Archive | July, 2012

South Dakota: Where We Don’t Practice Science

27 Jul

In 2005, South Dakota passed a law which at the time was the pinnacle of crazy anti-abortion laws.  It contained a wide range of provisions which ended up going back and forth in the courts for the past several years.  Ultimately, the biological disclosure and “all known medical risks” disclosure stayed on the books, but the decision on a suicide advisory remained divided in the courts.  It became its own spin-off case, and only this week did a decision come down.

Though you may have already read how the 8th circuit ruled , 7-4, with the majority in favor of keeping the suicide advisory, i.e. doctors must tell women seeking abortions that they have an increased risk of suicide if they seek an abortion, on the grounds that is not misleading and irrelevant.

Some things you should know about the case before we dive into this:

  1. The parties are two crisis pregnancy centers versus Planned Parenthood.
  2.  The “friends of the court” of the crisis pregnancy centers include: Christian Medical & Dental Associations; American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians & Gynecologists; Catholic Medical Association; Physicians for Life; National Association of Pro-Life Nurses; Family Research Council; Care Net; Heartbeat International, Incorporated; National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Incorporated; Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund; and the American College of Pediatricians.  Yes, you read that last one right.  Who knew?
  3.  The author most cited in the majority opinion for the “evidence” of an increased risk of suicide and suicidal ideation among women who had an abortion might have her major paper on the topic retracted because it is not scientifically sound.  Said author, Coleman, is referenced 14 times by name in the majority opinion.

But what stood out to me was the bizarre argument throughout the majority opinion about relative risk, increased risk, and causation.  Anyone who has taken epidemiology 101 can parrot that correlation is not causation.  Essentially, science is all about theories and making your way as close to the “truth” as possible.  But will we ever know an absolute truth?  No, we wouldn’t.  This is 7th grade science people.  Stay with me.

The majority opinion states how the suicide disclosure cannot be misleading or irrelevant only if there is “medical and scientific uncertainty,” then goes on to say “in order to render the suicide advisory unconstitutionally misleading or irrelevant, Planned Parenthood would have to show that abortion has been ruled out, to a degree of scientifically accepted certainty, as a statistically significance causal factor in post-abortion suicides.”

So for example let’s say I have a theory that doughnuts cure cancer and I go out there and find some evidence of this and get published, but someone retorts saying this is blatantly false.  We now have medical and scientific uncertainty.  Fine.  But then according to the 8thcircuit the only reason I can’t force pediatricians to tell children to eat doughnuts is if I can show that doughnuts don’t cure cancer.   Doughnuts for everyone?

Now let’s return to 7th grade.   You can’t prove something is not a causal factor.  You can no less prove it is a causal factor.  You can be very sure one thing leads to another, e.g. smoking and cancer.  But proving that the doughnuts do not cure cancer is impossible, so it would be impossible to fulfill this alleged requirement.  Then what does the evidence tell us?

What we do know is that most scientists agree that risk of suicide does not increase with abortion.  There is some shaky evidence of a possible association between abortion and suicide due outside underlying factors, i.e. if you have poor mental health you are more likely to seek an abortion and more likely to be suicidal.   But it is a spurious relationship, it is the outside factor that connects them, the connection between the two is completely unfounded.

What is most upsetting is that the four dissenting justices even say how the majority recognizes that there is no proof in the literature that abortion causes suicide and that telling women that abortion causes an increased risk of suicide is untruthful.  They know this, they recognize it, and yet here we are.  Women across South Dakota will now be forced to listen to these lies before obtaining an abortion.   How is that not misleading and irrelevant?


The Legacy of Georgia Tann: When adoption looks an awful lot like kidnapping

26 Jul

Georgia Tann is among history’s lesser-known villains. It seems like the role of director of the Tennesse Children’s Home (from 1924-1949) should be played by a mild-mannered, hard-working, well-meaning social worker. And indeed, that was the image that Tann projected during her thirty years playing that role. She was saint and savoir to thousands of orphaned and abused children, tirelessly finding stable middle-class homes where they would thrive.

Except she wasn’t a saint, and they weren’t orphaned or abused.  Instead, she was a kidnapper on the largest scale.

Tann removed children from safe, loving, but frequently poor, homes. She did this by taking them from doctors’ offices and telling their parents they were sick – and after selling the child, telling the parents the child had died.  She fabricated reasons to take them directly from the home “for the child’s welfare.” She stole the children of single parents from nursery schools.  A criminal with a flair for manipulation, she frequently placed children in adoptive homes with many of Memphis’s more powerful figures, so that they would feel an obligation to uphold the legality of the adoptions.  Across the country, Tann arranged adoptions for actress Joan Crawford, writer Pearl Buck, and New York governor Herbert Lehmen (who, as governor, closed adoptee’s access to their original birth certificates).

Many of the secretive policies around private adoptions in the United States have roots in the precedent that Tann set, and in the laws and court decisions that she worked (and bribed) to push through. Sealed birth certificates? High payments from adoptive parents? For-profit business models? Lack of birth family rights? The direct transfer of children from poor families to richer ones – for the good of the child? These are all part of her legacy.

This is coercive baby-stealing, corruption of the highest degree.  But isn’t it a thing of the past?

It isn’t for Encarnacion Romero.  Romero is an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, who was arrested in a raid on her Missouri workplace. While detained, a judge ruled Romero’s “lack of visitation” was tantamount to abandonment. Her son was placed in foster care, her parental rights were terminated, and her son was adopted by a married, white American couple.  An investigation by indicates there are over 5,000 children either in foster care or with adoptive families from the same reason.

It isn’t for Erin Yellow Robe. Yellow Robe lives on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One day a social worker called to tell her that she was going to be arrested for using drugs, and that her children were going to be taken into foster care. Even though Yellow Robe denied ever using drugs, even though the threat was made based on the accusation of one person (who turned out to have a grudge against the family), and even though her mother was willing to care for the children, they were taken away – in violation of both logic and the Indian Child Welfare Act. Yellow Robe was never arrested. The Crow Creek tribe, to which Yellow Robe belongs, has lost 33 children to white foster homes. There are only 1,400 people on the reservation. An NPR investigation indicates that approximately 700 Native American children in South Dakota are removed from their homes every year under similarly dubious circumstances.

Unlike the in Tann’s story, though, these removals and adoptions are public ones, meaning they are conducted by the state through the foster care system. This is no longer about one dangerous woman; it’s about an abusive system.

For these families and those like them, the legacy of Georgia Tann isn’t a historical footnote. It’s a tragedy that they live every day.  The legal system continually allows parents to be deprived of their parental rights for crimes either nonexistent or disproportionate to the response, and those in power seem to let it happen “for the good of the child.” It’s no coincidence that the children are removed from poorer families and families of color, and placed with white, middle-class foster and adoptive families. Who is more likely to have access the resources and power when it comes time for a court to make its final rulings? Perhaps it’s time that we reassess what is for the good of the child. And perhaps our first answer, barring evidence to the contrary, should be with the family from which they came.

It is disingenuous to entirely conflate these coercive tactics and adoption, and that is not what I am trying to do.  There are ethical people who work in the adoption system, and there are ethical adoptive parents who work hard, every day, to live in adoptions that respect their child’s birth family and support their child’s complicated journey through life as an adoptee. But as long as adoption is, in part, a systematic way of transferring children from families with less privilege to families with more privilege, we should not be surprised to find these abuses hiding within that system – sometimes in plain sight.

The World-Wide Challenges to Reproductive Health Care Are No Joke

25 Jul

It can be really challenging to engage with the overwhelming international need for reproductive health care services, especially right now, when we face so many challenges of our own in North America. Just trying to help Mississippi or Kansas alone fight the good fight can be, and is, for some, a full-time job. But when we put the need for reproductive health care in a world-wide context I find that actually, it can help make the problems we face seem less overwhelming and more manageable, by making it one big problem that everyone in the world is impacted by and therefor should join the fight on behalf of: access.

We need access.

Access is beyond choice. We – and by that I mean, literally, everyone on the planet – need to know what our reproductive health care options are, and then we need to have access to education regarding which of those options best meet our individual needs, and then, when we make a choice, we need to have access to that care. That’s all. That’s it. We must have these things. We must make a world in which we all have these things. The end! There, we solved it. We can all go home now.

Don’t Just Talk the (Pro-Choice) Talk

24 Jul

One common critique, factual or not, of the current pro-choice movement is that it is comprised of young people who would rather talk amongst themselves online than take to the streets to protest all of the ills perpetrated against reproductive rights of late. Abortion Gang and many other young feminists and activists have rebutted such thinking with well written and well documented pieces before , so I’m not going to rehash any of it, except to reassert that this generation of feminists are not less engaged and less inclined to be activists, we just have different ways of going about things now.

It is my hope that this post will eventually work as a beginning list of ways you and I can get more involved, both online and offline, in the pro-choice movement.

You may be reading and wondering, “I don’t KNOW what I can do personally to be an activist beside join in the chorus of outrage and dissent on twitter and the blogosphere.” Or maybe you’re wondering what you can do but you think, “I just don’t really have TIME to do anything.” And it’s possible that you consider yourself too disengaged, not well educated enough, without support from family, and/or stuck in a situation that makes becoming engaged in pro-choice activism impossible.

Let me be clear, to be an activist, to walk the walk as the title suggests, is a form of privilege. Not every person will be able to do activism in the same way- nor should anyone have to. Each one of us has unique and important experiences that will work to help the movement, even if mainstream feminist messaging or the lack of widespread outreach and information suggests otherwise. I do not mean to imply by writing this post that those without the ability to blog, tweet, and/or take -to-the-streets are any less important, nor am I suggesting that they are any less feminist or pro-choice. I do not want this to be exclusionary because feminism, pro-choice activism, and social justice movements must be inclusive.

With that all being said, let me begin.

In Portland, Oregon where I live, there are a number of organizations that rely solely upon volunteer support and donations of food, clothing, and toiletries to exist. One such organization is called SMYRC and takes in, supports, and helps young sexual minority youth get back on their feet. In Portland, there is an ever increasing amount of homeless LGBTQQ youth that literally have no where to go, and SMYRC is there to help. While you may not be able to spare any time to volunteer or money to donate, when you clean out your closet each winter and spring, don’t donate to the Goodwill, donate to SMYRC or another place like it in your community. I remember distinctly that SMYRC asked my group of volunteers for women’s size 10 shoes and razors as they have a number of women who need clothing and toiletries.

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The Privilege of Having it All

23 Jul

The other day I read this really great article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, titled Why Women Still Can’t Have it All. Ms. Slaughter worked in Washington and after a less than 2 years doing a job that she loved, she quit. Despite having a supportive husband, her family could no longer cope with her absence during the week. She decided that she could no longer compromise the lives of her two teenage sons and her husband for her career. She outlined some of the borderline-hostile comments she received from other women, including telling her she could not write an article with such a title. But she did and I’m glad.

When her commitment to her profession was challenged it “triggered a blind fury.” She realized that,

“I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot). (emphasis added)

Since earning the ‘right’ to have a career, women have spent the last decades trying to prove that they can be a good mother and wife, and career woman. They have put pressure on themselves, and each other, to do two full-time jobs as if they have something to prove to society (and themselves and each other). Women who focus on their families at the often short-term expense of their careers are often viewed as just not committed enough.

Ms. Slaughter does an excellent job of deconstructing the notion of “having it all” so I am going to leave that to her. Where I want to step in is discussing an egregious display of male privilege.

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Why is it so hard to find a feminist job?

20 Jul

A guest post from anonymous. 

In 2012, there is a War on Women, and feminist organizations are gathering all the help they can get. On Twitter and Facebook, at rallies and meetings, everywhere you go there is a cry for help and a push towards activism.

So why is it so hard to find a feminist job?

I’ve been looking for a job in the feminist-sphere for nearly a year now, with no success. While I see a few reasons why it’s difficult for me personally to find a job, I am having a hard time explaining why there is absolutely nothing out there.

There are two problems for me in particular. First is location. I do not live in a big metropolitan area, so there are fewer organizations around me. I have seen numerous jobs available in New York City, and wished I was able to move there for work. However, I am not able to do that. Of the jobs I have seen locally to me, a large majority of them require 5-10+ years of experience, or a Masters Degree or PhD. For someone my age, who has just come out of college and is looking to enter the working force, I cannot apply to the position of President, CEO, Senior Financial Officer, or other such jobs as I’ve seen.

But still my question remains: Where are the entry level feminist jobs? Where are the positions I can enter, learn about the organization, and grow to a leadership position from?

Maybe they’re out there, and I just can’t find them. The only feminist job listing I know of is on the Feminist Majority Foundation website. I appreciate its existence, but they list jobs by “region,” ie DC Metro, East Coast, West Coast, Midwest- which makes it really difficult to actually find a job (and you can be sure 98% of the East Coast jobs are in NYC). I have actually been told I’m overqualified for an entry level position once, even though I didn’t and don’t feel prepared to step straight into a management role yet.

Perhaps the big problem is the economy. Nonprofits must be having a very difficult time right now, and perhaps they don’t have the budget to take on new paid staff- which is perhaps why I’ve seen so many unpaid internship positions available. Alas, these positions are usually reserved for current college students, leaving new-grads like myself in a limbo of “not enough experience” yet “not young enough.” The economy is also probably responsible for why I feel so many organizations are emailing me daily asking me to donate my money, yet not needing any volunteers/workers at this time. Sometimes I think these organizations don’t appreciate me and other hobby activist (people within the movement who are doing it in their spare time), and just want our cash, cash, cash. However, I need cash too, to pay bills and buy groceries. If the feminist movement wants to keep hobby activists like myself around, they need to start finding ways to pay us for our involvement.

I am sure I will eventually find my dream job. There is so much need in the world for people who care and want to help, that I haven’t given up hope of finding a career that lets me help others. But I am coming to realize that it may take me longer than I originally thought to find my dream job.

Generational differences, inclusion, and looking toward the future

19 Jul

Being a young, unapologetic abortion activist and outspoken blogger, I tend to critique the mainstream, pro-choice movement for its lack of inclusivity, unwillingness to take the opinions of young people seriously, and constant criticism that not enough young people are in the movement or that no people in my generation care about reproductive rights.

We hear about this all the time. Two years before stepping down from her position at NARAL Pro-Choice America, Nancy Keenan voiced her concerns that there were no passionate young people to help carry the torch after the leaders in her generation retired. Others, such as Johnathan Allen, asks how groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NOW can “fire up” young women who have not known a time without legal abortion and nondiscrimination laws.

I don’t know what world they’ve been living in, but not only have there always been young people involved in the movement, but things haven’t been the greatest for abortion access in the US since the passing of Roe, and I don’t just mean in the last five years. Roe was groundbreaking, but Hyde was passed three years later and was followed by other bans, so when we talk about abortion access for everyone in the US post-Roe, we’re talking about people with the means to access abortion. If the media and those at the top of women’s organizations they think that there haven’t been people fighting since Hyde, they are only looking at the most privileged, most visible segment of the movement. That’s why the National Network of Abortion Funds exists, that’s why Sister Song exists, and that’s why we’ve abandoned the term pro-choice and started to think about reproductive justice. Those battles just haven’t been mainstream battles, and they haven’t been the battles that all leaders have engaged with.

As a young feminist and abortion rights activist, I am grateful to those people who fought for the freedoms I have today and who built the foundation for me to be able to do my work. But I am more grateful to those who fought before me and then embraced my views and participation in the movement.

No matter where we fit in the movement generationally, we’ve all had someone who has been a mentor or supporter, whether that person is close to us in age or generations above us, because we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere fighting these battles on our own. For me, personally, and I’m sure for many others, my mentors are the reason I am here in the movement. Without people who have supported me and genuinely cared about me, both personally and professionally, I would not have decided to work in abortion access.

I know that those who say that young people aren’t involved in the movement are looking in the wrong places, but I also wonder if they’re not embracing young people. I credit the first person I worked for with my decision to make reproductive justice a part of my life, and if leaders are concerned about the involvement of young people, they need to hire them and value them.

Right now we are fighting what sometimes feels like a losing battle, and we can’t afford to be protective or territorial. We need to embrace our differences, generational and otherwise. We need to stop ignoring those who have devoted their lives to working for reproductive justice in marginalized communities just because they are not working for mainstream organizations. And we need to acknowledge that young people care about abortion as an issue and if we want to continue to involve them we need to value their contributions and ideas.

This doesn’t just go for executive directors and people in positions of power. It goes for all of us, especially as young people who are moving up in the movement. We need to remember those who have supported us and pass it on, to value those just starting out, and support our peers and allies. If we all pledge to do that, then we shouldn’t have to worry about the future of the movement.