Archive by Author

Positives in miscarriage, abortion, and the continuity of reproductive experiences

27 May

[Trigger warning for abuse/abusive relationships and miscarriage experiences.]

I got out of an abusive relationship just in time to realize I was pregnant. Like over a month pregnant, with a fetus of a man who had slammed me against walls, told me I wouldn’t achieve my dreams, and belittled me until I was a shadow of who I’d been when I moved in with him.

I hated him for so many reasons, but the pregnancy was number 1. We slept together after I moved out; he finished and drove me to the airport. I cried the entire cross country plane ride.

I found out I was pregnant about five weeks later when I returned to our shared city. From the moment the Doctor told me I couldn’t stop throwing up–not from morning sickness, but from hate. I could not believe he would be my first pregnancy after he’d already taken so many firsts from me. I rocked myself in my apartment. I didn’t sleep until I was so exhausted from crying that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. The world made no sense.

And then, a little more than two weeks later, I miscarried. I miscarried alone, laying on the stupid floor of my stupid studio.

I drank too much that summer to forget the images of my empty uterus, and the ultrasound tech saying my body had done a “very good job” expelling the fetus. I took pills to black out my impregnator’s face. I numbed myself with anything I could find in order to ignore what I knew he would have said if I told him: You are not even good enough to carry a baby.

The abusive relationship and miscarriage ruined me. I spent time with people who actively did not like me. I dropped out of school. I lost 30 pounds. I moved home. Looking in the mirror was impossible. I couldn’t stand myself; I believed so deeply in his degraded image of me.

Fast forward through rehab and therapy, and I was unintentionally pregnant again. I scheduled my abortion the day after I peed on a stick. I did not doubt myself or even think twice. My second pregnancy did not ruin me, but instead was a stark reminder of how far I’d come in loving myself. Choosing abortion meant I believed in my future as a Doctor. Choosing abortion meant I’d uninvested in my abuser’s degraded image of myself, which placed my highest achievements at being a wife and mother.

I do not for one minute “like” that either of the fetuses came into my life, but I am thankful for both the pregnancy experiences none the less. I am thankful for the miscarriage because I believe that out of a place of self hate, I would have chosen to keep the fetus. And I believe being a single mother of an abuser’s child would not have been conducive to my personal or professional success. I am also thankful for the miscarriage–in which I had no choice–because it was in part what allowed me to feel empowered by the ability to choose my abortion.

My experiences illustrates the perils of abusive relationships on reproductive health, and the heart break of a miscarriage. But they also illuminate the positives sometimes found in miscarriages, and the can-be positive impact of the continuity of reproductive events. I am stronger on the other end of these experiences, and though I would not wish abuse, miscarriage, or unwanted pregnancy on any one, I am so proud to be the person I am today, in part, because of them.

I think we sometime separate reproductive experiences into bad or good. But these experiences, for me, were a healthy mix of both. In accepting that reality, I am better able to accept myself, and the extreme complexity of reproductive health.

Advertisements

An Open Letter of NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice MD: Do Better

20 May

Our movement is small. You can count USA’s national organizations whose mission is to advance reproductive rights and access on one hand. NARAL is among them; NARAL is a leader in our movement.

As a leader in our movement, I am disappointed that you’ve turned your back on one of our own in the fight for access to abortion in the US.

I am referring to the news that NARAL MD has decided to endorse County Council President Craig Rice over his opponent, the fierce, well known, and unabashedly pro-choice activist, Neda Bolourian.

Neda is a vocal feminist and abortion advocate. She is a clinic defender, a natural leader, and a passionate activist and fundraiser for keeping, protecting, and expanding the full range of reproductive health options. She co-organized the grassroots movement Summer of Trust, welcoming Dr. Carhart into Montgomery County in 2011, and has not for one moment shied away from her strong belief in access to legal, safe abortion whilst on the campaign trail.

Candidates like Neda Bolourian are the future of our movement. We need actively prochoice politicians to move our movement forward so we can stop playing defense.

If NARAL MD researched the candidates for Montgomery County Council, there would be no ignoring Neda’s commitment to vocal pro-choice activism, which is clearly identifiable hereherehere, and here (to site a few of many exhibitions). Especially disturbing is that NARAL MD has a facebook album of a weeklong pro-choice Summer of Trust event Neda co-organized in Montgomery County in 2011. The album has pictures of Neda’s sisters including Lily Bolourian, her campaign manager.

NARAL MD needs to do better. NARAL MD needs to do better, more diligent research before endorsing candidates, and/or needs to do better at actively supporting upcoming pro-choice politicians. When NARAL, a pro-choice movement leader, supports the established order over a pro-choice activist, they join the patriarchal forces of oppressing feminist, pro-choice voices, rather than fight them. Furthermore, NARAL’s endorsement of Neda’s opponent sends a deeply troubling message to future pro-choice women candidates: That pro-choice leaders are more willing to support the establishment than feminist activist.

As someone who cares deeply about the future of our movement, I request that NARAL MD switch their endorsement to support Neda Bolourian and reflect core values of NARAL, and the pro-choice movement. Please join me in asking NARAL to do the same here at change.orgNARAL MD, Endorse Neda Bolourian.

Supporting abortion as birth control

29 Mar

Last week, I got into a conversation (as I often do) on access to abortion. The exchange was pleasant and informative, but in the course of the conversation the other party expressed she did not support free choice if  “someone is using abortion as birth control.” In my experience (and other abortion ganger’s experiences as well), conversations about abortion often come to this same limit, or some version of ‘abortion is not an acceptable if’ statement.

And when the ‘if statements’ start flying I wonder: Why are we so afraid of liberating the use of abortion for whatever means an individual may choose? Why is it that when abortion comes up, some “moral limit” (within the legal limit) must be placed on the procedure? When society is not being harmed, these arguments against abortion as birth control become moral high-ground arguments that hurt the prochoice movement.

Of the approximate 6.7 million pregnancies a year in the US,  about half or 3.2 million are unintended pregnancies (Guttmacher, 2012). Once an unintended pregnancy occurs, even if a person chooses not to use birth control daily/during sex and becomes pregnant, isn’t abortion is the only form of birth control that can be used to control birth? Literally?

Honestly: If we consider that approximately 11% of all unintended pregnancy are a result of sex without contraception (Guttmacher, 2007).  The real concern is the US women/couples who are underserved or disserved by the contraceptives and/or reproductive health system available in the US. As KushielsMoon clearly explains here, contraceptives are scientifically different from birth control. Abortion, biologically is birth control, in every case, regardless of if contraception was used during sex or not.

Furthermore, safe, legal abortion is one of the most effective forms of birth control; in the US, abortion procedures only “fail” or need to be re-administered less than .5% of the time (NAF source).  Abortion is a safe reproductive experience, and repeating the procedure multiple times has not shown to have negative impacts on future reproductive abilities (See Ms. myth buster article & abortion support blog). However, advocating that using abortion for birth control is totally 100% OK/kosher/great/moral usually terrifies people.

Why? When we think about the burden an individual’s choice places on a society we usually think in terms of financial implications, public health burdens, and how the individual’s choice interacts with social morality.

Depending on how often it is needed, abortion is a relatively expensive form of birth control, but US Governments (unfortunately) are, in most cases, not paying for the procedure. The financial burden of an abortion falls more on the individual, and therefore is unlikely to negatively affect the financial solvency of the state or society. We need to respect the individual’s right to choose to spend their money on whichever birth control they may choose.

In terms of public health concerns, in the US, abortion is a safe and legal procedure. Sure, using condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs would be a better public health approach, but using abortion as birth control is no less acceptable than the IUD or the patch when it comes to concern for STD transmission. The only argument that remains for saying abortion control shouldn’t be birth control is a moral judgment that relying on abortion as birth control is unacceptable.

If someone wants to use abortion as birth control, let him or her do so. Let them because it is immoral to judge and shame a free choice behavior that is non-society-harming. Do it because you radically believe that abortion is moral every time it is done safely and legally. Abortion is birth control. Any time a person draws a moral line about abortion’s acceptability as a reproductive health decision they stunt our movement against stigma and toward free, safe choice.

Activism and depression

24 Oct

I describe myself as an activist. I am now admitting to myself, that for the last year, I would also describe myself as majorly depressed. I am trying to understand if, and how, those two descriptors can fit together.

Being involved in reproductive health and justice means that you are faced with intensely personal and sometimes difficult realities; you see the failures of our social systems, you see the pain, up close, that reproduction and sexuality can puts us through. Being an activist in our community requires you interface with and think about inequality, misogyny, and racism. And if you think about it all too much, sometimes, it’s depressing. But the difference between depressing and depressed is huge. I use to find that working against the ugliness, and making improvements actionable would make me feel usefull, even joyous. But those feelings have been replaced with overwhelming feelings of guilt and regret about not doing or being able to do or say enough, with not knowing what is right. My depression has displaced my activism.

I want my activism back so badly, but it’s hard to know what to do. Because while staying away, not being involved in a community you love and care about hurts, engaging in it hurts too. I miss the passion and comradery I felt when I worked on a petition, or a blog, or for an organization that I knew would bring light to someone’s life. But at the same time, every time I sit to write or engage in some act of work or activism (even as small as responding to an email), I question my words, my validity, my worth. I have a miniature existential crisis that nothing we do matters, that our efforts are all a waste.

I know now that the existential feelings and the lack of worth are the depression, not the reality about activism, or about me. I know that the activism, research, and practitioners that I use to believe brought so much goodness to the world are still brining that goodness–it’s just that my mind’s eye is so out of focus that I can’t see it right now.

So, I am working on getting back in focus, and then I will try and re-find my place in reproductive health and justice work. My conclusion of my struggle with depression so far is that activism and untreated depression are incongruent. I don’t believe you can work on making the world a better place unless you believe in your (and others’) capacity to do so. But when I look around, I realize I am not alone, and that gives me hope for reengagement. I am beginning to see the positive, like my new belief that experiencing depression will ultimately make better advocate, activist, and one day, hopefully, a better abortion provider. Recognizing that committed activists, who seem eternally optimistic and happy, also struggle with depression is part of understanding the world of activism. I am learning and growing from depression, and in addressing my depression I am practicing qualities fundamental to activism: love, kindness and hope.

New Abortion Provider Reporting Statutes in Texas

6 Apr

Yesterday the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) of Texas held a stakeholders meeting for abortion providers in Texas to discuss new reporting requirements being issued this year. I attended the meeting and not too shockingly, DHHS had disappointing news to share.  At the beginning of the meeting there was general confusion over why a meeting was being held since, to the knowledge of the providers in the room, reporting requirements were not being updated as part of the new legislation. However, the handout given at the door, listed eight new reporting requirements that all abortion providers (clinics, private physicians, and hospital providers) will have to follow once passed.

The new requirements are additions to “Statute 139.4 Annual Reporting Requirements for All Abortions Performed,” which outlines all the specialized reporting requirements for abortion providers. The following seven provisions will be required to be on all abortion patients’ charts and reported to DHHS for each patient:

“(10) the patient’s highest level of education;

(11) whether the patient viewed the printed material provided under Health and Safetly Code Chapter 171;

(12) whether the sonogram image, verbal explanation of the image, and the audio of the heat sounds were made available to the patient;

(13)  whether the patient completed the abortion sonogram election form;

(14) method used to dispose of fetal tissue and remains

(15) if patient is younger than 18, was consent obtained; and

(16) method of pregnancy verification.”

Stakeholders commented that these requirements were redundant—if a sonogram is performed (as required in item 12), why would you need to confirm the method of pregnancy verification (as required in item 16). Concerns about why this information must be on the chart of the patient were also raised, specifically in regards to the form of disposal of the fetal remains. Another provider’s concern was that the language in 11 puts too much responsibility on the provider to confirm the patient has read all of the materials, something which they can not necessarily know enough to sign off on.

The above requirements are joined by an addition to a sub-statute of Statute 139.4 (above), “Statute 139.5 Additional Reporting Requirements for Physicians.” The addition in this portion of the statutes calls for additional reporting on the abortion complications (in addition to the reports the clinics must already file for abortion complications); the language of this requirement reads as follows:

“Reporting requirements for abortion complications: (A) Within 20 calander days after the date the complication is discovered, a physician shall submit an abortion complications report on a form provided by the department; and via certified mail marked as confidential to the Department of State Health Services; vital statistics…”

The language then expands on what must be included in the report specifically. Providers questioned what constituted a complication, what they would be accountable for in terms of reporting complications, and what this information would be used for in addition to the reports they already sent to the Medical Boards on complications. The DHHS personnel responded that the requirements would be an extra check on foul play by providers, and admitted they know it is an extra check on providers that would not be welcomed.

So, what does this mean for providers? Simply put the restrictions mean increased time and monetary investment in reporting on their patients and practice, and bigger picture, it intimidates small and midlevel clinics and hospitals from providing abortion care. This also enables the state to punish abortion providers.  A provider from a hospital commented, “I am concerned by these statutes because all they seem to be doing is diverting resources I could spend on patient care to reporting.” Another provider commented that the state is setting up more hoops to jump through and more opportunities for providers to be breaking the law, which would lead to more fines, investigations, and financial drains on providers. These reporting requirements are physician-specific, not clinic=specific, meaning that these hoops serve to intimidate doctors and facilities from providing abortion care; the more burdensome it is to become a provider and the more risk involved in providing care from a legal perspective, the less likely doctors and facilities (who may not be designated abortion clinics) will be to provide abortions.

The main question at the meeting was why are these requirements being handed down at this time? A question that the DHHS staff hosting the meeting could not answer in satisfactory terms: the legislator asked them to review the reporting requirements for abortion providers, and although they are not required by any statute to address legislative requests, DHHS decided to address this appeal and instituted new requirements. As one DHHS staff member said, “[The requirements] did not come down statutorily, but [the DHHS] has the statutory authority to do so [pass regulations]”

Basically, this is not part of any statute passed down, but is being pursued because the DHHS can, and the legislator said “please.” My biased translation: TEXAS LEGISLATORS OPPOSE ABORTION AND WANT TO INTIMIDATE AND PUNISH ABORTION PROVIDERS AND DHHS IS PLAYING ALONG TO APPEASE THOSE IN CHARGE. Comments flew about how this was undue and unfairly targeted punishment for abortion providers; DHHS personal’s response there was that all groups feel like they are targeted, abortion care providers are not special in that regard. The DHHS staff also commented that these were the first round of requirements, so hold on to the edges of your seats, pro-choice Texans, we’re in for a statute-full ride.

The statutes are still in the draft stage, which means all providers and stakeholders can propose revisions. From my understanding from the meeting and the DHHS website, the drafted provisions should be up soon, and they are open to comments until June 12, the day before a committee hearing on whether or not to pass the requirements. I did not fully understand where to send suggestions, but Amy S. Harper, Regulatory Licensing Unit Manager, Division of Regulatory Services, gave her contact information out at the meeting: amy.harper@dhs.state.tx.us or 512-834-6730.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to all the providers, their administration and managers in Texas as they implement some version of these new reporting laws this summer. Abortion providers deserve our support and thanks for expanding reproductive freedom and justice. What they don’t deserve: state-mandated punishment.

How to Win at Activism in Texas

27 Mar

I live in the great state of Texas, and it’s completely separate capitol, Austin.  As Kaitlyn highlighted last week, state wars on reproductive rights are raging. Texas, unfortunately, is far from a peace zone. A week ago, Texas’s political war against contraception and abortion access became violent. The firebombing of Texas Senator Wendy Davis’s office, an outspoken advocate for Planned Parenthood, evokes the unmistakable fear of targeted attacks on abortion providers. The firebombing should not to be taken lightly or taken out of context. Make no mistake, this is part of a large-scale “pro-life” tactic to scare supporters from providing and advocating for contraceptive and abortion care.

If you read the tweets from some of the most outspoken advocates in Texas, you could feel the impact the “pro-life” violence has—@meadowgirl on Tuesday: “@scATX i just can’t with all of this stuff. it SCARES me. like, can i be out as pro-choice and stuff & not end up DEAD or on FIRE?”  The pro-choice community is too familiar with the terror the prolife violence inflicts, we feel it all the time, and acutely when we remember the murders of Dr. Tiller, Dr. Gunn, Dr. Britton, Dr. Slepian, and all clinic staff who face daily harassment and intimidation from anti-abortion protesters.

The intention of anti-choice violence is to create a culture of fear and to pressure the pro-choice community into backing down. But in the face of mounting abortion restrictions, TRAP laws, and violence against supporters of reproductive health, we can not afford to lose any more ground. The firebomb attack on Senator Davis’s office comes after a persistent, long-standing war on reproductive rights in Texas, which, sadly, went largely unchallenged  in traditional media, social media, or grassroots resistance until recently. Over the past three weeks, pro-choice rallies, Planned Parenthood events, and media coverage of the Texas’ reproductive rights crisis have soared. And while the current grassroots reaction feels a little too new for comfort, we must take this momentum and run. The pro-choice, pro-uteri, pro-freedom movement in Texas is just starting, and it needs to get more connected, more organized and louder.

We are just now, in 2012, seeing a grassroots response to the multiple violations on reproductive rights in Texas, which went full throttle in mid-2011. The grassroots response here has taken the form of Seeing Red rallies, which are well attended and inspiring, but feel uncomfortably new. I believe that in order to evoke change, we must stand up for change, as strong collectives of individuals; I see that collective in Texas building, but it’s still loose and weak. I am not implying that the lack of activism or rallies in any way caused the violent attack on a pro-choice community member; the attacks are never our fault. I also understand that pro-choice Texans are at a serious disadvantage with the ignorance and misogyny of our leaders, the lack of traditional media coverage of our state, and the general political climate here. But I am certain that Texas and Texans can do great things, and if a cohesive, connected army were ready to go before the forced ultrasound legislation bill left the capitol, I am certain we could have accomplished more.

It’s never too late to take hold of a conversation you want to influence. So, if you’re in Texas, or any state battling for reproductive freedom with a need for a cohesive movement, I ask that everyone make an effort to connect with each other, and work together to change the terms and outcomes of activism. We need to build state-centric networks that will be prepared instead of reactive; we need to build a listservs of likeminded individuals that are willing to work a bit to get adequate attention on the issues in our states; we need to expand from our reliance on Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and others to lead events and connect with individuals. We need to know each other by name at rallies, and know who are our allies and resources are within our State’s community. This is just the beginning of a long battle, and if we are not prepared as a connected, unified front, we will lose.

Being Prochoice on Instagram

20 Feb

I am obsessed with Instagram. If you aren’t obsessed yet, all you need to know is it’s an iPhone exclusive social networking application used to post and share filtered pictures. The application is a democracy; users can elect pictures to the popular page, and comment freely on public profile’s photos whether or not you are “following” each other.  Like on twitter, you follow/are followed by friends and influencers, and posts can be captioned with hashtags.  Being obsessed with both Instagram and abortion rights activism; I searched the photos for #abortion and #prochoice #prolife images.

#Abortion brought back 555 photos, and Instagram brought up 21 related hashes, only one of which (#abortionrights) was prochoice in nature. The other 20 related hashes were labels such as: #abortionismurder, #abortionholocaust, #abortioniswrong, #abortionisterrible, #abortioniskillingachild. I began looking at the 555 photos that were tagged under #abortion vainly hoping the photos would be a mix bag of positive and negative messages.  But no, the majority of the photos displayed under #abortion are gory fetus porn, pictures of messages such as “abortion is murder”, “reblog if you are against abortion” and “NOT YOUR CHOICE” above a drawing of a fully developed fetus in the mother’s stomach. The rest of the anti-choice tags, #abortionismurder etc., were all photos of the regular ol’ anti-choice hate.  There are 681 photos #prolife compared to 169 tagged #prochoice. The #prolife tagged photos were mostly the same content as the other antiabortion hashes, except the #prolife photos showed more babies and children, supposedly representing the anti-aborion cause. The #prochoice photos are much more diverse, creative and uplifting, than the repetitive #prolife photos (surprise!), but disproportionate representation is frustrating.

I would have left my search unsurprised at that point, but I became infuriated by what I saw next:  In the 21 related hashes to #abortion was #abortiondoctor—it contains one photo.  A user posted a picture of a metal statue of a boy holding flowers, commented “#creepymailbox at the home of an #abortiondoctor.” A commenter asks, “Why are you at the abortion doctor” and the user replies, “it’s on my UPS route.”

Beyond labeling this provider as “creepy” for no reason, the user is, perhaps ignorantly, supporting stalking culture and threatening the safety of the supposed abortion provider.  What if someone who knows this user were anti-choice, and interested in exposing the location of the provider’s house? Given the information provided, it wouldn’t be that hard to locate the provider’s home.

The relative “outspokenness” of the prolife movement on Instagram (169 #prochoice photos vs. 681 #prolife photos) and the hate speak and even (sadly) the threatening of provider’s safety is par for the antiabortion “activism” course.  However, the regularity of hate-behavior towards abortion rights does not make it more acceptable. So, here’s a few things I thought Instagramers can do to counter antiabortion “speak” on Instagram:

1.     Post prochoice pictures under the hashtag #abortion and #prochoice on Instagarm. I posted a photo from an abortion doula meeting I hosted last month, and a picture of my prochoice flare-adorned Christmas tree in December.

2.     If you’re on Instagram, make and effort to bring new hashes. I could see #ihadanabortion or #provoice tags coming onto Instagram, with positive messages and images.

3.     Comment on people’s photos that you find hateful like you would respond to misguided comments on Twitter or Facebook. You can do so with relative anonymity on Instagram, and starting a conversation is better than being complacent.