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Why I Still Need Feminism

25 Jul

Over the last few weeks, the internet has been buzzing about anti-feminism. There’s a tumblr, a hashtag and all sorts of proclamations by women about why they don’t need feminism.  And predictably there’s been a massive response from the satirical to the serious, about why in fact we do still need feminism.

When I first read Women Against Feminism, I was so angry I wanted to throw my computer at the wall. When the anger subsided, I just felt sad. I am so proud to be a feminist, and it baffles me that there continues to be so much confusion about what feminism is and why it is important. I’ll be the first to admit that the feminist movement is not without its issues, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done within the movement to address this.  But it is still a vital and integral concept that is so pivotal to my life. So in an attempt to reflect and remember why I stand behind this movement, I decided to simplify things, look around and ask why I still needed feminism.

My favorite definition of feminism is by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie:

“Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” 

Now, for those that know me, you might think that the only reason why I love this definition is because it’s in a Beyoncé song. While that may be why it came into my life, it nonetheless is a straightforward and important definition of feminism. While in some ways it feels counterintuitive to simplify a concept that is undeniably and necessarily complex, what I love about this definition is that it breaks down feminism into concepts I see on a daily basis.

So why do I still need feminism? I still need feminism because social inequality between the sexes still exists.  Sure, it’s better in a lot of ways, but better is not equal. I need feminism until women don’t have to confront or document their catcallers for invading their personal space. Or that a Daily Show segment on sexual harassment describing how to navigate getting home safely from a party, or walking down the street, doesn’t resonate with all of my friends.

I still need feminism because economic equality is a myth. Yes, there’s the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but economic equality goes beyond the pay gap between men and women.  As Justice Sandra Day O’Conner wisely said, “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” With this in mind, the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court is a reminder of how far away we are from economic equality. Until women have the same rights as corporations, I still need feminism. This ruling takes away economic freedom from women because now the ability to control one’s fertility and the opportunity to have a paycheck may be mutually exclusive.

I still need feminism because political equality is not yet a reality. Politically the needs of women are being blatantly ignored as access to abortion is being chipped away. At the state level, the number of TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws have doubled since  2000, and states around the country continue to prevent abortion being covered by health insurance. And even when positive legislation like the “Not My Boss’s Business Act,” is introduced, an overwhelming 43 senators vote against protecting women’s health care.  

The way I see it, I need feminism more than ever. Because feminism isn’t about dictating what a woman or a man should or should not do. It’s about working to ensure that all individuals have the same social, economic and political opportunities to make the best choices for their lives.

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Feeling Comfortable In The Grey

7 May

We live in a world that likes things to be black or white. You’re either for something or against something. Conservative or Liberal. Pro-Choice or Anti-Choice. No matter the issue, conflicting ideas are reduced to defined opposing views, with a clear line that marks the boundary to the other side. This construction is mirrored in our politics and in the media, resulting in structured talking points and campaigns that tell a single story and fit one narrative. The problem is that this representation isn’t accurate. No matter the issue, there is a spectrum of opinions that expand beyond the clearly defined boxes of “for” and “against,” and this is especially true when it comes to choice.

 

Now, I think and know that many in the pro-choice community would agree that choice shouldn’t be presented in this black and white dichotomy. Instead we need to focus on the grey and better represent the nuance and complexity within reproductive choices to honor that everyone’s narrative is different. The problem though is figuring out how to hold onto the greyness, while working in a system that operates in the black and white.

 

I really began thinking about this tension when I was at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference at Hampshire College. CLPP is a conference I’ve wanted to go for years, and I was lucky enough to get to spend that weekend in April thinking deeply and critically about the issues I care about most, while being surrounded by inspiring reproductive justice activists. The last session I went to was called What If We Let Roe Go?, which was facilitated by Aimée Thorne-Thomsen with the panelists Angela Ferrell-Zabala and Julia Reticker-Flynn. The presenters brought up that while Roe is fundamentally important, since it only addresses the legal right to choose, it misses the myriad of other interrelated and contextual factors that intersect and impact one’s ability to have a choice in the first place. The panelists urged us to think about who we leave behind by only focusing on Roe, and how doing this affects the movement. Together, the panelists and audience began a dialogue about how choice is complex, and how by just focusing on Roe we may be limiting our scope. This narrow messaging may fit within the political realm and the need for talking points, but it fails to address the nuances in our experiences.

 

For me, what this session brought up was how limited our approaches can be and made be question whether laws and regulations are the best way to move forward.  This was reinforced last week after reading Jessica Valenti’s thoughtful and powerful article in the Guardian. Sharing her story of the birth of her daughter at 28 weeks, Valenti shows us once again, that this is complicated, and that “choices are far too nuanced and personal for us to ever believe we could create a policy around them.” She reminds us that issues around pregnancy and choice aren’t consistent or clear cut, and more importantly they don’t have to be. Our pro-choice beliefs and reproductive decisions are never in conflict with one another, but result in varied narratives and experiences.

 

Now, I’m not sure what the best answer is or how exactly to move forward. Do we have to operate within the structures that exist in order to affect the change we want to see? Or do we change our tactics? No matter what the best path is, it’s a conversation that needs to keep happening and it has been great to hear thoughts and perspectives from others on what to do. But most importantly, what I appreciated was the reminder that we should dream bigger. It’s time to be bolder and think beyond the limitations in the system. As we go forward let’s find ways to feel comfortable in the grey, embrace our different pro-choice narratives, and support initiatives that focus more broadly on the intersections of experiences that influence choice. It’s a messy world out there, but that’s what makes it interesting.

 

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.

New Year, New Legislation Supporting Abortion Rights

17 Jan

It’s easy to feel disheartened by the number of anti-choice laws, ballot initiatives, and court cases sweeping the country.  In 2013, 22 states enacted 70 abortion restrictions and everyday it feels like there is another major news story on how our reproductive rights are being restricted. With the start of a new year, there have been a flurry of articles arguing that 2014 could be a make or break it year for reproductive rights. In a lot of ways, 2014 already feels reminiscent to the restrictions we saw in 2013. This week the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives passed HR 7,  to prohibit taxpayer funded abortions, and the Supreme Court is hearing cases on the contraception mandate and the buffer zone surrounding abortion clinics. But in exciting news, we are also seeing new state legislation that would actually protect abortion rights! Here are some important bills for you to keep an eye on:

Washington’s Reproductive Parity Act

Currently abortion coverage varies greatly by insurance carriers and by state, and since the ACA requires that no federal funds can be used to cover abortion services, coverage is even harder to come by in the health exchanges. In a direct response to this ACA requirement, the Washington state legislature introduced a bill that would require all insurance policies that cover maternity care to also cover abortion services. This bill would not only increase access to covered abortion services but also make sure that abortion coverage would not be affected even by the ACA abortion provisions.

New York’s Women’s Equality Act

This 10 point plan was first introduced last year but failed to pass during the legislative session. Governor Cuomo recently re-announced his support for The Women’s Equality Act which addresses a number of important equality issues including equal pay, sexual harassment, and trafficking. In terms of abortion policy, this bill would codify Roe v. Wade into state law and ensure abortion access up to 24 weeks or when necessary to protect the life or health of a pregnant person (currently it only includes exceptions when a pregnant persons’ life is in danger).

New Hampshire’s Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Bill

Similar to the Massachusetts’s law currently being debated in the Supreme Court, SB319 would establish a buffer zone around abortion clinics. By establishing a 25 foot buffer zone, this bill hopes to help protect patients from harassment and intimidation from protestors.

Vermont’s Bill to Decriminalize Abortion

Bill S315 was introduced last week to decriminalize abortion in the state. While abortion is legal in Vermont, there are old laws that criminalize performing and advertising abortion services. As a result, this would law would officially recognize a persons’ right to have an abortion in the state of Vermont.

The Women’s Health Protection Act 

While this isn’t an example of state legislation, it is an exciting development in Congress. In 2013, the Senate introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act that would prohibit states from passing TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws. This law would make it illegal for states to pass laws impeding access to abortion services including building standards for abortion clinics, and mandatory ultrasound laws.

All of this legislation is still in the beginning of stages, but it is nonetheless an exciting step in the right direction. But why does this matter when Vermont, New Hampshire, Washington and New York already protect a person’s right to choose and there are so many other states that are restricting abortion services? Because it’s about the message it’s sending. Of course, ideally we want to be seeing this type of legislation introduced in states where people face significant barriers to accessing abortion services. But seeing efforts to protect abortion access is a huge deal and what I believe is an important part of changing the conversation about abortion policy. Since 2010, we have been bombarded with abortion restrictions and examples of our reproductive rights being threatened. While there have been victories in defeating ballot initiatives and court cases, and important community organizing and activism, at the legislative level we have mostly been on the defensive. It’s shocking to think that the last time Congress passed proactive abortion legislation was in 1994 with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act! Seeing legislation introduced that protects the right to choose allows us to be on the offensive, gives us time to talk about why these issues matter and engage with communities and lawmakers. But most importantly, this type of legislation shows that no matter the number of anti-choice laws introduced, we are not done fighting.

So thank you Vermont, Washington, New Hampshire, New York and to all those supporting the Women’s Health Protection Act for bringing us some much needed positive news. Here’s to hoping 2014 is a year filled with a lot more of it.

Abortion and the ACA: What You Need To Know

11 Dec

I believe that health care is a human right, which is why I have been a long time supporter of health care reform. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed, while I realized it wasn’t going to be the answer to all of our healthcare problems, I also knew that it was a step in the right direction.  And now it’s game time! The roll out of the ACA has started and I feel very strongly about being an out and proud fan of the ACA and doing everything I can to help it be as successful as possible. But the problem is, the ACA actually really sucks when it comes to abortion coverage and it’s been making me think, as an abortion supporter, how do I negotiate fully supporting a law that may actually make access to abortion harder?

Before we dive into that, let’s take a look at abortion coverage in the ACA.

1) Abortion cannot be listed as an essential health benefit. The ACA outlines 10 essential benefit categories that must be covered in health insurance plans, and the specific requirements are determined by each state. The ACA prohibits states from including abortion as an essential health benefit.

2) The Hyde Amendment is still in place. The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funding to cover abortions except in the case of rape, incest or endangerment of the life of the pregnant person, still applies. A big part of the ACA is the optional state expansion of Medicaid to persons up to 133% of the federal poverty guideline. While the Medicaid expansion is great for increasing coverage to low income people, with the Hyde Amendment in place Medicaid will continue not to  cover elective abortions unless someone lives in one of the 17 states that only uses state money to pay for abortions.

3) No federal funds, including federal subsidies used to buy health insurance, can be used to pay for elective abortions. If a health insurance plan in the healthcare exchanges offers abortion services for cases other than incest, rape or endangerment of the pregnant person, plans have to follow segregation requirements to make sure that no federal money is used to pay for abortion services. This means that individuals have to make two separate premium payments: one for the payment of abortion coverage which they have to use their own money for, and another payment for the remainder of the coverage which can use federal subsidies.

4) All state health insurance exchanges must offer one plan that does not cover abortion. But there is nothing that requires that there is at least one plan that DOES cover abortion.

Put all together, we end up with a system that fails to recognize abortion as an essential health right, expands the Hyde Amendment restrictions to more people, and creates a really complicated system for abortion coverage. Now it’s important to remember that the rules regarding the separate premium payments only applies to insurance bought in the state healthcare exchanges. So for people with private employer based insurance that covers abortion these rules won’t affect them. But considering that the health care exchanges are set up for people who should benefit from federal subsidies and don’t have any other access to health insurance, it continues to make access to abortion harder for people who may need it most. Also, the separate health insurance premium for abortion coverage, could act like an abortion rider that people can choose to purchase. So instead of someone just buying one insurance policy to cover everything, they’d have to choose to buy a separate policy for abortion coverage, and make two separate payments. But that takes away the whole point of having insurance because it’s supposed to protect us from the unexpected and as we all know, no one plans to have an abortion. What’s even worse is that insurance companies may become less willing to provide abortion coverage because of the hassle and red tape they have to go through to collect separate payments. And on top of that, there is also a lot of state variation. Already, 18 states have prohibited abortion coverage in any plans in the state exchanges and nine states have prohibited abortion coverage in the entire private health insurance market.

Basically that’s a lot of bad news. Sure, it’s great that the ACA will cover preventative services and now we can access birth control with no copay, but the problem is that people need access to the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health care. People will always need abortions and we have a fundamental right to access them just like any other healthcare service. If the purpose of the ACA is to increase access to health insurance and consequently access to healthcare, it feels disingenuous to be perpetuating a system where not all healthcare services are treated equally. Not only does it affect access, but it continues the stigma and shame surrounding abortion.

So where do we go from here? The most important thing is to keep working hard to increase abortion access to those who need it. The ACA will make abortion funds, and sexual and reproductive health clinics as important as ever and they need our support and commitment. On top of that, we need advocates on the ground to help people navigate an ever changing system, and understand what their options are for abortion coverage. It won’t be easy, and at times it will feel really frustrating, which is why we also have to remember to put the situation in perspective. We have a broken health care system that needs to be fixed and the ACA finally offers an opportunity to start fixing the system slowly but surely. Obviously this doesn’t mean that the way the ACA treats abortion is justified, but it’s important to remember that this is just the first step in a long process. I am cautiously optimistic that the goal of the ACA to improve access to insurance and healthcare, will lead to deeper conversations and ideas about what that means and looks like on the ground. That’s why we have to remember that this fight is far from over. We have to keep talking about why abortion is an essential part of healthcare, so that we can grab any opportunity there is in the future to improve access and coverage of abortion services.