Stay tuned to Abortion Gang for more blog posts on CLPP!
Stay tuned to Abortion Gang for more blog posts on CLPP!
Here’s what some of us at Abortion Gang have been paying attention to lately:
Most of my reading has been for classes but this week we are talking about conscientious objection and with the Supreme Court cases coming up this has been one of my favorite break downs of what’s at stake in this decision: http://kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/all-eyes-on-the-supreme-court-more-than-birth-control-at-stake/
Kaiser does a great job of outlining how this case isn’t only about contraceptive coverage and religious freedom, but also whether corporations should be considered people and the implications this case could have on corporate law.
I’m reading my friend Tiffany’s post on why she’s fasting to support immigration reform: http://365breakfasts.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/fasting-for-families/
Steph and Chanel’s piece on abortion stigma and culture change at Cosmo: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/celebrity/news/these-women-want-to-change-the-way-you-think-about-abortion
Latest Hyde blog post from Andrew Jenkins at Choice USA: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/200991-abortion-hyde-and-the-presidents-2015-budget
Taja Lindley on RH Reality Check about queer women & sexual health: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/03/18/exam-rooms-bedrooms-navigating-queer-sexual-health/
I’ve been reading about abortion access in Latin America using resources at the Guttmacher Institute and an article from RH Reality Check called The Politics of Abortion in Latin America.
I’ve been watching the hysteria from the anti-abortion zealots over the coathanger necklaces from the DC Abortion Fund , and am giddy at the thought of how much DCAF has been able to capitalize on the negative publicity to help women in need. Looking forward to being able to spot fellow supporters on the street and be able to match up our necklaces like a secret handshake. This is my personal favorite blog post I’ve seen.
I’ve been reading up on the Hobby Lobby birth control case, and am looking forward to standing outside of the Supreme Court in DC on Tuesday with other women’s healthcare supporters as oral arguments are heard.
In NC, we had a hell of a year in 2014 with a Motorcycle Vagina law that threatened to close every clinic but one, a wonderful clinic in the furthest corner of our state called Femcare (if you have a short memory or live under a rock, catch up on Motorcycle Vagina here and here.) With the 2014 session starting in less than two months and NC feminists waiting at the doors to find out how our general assembly will continue their path of destruction, Femcare’s owner has decided to retire and put the clinic up for sale. Planned Parenthood has announced plans to open a health center providing abortions in the same town and we await further developments. There is a lot of uncertainty and some genuine concern about making sure one of our most dedicated NC providers is treated well.
Water from the faucets is flowing a deep and toxic shade of yellow. Parents cannot bathe their babies in a warm tub without burning their skin with chemicals, pour a glass of water in the middle of the night without stomach pains following, or cook a basic meal with water from the tap. A drive to the closest store for bottled water can take an hour or more down winding roads that are difficult to navigate in the snow. The water is poisoned with two chemicals whose long and short term effects and side effects are unknown, and it is seeping into the ground, affecting backyard gardens and farms, wells, septic tanks, and running water.
This is not happening across the ocean, in some land far away – although it may feel like it. It is happening 359 miles from Washington, DC, 228 miles from Pittsburgh and 162 miles from Columbus. It is happening in homes, hospitals, restaurants, and schools. It is happening in Charleston, West Virginia and in and along the Ohio River, where early this month MCMH and PPH were spilled into the Elk River by Freedom Industries. There are parts of Appalachia where the sticky sweet smell of licorice permeates the air — you can almost feel the chemicals land on your skin. Perhaps the most shocking part about the spill is that someone noticed. This beautiful land and the generations of families who live there are fighting on many fronts. But, maybe the greatest threat to justice in Appalachia is environmental. Coal has left an indelible mark on the land and has deeply effected the choices people can and do make when choosing whether to parent and how to raise their children.
While the state is working to increase regulations on the two women’s health clinics in the state, state agencies responsible for the investigation and cleanup of the spill had their budget cut 7.5% for the second consecutive year the day before the spill. Women, their families, and their supporters are marching throughout West Virginia for the ability to access abortion and holistic reproductive care, meanwhile they are drinking water that may be eliminating their ability to make choices about their bodies in the first place. Crude MCHM, the chemical foam used to wash coal and the first of the chemicals to be leaked into the water supply for over 300,000 residents has barely been tested or studied. Does it cause reproductive failure? Cancer? Miscarriage? Fetal Anomalies? Death? No one is sure. And it may be years before we ever know…. If ever.
In a few weeks I will be walking down frozen dirt roads, taking Instagram pictures of icicles on soft pine trees with my dog following close behind on a road in Appalachia, not far from this spill. When we get back to the house we will unbundle, I will get us each some water, and I will take a bath. I have no idea what this water will do to me, if it has been touched by this spill or some other, if it will effect me or my someday children. And, I will be outraged that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin thinks that protecting citizens means letting them wonder whether their water is safe.
Environmental justice is not an issue for environmental and green advocates alone. The ability for parents to raise their children in environments free from unregulated poison – to be able to send their children to school where they can wash their hands safely, to come home and eat a meal, and wash up before bed without fear is essential. Environmental justice is reproductive justice.
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.
In 2006, South Dakota passed a bill making it a felony to perform an abortion for any reason in the state. In reaction, the public petitioned for a veto referendum to nullify what was to be the nation’s harshest abortion measure in a state that already had only two clinics performing pregnancy terminations. But on the Pine Ridge reservation on the Nebraska border, six hours from the closest provider, tribal president Cecelia Fire Thunder got proactive. She announced that because Pine Ridge was a sovereign territory, if the referendum was passed, she would open an abortion clinic on reservation land. As a nurse, she had opened community-based health clinics in the past and had the expertise to get it done.
Filmmakers Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt, who are also the creators of The Education of Shelby Knox (featuring our very own Abortion Gang author of the same name), were there to document the chaos that ensued, and the result is Young Lakota, which aired on PBS beginning on November 25, 2013, and throughout December. I’ll give you a few spoilers: the referendum was defeated, but Fire Thunder, the first female tribal president for the Oglala Lakota, was impeached just short of completing her two-year term. The publicly voiced reason for this was because she did not seek council approval before announcing her efforts, but others believed it was a political intimidation maneuver, and some background supports the latter claim, as she had been briefly suspended and cleared previously in an unrelated matter. The clinic never got off the ground, but the proposed site did function as a 36-bed domestic violence shelter for several years; it is no longer open. Pine Ridge has outlawed abortion on the reservation.
While the underlying story of Fire Thunder’s impeachment, the abortion ban, and the clinic are all integral pieces of the tale, the story that emerges is that of Sunny Clifford, a young Lakota woman who just recently returned home from college and finds herself in the midst of the political storm, as she transforms herself from a grocery clerk trying to find direction into a community organizer and feminist activist. Also woven into the story are Sunny’s twin sister Serena’s struggles as a single parent, and friend Brandon’s efforts to support his growing family and establish a career for himself, all within the context of maintaining their Lakota heritage. Each character is connected to the others but their paths begin to diverge and meet again as their choices and circumstances become more complicated. All three, and Fire Thunder as well, have found their way back home with the hope of making life there better, but lacked the direction to do so until the abortion ban debate began rocking the reservation.
Sunny’s development, her efforts in the campaign for the clinic, for Fire Thunder, and against the ban, feel to the viewer like watching her effort to campaign for her own autonomy and that of her people. In the film, she hypothesizes that Native American culture does not condemn abortion and that anti-choice beliefs held by some of her neighbors are the influence of white Christian colonists. In private conversation, she elaborated: “I do strongly feel that anti-choice beliefs are influenced by Christianity. Prior to contact, and even some time after but before all the policies [of the government], the woman had bodily autonomy…[at an event] someone asked the question about what and if any Lakota men had to say about this issue. Cecelia said an elder gentleman said, ‘It is the woman’s business’. And that was that.”
This disconnect is clear in the film – while a few residents appear unsupportive of the clinic, the public outcry is clearly manipulated by outsiders, all of whom appear to be white, most male, and all using some form of Biblical scripture to defend their position. In fact at one point, Fire Thunder directly addresses some of these protestors by saying, “Keep your white hands off of my brown body”, and she has a point. At present, one in three Native American women report being victims of sexual assault, and are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual violence than other races, but prior to colonization they were viewed as equal and autonomous in society. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, so they can’t be prosecuted by tribal courts. It is also worth mentioning that prior to the Pine Ridge domestic violence shelter’s closing, its beds were full and it is alleged rape reports had plummeted because police weren’t investigating. Yes, the lack of autonomy and the influence of outsiders is glaring.
Another particular poignant moment in the film, as Sunny shows the courage to speak up to a person of some celebrity in her community, is when the rapper Litefoot comes to town on his Reach the Rez tour, billed to be an effort to promote self-reliance and sustainability amongst Native Americans. Sunny asks him what he thinks of the controversy, and he offers a repetitive and condescending lecture on women as God’s miracle and suggests that women are too sacred (his word, but his definition of “sacred” appears to be “delicate”, or perhaps even “simple”) to debase themselves with the topic. She leaves angry, and in tears, realizing that his message of solidarity doesn’t apply to women.
Sunny Clifford is a feminist activist voice our movement needs. While every struggle for abortion access does not involve the complexities of her first foray, many of us found ourselves going through the same transformations; we may begin with one particular vague goal in search of a piece of ourselves, to learn that it’s about so much more – and we are so much more. Both Sunny and the journey she finds herself on are approachable and relatable in a way that will inspire others to keep fighting, and even to take up the fight. It’s exciting to see her growth, and to imagine what Sunny Clifford, Cecelia Fire Thunder, and other activists will achieve with Young Lakota as a platform.
Find out more about the film from PBS’ Independent Lens.
This week was supposed to be a week that my identity dreams of. In a courageous, willful and extremely humane act, I saw Texas state legislator Wendy Davis stand on the Texas State Senate floor for 12.5 hours, at one point requiring a back brace to continue the marathon filibuster that was felt around the country and for that matter the world. As an abortion provider I really have not seen this type of activism in the Texas legislature for abortion rights so blatantly in my time. Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down DoMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and I cried. Literally felt a piece of my humanity touched upon and acknowledged as an equal. So why am I not shitting puppies and pissing rainbows? What more could I want as a queer abortion provider from my country at this point? I mean literally what more can I say?
Well, a lot. I have a terrible taste in my mouth and I cannot take the grimace off my face as my constituents celebrate their gains but why not me. Of all the identities what is keeping me quiet and in a somber state? The Voting Rights Act. Yes the VRA of 1965 section 4.
On Tuesday 06/25/2013 the SCOTUS struck down a key piece of civil rights legislation. Not only because of all the “other” things going on has this not been highlighted adequately, but also because I fear that it was intended to illustrate the lines and division I feel uncompromising about in these movements.
On Wednesday I walked into my office dragging, thinking about re-districting, gerrymandering, histories of people that have been silenced for too long. In my “radical” workplace this is normal, we are considered activists; even when we make copies, they are abortion copies. We are all about options and specifically I contribute to people with uteruses having more bodily autonomy (but that is another blog). But today my whole office is abuzz. “Don’t mess with Texas” is written on our white board. People are high-fiving and talking over one another, and I was excited for a second until I realized that there was a chance that no one knew that people of color and other marginalized groups lost their right to vote. I didn’t want to rain on the parade or make identity politics an issue, a common tool in avoidance, for me when I am just tired of being the one bringing it up. And I am not the only one too, Colorlines, Crunk Feminist Collective, Racialicious, black girl dangerous, and others are having this critical conversation. But I let it slide, this Wendy Davis situation was amazing and really white but still amazing. Early in my day I got Facebook messages, emails, texts, and even called my best friend! DoMA is done!!!! Maybe a half an hour later I realized the SCOTUS would be praised as equality driven, and this was untrue. The SCOTUS DoMA decision was a huge win for the lesbian and gay community and again somehow amazing and white but still amazing.
SCOTUS just did major damage to the Civil Rights Act which even George W. Bush didn’t debate in 2006. Congress re-authorized the act in 2006 after hearings that used data from 1975, however they still extended the preclearance for 25 years. I felt encouraged to know that Ruth Bader Ginsberg in her dispute stated powerful things from a powerful seat.
“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter” registration and turnout as if that were the whole story. See supra, at 18–19. Without even identifying a standard of review, the Court dismissively brushes off arguments based on “data from the record,” and declines to enter the “debat[e about] what [the] record shows.” Ante, at 20–21. One would expect more from an opinion.
The record shows responses of where we are in the first few days of the decision. Racism is real and the fact that the VRA only effects 9 states is a red flag for the country. Those states have been identified as unable to provide a basic function inside of democracy, a vote. With Texas re-districting the day after the VRA was decided only further exasperates the issue. The crossfire of having the SCOTUS blow up a fundamental civil right and turn around and grant another seems devastating, confusing, and also splits the people for whom these issues are both/and. What reaction does a gay or lesbian person who is POC (people of color) have? This is where who you are and what you are connect. This is the crux of my internal debate, I am supposed to be happy, but deep down I know I did not win. In fact somehow I actually did not get seen at all.
So this is my point, many people need us and when we get hyper vigilant and focused on our own facets of our identity, we forget that our liberation is intertwined. Once we are able to bring our full complicated selves to the table we can stop feeling torn and lost in between these lines. Allies need to recognize that the SCOTUS also failed and some decisions were acceptable. I thought about why I am feeling out of sorts with this. What about having my intelligence played on is so irritating. Having a co-worker send me a statement about “ two steps forwards, on step back” feels belittling, people you care about say, “if I was you, I would be more upset” feels isolating, and the media not even mentioning Tuesday as a double whammy blow, and giving space to the Indian Child Welfare Act, is just another slap in the face.
I think we should all be concerned. A part of the country has had their voice returned to pre-1965 era, in direct correlation to race. We are all living here. This is our shared reality. It all impacts every one of us. I just wanted some intersectionality, and with that there is much more that I could say.
The fight against marriage equality is a losing one. As the SCOTUS spends the week hearing oral arguments on Prop 8 in California (in which voters overturned a court decision that had allowed same-sex marriages in the state) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage because everyone is an asshole), half a dozen high-profile politicians from both sides of the aisle have tripped over themselves in a rush to support marriage equality and be able to point back in a few years and say they were on the right side of history, however closely they may have timed it. One of these politicians is former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, whose husband, while President, signed DOMA (because he is an asshole). That’s which way the wind is blowing, and no, you don’t need to a weatherman.
Public support for marriage equality has expanded so far so fast for several reasons. Some of it is growing public awareness, while some of it is the result of on-the-ground, grassroots legislative and communications efforts that have been decades in the making. And some of it is very simply that the arguments against marriage equality, now having been stripped down, over and over, to their composite pieces, have proven to stand on extremely thin legal ground. As the cases go before the SCOTUS, the arguments against marriage equality now break down into two recognizable composite pieces: plain old hate and homophobia, and children.
The debate about what’s good for children belongs to both sides of the marriage equality fight. Justice Kennedy, likely to be the swing vote on the issue, raised the question during Tuesday’s argument about the “immediate injury” suffered by children in California whose same-sex parents were not allowed to marry, saying, “They want their parents to have full recognition and status.” Justice Antonin Scalia, who is a well-known asshole, also raised the issue of children raised by same-sex parents while expertly trolling the nation, stating, erroneously, “There’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether it is harmful to the child or not.”
But more important than the general debate over the welfare of children being raised in this country is the essential question of what power the not yet conceived, future children of our nation should have on defining marriage. That may seem to be a ridiculous question, but that ridiculous question now forms almost the entire recognizable legal basis for the fight against marriage equality (hate and fear are perfectly legal but do not qualify as a legal basis for an argument).
The argument being made against marriage equality is known as “responsible procreation,” and Jeffrey Rosen explains it:
If the Court does decide the Perry case on the merits, it will come down to this claim: Because only straight people can impulsively and accidently have illegitimate children out of wedlock, they need a stable institution of marriage to discourage them from doing so and to force them to focus on the consequences of their animalistic passions. But as Justice Kagan noted, the idea that denying marriage equality to gay couples would encourage monogamy and responsible procreation by straight couples is hard to follow, let alone to fathom.
That is a fairly kind and comprehensible way of explaining what is actually an extremely opaque argument brought forward by the lawyers for Prop 8, which went as follows:
[S]ociety’s interest in responsible procreation isn’t just with respect to the procreative capacities of the couple itself. The marital norm, which imposes the obligations of fidelity and monogamy, Your Honor, advances the interests in responsible procreation by making it more likely that neither party, including the fertile party to that … marriage will engage in irresponsible procreative conduct outside of that marriage. Outside of that marriage. That’s the marital—that’s the marital norm.
This is what’s so fascinating: the right’s last great hope of limiting the definition of marriage is to do it by insisting that it the only way to continue to effectively legislative reproductive options. That’s amazing. This is an argument against same-sex marriage that actually says, “We need marriage as a tool to control what people who can have children without planning them are allowed to do. Same-sex couples have to plan children* so they don’t need to be controlled by us so we should not give them marriage.” I mean guys. Really. What. I can’t even.
Equally fascinating is the notion that marriage equality has come so far in the 12 years since the state of Massachusetts first allowed it that simply arguing against LGBTQ rights is no longer as effective as arguing in favor of controlling people’s reproductive options. Conversely, arguing the need to control people’s reproductive options, no matter how bizarre an argument that is, is now so effective that other kinds of rights can be allowed or denied based on the perceived need for this control.
An interesting side-note to all of this is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s argument directly relating marriage equality to Roe v Wade. She had previously raised, and raised again on Tuesday, the issue of marriage equality simply moving too fast – based on her conviction that that was the issue with Roe. “It’s not that the judgment was wrong, but it moved too far too fast,” she said, and has expressed concerns that marriage equality could face the same difficulty if not handled properly by the court.
I am over-the-moon excited by the push and the public support for marriage equality I am seeing this week. I can only hope we see something like it in the near-term for reproductive rights, and the framework we are seeing in these arguments is not a portent of legal battles to come.
*Uuuugggghhhhhh wild assumptions inaccuracies etc these people are assholes.
A guest post by Lauren Herold and Tobias Rodriguez.
Earlier this week, an Indiegogo campaign went viral: Emerson College’s Phi Alpha Tau fraternity raised money for their frat brother, Donnie Collins, a trans man who needs top surgery. Donnie initially tried to pay for the surgery through Emerson’s insurance, Aetna, since Aetna offers coverage for trans*-related surgeries and hormone replacement therapy; Donnie’s request was denied, however, because Emerson College did not opt in to those services. After Out.com featured an article about Phi Alpha Tau’s Indiegogo campaign, the brothers raised more than twice the $8,000 Donnie needs for the surgery.
Donnie’s frat brothers spoke in their Indiegogo video about wanting this fundraiser to start a conversation. There are (at least) two important conversations we’d like to address.
First, not every insurance company covers trans-related services. Colleges are typically hesitant to add these services for financial reasons. When colleges opt in to services for insurance plans they offer to students, they want to ensure they are getting their money’s worth. If a college doesn’t have any trans students, they can claim that these additional services will be paid for by all but enjoyed by few. Their most obvious incentive to add the services is to attract a more diverse student population, but the chances of the college attracting even dozens of trans students who need these services is slim.
It’s good that insurance companies like Aetna are beginning to cover these services, and many colleges are beginning to follow suit by opting into these services. But “many” is not enough. People like Donnie oftentimes don’t have time to wait for their insurance plan to decide to cover necessary services. Raising funds for an individual’s surgery may be successful in the short term, but we shouldn’t have to settle for hoping that the kindness of strangers will make up for the shortcomings of insurance companies and their clients. We need to push for institutional change so that all policies include these services. There are trans people around the country with similar medical needs who spend years saving or raising funds for these procedures and sometimes do not succeed. What about them?
We also need to talk about media coverage around the Indiegogo campaign. Most reporters have focused on a hook: that fraternity members defied the frat bro archetype by launching a campaign in support of a trans member. Donnie’s frat brothers deserve a lot of credit for demonstrating what it means to be a trans ally. But when media coverage focuses on the actions of cisgender individuals, it moves focus away from the fact that lack of proper medical care for trans people is a systemic issue and shifts our gaze to the stories of cis allies. The frat brothers are the conversation piece: they both created the conversation and are the subject of it, while Donnie’s experiences are discussed only briefly. Who gets to talk about trans people’s bodies and experiences? Cis people create the storyline and drive the narrative, and articles about the Indiegogo campaign reaffirm this trope.
This pattern perpetuates the assumption that cis people can talk about trans people’s bodies and experiences without their consent and without repercussions. In this case, Donnie welcomed the Indiegogo campaign as another platform he can use to share his experiences with the world, and has already made a variety of YouTube videos documenting his transition. However, for many trans people, their transition is a private journey. Stories like these make invisible the trans people who don’t medically transition as well as those who don’t want their transition to be public knowledge.
These stories also reify a singular trans narrative: that every trans person comes out, is supported, and begins a medical transition that includes hormone replacement therapy and at least one surgery. This is the story most people are comfortable hearing, but it does not reflect all trans people’s experiences and it alienates trans people whose experiences differ. It leaves out trans people who do not medically transition (whether because of personal preference or lack of access), who do not have a support system, and/or who are not vocal about their trans status.
We applaud the efforts of Donnie’s brothers–their campaign has helped change his life, and will continue to benefit trans people: they have pledged to donate the extra money they raised to the Jim Collins Foundation. Yet these efforts are not enough. We have to work toward systemic change in our healthcare system so trans people are not constantly fighting individual battles. And when we tell trans stories, we need to do so with a media that captures the full complexity of trans experiences.
*We use the asterisk here to suggest that the term “trans” can refer to a lot of identities under the trans umbrella. Here’s a great explanation of why. Our choice to use the asterisk in our first use of trans* and not thereafter was for readability.
When the first rumors began to spread about a woman who had died following an abortion performed by Dr. Leroy Carhart, one of the last doctors in the country willing to perform third trimester abortions, the Gang gathered around our proverbial fireplace to talk it out.
Our first reactions were, as always, a enormous outpouring of empathy for the woman and her family – not just for the loss of her life, but for the invasion of their privacy and lack of space to grieve that would now be inevitable. This was accompanied by a sinking feeling of dread at all that we knew would now happen. There would be the aforementioned invasion of privacy by anti-choicers. There would be loud insistence that they had been right all along, that abortion is inherently unsafe, even though the exact opposite is true - women are 14 times more likely to die from complications of childbirth than from abortion.* Anti-choicers would use this to attack pro-choice work, insisting that we don’t care about women and babies, and we’re all essentially murderers. Meanwhile, we’re grieving for the loss of one of our own, and worrying about the future of one of the few doctors left in the country who unequivocally supports the right to choose at the cost of his own privacy and safety. We also discussed the fact that for at least a week or two, all information would be a rumor, the loudest and sometimes the only voices would be anti-choice, and we would need to wait for real information, out of respect for the woman and her family, before we could talk about the case.
It went down just like we thought it would.
Anti-choicers, with no information about what had actually happened to the woman who had been Dr. Carhart’s patient, immediately began harassing out pro-choice advocates online, including, among a bunch of other crap, this early tweet to our editor. We advised everyone to use the “block” function liberally. Then the Washington Post reported that anti-choicers had illegally invaded the woman and her family’s privacy by first obtaining (ILLEGAL) and then publicly broadcasting (FUCKING ILLEGAL) her medical records from the hospital. And throughout this, of course, there were a million articles and blog posts on anti-choice newsfeeds and websites nearly rejoicing in this woman’s death, since they were sure it meant a huge political win. That kind of thing is really hard to take, although it lead to some good conversations about how tragedy and death are politicized in all social movements, and in what ways that is effective and respectful or disrespectful depending on the circumstances.
It has now become clear that the woman died of rare complications that can occur after vaginal birth, c-section, or abortion. There is no way to tell if a woman will experience these complications.One source in the article describes it as the obstetric equivalent of being hit by lightning. All appearances, including a gift registry, suggest that this was a wanted child and that health complications for either the mother or the fetus required the third-trimester procedure.
It’s disheartening that we knew exactly the way this story would unfold, but it demonstrated to me that we have solid, responsible coping mechanisms in place. Here are what we can offer as some best practices for dealing with a tragedy like this:
1) Don’t believe the hype. Don’t believe anything you’ve heard until reputable, mainstream news sources are releasing reliably sourced information. In the beginning, while we do our job of hanging back respectfully and waiting, anti-choicers will be gearing up a political campaign of epic proportions. They love this shit. At this moment, they’re like dogs after the juiciest bone of their lives. They are not going to wait to discern what’s true. While it’s painful, let them do their thing. Don’t respond on social media, don’t make a statement. Remember that while we as out pro-choice activists are targeted by these people and hear their messages all the time, most of the world is totally unaware that they exist. Practice self-care and respect for the human lives involved by not engaging until you have more information.
2) Allow yourself to grieve in complicated ways. You are allowed to grieve for the loss of a community member while also feeling fear for the medical professionals involved. You are allowed to acknowledge the reality that anti-choicers will attempt to exploit a woman’s death for political gain, and you are allowed to feel dread. It is extremely unfortunate we couldn’t mourn in a straightforward manner, but knowing that the consequences of the tragedy will be complicated and political and not looking forward to that at all does not make you less compassionate or less aware that a real human life has been lost and that is awful.
3) Do not engage. Do not engage. Do not engage. You’re not dealing with rational people, and yes, as an out pro-choice activist, they do want to hurt you. You’re not required to get involved, and as much as you want to yell, you don’t have all the information yet, and you need to remember that they don’t either – see #1.
4) Seriously engage with the real issues. Once you know what the real issues involved in the case are, consider them. In this case, the real issue is that a woman experienced an extremely rare complication; it has nothing to do with abortion one way or another. But it’s also the case that a woman who wanted to keep her pregnancy found out very late that it wasn’t viable and required a third-trimester abortion, which is illegal in almost every state. She was lucky to find a doctor who would perform the procedure, and that doctor is under constant attack, a fact which this incident only serves to highlight. There may come a time in the next few years where someone with an unviable pregnancy has literally no options. Let’s talk about that.
*This should be a sign that our maternal care is fucking abysmal and in a comprehensive reproductive justice framework we should really try to do something about that. However, that being said, pregnancy itself is a project that takes a significant toll on the body and, even under optimal circumstances (which the US does not offer, especially for poor people and people of color), poses inevitable risk. Being pregnant is and will always be riskier for someone’s health than an abortion. So bless all of you willingly and happily bringing bright and beautiful children into this world, cause it is no easy thing.