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.

 

 

File Under “Things I Could Not Make Up”

26 Mar

 Just now, on a walk in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I found this on a building:

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The flyer before I wrote “THIS IS NOT A THING” on it

Not even a foot away was this:

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Strategic Hipster irony? You decide.

 

 

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.

Public shaming of women is unacSEPTAble behavior

14 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 Feb

This is a guest post by Leigh Sanders. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Q/A with The Clinic Vest Project

5 Feb
Image via The Clinic Vest Project

Abortion Gang (AG): What’s the Clinic Vest Project and why was it started?

Clinic Vest Project (CVP): The Clinic Vest Project is a project started by Clinic Escort Organizer and Pro-Choice Activist Benita Ulisano. The purpose of the project is to provide free escort vests and training materials for escort groups in need. It was started in response to escorts emailing me and asking if our program in IL had spare vests. Since our vests are Illinois Choice Action Team specific we could not give them ours, so I thought, why not have a whole bunch of generic vests printed up to give away to anyone who needed them.

AG: Why are clinic escort vests important?

CVP: They differentiate us from anti choice protesters when clients arrive at the clinic. The vest itself is a symbol of compassion, support and comfort for clinic clients.

AG: How do you get the word out about your project?

CVP: I get the word out through social media and word of mouth. You can find us at our Facebook page.

AG: Is there a part of the country that requests the most vests?

CVP: So far, no. I have sent vests to seven groups, MS, NJ, IN, PA, VA, MN and Toronto Canada. Hoping to send lots more!

AG: What advice can you give to folks who want to start an escort group in their area?

CVP: Go for it! Once a relationship and need has been established with the clinic, the best thing to do is to get a group of like minded activists together for training and dive in! If activists are interested in starting a group and need training materials and vests, they can contact The Clinic Vest Project at clinicvestproject@yahoo.com.

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.