids to get off of it.

M: I support Maddy in her decision to do what’s best for her and move into the environment where she feels most comfortable and supported, but if I were Cody and his mom, I would have preferred receiving that information in person. But I am not 16 so what do I know!

C: What do we know about on line classes in high school and if they keep ple from dropping out?

M: It seems like a great model to me, but I’d be interested to hear more about it. There must be data on it somewhere.

C: I really like M’s dad pushing her to do what’s best for her. And I’m reminded of how much of a role class plays in all this. I mean, her dad has an extra room in a house.

M: Yeah, an extra room and enough income to be able to feed two additional people!

C: Do we think Maddy’s jeans came with those holes?

M: I like how we’re not judgemental about teen moms but we are judgmental about teen fashion. And methods of virtual communication. And baby names.

C: I mean, I’m not made of stone.  So, do we have closing thoughts?

M: I guess mine are that the show is trying to paint Maddy as an irresponsible teenager who got herself into a serious and terrible situation that she can’t get out of, but I think there’s another more powerful narrative that she faced getting pregnant as a challenge instead of an obstacle, was able to stay true to herself, and has a solid vision of what she wants her future to look like and what she can accomplish.

I think we should end by sending some love and well wishes to Maddy and baby.

C: Agreed. (Maddy, I’m sorry about what I said about your jeans.)

 

We’ll be back with another recap next Sunday! 16 and Pregnant airs Mondays at 10/9 c. 

 

Abortion Gang at CLPP 2014

14 Apr

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Bloggers from Abortion Gang recently spent 3 days at the radical glory that is the CLPP conference, and we tweeted up a storm! You can find the tweets by searching #CLPP2014 on Twitter.

Check out Abortion Gang bloggers @chaneldubofsky, @annapopinchalk, and at @PProvide, as well as @graceishuman,@OpinionessWorld, @AbortionChat,  @RBraceySherman@poonam_pai ,

@SisterSong_WOC@LeahDoolittle@KimberlyInezDC@aimeett and others.

 

Stay tuned to Abortion Gang for more blog posts on CLPP!

 

 

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Public shaming of women is unacSEPTAble behavior

14 Mar

Late last week, while browsing my Facebook feed, I clicked on a video with a caption that implored me to watch so that I could help identify a Philadelphia mother shown endangering her child. I had seen the video pop up several times, shared by quite a few people, and I’d passed it by, knowing the chances I’d recognize the mother were low (as I’ve spent approximately 1.5 weeks total of my life in that city) and that I would likely be upset by the contents of the film. This time my curiosity finally got the best of me though, and I clicked. For five minutes I sat with my eyes glued to the screen. I watched a seven-year-old girl do her best to take care of her mother in a situation with which she was clearly all too familiar, and it was heartbreaking. But as the scene crawled along, I had bigger questions.

Many readers know the video, which I will not link here because I want the voyeurism to end yesterday. The setting is the Philadelphia SEPTA public bus system, and the main characters are a pretty little blond girl and her presumably high mother, who exhibits the telltale “heroin nod”, a drowsy and quiet sort of slow tipping over at the waist that looks like you’re watching a sped-up display of the doomsday your chiropractor predicts you may face in old age if you don’t let him start six months of spinal adjustments immediately. Or imagine what it would look like if you wanted to disappear but the only way to do it is to slowly crumple inward until your hair brushes the floor and you disappear into a puddle on the ground.

Over and over the mother drifts in and back out of what looks like a heroin slumber, and her daughter watches her closely, tipping her back up by pushing her forehead with her palm when she starts to fall out of her seat or when a passenger is trying to get past her. She lovingly puts her head against her mother’s, to keep her conscious but also, it appears, because she loves her mother’s touch. When their shopping bags spill into the aisle, she cleans them up and puts them beneath her own seat, all the while saying, “Mama, mama, wake up” and “They can’t through, Mama”.

When the video went viral, a few comments on it read “Shame on you for filming this.” I, on the other hand, am happy it was filmed. Had the witness simply called the police, law enforcement most likely couldn’t have gotten there before the little family got off the bus, but the film is evidence. What I have a problem with is how it was handled from there. The police and social services were never called – not during filming and not after. What happened next was that the video was submitted to a Facebook page called People of SEPTA, which appears to be a local-flavor imitation of the mean-spirited People of Wal-Mart website – except that there is some anonymity in posting surreptitious photos of people shopping at the nation’s largest big-box store, and public transportation consumers in Philadelphia are a relatively small subset who can very easily find themselves, or a loved one, chosen as the latest victim of public mockery.

The video went viral from the Facebook page, with comments ranging from a few expressing concern for the judgment of witnesses to the majority which were rants about parenting skills, most calling the mother horrible names while expressing sanctimonious concern for the daughter. I think it’s safe to say that if you care about the wellbeing of a child, you should not call their mother a bitch or wish them dead. That little girl very clearly loves her mother; she’s likely the only one she’ll ever have.

Word of the video got back to police, who investigated. The police very publicly chastised not just the videographer but everyone on the bus who ignored, watched, or filmed it instead of contacting law enforcement. The mother was identified, not by police but by people who recognized her and called her out publicly on Facebook; she reportedly deactivated her Facebook profile after being harassed and receiving death threats. Follow-up news pieces say that the mother was not criminally charged but the child was removed from her custody, and that social services is working with the family. Now I ask you: if we want what is best for the little girl in that video – who caressed her mother so lovingly – should we shame, vilify, and humiliate her publicly outed mother? Or should we ensure that mother gets every resource available to treat her possible addiction and other problems so that they can be reunited? Should we celebrate humiliating videos by posting them to Facebook or should we be sending them to the police or other appropriate authorities, to resolve the situation privately?

Because congratulations, Internet. You just beat someone while they were down. You may have broken a family that still had hope before that video hit Facebook. You bullied that woman – and you bullied that little girl, too. That video will never go away, and it will haunt both of them. At the very least, that little girl will forever be “the girl from the SEPTA bus” and she is innocent.

As a mother with a list of personal struggles, the video and its reception hit me hard. I don’t want to be judged like that. I don’t want my daughter identifiable in a viral video of that nature. As a feminist it hit me too. The vitriol from viewers and the rush to condemn and publicly humiliate is the same passionate hate-filled behavior I see from the other side in the reproductive healthcare access movement. Film the patients, post film online, shout “baby hater” and worse at them; blindly lash out at women to “protect the innocent”, when no thought is given as to how to actually help anyone involved. I’m sensing a pattern here, and there needs to be a bigger conversation about how we value and respect one another. Whether your bullying happens on a sidewalk or from a computer in your own home, it is never okay. Pretending your end goal is to protect children when your mode of operation is to shame and humiliate women is even worse.

“She was on the side of the Lord”- Anti Choice Rhetoric, Religion, and Ownership

19 Feb

This is a guest post by Leigh Sanders. 

One thing volunteering as an escort at a reproductive health clinic has taught me is anti-choice protesters have an exorbitant amount of time to oversee the reproductive lives of their neighbors. Since they believe they are acting on religious orders to participate in this sort of secular voyeurism, they have been willing to physically and emotionally harm those that get in the way of their mission. Therefore, we are trained as clinic escorts to never engage with protesters. I am limited in my intervention to meeting patients at their vehicles and offering to shield them with my big rainbow umbrella from the unholy provocation that loudly follows us to the door. Throughout history women and girls have been subjected to this sort of harassment when they exercise self-determination.

I made the mistake of walking up to a car with two anti-choice  folks this morning and one of the women got out and righteously proclaimed she was “not one of us, because she was on the side of the Lord.” I had to wonder whether the Lord would actually claim her. I mean technically, she is saying the Lord is the kind of guy who would spend his down time shouting, criticizing and frightening the hell out of people. It would seem that the Lord would be busy on the other side of those women’s choices, the side that ensures children never go hungry, employment is plentiful, housing choices affordable and sexual violence eradicated.

So here is what working on the side of the Lord looks like to people who protest at abortion clinics. They stop cars from parking by acting official, as if they might be working for the clinic. When the unsuspecting person rolls down the window, propaganda, void of scientific fact, is shoved inside their car. For instance, the pamphlet uses the picture of a stillborn baby to depict an abortion despite the reality that nearly every single abortion in this country occurs on or before the 8th week. The clinic escort must intercede so the patient can arrive promptly for their scheduled appointment because the protester’s aim is to make them miss their allotted time.

Once the patients proceed to the front door, the protesters start yelling at them about the psychological “trauma” they will suffer afterwards, their impending status as a “baby-killer” and the many “resources” available to them that they are not utilizing. Today, one woman yelled back “Resources? What resources? You mean welfare?”  The male protesters explained they meant the resources that come from “loving Jesus.” There is a less aggressive group of protesters that arrange pictures of Jesus to face the clinic and while holding rosaries sing hymns about hell and damnation. They are the “good” ones because they do not seem motivated to physically harm anyone. Then there are the ones like the woman who specifically addressed her allegiance with the Lord; they greet the incoming cars as if in a funeral procession holding signs that presumptuously proclaim “Your Mother Kept You.”  The protesters surround the clinic until the last patient arrives and then their work is done. It is not known whether Jesus is proud of them for their stamina to harass or disappointed with them for their failure to shame. Either way they will return on Monday, ever seeking the Holy Grail of religious intolerance.

The police do not get called because the protesters are not breaking any laws. Of course, neither are the girls and women who are entering the clinic. Yet, their rights are at the mercy of fanatics who use deception, violence, judgment, intolerance and moral superiority to scar the lives of people they have never met. Because the one thing an anti-women’s health terrorist abhors more than abortion, it is a society that grants women sovereignty over their own bodies.

 

Life support is a reproductive justice issue, too

27 Jan

It’s a story that by now most of America has already heard, and no matter what side of the fence you sit on, it is heartbreaking. In the early morning of November 26, 2013, 14-week pregnant Marlise Muñoz of Texas was found unconscious in her home and rushed to a hospital. Her husband Erick was told that she most likely suffered a pulmonary embolism, she was brain-dead, and that the fetus may have been deprived of oxygen. Marlise and Erick were both trained paramedics, and Erick believed that she would never choose to prolong her suffering, so he and her family chose to terminate her life support.

The hospital, however, had different plans, and informed the family they would not remove her ventilators and respirators, citing a Texas law that hospital spokesperson Jill Labbe says prevents them from “withhold[ing] or withdraw[ing] life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient”. The law was passed in 1989 and amended in 1999, and while the hospital maintains that it has followed the letter of the law, medical ethics experts say they are misinterpreting it. Legal experts and Muñoz’s family are speaking up to change the law. The essential question is whether the law applies to brain-dead patients or whether it was intended for pregnant women in comas or vegetative states.

While my effort to research the history of this particular law to trace anti-choice influence failed, a New York Times article did attribute Drexel University bioethicist Katherine A. Taylor with the information that this and similar laws nationwide were adopted in a period in which the public was concerned with “advance directives about end-of-life care like living wills and health care proxies…The provisions to protect fetuses, she said, helped ease the qualms of the Roman Catholic Church and others about such directives”. Another medical ethics expert, Jeffrey P. Spike of the University of Texas – Houston, said in the same article that other brain dead women had been kept on life support to keep the fetus alive, but every case he was aware of was supported by the family’s wishes.

While this is not a case that involves abortion, it is interesting to note that at 14 weeks gestation, Marlise Muñoz, had she been conscious, could have legally chosen to obtain one for any reason. Yet after brain death occurred, her husband who legally would hold power of attorney rights could not make an end of life decision for her and their unborn child, who most likely would either not live or have gravely impacted quality of life due to lack of oxygen.

And let me clear, because the fetus we now know has been very seriously harmed. At 14 weeks gestation, all the doctors knew was that the fetus had a heartbeat. They said they could do more testing between 22 and 24 weeks, and this week, at 22 weeks, they have now conceded that the fetus is not viable. It has fluid build-up on its brain, its lower extremities are so deformed that gender cannot be determined, and it may have a heart problem. The suffering of Marlise Muñoz and her family has been mercilessly prolonged while the state forced her to be an incubator for a fetus that could not survive anyway. This was hardly a guessing game; medically there was very little chance that the fetus would survive. NYU bioethicist Arthur Caplan wrote an editorial for the LA Times detailing why John Peter Smith Hospital was misinterpreting law and also argued that the law was unconstitutional. In a later exchange with Emily Bazelon at Slate, he says there are “almost no cases of trying to bring a 14-week-old to term in this circumstance”.

The story does seem to be coming to a just but sad end, as a Texas judge on Friday, January 24, ordered the hospital to remove Marlise from life support by 5:00 p.m. on Monday. The hospital may appeal but Labbe has said, “the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction, and resolution in this matter”. The judge declined to speak to whether the law in question was constitutional.

While the Muñoz family is hopefully reaching the end of this terrible battle and can lay to rest Marlise and the once potential child they had looked forward to welcoming into the family, this case must serve to open the eyes of those concerned with reproductive justice issues. This law is the sort that sounds good on paper but is pushed by anti-choice zealots to further the precedent for giving the fetus rights that supersede those of women. Thirty-one states have laws on the books restricting end of life decisions for terminally ill pregnant women, and Texas is one of 12 with the most strict laws, requiring life support even in earliest pregnancy. Let me rephrase that: in more than 60% of states, women, their families, and even their doctors may have no say-so in a decision to be removed from life support if the woman is pregnant. In almost one-quarter of states, it does not matter if the pregnancy just began and the fetus has been harmed to the point of having no quality of life. It seems to me that when a woman has the legal right to terminate a pregnancy, a woman who is legally dead should not be kept mechanically alive to incubate a fetus despite her next of kin’s wish to remove life support.

Marlise’s family has said several times they don’t view this as a pro-life or a pro-choice issue, and while I must respectfully disagree, it is important that we respect her memory and do not take part in continuing to make their experience so painful. While anti-abortion protestors congregated outside of the courthouse on Friday and Marlise’s family had to push through them, reproductive justice advocates should honor Marlise as a woman and mother and beloved family member. Marlise and her unborn child deserved a more dignified end of life than what they have had and her family deserves peace and healing. This law robs everyone involved of their dignity and does nothing to protect or respect the people facing such devastating experiences.
The hospital announced Sunday morning that it would comply with the judge’s order and not appeal the decision, removing Marlise Muñoz from life support by 5 PM on Monday. Less than an hour later, the family released a statement that she had been removed from life support.

Whose body is it?: On the intersection between eating disorders and reproductive rights

15 Aug

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

Monday morning around 10 am, I walked home from work sick as hell. Nauseous and a fierce case of chills wracked my body, so once home I collapsed on the couch and slept until 4 pm.

I hadn’t eaten in a day and a half.

Before getting up for food, I went to the bathroom. I stepped on the scale and a familiar sense of disgust washed over me. What is the healthiest, least fatty, meal I could consume? And will I be able to keep it down? I need to eat; that was my rational brain talking. An irrational, less coherent feeling told me that my body is disgusting and needs adjustments.
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Last month, heroic activists worked tirelessly to stop or at least mitigate anti-abortion legislation that worked its way through state legislatures across the country.

Legislators in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas  attempted to restrict a person’s right to terminate a pregnancy and attached bills anywhere in any way and shoved ‘em through. In North Carolina, a motorcycle bill had an abortion law added to it. Another bill (in perhaps the most ironic action ever) banning sharia law had abortion restrictions added to it. And in Texas, the legislature passed laws creating such expensive and unnecessary rules for clinics providing abortion that only 4 will remain in that state- all others are being forced to shut down.

State by state the message is clear: your body is not your own.

I often think of abortion as less of a medical right and more of a human right. Without access to full reproductive choice and justice, one does not have full access to economic equality or bodily autonomy . We can think of this in terms of unequal pay in the work place, discrimination against trans* people within the legal system, and the lack of educational information about contraceptive choices across the country.

In this way I believe that those who attempt to pass laws, over, and over, and over again, each time restricting more and more of our rights, are doing so as an act of violence and control.

They want to control our bodies and they want to control us.

After a binge or a spell of over exercising and under eating I find myself no more in control of my own body than before.

Years ago a school counselor said that girls develop eating disorders because of the overwhelming number of inaccurate depictions of women in magazines. The models are “not natural,” he said. And I think his words follow common wisdom and data on what can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.

What I think is missing though is what is happening with the introduction and passing of these anti-choice bills, that the message of  “you don’t control your body” is being systematically worked into our consciousness.

How damaging is that message? How damaging is it for people to live in a place that allows a majority of cisgender male legislators to control (through restriction of reproductive access) their constituents’ bodies?

I haven’t read any empirical new data on this, and I’m not sure there actually is any at this point. In the coming years, whether these laws are overturned in court or stand pat, the campaigning, the commercials in favor of anti-choice legislation, and all of the negative messages, will likely prove to have had a negative and damaging impact on how we view and love ourselves.

Abortion stories are valuable

11 Jul

An article in the Toronto Star by Judith Timson titled Abortion Tell-alls are a Trap argues that there is little point in the new trend of women telling their abortion story because,

No matter how moving your story is, many will argue your abortion was unnecessary and evil and you’re a murderer. Abortion stories don’t seem to change the minds of opponents. If anything, they harden their stances.

Although I agree abortion stories will not change the minds of hardened anti-choicers, I unequivocally disagree with her conclusion that tell-alls are “traps.”  Pro-choicers are not seeking to change the minds of hard-core antis.  By “telling-all” we are seeking to get “neutral” people to understand why women have abortions, and to care about women’s rights.  The more people understand the intricacies of abortion, and the more people they know who have abortions, the more likely they are to become involved, either by voting for pro-choice candidates, or writing them.  The more likely they are to care.

Reproductive and abortion rights for women will not come until the majority of the population demands it. Citizens will not demand abortion rights unless they understand why women have abortions.  I agree with Timson that limiting stories to heart-wrenching fetal abnormality stories results in limited-exception based abortion rights, which is not the goal, or at least not my goal. What this means is that rather than discouraging women from talking about their abortion by describing it as a “trap,” we should be encouraging women who had abortions because they were not ready for a(nother) child to tell their stories as well.

Statistically, women who have an abortion because they do not want/can’t have a(nother) child became pregnant in the first place despite taking precautions.  Birth control fails and society needs to understand that these women are not “irresponsible.”  If individuals know a woman who had an abortion under these circumstances, chances are they will understand that woman’s reason.  Even antis understand that! Abortion statistics do not differentiate based on religion or necessarily on ones status as pro- or anti-choice.  Antis have abortions too and as Timson notes, many of those men in the legislature voting for restrictive abortion rights know a woman, be it their wife, daughter, or mistress, who had an abortion.  If even antis can accept the abortion of a loved one as moral, why can’t society as a whole?

That is the reason why all abortion stories are valuable, including the ones where a woman was on birth control, and those where she was not.  If you learn that a person you love and respect accidentally became pregnant, either due to a birth control failure or a failure to take birth control and you can understand whyshe did it, then you are one step closer to understanding why other women in the same circumstances had their abortions.  The more you understand and sympathize with women you know who had an abortion, the easier it is to accept that it is every woman’s right to choose, no matter the circumstances.  Women’s abortion stories normalize abortions in all circumstances.

Even if you do not accept any of my other arguments, I think you will agree that when a woman tells her story of a failure to take birth control, her story will reach another woman in the same situation who was hiding in shame and absorbed with guilt.  That story, while perhaps pissing off the antis and hardening their stances (like we care…), that story may reach another woman and she may no longer feel alone.  We cannot overlook the power of every woman’s story to reach another woman in the same circumstance who does not have any support network.

And while I do also agree with Timson that no woman should ever share her story if she is not ready or willing, I do not believe in telling the women who do want to tell their story that it is all for naught; that it is a trap. Abortion stories are the furthest thing from a trap, and are in fact infinitely valuable.

Rick Perry, Do Not be Surprised Wendy Davis is a Young Mom

27 Jun

By now we all know that Wendy Davis, hero of the Texas Senate and toast of Twitter, became a mother at age nineteen. In fact, one of the earlier Associated Press pieces that the New York Times published on the filibuster was headlined “Ex-Teen Mom Heads Filibuster Versus Abortion Limit” (whether due to updates, awkward construction, or over-simplicity, the headline has since been changed).

As an advocate for young parents, I was thrilled to learn this somewhere around hour 8 of Davis’s filibuster. Not only does this detail make her personal narrative very compelling, but it means that — while we live in a world that shames young parents and implies they can’t change the world – Davis stands as a powerful counterexample from the top of her raised fist to the bottom of her pink running shoes (which, by the way, are described on Amazon as “Rouge Red” and reviewed as “guaranteed to outrun patriarchy”). While I’m sure Davis is a motivation to many people with widely varying life stories, I hope she’ll be a particular inspiration to young mothers, demonstrating that their futures are not limited because they have children.

There is, of course, an alternate way to spin this part of Davis’s biography, and leave it to Rick Perry to deliver it. Perry stated:

It is just unfortunate that [Davis] hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.

Perry can’t comprehend why Davis would be pro-choice, it seems, because she chose to become a mother after (what he’s assuming was) an unplanned pregnancy at a younger age. (He’s also setting up a false dichotomy between women who get abortions and women who become mothers, ignoring the fact that most women who get abortions are already mothers, and an even greater majority intend to become mothers at some point in their lives.)

The obvious thing that he’s failing to realize, of course, is that pro-choice is pro-choice, and making your choice doesn’t mean you think others should be denied the same options. But the more subtle point is that Davis made a stigmatized reproductive choice, and that having done so likely better equips her to understand the value of destigmatizing and making accessible all reproductive options. There’s often a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” option for pregnant teens: do they want to be shamed for getting an abortion, or shamed for being a young mom? This may be why many young mothers are pro-choice: because they were young parents.

Look at Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood and another Texas teen mom, or Lauren Bruce, founder of Feministe, or Andy Kopsa, writer for RH Reality Check, or Gloria Malone and Natasha Vianna, both activists helping lead the #NoTeenShame campaign against stigmatizing teen pregnancy prevention ads. And, lest we forget, there’s our own Sophia blogging here at Abortion Gang.

Rick Perry might find it incongruous for a former young mom, whom he views as “choosing life” under less-than-ideal circumstances, to stand for thirteen hours against a bill to gut abortion access — but I see it as an intuitive political response to her own life story. And I see young mothers not just participating in our reproductive justice movement, but helping to lead it.