Tag Archives: activism

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

An Open Letter of NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice MD: Do Better

20 May

Our movement is small. You can count USA’s national organizations whose mission is to advance reproductive rights and access on one hand. NARAL is among them; NARAL is a leader in our movement.

As a leader in our movement, I am disappointed that you’ve turned your back on one of our own in the fight for access to abortion in the US.

I am referring to the news that NARAL MD has decided to endorse County Council President Craig Rice over his opponent, the fierce, well known, and unabashedly pro-choice activist, Neda Bolourian.

Neda is a vocal feminist and abortion advocate. She is a clinic defender, a natural leader, and a passionate activist and fundraiser for keeping, protecting, and expanding the full range of reproductive health options. She co-organized the grassroots movement Summer of Trust, welcoming Dr. Carhart into Montgomery County in 2011, and has not for one moment shied away from her strong belief in access to legal, safe abortion whilst on the campaign trail.

Candidates like Neda Bolourian are the future of our movement. We need actively prochoice politicians to move our movement forward so we can stop playing defense.

If NARAL MD researched the candidates for Montgomery County Council, there would be no ignoring Neda’s commitment to vocal pro-choice activism, which is clearly identifiable hereherehere, and here (to site a few of many exhibitions). Especially disturbing is that NARAL MD has a facebook album of a weeklong pro-choice Summer of Trust event Neda co-organized in Montgomery County in 2011. The album has pictures of Neda’s sisters including Lily Bolourian, her campaign manager.

NARAL MD needs to do better. NARAL MD needs to do better, more diligent research before endorsing candidates, and/or needs to do better at actively supporting upcoming pro-choice politicians. When NARAL, a pro-choice movement leader, supports the established order over a pro-choice activist, they join the patriarchal forces of oppressing feminist, pro-choice voices, rather than fight them. Furthermore, NARAL’s endorsement of Neda’s opponent sends a deeply troubling message to future pro-choice women candidates: That pro-choice leaders are more willing to support the establishment than feminist activist.

As someone who cares deeply about the future of our movement, I request that NARAL MD switch their endorsement to support Neda Bolourian and reflect core values of NARAL, and the pro-choice movement. Please join me in asking NARAL to do the same here at change.orgNARAL MD, Endorse Neda Bolourian.

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

Small Town Activist

18 Aug

If you pay attention to pro-choice events, walks, rallies, fundraisers, and other activities, you’ll notice that almost all of them take place in big cities like New York City. This makes a lot of sense. I mean, duh! If your event is in a big city, you’ll attract more people and it will probably be a much more progressive area altogether.

Still, as a small town girl, this leaves me feeling a little bit lonely sometimes. I live in an area where I know only a small handful of pro-choicers and no other people who would call themselves activists. I go to whichever pro-choice events which are close by, but there are not many. Many activists, including myself, can’t afford to travel to participate in pro-choice events and can’t afford to take time off of school or work to be able to attend them. It’s not only the pro-choice movement, either. I am also passionate about my veganism. I know no vegans, or even vegetarians, outside of the internet, however, so vegan activism outside of the internet just seems out of the question. Also, abortion is not the only women’s rights issue which is neglected in my area. For example, the only time you hear the word “rape” mentioned in my area is in the context of a joke. Not surprisingly, this leads to me being burned out quite often. It leaves me thinking “Wow, am I fucking useless to this movement?”

Now, I don’t know if I’m alone in my feelings about this or if there are other small town activists out there who feel the same way, but if there are, then I’m writing this for you. It is discouraging to feel outnumbered by anti-choicers and to feel like a lone activist . Not being able to surround yourself with positivity in the wake of anti-choice bullshit totally sucks. I understand that. I refuse, however, to just sit down and call myself useless to the movement. Burn out occurs frequently, but there are things that small town activists can do to help prevent it. For example, you could:

1) Start something

I’m not going to lie, if you live in an uber-conservative area where it seems like you can count the number of pro-choicers on one hand (..as I do), this might not work out. But it’s still worth a shot. You can try to organize something in your town or on your campus which will unite the pro-choicers who are in that area. You can raise awareness and possibly help to uncover a new passion for reproductive justice in your area. You can organize a march or a group. If this works out for you, then you will have created a community, and that is absolutely priceless.

2) Just be vocal

Being vocal about your passion for reproductive justice is not always easy, especially in a very conservative area. It was not easy for me to “come out” as an adamant pro-choicer, but when I did, I had no regrets whatsoever. “Coming out” incited a lot of people to also share their opinions on abortion with me, and with that, I got to find out who the pro-choicers are. Yes, my area is so conservative I feel as if I have to take a bath after being in crowded areas, but I found out that there are more pro-choicers out there than I thought. Not only that, but being very vocal about my pro-choice beliefs ended up scaring away a lot of the anti-choicers in my life. So basically, there are more pro-choicers in my life and less antis. It’s a win-win situation.

3) If you can’t build a real-life community, find one online

Sometimes it’s just not easy to construct a positive, loving, pro-choice climate in an area which is very hostile to women and their rights. Even after trying to create one, you may still end up feeling excluded from the movement. This is where the internet comes in handy. The internet does a great job of uniting small town activists like me and big city activists like many of the writers for the Abortion Gang. It would be great to have more of a pro-choice community in real life, but I love the online pro-choice community with all my heart, and I know that I can be open and honest with them. I may be a small town girl, but that does not mean I can’t be apart of the pro-choice movement. I know I belong, and the rest of you small town activists do, too.

Summer of Choice: What Are You Waiting For?

29 Jul

As pro-choice and reproductive justice activists, we talk a lot about creating change. We call our legislators, sign petitions, and rally our friends and family to donate to our favorite abortion-loving organization. While we’re often on the phone or face to face with other activists, we don’t get many opportunities to support those we so fiercely defend and honor: abortion providers.

Over the next week, you have an opportunity to do just that by attending the Summer of Choice at Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s clinic in Germantown, Maryland. A tsunami of anti-abortion foes are descending on his clinic starting this weekend with one goal in mind: to stop Dr. Carhart from practicing medicine by any means necessary. They call their event the “Summer of Mercy 2.0,” a blatant reference to their horrific “Summer of Mercy” protests of Dr. Tiller in 1991. We know that “mercy” is really anything but what will be on display at their event.

Dr. Carhart, his staff, and fantastic volunteers are organizing the Summer of Choice not as a raucous counter-protest, but as a peaceful display of pro-choice solidarity with the clinic. Dr. Carhart and his staff need our support now more than ever. It’s time to do more than sign a petition or make a donation. It’s time to show up and be heard.

So what are you waiting for? Get yourself down to Maryland and register to participate in the Kick-Off Walk, sign up for their peaceful pro-choice presence, or if you can’t make it, donate so that someone else can.

PS: Need a ride? Talk to these people or these people and they will do their best to hook you up.

How to be an Everyday Reproductive Justice Hero

22 Jul

Recently, I left my job in abortion care. Although I have a social justice, nonprofit, world-saving job that I love now, I miss the clinic, as I knew I would. I knew I would miss my coworkers of course, and the patients and their amazing stories. But what I didn’t realize was what a huge part of my identity it was. I had grown complacent in the knowledge that working in an abortion clinic was a noble act (instead of a privilege), and that my work was what defined me as an activist. Since leaving, I have had to have some serious, soul-searching conversations with myself about what truly constitutes activism, and how to continue and expand my fight for reproductive justice.

I feel that I have not given enough credit during my time in the movement to those who work outside of the clinics and advocacy organizations, who are reproductive justice freedom fighters on top of their day jobs. Unpaid activists who truly act out of the goodness of their hearts. And now that I no longer work in abortion care, it is no longer assumed that I care deeply about reproductive justice – I have to prove that I want it through my unpaid actions.

For my own benefit and for others like me, I have written the following list of how those of us with little time, money and energy to spare can be everyday heroes and activists.

1. Support a friend through a pregnancy.
When a friend tells you she is pregnant, be there for her. There is no need to be overbearing, but just let her know that you are there every step of the way if she needs you. If she decides to terminate, offer to go with her to the clinic, and check in with her afterwards. If she is continuing the pregnancy, ask her what she needs – time, ice cream, someone to hold back her hair, space. And when the baby comes, be a supporter, a babysitter, a researcher of daycare options, if that’s what she wants/needs. Show through your love and trust of the women in your life that women are worthy of love and trust.

2. Be a safe sex educator to your friends.
I know there is somewhere in your area where you can get free condoms. Go get some, and give them out to your friends. Keep a dish in your bathroom with a “help yourself!” sign on it for visitors. Hand them out relentlessly. Ask your friends what method of birth control they are using. Educate yourself and be a source of information and support. Use whatever you have up your sleeve – an air of compassion, a sense of humour – to make it ok to talk openly about sex around you.

3. Volunteer at your local clinic.
Always contact a clinic first and find out what they need. Most clinics do not need counter-protesters; they make patients nervous and incite anger. See if you can be a clinic escort: usually it’s a weekly commitment of a couple hours, and you will be directly helping women accessing sexual health services. Some clinics need other support – people to drive patients from the airport or neighbouring towns; people to host out-of-town patients overnight; people to answer phones or stuff envelopes. If you have the time to give to make yourself useful at a clinic, I promise you it will go far and be very much appreciated.

4. Lead a creative resistance.
If you are a creative person, create something. Write a letter to your representative or to the newspaper; write a blog; paint, write poetry, build a sculpture; do something big and amazing and thought-provoking or something small and quiet and cathartic. Sometimes the challenge of the movement can be so frustrating and make you so angry and sad and lost; express yourself. Often art has a way of reaching others and clarifying the issue in a way that simple explanations cannot.

5. Be an ally.
Who are the people in your community who are suffering most from the lack of access to reproductive healthcare services? Find out what they have to say. Figure out a way to use what privilege you have to be of service. This is a hard one, and a longterm thing. You will screw up. But it’s worth the effort.

6. Learn.
In whatever spare time you have, read about reproductive justice, and ask questions. Talk to people, whoever you can access – doctors, nurses, friends who have had abortions, friends who have had babies, doulas, midwives, your mother, your partner. Read blogs and articles. Inform yourself as much as possible; put yourself in a position of being able to speak to this issue and to help and support and inform the people around you. Knowledge is power.

7. Love.
I feel that this is at the root of it – true activism is an act of love. Never forget why we fight for access and the health and lives of our sisters. If we live every day and act out of love, we can’t lose. When in doubt, follow your heart.

Please feel free to comment with your own ideas and suggestions. Remember, the revolution will not be funded; we all have to keep in mind that service provision, while good and essential work, is only one piece of the puzzle. The battle will be won by the small, everyday acts of resistance that all of us can do.

I am Angry at You, Pro-Choice Americans.

23 Mar

I”m ticked off. I’m ticked off at pro-choice Americans.

Now before I go any further, I want to say that people who are actively involved in pro-choice activism year round, 24/7/365, need not read on. This is not about you.

To those of you who sit around and go “Roe v Wade is law, why should I speak out?” or “The Hyde amendment doesn’t bother me” –  yeah, you keep reading.

My big question is- DO YOU CARE? Do you care about women? Do you care about children? Do you care about your sisters, your mother, your aunts, your daughters, yourself?
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