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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.

 

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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Choice and Childbirth: The Birthing Center of Buffalo

2 Apr

On February 14th, the Birthing Center of Buffalo opened, making it the first combination birthing center and abortion clinic in the country. Buffalo Womenservices & The Birthing Center of Buffalo are located within the same building, have the same waiting room and the same provider. As a licensed and accredited free standing birth center, The Birthing Center of Buffalo offers certified midwifery and OB care. Buffalo Womenservices has a staff consisting of RNs, LPNs, social workers, counselors and physicians who offers abortions up to 22 weeks, and additional reproductive health care services including contraception.

Dr. Morrison opened the center after working with Eileen Steward, a homebirth midwife. During that time, she “realized that the women coming to her for abortions were being treated much better than women having in-hospital birth,” and Dr. Morrison wanted to change that. With that in mind, Dr. Morrison started the very long process of opening a birth center, a feat that is really hard to accomplish in New York and one that requires a lot of hard work, dedication and money.

Since opening, the feedback from patients has been extremely supportive. There has long been a desire for better maternity care in Western New York, and the birthing center offers an alternative for those who want a different birth experience. While not all Birthing Center patients are pro-choice, they continue to come to the Center because they see the importance of offering birth options. And even though there are protestors at Buffalo Womenservices, patients haven’t been deterred by them.

While there has been a lot of support and encouragement from around the Country, there remains ambivalence and mixed reactions from others. The Buffalo medical community and media have been mostly silent. Insurance coverage also remains a significant challenge, as most insurance companies have been resistant to covering the facility fee even though birthing center births are more affordable and have greater positive health outcomes when compared to hospital births. Since making services affordable and accessible is a priority for The Birthing Center, identifying ways to increase insurance coverage, like supporting New York to sign on to the ACA provision that requires coverage of birth centers, is a top priority of the Center.

The opening of The Birthing Center of Buffalo is an exciting and much needed addition to the healthcare landscape. Apart from providing important accessible care to those in Western New York, it is an example of integrative and holistic reproductive health care that addresses the whole patient and their life span. The Center represents that individuals who choose to have abortions and those who choose to give birth are not separate people. In fact, many individuals will experience both over their lifetime as 60% of those seeking abortions are already mothers and one in three women will have an abortion during their lifetime. But too often we treat these decisions as separate ideas when really we need to acknowledge that the reproductive choices one makes are intertwined. Abortion shouldn’t be stigmatized and treated as a siloed type of healthcare, because even if someone chooses to have an abortion, it doesn’t mean they aren’t going to also want to learn about breastfeeding, VBACs or birth options in the future.

The Birthing Center of Buffalo also reminds us that choice extends to all our reproductive decisions. When asked about the parallels between abortion care and birth options, Dr. Morrison mentioned how her background in abortion care helped her place on emphasis on a person’s ability to make decisions best for them, which includes the chance to choose different birth options. This is an example of the type of reproductive care we need more of. Where healthcare providers provide options, and honor that individuals are the experts on their bodies and experience. Because whether it’s getting an abortion, an IUD, or choosing a homebirth, excellent reproductive health is about respecting an individual’s choice in those decisions and supporting in their capacity to do so.

Ohio: Home of the Poisonous Nut

31 Mar

By: Catrina Otonoga

Ohio has been fighting a quiet battle for our lives. Across the state, clinics struggle to find partnerships with private hospitals in order to remain open, the Board of Health is in disarray after the resignation of the Director amid rumors he was not closing clinics quickly enough, and Ohio Right to Life is in the ears and offices of our highest state officials.

It’s not an uncommon refrain these days in America. Michigan is fighting back against a ban on including abortion in insurance policies. And, who hasn’t heard about Texas – with Wonder Woman Wendy at the helm of, perhaps, the greatest reproductive rights uprising in United States history?

But, in the Buckeye state we are under attack, and we haven’t had much of a rallying cry.

Here in Ohio, the heart of it all, we have another heartbeat bill on the table. A bill that contains no exceptions for rape or incest, and would make performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected a felony. That’s as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Clinics are closing across the state. Women in the Toledo area are traveling to Michigan because their rights are being chipped away in their own backyard. Abortion is legal in Ohio, but restrictions are becoming so onerous that clinics can no longer operate, and women cannot access services without crossing the state or state lines.

And, at the helm of it all is Governor John Kasich. Behind the seemingly moderate exterior that got him elected, is a politician who has enacted some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the United States. Do a search for “Kasich, Abortion” and the articles that pop up are from the last time Ohio wasn’t under a blanket of snow – last summer, when he signed the budget into law, and with it, a host of laws that have led to massive consequences for women’s health in Ohio. Aside from a few quotes put out by advocates for abortion rights in the state, Kasich has remained clean of a lot of the backlash.

The upcoming Gubernatorial race in Ohio promises to focus on abortion issues, but many political experts agree that people who make abortion a priority during an election have already sorted themselves onto the Democratic side.

Like Virginia in their Gubernatorial, it’s time for Ohio to rally, to take ourselves off the defensive, and to stop letting extremists run our state and control our bodies under the guise of moderate politics.

To take action and check out these great organizations in Ohio: OhioNow, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio , Women Have Options

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Amazing & inspiring art courtesy of the Repeal Hyde Art Project

The Round Up

28 Mar

Here’s what some of us at Abortion Gang have been paying attention to lately:

Anna:

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.

 

Megan:

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/

 

Sara:

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.

 

 

Another Clinic Vandalized: Take Action

17 Mar

As those of us in the reproductive justice community have become increasingly familiar with, many of our clinics that provide basic services and healthcare to individuals around the country are routinely under attack. On March 3, All Families Healthcare, a clinic in Montana, was vandalized. A project on Indiegogo is aiming to raise $25,000 dollars towards the clinic so that it can continue to provide services that are desperately needed by millions throughout our country. To donate, please click here.

Victory in the courts for North Carolina women

4 Feb

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles came to the defense of North Carolina women on January 17, 2014, ruling that a provision in a state law requiring providers to perform an ultrasound four hours prior to an abortion was unconstitutional based on restriction of free speech. The law, called the Woman’s Right to Know Act, was passed by a Republican-controlled general assembly in 2011 and promptly vetoed by Democratic then-governor Bev Perdue. Both houses were able to override the veto and thus it became law; however the ultrasound portion of the law was enjoined as reproductive justice advocates promptly sued on grounds of constitutionality. The requirement was in limbo for two and a half years, but Justice Eagles ruled just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court declined hearing a challenge to the unconstitutionality of a similar law in Oklahoma.

North Carolina’s ultrasound abortion requirement not only would have required an ultrasound four hours prior to the procedure – use of ultrasound to determine gestational age and location are standard medical practice – but mandated that the physician orient the ultrasound monitor so that patients had to view it (though they had the option to avert their eyes), describe the fetus including size and external and internal bodily observations, and offer the patient the opportunity to hear the fetal heartbeat. While the patient could decline the last component, physicians were required to continue their description of the fetus despite protest or request to cease.

This four hour period is actually arguably more inconvenient than the original stipulation, though the four hour period was the result a previous court review that found a 24 hour waiting period to be an excess burden. The law in its original approved form required in-person counseling and the ultrasound one day prior to an abortion. After review, the counseling was permitted over the phone but the 24 hour period stood. The ultrasound waiting period was changed to four hours. Therefore, a patient had a counseling session at one point, then had to go into the clinic a day later for the ultrasound, and wait for a large portion of the day for a procedure. There were no exceptions permitted for this, including for cases of sexual assault and fetal anomaly.

Justice Eagles had powerful words in her decision, calling the law “one-size-fits-all” and “an impermissible attempt to compel these providers to deliver the state’s message in favor of childbirth and against abortion”. Only Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin have similar laws on their books, though seven states require that patients must be offered the opportunity to see the ultrasound. In the Woman’s Right to Know Act, not only were no exceptions made, but Justice Eagles expressed concern that regarding the forced “state’s message to women who do not want to hear it or who are at risk of significant psychological harm from receiving it”. But ultrasounds are already standard practice and general practice includes permitting women to see their ultrasounds. Carolina Abortion Fund board member and former clinic employee Kelsea McLain says, “…I performed about 400 [ultrasounds]…My process involved asking the patient what she wanted to see, or know, if anything. I was surprised at how many women ended up wanting to see their ultrasound and almost everyone wanted to know how far along they were. I’d say maybe a tenth of them would change their mind.”

Thus it is conceivable that forced ultrasound viewing and verbal description would actually decrease the number of women changing their minds (as frustration tends to lead to anger and women may simply emotionally shut down and insist on moving through the process), and this legislation was actually intended to restrict access, either blocking women who do not have financial means for a two day event or causing scheduling conflicts and making the appointment-making process more challenging.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement, “Today’s ruling marks a major victory for North Carolina women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: It is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions.” Julie Rikel of the Center for Reproductive Rights called it a great win for the first amendment, saying, “What the judge said here is that the state is not allowed to use doctors to force its own ideology onto patients, especially when the doctor feels that doing that could harm the patients.”

Anti-woman groups were not celebrating though. Tami Fitzgerald of the NC Values Coalition dramatized to the Raleigh News & Observer, “The founders would roll over in their graves if they knew that the First Amendment is being used to keep women from receiving sound medical advice about their own bodies.” State House Majority leader Paul Stam, a co-sponsor of the bill along with co-sponsors of the famed North Carolina “Motorcycle Vagina” legislation, stated his confidence that a state appeal would follow shortly.

But Governor McCrory thankfully had other ideas, surprising even RH Reality Check, who previously predicted appeal “almost certain”. On January 25, the Governor’s office issued a statement saying that the financial and time obligations required to defend this single provision of the law were not justified and that “[t]he heart of the legislation remains intact and patients will still receive access to important information and ample time needed to make decisions”. The administration’s surprising decision is perhaps in light of the renewed vigilance with which North Carolina reproductive justice advocates have watched the administration after the summer 2013 antics in which the “Motorcycle Vagina” TRAP legislation was born. After increasing pressure and outcry, including now frequent mockery of the state’s political affairs on the global stage of social media and cable news, McCrory’s administration has appeared to ever so slowly soften on some of its most polarizing issues, including the subject of abortion access to which he promised while campaigning to protect access to.

Congratulations to the plaintiffs in this suit against the state, to North Carolina and national reproductive health advocates who are fighting tirelessly against each antic the Republican-led assembly displays, and most importantly to women in North Carolina or who have to travel to North Carolina to access abortion.

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.