Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

On Doing the Righteous Thing: A Guest Post

3 Dec
This is a guest post by Lindsey Ellefson. Lindsey is a 22-year-old transplant to New York City who moved from North Dakota, which was voted the Worst State for Women in 2013 by The American Prospect, New York Magazine, and Mother Jones, among others. Growing up in a society so hostile toward women strengthened her resolve to fight for equality. A recent college graduate, Lindsey hopes to become a political reporter and provide facts and insight on the topics that matter, particularly to women and families from all regions and backgrounds. 

 

A few months ago, I was at a big rally for reproductive rights. Unsurprisingly, both sides of the debate were represented. The rally was about birth control coverage, but the anti-choice crowd had brought along gigantic, graphic posters of bloody fetuses. (Of course they had. It’s what they do.) Never mind that access to birth control reduces the need for the invasive, surgical procedure they showed up to protest. Never mind that we should have all been there on the same side, advocating for contraceptive coverage, which would meet the purported goals of both sides.

Their confusing, contradicting stance on contraception is de rigueur. There’s less rational thought put into each anti-choice individual’s stances than there is unbridled passion and a fear of not being as passionate as the protester next to them. I respect their devotion to their cause, even if I don’t always think they know what their cause is about.

Like our side of the rally, theirs had a raised platform and a speakers on a rotating schedule who were leading chants. Our side had nurses and presidents of various organizations; theirs looked like a lot of clergy people and be-suited men.  I like events like this because I get to make new friends, yell about things that usually make me feel like yelling when I read about them anyway, and feel like I’m making some sort of difference, even if it is small. Also, I usually get a free t-shirt or something. I was surprised, though, when I heard someone on my side of the rally hiss to a friend, “What could they possibly have to talk about?”

These people had brought disgusting posters and kept trying to sneak across our barrier to hold their signs up alongside ours. One of them had tried to start a hostile, condescending conversation with me about Jesus and, unsurprisingly, he only got more unhinged when I declined to speak with him. Why shouldn’t we regard them with some vitriol?  At the same time, I was shocked to see that my fellow pro-choicers viewed the anti-choice side through such a narrow scope –  as narrow as the anti-choicers view reproductive rights. The anti-choice side may have a view that isn’t necessarily informed by science or practicality, sure, but why diminish them like that?

Why was I feeling so protective? Because I used to be one of them. My friends, my family, my old classmates and coworkers, my neighbors, and almost everyone else I knew back home still is one of them. I was raised in a home, church, and culture where abortion was synonymous with murder. I knew nothing about the procedure, or about science or medicine. I knew that “babies” were being “killed” and somehow our government was letting it happen. I based endless tirades and prayers off of that one idea. Babies were being killed.

There is one clinic in my state that provides abortions. The stigma surrounding even the simplest road trip to the city that houses the clinic on days when it is known that abortions are happening is incredible. It was a dream of mine in high school to ride on a bus with people from my church to stand outside of that clinic and shame women. I imagine, had scheduling conflicts and my parents not intervened, I would have been there, overcome with emotion, crying for those “babies” being “killed.”

When I turned 18, I left my town. I moved to New York. It was just like a cheesy movie wherein the main character finds herself. I lived on a dorm floor where girls I liked and respected were having sex with boys they’d just met at orientation. I got a part-time job at a local store where five of my coworkers were gay. I got to know people whom I would have blindly hated or believed were damned to hell for no other reason than that I was told that growing up. I interacted with them and saw, firsthand, the way ideas like that can ruin their lives.

I value my position, now, as someone who has been actively engaged in the debate from both sides. My upbringing gives me a unique perspective and empathy. At the time, when I was liable to start talking about the “mass infanticide” that our government didn’t want to address, I truly believed I was doing the righteous thing, just as I believe I am fighting for the righteous thing now.

I know exactly what speakers at anti-choice rallies are saying. This in no way means that I believe in it, at all, as it only took a little bit of education and research for me to realize how absurd the entire movement is from a practical standpoint, but I can’t fault them for being emotional, being passionate, being dedicated. Their investment in their cause is no different than ours. They have their rising stars in the movement, they have their publications and blogs.

They’re not unknowable, mysterious monsters with no brain or heart. To assume that they are and to treat them like they are is to give credence to the caricatures they paint of us. We are not heartless murderers bent on destroying life, but we look heartless when we behave that way. We need to lead by example and spend less time tearing them down and more time listening, just like they need to. That is the only way we are ever going to make any real progress.

 

Facing a career in abortion provision in a sexist world

20 Nov

A fellow first year medical student was in my bedroom one evening last week. I was sprawled on my bed, she was sitting in my well-loved-by-humans-and-cats orange velour armchair, bought by my grandmother in 1962 at Sears when firey orange was a reasonable color to use to upholster furniture or paint hallways. I love that chair – it sat under my lofted bed in the attic room I shared with my sister during my childhood, and it came with me to college where it was moved from dorm to dorm through four years, residing with me or with friends in almost every New England state over the summers. It’s not pretty, or new, or fashionable, but I love it. It’s comfortable, it’s familiar, it’s me.

That night we were chatting about the upcoming challenges in our lives: balancing medical school with family and friends, the difficulties of finding time to do the other things we love in life, anticipated academic difficulties. We also found ourselves talking about family and the future, and the conversation moved in the direction of babies. Several of our classmates and friends had recently given birth. We talked of their challenges and the similarities and differences of our lives. As often follows, we talked of our own thoughts on having children.

My disinterest in having my own children is often perceived as pathology, something many women experience. But I find that in particular, everyone has an opinion when they find out these two things about me: that I’m interested in specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, and that I don’t plan to have children of my own. In this instance, my fellow first year latched onto my interest in abortion, taking it as a twisted motivation to prevent others from having children. She questioned my ability to be an impartial compassionate health provider to those who make different reproductive decisions than mine, and mused that patients would be able pick up on my silent judgment of them and their choices.

In addition to the personal hurt this conversation brought, it made me think about having an academic interest in medicine as a woman, the persistent sexism we face in medicine, from institutions, classmates and even friends. Medicine is incredibly hierarchical and conservative, with a past (and often a present) rife with abuses, injustice, and paternalism. Speaking up about these problems is a challenge, and I’ve been finding that it is difficult and exhausting to share my academic medical interests. You can bet that if my answer to the question “what specialty are you thinking about?” was ophthalmology, or pediatrics, or internal medicine, I wouldn’t be required to explain why I’m interested, why it’s important, and why it’s worth a lifetime of academic and professional investment.

I’m sure if abortion provision and family planning didn’t interest me, make me think, or inspire me, there would be something else: cardiology, surgery, infectious disease. And I strive to have an open mind to any subject – I’m sure I’ll make space in my learning and my practice for different things. But if my interests that brought me to medicine were different, I would be a different me. I would seek out different opportunities and partners and educational experiences. But this is me – I have an orange velour arm chair, and I have a legitimate, rigorous academic interest in becoming an abortion provider.

Happy Anniversary, Hyde

5 Oct

Abortions are expensive. A first trimester abortion costs an average of $489. A second trimester abortion at 20 weeks costs an average of $1,500.

So what do you do if you can’t afford an abortion and you definitely can’t afford to raise a child?

If you happen to be one of the 12 million women who depend on Medicaid, or one of the four million who rely on other federal insurance programs, you are in serious trouble, thanks to the Hyde Amendment.

The Hyde Amendment was passed on Sept. 30, 1976. The Amendment currently bans federal funding for abortion with limited exceptions in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. This funding restriction is most salient for low-income women on Medicaid. As we approach the 38th anniversary of one of the first federal restrictions on abortion access post-Roe vs. Wade, it’s important that we take a moment to look at and reflect upon the social impacts of the Hyde Amendment.

The Hyde Amendment was crafted with the intention of creating systematic barriers for low-income women seeking abortion care, as the bill’s author, Rep. Henry Hyde, noted during a Congressional debate.

The Hyde amendment is simply one of the many laws that systematically target low-income women, denying them the right to self-determination and autonomy. In the context of Hyde, the ability to control one’s own body is withheld as a privilege only for wealthy women who have the money to pay out-of-pocket for abortion care. Low-income women are not only barred from abortion care due to restricted federal funding, but with the hundreds of other state and federal laws that police abortion access, women sometimes have to travel states away and wait days to access care. Between the cost of the procedure and the money spent on physically getting to a provider, abortion is less and less attainable with each passing week of pregnancy.

If federal health insurance won’t cover abortion care, we leave low-income women vulnerable to a cycle of poverty because they are unable to plan their families and lives. In the framework of reproductive justice, forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term is wholly a violation of human rights. Reproductive rights are innately human rights, and for the millions of women who depend on Medicaid and other federal programs, such disabled women, Indian American women using Indian Health Services, and federal prisoners, their human rights are being violated.

In the name of abortion rights, human rights, and reproductive justice, it is time to repeal Hyde. Reproductive rights activists often focus on abortion’s legality and physical accessibility (where women can receive abortion care and how far along into a pregnancy the procedure is legal). But the fight for safe and legal abortion means nothing if it isn’t accessible to everyone.

I shouldn’t have to mention that providing coverage for abortion care leads to better economic outcomes for both the women who have abortions and for the institutions that would otherwise have to provide pregnancy and infant care. But for some readers and most politicians, these nuances are what matter most for their public support of repealing Hyde. Sadly, the value of a woman’s life, autonomy, and dignity aren’t always enough to influence policy. Often in a political context, we see financial outcomes superseding socially just policy. Hyde is neither a socially just policy nor an economically sound one.

I currently have $342 in my savings account. If I didn’t admit that having less than $480 makes me nervous, I would be lying.

Like I said, abortions are expensive. But so is the cost of injustice.

So, happy anniversary Hyde. Here’s to another year of classism, sexism, and broad-based discrimination lovingly provided by the United States government.

*This article refers to abortion care patients solely as women, but not all people who have abortions identify as women.

*This article was preivious posted on the Planned Parenthood Generation Action Blog and in the Michigan Daily.

Why I Still Need Feminism

25 Jul

Over the last few weeks, the internet has been buzzing about anti-feminism. There’s a tumblr, a hashtag and all sorts of proclamations by women about why they don’t need feminism.  And predictably there’s been a massive response from the satirical to the serious, about why in fact we do still need feminism.

When I first read Women Against Feminism, I was so angry I wanted to throw my computer at the wall. When the anger subsided, I just felt sad. I am so proud to be a feminist, and it baffles me that there continues to be so much confusion about what feminism is and why it is important. I’ll be the first to admit that the feminist movement is not without its issues, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done within the movement to address this.  But it is still a vital and integral concept that is so pivotal to my life. So in an attempt to reflect and remember why I stand behind this movement, I decided to simplify things, look around and ask why I still needed feminism.

My favorite definition of feminism is by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie:

“Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” 

Now, for those that know me, you might think that the only reason why I love this definition is because it’s in a Beyoncé song. While that may be why it came into my life, it nonetheless is a straightforward and important definition of feminism. While in some ways it feels counterintuitive to simplify a concept that is undeniably and necessarily complex, what I love about this definition is that it breaks down feminism into concepts I see on a daily basis.

So why do I still need feminism? I still need feminism because social inequality between the sexes still exists.  Sure, it’s better in a lot of ways, but better is not equal. I need feminism until women don’t have to confront or document their catcallers for invading their personal space. Or that a Daily Show segment on sexual harassment describing how to navigate getting home safely from a party, or walking down the street, doesn’t resonate with all of my friends.

I still need feminism because economic equality is a myth. Yes, there’s the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but economic equality goes beyond the pay gap between men and women.  As Justice Sandra Day O’Conner wisely said, “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” With this in mind, the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court is a reminder of how far away we are from economic equality. Until women have the same rights as corporations, I still need feminism. This ruling takes away economic freedom from women because now the ability to control one’s fertility and the opportunity to have a paycheck may be mutually exclusive.

I still need feminism because political equality is not yet a reality. Politically the needs of women are being blatantly ignored as access to abortion is being chipped away. At the state level, the number of TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws have doubled since  2000, and states around the country continue to prevent abortion being covered by health insurance. And even when positive legislation like the “Not My Boss’s Business Act,” is introduced, an overwhelming 43 senators vote against protecting women’s health care.  

The way I see it, I need feminism more than ever. Because feminism isn’t about dictating what a woman or a man should or should not do. It’s about working to ensure that all individuals have the same social, economic and political opportunities to make the best choices for their lives.

Reclaiming a Crisis: Backline is Working to Open the First All Options Pregnancy Center

20 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

If you dare utter the initials CPC in a room full of pro-choicers in a positive light, you better be prepared for some backlash. Talking about crisis pregnancy centers as a positive institution among reproductive justice, reproductive rights, and reproductive health advocates elicits a room full of negative reactions.

CPCs manipulate women at a vulnerable time in their lives.

CPCs don’t educate people about all their options.

CPCs hurt women.

So imagine my surprise when I was talking to Parker Dockray, Executive Director of Backline, about how she wants to emulate the crisis pregnancy center model.

“The model that CPCs have developed is valuable,” said Dockray, “but pregnancy  centers should not be deceptive.”

Dockray and the board and staff at Backline have decided to embark on an unparalleled mission, to create the first all options crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers are some of the most available institutions out there for women who are unsure about their pregnancy. Indiana has over 80, and they are one of 34 states that funnel money directly to crisis pregnancy centers. But they are full of misinformation and missing information.

However, as Dockray told me, CPCs often appear to meet the needs of women, even when they clearly don’t. Backline wants to reclaim the CPC model and create a brick and mortar place for the people of Indiana to turn to for support and community.

For the last 10 years, Backline has been answering the phone and offering support to people looking for options and judgment free counseling surrounding pregnancy. The Backline Talkline answers hundreds of questions each month about pregnancy options, parenting, abortion, adoption, pregnancy loss, miscarriage and other reproductive health topics. While the phone offers confidentiality, a new model could provide women with tangible support.

“The prochoice movement is not always great about visibly supporting parents,” said Dockray. Dockray hopes Backline’s new initiative will become a tangible place to demonstrate support for women across all options. Backline wants to create a place for women and their partners to receive counseling on abortion, adoption, and carrying their pregnancy to term as well as carrying diapers and other items for people to support their partners.

Opening the center in Indiana strikes a cord in a new way. The center will find its home in the middle of a red state, in a college town, surrounded by fields and conservative ideals. Reproductive rights, health and justice organizations are too siloed from each other, with each sticking to their own areas without much overlap or conversation. Backline’s All Options Pregnancy Center would bring these together under one roof, without agenda or pretense. Instead of being siloed, they are setting up shop amidst the silos in America’s Midwest heartland.

Bloomington is a town divided, one side of town is home to Hannah House Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the other is home to Planned Parenthood of Bloomington. Backline would create a middle ground, a place for women and their partners to go for real information. At a time when the middle ground seems like an impossibility in American politics, the Backline All Options Pregnancy Center will be an oasis. An oasis of information, moderatism, and choice, at a time and in a place where that hasn’t existed in a long time.

Welcome to the Midwest, Backline. If you want to help Backline build some walls, knock down some silos, and give people a place do go; click here if you’d like to donate, and click here if you live in Indiana and would like to join in.

The Ties that Bind: It’s Time to End Shackling

4 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

They’ve been saying that love has made its way to PA this week. They’ve been saying that equality for all has worked its way down the winding East Coast and is on the brink of the South and Midwest. Love. Equality.

But what has gotten washed away in the seas of good tidings for the state of Virtue, Liberty, and Independence, is a woman tripping and falling face first onto her pregnant belly because of shackles around her legs and waist. She could not protect herself or her fetus because her hands were cuffed behind her back.

What has gotten lost amid tales of happy couples finally getting to share their love is a woman in labor, her ankles shackled to her hospital bed rubbing her skin raw until scars are left, her legs unable to fully open so she can birth her child. Lost is the story of her child being born into a set of shackles, years after the state has banned the practice of shackling.

Shackling is the act of restraining pregnant incarcerated women by chains that link their wrists, ankles, and their bellies. These shackles are used in correctional facilities across the US throughout pregnancy, including during trips to and from the doctor, during labor and delivery, and postpartum.

For a while there, Pennsylvania seemed like a model of the anti-shackling and reproductive justice movement. In 2008, Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla prohibited the widespread practice of shackling women during labor. And, in 2010, the Healthy Birth Act was passed in Pennsylvania that prohibited the use of shackles on pregnant incarcerated women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy during prenatal visits, labor, delivery, and postpartum.

But, the law isn’t being followed. The state of Pennsylvania has continued to illegally shackle incarcerated women during their second and third trimester of pregnancy stripping them of any of the mores Pennsylvania so proudly scrawls across bumper stickers and state quarters. The ACLU of PA estimates that 820 women a year are restrained while pregnant. Facilities in Pennsylvania filed only 109 incidents of restraint for 15 women in 2012-2013.

Four years later, prenatal clinics are unfamiliar with the law. Four years later, doctors didn’t know they could ask a correctional officer to remove the restraints. Most clinicians had never spoken to a correctional about security concerns, and many believed that using restraints was only for the correctional officer to decide and not medical personnel.

Only twenty states restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women with a statute. But, if what is happening in Pennsylvania is happening with a law in place, what is happening across the rest of the country?

I have never given birth. Honestly, I don’t even know if giving birth is in the cards for me. I imagine it hurts, an unbearable amount. I also imagine that there is nothing more joyful and loving than holding that bright red screaming baby after that hurt. I imagine it’s like no feeling I can imagine.

I have never been arrested. Never felt that cool steel around my wrists or ankles or pregnant stomach. Never felt that gut dropping feeling of uncertainty about the rest of my life.

The idea of facing these two forces, this incomparable pain and joy, the horror of detainment and arrest is unimaginable to me. Yet, every day women across the United States face this. They face it while they are in labor and delivery and while they hold their screaming red baby for the first time.

The reasons we imprison women in this country are complex, the reasons we shackle them are historic and myriad. But it does not make them right. Like many historic institutions in this country, it is time for shackling pregnant incarcerated women to come to an end. It is time to bring love and dignity to Pennsylvania.

For reproductive justice oriented organizing and mobilizing in PA check out New Voices Pittsburgh

Feeling Comfortable In The Grey

7 May

We live in a world that likes things to be black or white. You’re either for something or against something. Conservative or Liberal. Pro-Choice or Anti-Choice. No matter the issue, conflicting ideas are reduced to defined opposing views, with a clear line that marks the boundary to the other side. This construction is mirrored in our politics and in the media, resulting in structured talking points and campaigns that tell a single story and fit one narrative. The problem is that this representation isn’t accurate. No matter the issue, there is a spectrum of opinions that expand beyond the clearly defined boxes of “for” and “against,” and this is especially true when it comes to choice.

 

Now, I think and know that many in the pro-choice community would agree that choice shouldn’t be presented in this black and white dichotomy. Instead we need to focus on the grey and better represent the nuance and complexity within reproductive choices to honor that everyone’s narrative is different. The problem though is figuring out how to hold onto the greyness, while working in a system that operates in the black and white.

 

I really began thinking about this tension when I was at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference at Hampshire College. CLPP is a conference I’ve wanted to go for years, and I was lucky enough to get to spend that weekend in April thinking deeply and critically about the issues I care about most, while being surrounded by inspiring reproductive justice activists. The last session I went to was called What If We Let Roe Go?, which was facilitated by Aimée Thorne-Thomsen with the panelists Angela Ferrell-Zabala and Julia Reticker-Flynn. The presenters brought up that while Roe is fundamentally important, since it only addresses the legal right to choose, it misses the myriad of other interrelated and contextual factors that intersect and impact one’s ability to have a choice in the first place. The panelists urged us to think about who we leave behind by only focusing on Roe, and how doing this affects the movement. Together, the panelists and audience began a dialogue about how choice is complex, and how by just focusing on Roe we may be limiting our scope. This narrow messaging may fit within the political realm and the need for talking points, but it fails to address the nuances in our experiences.

 

For me, what this session brought up was how limited our approaches can be and made be question whether laws and regulations are the best way to move forward.  This was reinforced last week after reading Jessica Valenti’s thoughtful and powerful article in the Guardian. Sharing her story of the birth of her daughter at 28 weeks, Valenti shows us once again, that this is complicated, and that “choices are far too nuanced and personal for us to ever believe we could create a policy around them.” She reminds us that issues around pregnancy and choice aren’t consistent or clear cut, and more importantly they don’t have to be. Our pro-choice beliefs and reproductive decisions are never in conflict with one another, but result in varied narratives and experiences.

 

Now, I’m not sure what the best answer is or how exactly to move forward. Do we have to operate within the structures that exist in order to affect the change we want to see? Or do we change our tactics? No matter what the best path is, it’s a conversation that needs to keep happening and it has been great to hear thoughts and perspectives from others on what to do. But most importantly, what I appreciated was the reminder that we should dream bigger. It’s time to be bolder and think beyond the limitations in the system. As we go forward let’s find ways to feel comfortable in the grey, embrace our different pro-choice narratives, and support initiatives that focus more broadly on the intersections of experiences that influence choice. It’s a messy world out there, but that’s what makes it interesting.