Tag Archives: pro-choice

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

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 River Runs Yellow: The Elk River Spill The Intersection of Environmental and Reproductive Justice

29 Jan

Water from the faucets is flowing a deep and toxic shade of yellow. Parents cannot bathe their babies in a warm tub without burning their skin with chemicals, pour a glass of water in the middle of the night without stomach pains following, or cook a basic meal with water from the tap. A drive to the closest store for bottled water can take an hour or more down winding roads that are difficult to navigate in the snow. The water is poisoned with two chemicals whose long and short term effects and side effects are unknown, and it is seeping into the ground, affecting backyard gardens and farms, wells, septic tanks, and running water.

This is not happening across the ocean, in some land far away – although it may feel like it. It is happening 359 miles from Washington, DC, 228 miles from Pittsburgh and 162 miles from Columbus. It is happening in homes, hospitals, restaurants, and schools. It is happening in Charleston, West Virginia and in and along the Ohio River, where early this month MCMH and PPH were spilled into the Elk River by Freedom Industries. There are parts of Appalachia where the sticky sweet smell of licorice permeates the air — you can almost feel the chemicals land on your skin. Perhaps the most shocking part about the spill is that someone noticed. This beautiful land and the generations of families who live there are fighting on many fronts. But, maybe the greatest threat to justice in Appalachia is environmental. Coal has left an indelible mark on the land and has deeply effected the choices people can and do make when choosing whether to parent and how to raise their children.

While the state is working to increase regulations on the two women’s health clinics in the state, state agencies responsible for the investigation and cleanup of the spill had their budget cut 7.5% for the second consecutive year the day before the spill. Women, their families, and their supporters are marching throughout West Virginia for the ability to access abortion and holistic reproductive care, meanwhile they are drinking water that may be eliminating their ability to make choices about their bodies in the first place. Crude MCHM, the chemical foam used to wash coal and the first of the chemicals to be leaked into the water supply for over 300,000 residents has barely been tested or studied. Does it cause reproductive failure? Cancer? Miscarriage? Fetal Anomalies? Death? No one is sure. And it may be years before we ever know…. If ever.

In a few weeks I will be walking down frozen dirt roads, taking Instagram pictures of icicles on soft pine trees with my dog following close behind on a road in Appalachia, not far from this spill. When we get back to the house we will unbundle, I will get us each some water, and I will take a bath. I have no idea what this water will do to me, if it has been touched by this spill or some other, if it will effect me or my someday children. And, I will be outraged that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin thinks that protecting citizens means letting them wonder whether their water is safe.

Environmental justice is not an issue for environmental and green advocates alone. The ability for parents to raise their children in environments free from unregulated poison – to be able to send their children to school where they can wash their hands safely, to come home and eat a meal, and wash up before bed without fear is essential. Environmental justice is reproductive justice.

Dear Fake Progressives: Please Stop Helping

7 Jun

David Katz, who has M.D. in his title so you know his words carry the weight of the medical profession, has an essay up on Huffington Post, “Abortion, on Middle Ground.” And I’m sure you’ll be shocked, absolutely shocked to hear it’s the same shit, different day. Dr. Katz is a progressive who thinks abortion is a necessary evil! He is “emphatically pro-choice” but he is “just as emphatically anti-abortion.” Because, as I am sure everyone on the planet is aware and can agree completely on, “No one is ‘for’ abortion, least of all the women who resort to it.” Dr. Katz knows these women, you see. He knows them personally and understands their inner hearts. He is a listener, this Dr. Katz! He understands the hardships, what that the ladies have,  and how we need abortions even though obviously no one ever wants to have one, and also says some stuff about how our society is really violent and education is the answer.

For the progressives who feel the need to tread this middle ground out there, let me just clear something up: you cannot be both prochoice and anti-abortion. Please don’t mistake this for a “you are with us or against us” ultimatum. I hope you will instead see it for what it is intended to be: a completely rational statement meant to absolve people of the apparent epic confusion raging in their hearts as they try to reconcile conflicting personal and political beliefs. And I don’t mean that simply the personal and political are at odds; in these cases often the personal and the personal are at odds. For instance, perhaps you believe that abortion is really quite awful, but women should be allowed to have them. In this case, congratulations! You are not actually anti-abortion.

Just take a deep breath and say it with me now: I am not anti-abortion.

I am not anti-abortion, because I know it is a necessary medical procedure that people sometimes need to undergo for physical and mental reasons. I am not anti-abortion, because I know abortions save lives. I am not anti-abortion, because I have had an abortion. Yes, I’m sorry to put you in this position, but 46% of women in this country, almost fully half, will have an abortion in their lifetime. You’re allowed to be the person who says “I am anti-abortion” even though you’ve had one yourself, but that will also make you a hypocrite who took advantage of the hard work other people do when they say “I am not anti-abortion” and then disavowed that work. And I don’t think you want to be that person.

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Sterilization by Choice

17 May

I would like to turn your attention to an excellent recent article in the Toronto Star about women who choose to have tubal ligations. It is a great piece and I urge you to read the whole thing, but here’s the part that sums it up for me:

“To [Sarah] Lawrance, tubal ligations are a matter of control and autonomy. And while people have their own opinions, that choice should belong to the woman alone.

‘You need to let people make their own decisions about how to lead their lives,’ she says. ‘Even if you think they’re wrong.'”

I love that this issue is getting some attention. It is one thing to be childfree by choice, which is a movement that is building momentum, and it is another to want to physically, permanently prevent pregnancy. In my experience, many people who are perfectly supportive of the former tend to recoil at the thought of the latter, especially if, as the article mentions, the woman in question is under 30 or hasn’t had children, or both.

I am 27. I recently had an IUD inserted. If I thought there was any chance of a doctor performing a tubal ligation on me, I would have had that done instead, but honestly I didn’t even try. I know at my age, with no children, there wouldn’t be a chance. I was recently talking to a coworker who has had four children (one stillborn), and who is now trying to have a tubal ligation. Her doctor reluctantly provided her with the referral, but not before grilling her at length about how she would react to every possible situation that might make her want more children, such as one of her children dying (“Been there, done that” she says bitterly), or the breakup of her relationship (I’m not sure how that would make someone want more children, but okay). It was only because of her previous deliveries and the fact that she had the consent of her long-term partner that the doctor allowed her to go ahead.

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How to Better Fund A Pro-Choice Movement

3 May

A guest post by Sarah Erdreich and Rachel Joy Larris.

Several weeks ago, two of the major organizations devoted to protecting women’s reproductive rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, along with a host of other civil rights organizations, brought thousands of people to Capitol Hill to lobby Senators and Congressmen on reproductive rights. (There was also a rally, featuring speeches from senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, and celebrities like Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.)

NARAL’s supporters were given a packet of information on HR. 3 and the bill to defund Planned Parenthood. However, they were not directed to lobby Republicans, or given information about where to find Republican lawmakers; instead, supporters—many of whom came from across the country—were told if they wanted to talk to Republican lawmakers that was up to them, but NARAL wasn’t going to send them into the “lion’s den.”

As for the Democratic representatives, even the offices of ardent pro-choice supporters like Ohio’s Betty Sutton and Virginia’s Jim Moran had no idea it was a pro-choice lobby day. Other offices were aware of this, and had appointments with constituents who traveled from far away. But supporters were not directed to Harry Reid’s office, and were not told to specifically mention the issue of Medicaid coverage of abortions in the District of Columbia. This was an issue that DC’s Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton knew might become a bargaining chip in the federal budget standoff, even if Harry Reid said he was standing firm for Planned Parenthood’s funding.

How much the actual lobby day and rally influenced the eventual outcome is unclear, though it was obvious that the supporters brought a great deal of energy and passion to the day. But as we reflect on our own experiences of the lobbying and the rally, it’s hard not to feel a bit disillusioned, both with the Democratic Party and the current strategies used by the major national pro-choice organizations. Too often, Democratic politicians sacrifice their pro-choice constituents’ interests—but this outcome is made possible because the current strategy of growing pro-choice political power isn’t working. While the majority of the country does not want abortion to become illegal, anti-choice politicians feel more allegiance to their constituency than pro-choice politicians. This is not simply a fault of individual politicians. It is an artifact of how the pro-choice political community does its organizing work: from the top down.

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