Archive | August, 2012

Candies Foundation, You Are Doing It Wrong

31 Aug

Every Friday, the Candies Foundation puts out a #FridayFact on Twitter. This week, it was the photo below:

Now, before I begin, I want to point out that the Candies Foundation has always been an organization that advocates an abstinence-only approach to sex education and that they have a history of shaming teens for choosing to parent, especially poor young people and young people of color. (Remember that Bristol Palin ad in which they have her say, basically, if you’re not rich and famous, your life as a teen mom is awful and you’re an equally awful parent?) The Candies Foundation is not, by self-definition or any judgment of their work, a reproductive justice organization.*

With that said, let’s examine how this particular tweet exemplifies how, in all ways imaginable, the Candies Foundation is doing it wrong.

First, their focus is on “teen pregnancy prevention” rather than preventing unintended pregnancy. Reproductive justice is about supporting all reproductive decisions that all people make and the fact is that not all teen pregnancies are unintended. Some young people decide to start a family at an early age while others are in situations where parenting young is the cultural norm. Others get pregnant thinking it will be an avenue to escape loneliness, depression, abusive households and parents, forced marriage, or to cement a relationship. What value judgment you place on these reasons matter not a single iota if you really want to support teen parents. If you really want to support teen parents, you ask them what factors contributed to their decisions to parent and you provide resources to assist them if they ask for them. Period.

But the Candies Foundation doesn’t actually want to support teen parents. In fact, they see them as the “failures,” to be used only to scare teens who are not yet pregnant or parenting into remaining abstinent until marriage in order to avoid becoming a tragic, sad statistic. This approach effectively contributes to the already devastating stigma associated with teen parents. The teens who saw that #FridayFact are being primed to bully and/or ostracize their friends who are pregnant and parenting. That tweet tells pregnant and parenting teens that their lives literally suck, discourages them from seeking assistance if they need it, and loving themselves and the choice they made. (If they made it – remember there is no such thing as “legitimate rape;” some young people  have their choice taken away and are forced into pregnancies by an act of violence.)

Shaming and fear don’t prevent teen pregnancy. Remember all the years in which abstinence-only was the official policy of the US government? The US was still at the top of the list in teen pregnancy statistics despite this approach. Just say no didn’t work with drugs and it hasn’t worked with sex, either. What does work is teaching teens how their reproductive systems work, how to use safer sex methods, and how to negotiate their naturally burgeoning sexuality and relationships in healthy ways. What does work is looking at the factors that contribute to unintended teen pregnancy – poverty, depression, abuse, and lack of solid sex education – and tackling those, rather than the teens impacted by them. Then, you educate young people about the options they have once they are pregnant – abortion, adoption, or parenting – without judgment and you help them access those options.

Finally, being a teen parent doesn’t mean that your life is over, or that it sucks, or that you made an awful decision. While society, with the help of well-respected organizations like the Candies Foundation, likes to scream about the awful results of teen pregnancy, many young parents are great parents who love their children and are happy with the choices they’ve made. Yes, it is hard to be a teen parent. It’s hard to be a parent in general. But shaming someone after the fact, as demonstrated above, does absolutely nothing at all to help anyone.

Personally, I think the Candies Foundation does more harm than good and we’d all be better off if they weren’t around, pretending to care what happens to young people. They get a lot of corporate money and big celebrities to scare, blame, and shame young people without making a single effort to provide real sex education or real support for pregnant and parenting teens. Sadly, I doubt they’re going away anytime soon. But if you too were upset by their #FridayFact, please tweet your displeasure at @CandiesOrg. Tell everyone you know that they are NOT to be trusted messengers to young people. After all, if you’re not part of the full, comprehensive solution, you are part of the problem.

*If you want to see how a reproductive justice organization works responsibly and effectively with teen parents, please check out the Massachusetts Teen Pregnancy Alliance.

The Trouble with Privilege

30 Aug

The trouble with privilege is that until somebody explains it to you, you don’t know you have it. And even when somebody explains it to you, sometimes you are too scared to admit that you are wrong, and you refuse to accept that you have it. Privilege is many things wrapped up into one, big arrogant ball.

Privilege is what allows men like Akin to make comments like “legitimate rape.” It’s what allows the rich to say success is all about hard work. It’s what allows heterosexuals to say that sexuality is a choice. It’s what allows white folks to ignore the correlation between skin colour, poverty, and rates of incarceration. It’s what allows anti-choicers to say that unplanned pregnancies are a result of “irresponsibility,” and then turn around and get abortions because it wasn’t their fault they ended up with an unplanned pregnancy. Privilege is what allows people to walk through this world viewing everything as black and white and pretending that their lives are successful because of the choices they made, and that the lives of the less fortunate are that way because they made bad choices. Arrogance is what allows those same people who end up in a bad spot blame somebody else for their circumstances, while still blaming those in their situation for their circumstances.

The trouble with privilege is that it is insidious. Unless you are watching for it, privilege sneaks into your thought processes and you never even know it. The trouble with identifying privilege is that it forces you to change your entire worldview; to abolish a belief system that you have held for decades; to accept that you are a white, successful, middle-class+ individual with a home, a good job, and money for vacations in large part because of blind dumb luck. Luck that you were born in a wealthy country and not an impoverished one. Luck that you were born with the privileges associated with being white, rather than the barriers that come with being black or latino. Luck that you were born a man and not a woman because your chance: of an unplanned pregnancy is zero, of being raped is slim, of being paid less for equal work is low, of having your body more regulated than food production is unlikely, or of being made to feel that you are less human than a collection of cells is unfathomable. Continue reading

International reproductive rights roundup: August Edition

27 Aug

Court victory for victims of coercive sterilization in Namibia

Namibia’s highest court has ruled that the rights of three women were violated when they were sterilized without their consent while receiving care at public hospitals.   Sterilization without informed consent is only one of many violations of women’s rights that has been documented against women living with HIV in Namibia.  While this verdict occurred in Namibia, it may have profound implications for women around the word, as coercive sterilizations have been documented not only for women living with HIV in other countries but also among certain ethnic groups. Of note, many US women are still suffering from our country’s legacy of coerced sterilizations.

Review of the impact of US policy towards abortion on women victimized by rape as a weapon of war

In conflict-affected regions, rape is often used as a weapon of war.  This was true in Bosnia and Rwanda in the recent past, and is ongoing today in areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Atlantic published a great review of how thousands of women in conflict-affected countries are being denied appropriate medical care after being raped during conflicts due to the US government applying conditions to aid money as stipulated in the Helms amendment (no exceptions to the rule against funding abortion services) as opposed to the Hyde amendment (exceptions granted for rape, incest, life endangerment).  Those of you who are fans of Abortion Gang know very well that we don’t agree with the “exceptions” mentality and believe that the reason doesn’t matter- but this is an interesting read nonetheless.

The Philippines ratifies the Domestic Workers Convention

Women and girls make up the vast majority of domestic workers worldwide, yet often have few or no rights.  Migrant workers are especially likely to be forced to work with no breaks, for little pay, or to even be confined forcibly.   The Philippine Senate ratified the treaty earlier this month, making the Philippines the second country (after Uruguay) to take an important step to guarantee rights to some of its most vulnerable workers.

How can we meet “unmet need”?

International family planning advocates often talk about the “unmet need for family planning.”  The way it’s calculated is complicated (if you’re interested, look here) but essentially it measures the percentage of women who are at risk of pregnancy (in other words, sexually active and not using a contraceptive method) who actually do not want to become pregnant in the next year. This group of women is considered a key population to target for family planning services because most of them probably will be happy to use contraceptives if they are available, affordable, and provided in an environment that offers respectful, high-quality care.  Over 200 million women worldwide are estimated to have an unmet need for contraception, and it will take a lot of work (not to mention money) to reach all of them. Stephen Goldstein at the K4Health blog does the math to show us which commitments would need to be kept in order to get contraceptives to everybody who has this “unmet need.”

I Know Women Who Are Glad That They Had An Abortion

24 Aug

I finished reading this post by Lidia Yuknavitch at Rumpus on “Explicit Violence,”  (trigger warning for sexual assault) and before you click on it, let me just say, yes, I think it is an incredible essay. It is compellingly written and it gets to the core of many of the intersections of violence we experience between poverty and gender and sex and sexual orientation. But it is brutal. It is explicit. And it contains images of rape and violence I am going to try and drink away tonight.

I wanted to tell everyone who felt like they could handle it to read it, but then I got to the end, where the author says:

I carry deep shame in my body for the zygotes. I don’t know a single woman alive who is “happy” to have had an abortion. Or two. Or four. And it’s not just me. Other women. Republicans. Democrats. Unaffiliated women. Atheists. Christians. Muslims. Buddhists. Armies of us walking around carrying our body secrets. Our shame over the zygotes. Or maybe there’s something deeper than shame—maybe there’s a second self I had to kill in order to live. The Lidia who believed she deserved it. Could take it. Should. It was a choice.

This needs to be addressed – again.

I know women who are happy about their abortions. Happy. Glad they had one. Maybe not glad that they had to have one, that they found themselves at those intersections of life and sex and often poverty that lead to abortions, but I know people who had abortions because they were giving birth to long-cherished dreams instead of children, or who would have stayed with a man they shouldn’t have and are now very, very glad they had an abortion instead of making a series of mistakes, one of which might – might not, but might – have been a child brought into a home where it wasn’t wanted with parents who did not want to parent.

I know more than a single woman who is “happy” to have had an abortion. And if you read this blog, you do too.

No single experience is the only experience, and we are all products of our own historical moment. The author is, very explicitly, a product of a great deal of shame and violence and a generation of “safe, legal, and rare,” a communications strategy designed to keep women from making their own healthy reproductive choices through deep-seeded invented patriarchal morals right before our generation where they figured out they could keep us from making our own choices by making our options inaccessible.

Some women mourn either their abortion or the fact that their circumstances meant that they had to have an abortion. Some women do not mourn their abortion or their circumstances. Some women experience deep gratitude for their abortion, and even a gratitude to the child they didn’t have for never being born. And some people who have abortions are not women.

There are strategic narratives deployed over which a multitude of gorgeous, fractured, layered, desperate, joyous and despairing real lived experiences cannot be easily laid. People are still reaching for them, because they are accessible to us; these narratives tell us how to tell our own stories. “When you tell about your abortion, tell them you are so sorry it had to happen.” Yes, if you feel that way, do. Tell me everything. I am listening to you with all of my heart. But don’t make your story everyone’s story. So few of us have a platform from which we can be heard, please be generous and say, “Here is my story, now tell me yours.” Allow us to belong to one another.

Operating under a broken system: on legitimate abortions and forced triage

23 Aug

A post by Steph Herold and Megan Smith.

Coverage of Representative Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments have ignited a media storm. It’s clear that Akin’s remarks are more than just misinformation about reproductive health, and that they could have devastating and divisive policy implications for abortion rights and access. Akin’s comments have also sparked a conversation about abortion exceptions, “legitimate” reasons to have an abortion, or if we should even be talking about those reasons.

What do we know about abortion exceptions? We know that they make it harder for anyone to get an abortion, including each person who falls under exceptions such as rape, incest, or threat to the person’s life. Many of us in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements have written about and fought against the concept of “legitimate” or “acceptable” reasons to have an abortion. Of course we agree that no one should differentiate between an individual’s circumstances surrounding an abortion decision. But that doesn’t mean that we, and by extension, our movement, don’t also play into labelling some abortions as more necessary, important, or worthy of funding than others.

This happens most noticeably at the policy level. We fight for legislation that grants military insurance coverage for abortion in cases of rape instead of fighting for military insurance to cover abortion regardless of if it was an instance of rape or not. When state legislators try to ban later abortions, we trot out stories of people who’ve needed later abortions for fetal anomalies, not those who need later abortions for less sympathetic reasons. And, more recently, the progressive media is aghast that the GOP platform includes an anti-abortion amendment that doesn’t give an exception for rape, when really, shouldn’t we be up in arms that there is an anti-abortion amendment, period?

We see this manifest in a different way in direct service organizations. Our work as abortion fund volunteers is grounded in the belief that each person has a human right to bodily autonomy and to health care access. We trust that a person has the ability to make their own abortion decision, and we do not honor one person’s experience over another. But we also recognize that despite our commitment to providing non-judgmental and compassionate services, we are human–we hold to our own beliefs, or our organization’s beliefs, about who is more deserving of or more in need of our assistance. Even as we are actively trying to shed ourselves of placing more or less value on one person’s experience, we cannot ignore that we have and will continue to make exceptions for those with more difficult circumstances and less access to services.

Abortion funds operate under hostile climates with limited financial resources. That leaves many of us asking difficult questions: who most deserves our limited financial assistance? This is the reality we live in. We know some of us will give more funding to a person who is the survivor of sexual assault instead of someone who is not, or to a  person who is having a later abortion because of a fatal fetal anomaly than someone who is having a later abortion because she took a longer time coming to the decision to have an abortion. Why? Because we don’t have enough money to help every individual, and we want our time and money to go to the people who “really need it”: those who are the most marginalized and therefore have the slimmest chances of accessing services on their own. No matter how much we try to get out of the paradigm that some people deserve our help more than others, the reality is that we have to prioritize, to triage. As a result, whether we like it or not, we are complicit in the exceptionalization of certain abortions.

We live and work in a country where abortion providers and grassroots reproductive justice organizations like abortion funds are becoming more and more scarce. With few funding and staff  to operate, we are forced to limit the populations we serve to those we deem most in need of care. What we need to constantly keep in mind is how we are deciding who is most in need of help, and reevaluating how that fits in with our values. Are we ok with only helping certain kinds of people who need abortions? Can we strategize for a future in which we don’t have to make these tough decisions? How can we get there?

Creating our own exceptions and hierarchy of abortion situations is a necessary evil. It isn’t ideal, and it’s not what we strive for, but it is a reality of a broken system and a reflection of little time, and scarce funding, not to mention a hostile political climate. We did not choose this system, we can’t blame ourselves for operating in a way that allows us to function and sustain ourselves. But we also must ask tough questions about how we, as abortion funders and pro-choice activists, engage in abortion exceptionalism, and keep each other accountable for figuring out answers that reconcile our values with the difficult circumstances in which our organizations operate. We can fight for military insurance to cover abortion as a result of rape as long as we are also fighting to repeal the Hyde amendment. We can provide more funding to a cancer patient who needs an abortion as long as we are also figuring out ways to increase the amount of money we give people who aren’t in dire situations. As much as we critique abortion exceptionalism, we need to examine and acknowledge when we are complicit in it as well.

Around the Net in Abortion Access August 22 Edition

23 Aug

Okay folks, can I just start by saying there’s nothing quite like turning on twitter and reading that yet another WASP (white, anglo-saxon, protestant) male in the United States Congress wants to define what is or is not rape.Trigger, freaking, warning. I’m still fairly shaking with rage. 

The Republicans and conservatives in this country don’t think rape is rape, they don’t think women should be believed when rape is reported, they think some rapes are legitimate, some rapes are forcible, and some rapes are actually a case of morning-after regret. All of that is bullshit.

President Obama said it best: “rape is rape.”

And Representative Todd Akin has done all of us a favor by bringing to light once again exactly how little respect and care for women Republicans and conservatives have. 

Let us not forget, shoot, let us scream from the rooftops and balconies that Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, co-authored HR3, a bill that. among other awful things, attempts to differentiate between rape and “forcible rape.” I’m not trying to be hyperbolic when I say this upcoming Presidential election literally has women’s lives hanging in the balance.  Obama, 2012. Boom.

Amongst many excellent responses to Akin comes a very powerful piece by Eve Ensler:

I am asking you and the GOP to get out of my body, out of my vagina, my womb, to get out of all of our bodies. These are not your decisions to make. These are not your words to define.

Why don’t you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction.

And by the way you’ve just given millions of women a very good reason to make sure you never get elected again, and an insanely good reason to rise.

A young woman in the Dominican Republic, nick-named Esperanza in order to protect her identity, has died of complications from leukemia.  That fact is tragic in and of itself. But get this: since she was found to be nine weeks pregnant early on in the diagnostic process, she was unable to receive treatment for leukemia as said treatment surely would have terminated her pregnancy. Now, she’s dead.

The U.S. Airforce Academy generally admits only the brightest and best students. So that’s why they have a policy for the morning after pill written to women as if they were first graders. Seriously, look at this steaming pile of crap:

Why does the clinic require that we meet with a provider to receive Plan B emergency contraception?

The Cadet Clinic requires women to speak with a health care provider prior to receiving Plan B because we feel it is important that women understand its appropriate use, how it works, and how effective it is. Women have previously requested Plan B inappropriately. For example, a few weeks ago, a woman who was regularly using condoms and hormonal contraception without failure of one of those methods requested Plan B. Use of plan B without a recent contraception failure is unnecessary. It is important for women to understand how their primary and backup contraception works and how Plan B might affect their cycle.

Women should also have the opportunity to discuss moral, religious, and political concerns and controversies surrounding this medication. We would hate to think of a patient taking the medication and later hearing about some of these concerns and potentially regretting their choice. Some providers reserve the right to not prescribe Plan due to personal reasons.

I suppose that excerpt works as exhibit fifty-bilion that infantising women and failing to accept that yes, women do get to have the agency to both have sex and request pregnancy prevention from their provider as their right, is still going strong in this country.

The GOP will be adding an amendment to their official party platform heading into their convention about you guessed it, abortion! It’s called the Fetuses over bitches, all day, every day, CHEAAA! clause. According to the new addition to their GOP family platform (see what I did there) abortion is not tolerated in any instance.  Supporters and media alike are calling it a “tough pro-life stance.” Of course, since women are not people (in their eyes), the lives of women don’t actually count. How’s that for an exception.

I guess some women that oppose abortion are going on a bus tour in Iowa. Or around Des Moines. It’s not entirely clear where the bus tour is heading, but okay, use that free speech!  Somehow, though, the “Women Speak Out: Abortion is Not Health Care” bus tour doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as say, “Nuns on a bus” or “Patients over Politics” bus tours.

A study published Monday reveals women that seek abortion are seven times as likely to have been abused. Even more reason to fight for pro-choice.

How one far-right piece of legislation manages to work its way into law in 20 different states.

We need information about abortion to be safe, legal, and accessible

22 Aug

In the past, anti-choice activists were clear with their message: abortion is murder and must be made illegal, full stop. When this method proved to be a failure, they started coming up with new methods that they are using to ban abortion piece by piece.

One such method is to claim that abortion is dangerous to a woman physically or mentally, and therefore there need to be regulations put on it. These regulations include waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, wider clinic hallways, forcing doctors to have privileges at a nearby hospital (even if they’re completely trained and capable of doing their job without said privileges) and more. Anti-choicers push these regulations forward in the name of women’s health and safety.

But the truth is, these regulations make abortion MORE dangerous. These regulations hurt women because they push women towards do-it-yourself abortions, online pills and over the border pharmacists. A recent New York Times piece stated that women are leaving the United States to buy pills in Mexico that can cause abortions (usually within the first 9 weeks of pregnancy). These pills are sold by unlicensed, untrained pharmacy workers who cannot provide the proper instructions on how to take the pills. As the article says,

“Like many Progreso pharmacy workers, Mr. Acosta does not hold a pharmacy degree or a license but is allowed under Mexican law to dispense Cytotec [a pill that can induce an abortion]. Asked about the proper dosage, he reluctantly suggested that patients take one pill every two hours — 18 tablets in all.

According to the World Health Organization, the recommended dosage of misoprostol, if used alone for an abortion, should be four tablets (800 micrograms) every three hours for a total of three doses, or 12 tablets.”

This lack of information about how to use the pills can lead to dangerous situations (indeed, ANY drug taken in a way that isn’t recommended can lead to adverse effects, not just abortion-related drugs). Some women take too few, and fail to abort the pregnancy. Some women take too many pills, which leads to excessive bleeding and trips to the emergency room. Either way, it’s not a good situation for the women involved. But they choose it. Why? One woman in the article stated she chose to self-administer the pills because she was trying to avoid the invasive and expensive regulations anti-choicers put on to abortion in the USA.

Now, we must clarify one thing. It is not the abortion pill that is dangerous; the pill, if used correctly, is completely safe. The danger and risk is associated with having a pharmacist unable to instruct women in how to take these pills properly. Anti-choicers hope that if no one knows how to perform an abortion, or how many pills to take, women will stop aborting. But this is not true–women continue to obtain abortions even in countries where it is illegal or access is restricted.

There are some pro-choice organizations that are out there working to combat the lack of information on the abortion pill. One such group is Women on Waves, which travels to countries where abortion is illegal and provides information and access to safe abortion methods. Women on Waves believes that women are capable of self-administering their own abortion using misoprostal and mifepristone, when they are educated in the proper usage. Any woman with internet access can actually go to the Women on Waves website and learn the proper method to take the pills.

When faced with the idea that women will seek “back-alley” or “DIY” abortions when legal abortion is too difficult to access, anti-choicers have two common responses: they either refuse to believe this will happen, or they believe it and do not care. While I have little hope for militant antis who blame women for injuries related to self-induced abortions, I am hopeful that hearing that women resort to DIY abortions might change the views of the antis who refused to believe this would happen. Perhaps when faced with this reality, they will see that women need abortion, and information about abortion, to be legal, safe, and accessible.