Tag Archives: birth

Reclaiming a Crisis: Backline is Working to Open the First All Options Pregnancy Center

20 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

If you dare utter the initials CPC in a room full of pro-choicers in a positive light, you better be prepared for some backlash. Talking about crisis pregnancy centers as a positive institution among reproductive justice, reproductive rights, and reproductive health advocates elicits a room full of negative reactions.

CPCs manipulate women at a vulnerable time in their lives.

CPCs don’t educate people about all their options.

CPCs hurt women.

So imagine my surprise when I was talking to Parker Dockray, Executive Director of Backline, about how she wants to emulate the crisis pregnancy center model.

“The model that CPCs have developed is valuable,” said Dockray, “but pregnancy  centers should not be deceptive.”

Dockray and the board and staff at Backline have decided to embark on an unparalleled mission, to create the first all options crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers are some of the most available institutions out there for women who are unsure about their pregnancy. Indiana has over 80, and they are one of 34 states that funnel money directly to crisis pregnancy centers. But they are full of misinformation and missing information.

However, as Dockray told me, CPCs often appear to meet the needs of women, even when they clearly don’t. Backline wants to reclaim the CPC model and create a brick and mortar place for the people of Indiana to turn to for support and community.

For the last 10 years, Backline has been answering the phone and offering support to people looking for options and judgment free counseling surrounding pregnancy. The Backline Talkline answers hundreds of questions each month about pregnancy options, parenting, abortion, adoption, pregnancy loss, miscarriage and other reproductive health topics. While the phone offers confidentiality, a new model could provide women with tangible support.

“The prochoice movement is not always great about visibly supporting parents,” said Dockray. Dockray hopes Backline’s new initiative will become a tangible place to demonstrate support for women across all options. Backline wants to create a place for women and their partners to receive counseling on abortion, adoption, and carrying their pregnancy to term as well as carrying diapers and other items for people to support their partners.

Opening the center in Indiana strikes a cord in a new way. The center will find its home in the middle of a red state, in a college town, surrounded by fields and conservative ideals. Reproductive rights, health and justice organizations are too siloed from each other, with each sticking to their own areas without much overlap or conversation. Backline’s All Options Pregnancy Center would bring these together under one roof, without agenda or pretense. Instead of being siloed, they are setting up shop amidst the silos in America’s Midwest heartland.

Bloomington is a town divided, one side of town is home to Hannah House Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the other is home to Planned Parenthood of Bloomington. Backline would create a middle ground, a place for women and their partners to go for real information. At a time when the middle ground seems like an impossibility in American politics, the Backline All Options Pregnancy Center will be an oasis. An oasis of information, moderatism, and choice, at a time and in a place where that hasn’t existed in a long time.

Welcome to the Midwest, Backline. If you want to help Backline build some walls, knock down some silos, and give people a place do go; click here if you’d like to donate, and click here if you live in Indiana and would like to join in.

The Ties that Bind: It’s Time to End Shackling

4 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

They’ve been saying that love has made its way to PA this week. They’ve been saying that equality for all has worked its way down the winding East Coast and is on the brink of the South and Midwest. Love. Equality.

But what has gotten washed away in the seas of good tidings for the state of Virtue, Liberty, and Independence, is a woman tripping and falling face first onto her pregnant belly because of shackles around her legs and waist. She could not protect herself or her fetus because her hands were cuffed behind her back.

What has gotten lost amid tales of happy couples finally getting to share their love is a woman in labor, her ankles shackled to her hospital bed rubbing her skin raw until scars are left, her legs unable to fully open so she can birth her child. Lost is the story of her child being born into a set of shackles, years after the state has banned the practice of shackling.

Shackling is the act of restraining pregnant incarcerated women by chains that link their wrists, ankles, and their bellies. These shackles are used in correctional facilities across the US throughout pregnancy, including during trips to and from the doctor, during labor and delivery, and postpartum.

For a while there, Pennsylvania seemed like a model of the anti-shackling and reproductive justice movement. In 2008, Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla prohibited the widespread practice of shackling women during labor. And, in 2010, the Healthy Birth Act was passed in Pennsylvania that prohibited the use of shackles on pregnant incarcerated women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy during prenatal visits, labor, delivery, and postpartum.

But, the law isn’t being followed. The state of Pennsylvania has continued to illegally shackle incarcerated women during their second and third trimester of pregnancy stripping them of any of the mores Pennsylvania so proudly scrawls across bumper stickers and state quarters. The ACLU of PA estimates that 820 women a year are restrained while pregnant. Facilities in Pennsylvania filed only 109 incidents of restraint for 15 women in 2012-2013.

Four years later, prenatal clinics are unfamiliar with the law. Four years later, doctors didn’t know they could ask a correctional officer to remove the restraints. Most clinicians had never spoken to a correctional about security concerns, and many believed that using restraints was only for the correctional officer to decide and not medical personnel.

Only twenty states restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women with a statute. But, if what is happening in Pennsylvania is happening with a law in place, what is happening across the rest of the country?

I have never given birth. Honestly, I don’t even know if giving birth is in the cards for me. I imagine it hurts, an unbearable amount. I also imagine that there is nothing more joyful and loving than holding that bright red screaming baby after that hurt. I imagine it’s like no feeling I can imagine.

I have never been arrested. Never felt that cool steel around my wrists or ankles or pregnant stomach. Never felt that gut dropping feeling of uncertainty about the rest of my life.

The idea of facing these two forces, this incomparable pain and joy, the horror of detainment and arrest is unimaginable to me. Yet, every day women across the United States face this. They face it while they are in labor and delivery and while they hold their screaming red baby for the first time.

The reasons we imprison women in this country are complex, the reasons we shackle them are historic and myriad. But it does not make them right. Like many historic institutions in this country, it is time for shackling pregnant incarcerated women to come to an end. It is time to bring love and dignity to Pennsylvania.

For reproductive justice oriented organizing and mobilizing in PA check out New Voices Pittsburgh

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.

Empowered Birth Awareness Week

5 Sep

Did you know that this week (September 3 – 10) is Empowered Birth Awareness Week? This is actually an educational week that happens every year, starting the first Monday of each September.

Empowered Birth Awareness Week (EBAW) is all about educating the general public about birth options, birth interventions, and the risks and rewards of different types of birth. Those participating in EBAW want ALL people to be educated about birth, so that we can have the best outcomes for both mothers and babies.

The United States is not at the top of the list for safe births. In fact, we have the highest maternal mortality rate ofany industrialized nation; women here have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy related complication than 49 other countries, including Kuwait, South Korea and Bulgaria. All this is true, even though we spend more money on maternal healthcare than any other country.

Why is birth in America so dangerous? Perhaps it’s because it takes so long for evidence to change public policy. According to the EBAW page, it takes 20 years for proven research to be implemented in practice. We spend money on birth, but are we spending it in the right places, on the right practices? The World Health Organization recommends that c-section rates be at 15%, yet the USA c-section rate is 34%, and higher in some individual hospitals, even getting so high as 61.8% of births in 2010 at South Miami Hospital. C-sections are more expensive than vaginal deliveries, and actually have twice the risk for the mother and baby when the infant is positioned correctly.

Routine c-sections aren’t the only problem EBAW sees in our maternal healthcare. EBAW seeks to empower pregnant people, doctors, hospitals and the general public to fight back against routine procedures and ask, is this procedure necessary? Is this good for the woman and her baby? Will this cause more harm than good? Each birth situation is unique, and therefore should be treated uniquely, not as part of a factory assembly line. Many people assume that birth is routine and safe, and they fail to research the different procedures and risks. EBAW hopes to encourage families to take ownership of their pregnancy and birth by doing all the research, finding the best birth place, method, and provider for them, and thus getting the best outcome possible.

For many people, the meaning of EBAW is to educate the general population. But for some women, EBAW can have a bigger meaning: whether or not they will give birth in chains.

The United States has a large female inmate population. Being in prison does not stop or prevent pregnancy. Women who become pregnant in prison or who enter prison while pregnant end up facing extremely dangerous situations where their rights are ignored and their bodies are harmed.  Sometimes, the medical needs of pregnant women are ignored, leading to miscarriages and stillbirths. Other women are moved to a medical facility to give birth, only to be chained to a bed by both hands and both feet. Only 16 of our 50 states have any regulation against women giving birth in shackles and chains. And even some of those states still practice shackling women even though it’s illegal. The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are both against this practice, but there is little publicity about it, and thus, it is very hard to make any progress to stop it.  Luckily, there are organizations like the Prison Birth Project, which is working to help these women.

EBAW started on Monday with rallies across the United States called Improving Birth National Rally. Mothers, fathers, children and their advocates joined together in front of hospitals (who often welcomed them and provided refreshments and bathrooms) to educate the public. It continues with supporters sharing information through facebook, twitter, blogs and in person communication. The more people who share data, the more lives we can reach- and perhaps, save. If you want to get involved, visit Improving Birth and Birth Power.

We Are Not Baby-Haters

13 Jul

A baby is going to be born today, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Remember my post about my work-bestie who is pregnant? Well, she’s in labor and I’m so excited for her! Her little girl is going to be born today, and I get to go see her this evening (if she’s up to it and there are no complications) or tomorrow (for sure). And I’d like to take this moment to dispel a myth. The myth that women who support abortion are “anti-baby” or worse, “pro-infanticide.”

The Casey Anthony trial is over, and some ridiculous claims are being made by Rush Limbaugh that liberals who support abortion shouldn’t care when a child (an already-born-living-breathing-child) is murdered. This is tantamount to claiming either of these two things (or both): 1) we’re cool with straight-up murder, and/or 2) we don’t like babies. I think it should go without saying that most people, regardless of politics, aren’t all “yeah, murder? that’s fine by me.” And second, Mr. Limbaugh, who the hell are you to tell me that I don’t like kids, much less adorable babies?I understand that there are conservatives out there that equate abortion with murder, and y’all know I wouldn’t be writing for the Abortion Gang if I thought that too, so before I get the inevitable “Abortion IS murder” comments, let’s just, for the sake of argument, agree to disagree on this one and move on. We have already tried to explain the difference here at AG, so if you’re still reading, I’m not reiterating for you. Just check out any number of our other posts here, here, or here.

Ultimately, my point is, I have had an abortion, and I DO like kids. I don’t see any incongruities there. We’ve quoted the stats a million times: most women who have abortions already have children; over 1/3 of the population in America will utilize abortion services in their lifetimes; etc. etc. etc. Why is this concept so difficult for conservatives to understand? I don’t have to hate children to want or need an abortion, and if I utilize abortion services I don’t have to dislike children. And I certainly don’t have to condone the murder of a toddler. Thanks for giving me “my” opinion, but no thanks.

Kids are awesome, when you’re ready for them. I feel like I will be a better mother because I will have children when I am ready to be a mom. I truly think that having had my abortion has made me a kinder, more understanding, less judgmental person. And I will be a better mom for it… eventually.Right now, I’m just psyched that my best friend is having a baby that I get to play with, cuddle and love, and then give back when she gets fussy. That’s one of the joys of not having kids yet, and waiting until you’re ready (no matter how you get there).

Choosing Birth after Rape

10 Jun

I would like to give an often ignored perspective of rape, pregnancy and abortion (this is your trigger warning, though I don’t plan to be graphic).

I often see tweets, blog posts and comments from women and men (and people who identify as neither of the above) sharing their horror at the thought of carrying a pregnancy conceived in rape to term. They proudly and strongly say they support abortion, because it’s horrific, gruesome, disgusting, and cruel to force a woman to carry to term after she was raped (or, “give birth to her rapist’s child”). Now maybe I’m not paying attention, but it seems that all of the feminist discussion around rape and pregnancy decisions is focused around how awful it is for women to give birth after rape. Yet one study in 1996 (old, but the only reliable one I could find) said 32.2% of raped women chose to birth and keep the child (50% had abortions, 5.9% participated in adoption and 11.8% had miscarriages). 32% is a substantial portion of women that it seems many feminist forget about.

I 100% agree that it’s wrong to force a woman to carry to term when she wants to abort.

But I have to wonder: how does this type of language (horrific, disgusting, cruel) affect women who choose to carry to term after rape?

I wonder how a single mother of a beautiful two year old who happened to be conceived from rape feels when she reads that it’s “barbaric” to “force a woman to give birth to the child of her rapist.” Does she feel like she was supported in her choice? Doubtful.

We always need to be considerate of who we talk about and who we talk to. While it may seem clear that the barbaric part is the force of rape, denying the woman her access to decide to have sex,  if we only talk about how wrong it is to force birth instead of how wrong it is to force abortion, or force any unwanted choice, then others may start reading it as the birth of a child as disgusting. And I certainly hope no one actually thinks choosing to give birth is disgusting.

I know a lot of this language choice is based upon our hatred of rape, and it would make sense to have a second discussion about rape here, but I’m not going to do that. All I ask is that we default to the individual woman’s opinion before we share our own feelings when dealing with issues of pregnancy, abortion and rape, because everyone should feel supported in their decisions.