Archive | June, 2010

Emergency Contraception Does Not Equal Abortion

30 Jun

On June 18th, the reproductive health committee of the FDA unanimously voted to recommend approval of ullipristal , (otherwise known as ellaOne), a post-coital contraceptive that is currently available in Europe. Anti-abortion activists took advantage of the opportunity to wheel out their tired (and disproven) argument that preventing ovulation after intercourse is tantamount to an abortion. They originally fueled this view by claiming that the currently approved post-coital contraceptive, levonorgestrel (brand name Plan B) might disrupt an established pregnancy or prevent implantation of a fertilized zygote. They maintain this position despite extensive evidence to the contrary; the original research behind Plan B made clear that an established pregnancy would not be affected by the drug. Recent studies showing definitively that levonorgestrel works only if taken prior to ovulation (for instance, this one and this one) have done little to quell their ire at the thought of zygotes being prevented from hunkering down in a woman’s uterus and staying there for 9 months. They don’t seem to understand that without ovulation there is no egg, and with no egg all you have are a lot of sperm swimming around in vain. No egg = no zygote = no prevention of implantation = nothing remotely resembling abortion. Simple, right? (As a side note, we don’t know for sure if ellaOne works the same way as Plan B; it hasn’t been studied enough.)

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How Do You Come Out As Working in Abortion Care?

29 Jun

My fellow bloggers and I have talked in the past about the social implications of working in abortion care. I consider myself, first and foremost, an reproductive rights activist, so I am often faced with varying levels of awkwardness when asked what I do for a living. However, in the past few weeks I’ve discovered a whole new layer to that phenomenon. It’s a level up from “What do you do for a living?”, and it’s called “What are you going to do for a living in [city you’re moving to]?”.

Yes, I am moving, and this question has caught me totally off guard. It’s a different kind of situation from just explaining what I do for a living right now, because it really implicates the rest of my life. Suddenly, I will be in a big city where I have more career options: would I really choose to work in an abortion clinic? Or any other job that the people in the conservative town where I currently live can’t easily wrap their brains around?

My partner graduated from law school. We are moving to Toronto because of his articling job. I find myself, quite suddenly, in the simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying position of having no career path, no mandate, and no idea what I want to do for a living. While I’m worried about actually securing a job, I’m excited by the prospect of living in a place where professional activism happens, and where you can work for really awesome organizations that are doing good things. Abortion is still my main focus, and I’ve never considered for a second doing anything “normal”, anything that could be easily explained in a pleasant exchange with a stranger. And I recognize that having that choice is a great privilege.

However, I just don’t know what to say to people. Today I was at the dentist, and the hygienist asked me: “Do you have a job lined up in Toronto?”. It was easiest just to say no. But then she asked “What kind of thing are you looking for?”. Bluurghhhh, I thought. How do I answer that? I would prefer not to offend her if she is anti-abortion, but at the same time, there’s the added element of networking. She had already mentioned people she knew who lived there: what if one of them had a lead for me? In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth it and I just shrugged. But I seem to encounter this same conversation every day. With some people, my friends and (supportive) family members, it’s easy to say I want to keep working as an activist, particularly in women’s rights, and particularly in reproductive rights. But with non-supportive family, strangers, my partner’s grandparents: what then? Finding an apartment in about two hours through the magic of social networking has taught me that opportunities to make mutually beneficial connections with people are everywhere; I would hate to miss one out of the fear of being judged. On the other hand, I am a person who has a lot of trouble with confrontation and I am always afraid to stir the pot. So I try to steer clear of these conversations as much as I can.

I wonder if this is a common problem in this field. I know that it can be hard to talk about working in abortion care, but what about looking for work? It seems to make it that much more difficult to reach out for job search help in our social networks, which in my experience is becoming an exceedingly common method for finding employment. Have any of you faced this issue? How did you deal with it?

Preparing Religious Leaders to Support Women and Choice

28 Jun

Whether “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” religious leaders and clergy should be prepared to support women who are deciding whether to bear a child in accordance with their own faith and beliefs, and then support whatever choice they make.  You are probably thinking, “Well, of course!”, but as someone who just graduated from a divinity school, I can attest to the fact that too few U.S. seminaries and divinity schools are preparing future clergy to move beyond politics and support women who are faced with difficult reproductive choices (even though the decision to support women and conduct all-options pastoral counseling is inherently political).

When the Common Ground Abortion Bill was introduced by Representatives Ryan and DeLauro in the summer of 2009 and endorsed by hundreds of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” clergy, I couldn’t help but think, how many of these clergy, especially those in the “pro-life” camp, are supporting women in their respective congregations?  How many are giving women and couples the resources and referrals they need to explore all of their options as they discern whether to have a child; are faced with an unintended pregnancy; are grappling with infertility; and/or are grieving after a miscarriage?  How many are helping to educate their congregations about sexual health and safer sex as a preventive measure?  I would say too few.  I am also positive there are a significant number of pro-choice clergy and even laypeople who are ardent advocates for reproductive justice, but fail to see and meet the needs of women in their congregations.

Now more than ever, the next generation of religious leaders are uniquely positioned and morally obligated to work with and help their congregations and larger faith communities understand all the dimensions and complexities of sexuality, sexual health and justice. This project includes the growth and formation of congregations and communities that not only can advocate for reproductive justice, but support community members who are grappling theologically and spiritually with and/or pursuing all reproductive choices from parenting to abortion to adoption.  It turns out very few future clergy are being prepared to take on this critical project.

According to the Religious Institute’s 2009 Sex and the Seminary study (which surveyed 36 U.S. institutions), seminaries and Divinity schools throughout the country are not adequately providing future religious leaders sufficient opportunities for “study, self-assessment, and ministerial formation in sexuality.”  They are not equipping seminarians with the skills they will need to minister to congregations and wider communities about sexuality-related issues or even to become outspoken advocates for sexual justice.  At most institutions (90%, according to the report), students can graduate without a foundation in sexual ethics or taking a sexuality-based course.  The sexuality-related issues the report refers to include, but are not limited to reproductive health, sexual health, sexual orientation, gender identity, adolescent sexual development, family planning, and sexual abuse prevention.
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Sarah Palin is Not a Feminist.

26 Jun

The recent firestorm surrounding “Palin Feminism” has got me thinking about what, exactly, it means to be a feminist. What do you have to believe in to earn the feminist title?

Obviously, a commitment to reproductive justice is key. You can’t call yourself a feminist and deny women the right to make their own healthcare decisions. If you are anti-choice, you simply can NOT be a feminist. You also have to support comprehensive sex-ed so that women can make their own choices about whether to have sex or to abstain. A support of abstinence only sex-ed is not feminist, it denies women the right to decide their sexual future in a safe and healthy way. Without educating women on safe sex practices and allowing them access to birth control, “Palin feminists” are harming women, and therefore are decidedly anti-feminist.

Although a commitment to reproductive justice is a necessary condition to being a feminist, it is not sufficient. You have to show support for women in ALL areas of their lives, not just reproductive health. Palin feminists do not support equal workplace rights, protections for battered women, or healthcare for all. Poverty rates are much higher for women than they are for men, which requires feminists to fight for the rights of ALL Americans, not just those in the top tax bracket.

A commitment to healthcare for all, better school systems, better childcare, marriage equality, AND reproductive justice, among many other issues, are critical to being able to call yourself a feminist. Without a commitment to empowering ALL women to make their own decisions, whether they are gay, straight, poor, rich, educated, or uneducated, you can not be a feminist.

Sex-Positive Whilst Pro-Choice: The Exception or the Rule?

25 Jun

As an undergraduate senior, I had the distinct privilege of being one of “those” people who unabashedly dispensed condoms on the quad. Blushing twenty-somethings approached me, giggling nervously, for a “dirty little” giveaway, as if (PIV) sex was something to be whispered about at a university of 40,000 attendees widely known not only for its academic reputation, but also for its nightlife. (Then again, when don’t people other than sex-positive feminists whisper about sex?)

Public condom giveaways constituted once facet of my membership in a sexual health peer education group to which I belonged during my final year of college. This student-led, faculty-advised organization was and is, perhaps, most well-known for its interactive sex toy workshop, which features vibrators, dildos, cock rings, and “pocket pussies,” among other taboo playthings. Student workshop facilitators explain the proper usage and maintenance of said items with the end goal of informing their peers how to safely eroticize their sex lives.

Awesome, right? Sex-positivity! Vibrators! Pleasure! And we were talking about it like it should be talked about—like it’s NORMAL. Fun. And safe! (Oh my!)

I thought this was pretty much the greatest thing ever. I grew up associating sex with shame, guilt, and hushed tones. More than anything, I wanted to stomp out stigma and start anew. And I wanted to help others do the same. So, you can imagine my surprise when I realized (and fully processed) that there were certain types of stigma that this group wasn’t interested in tackling.
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HIV and Pregnancy: A Death Sentence?

24 Jun

By now, I think everyone knows that HIV/AIDS is a major problem, especially in Africa. Poor medical care and lack of knowledge on the disease (even here in the U.S.) have caused fear, misconceptions, dread, and depression for those who contract it. For years, becoming pregnant after contracting HIV was a death sentence for the resulting child.

A few years ago, scientists discovered a “miracle” treatment for pregnant women with HIV–a way for her to deliver the baby without the child contracting HIV. Doctors and humanitarians alike cheered this wonderful treatment. Finally, a solution to the problem of mother-to-baby transmission.

I’m kicking myself at the moment for not being able to find the interview I heard on the radio, on NPR I believe, in which a doctor discussed this procedure. However, I did find a study done in Africa on the treatment.

The woman is given a shot of nevirapine, one drug of a three drug “cocktail” used to help the immune system in AIDS treatment, during labor. The child is then given a shot of it after birth. The majority of the time, this treatment is effective in preventing the transmission, and the child is spared from the terrible life of an HIV patient.

However, what other scientists have just discovered is that the use of nevirapine during labor is actually detrimental to the mother’s treatment later. There is a chance that the mother will become resistant to nevirapine, which renders useless the three drug “cocktail” used for HIV/AIDS treatment for her later. She will die sooner because of this. Her child will be without a mother.
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A Few Questions: Think About It

23 Jun

Dear Anti-Choicers,

How often do you think about what you’re saying and doing?

When you scream “baby killer!” at the woman walking into an abortion clinic, have you considered the fact that women who have had miscarriages sometimes have to have an abortion to remove the dead fetus? Have you considered the fact that you can not differentiate between a woman who has had a miscarriage and a woman who has not just by looking at them? You do know that those women don’t have the word “MISCARRIAGE” written across their foreheads, correct? Do you know that many people who have had miscarriages blame themselves for the death of the embryo? Can you imagine how it would feel to have someone call you a baby killer for having a miscarriage? What about the other women, how are you helping them by calling them baby killers?

When you call women who have had an abortion “selfish,” are you aware of the fact that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the age of 45? Are you aware of the fact that you most likely know and care about someone who has had an abortion? How do you think she feels when you call her a selfish murderer? What if she regrets her abortion? Can you imagine how badly it would hurt to regret an abortion and have someone call you “selfish” for something that you are already in pain from? What about women who don’t regret their abortions? Why are you trying to scare them into silence?

When you tell a woman that adoption will solve all of her problems, do you consider the fact that adoption leaves a lot of women in pain? Do you tell her that adoption leaves a lot of women in pain, or do you conveniently hide that fact and pretend that adoption is a pain-free choice? Do you consider the fact that, for some women, adoption just will not do because the pregnancy itself is traumatic? After all, I’m sure you know that you do have to go through a pregnancy to give a child up for adoption. What about those women? What are you doing for them?
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