Tag Archives: Reproductive Justice

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.

Advertisements

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

Ohio: Home of the Poisonous Nut

31 Mar

By: Catrina Otonoga

Ohio has been fighting a quiet battle for our lives. Across the state, clinics struggle to find partnerships with private hospitals in order to remain open, the Board of Health is in disarray after the resignation of the Director amid rumors he was not closing clinics quickly enough, and Ohio Right to Life is in the ears and offices of our highest state officials.

It’s not an uncommon refrain these days in America. Michigan is fighting back against a ban on including abortion in insurance policies. And, who hasn’t heard about Texas – with Wonder Woman Wendy at the helm of, perhaps, the greatest reproductive rights uprising in United States history?

But, in the Buckeye state we are under attack, and we haven’t had much of a rallying cry.

Here in Ohio, the heart of it all, we have another heartbeat bill on the table. A bill that contains no exceptions for rape or incest, and would make performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected a felony. That’s as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Clinics are closing across the state. Women in the Toledo area are traveling to Michigan because their rights are being chipped away in their own backyard. Abortion is legal in Ohio, but restrictions are becoming so onerous that clinics can no longer operate, and women cannot access services without crossing the state or state lines.

And, at the helm of it all is Governor John Kasich. Behind the seemingly moderate exterior that got him elected, is a politician who has enacted some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the United States. Do a search for “Kasich, Abortion” and the articles that pop up are from the last time Ohio wasn’t under a blanket of snow – last summer, when he signed the budget into law, and with it, a host of laws that have led to massive consequences for women’s health in Ohio. Aside from a few quotes put out by advocates for abortion rights in the state, Kasich has remained clean of a lot of the backlash.

The upcoming Gubernatorial race in Ohio promises to focus on abortion issues, but many political experts agree that people who make abortion a priority during an election have already sorted themselves onto the Democratic side.

Like Virginia in their Gubernatorial, it’s time for Ohio to rally, to take ourselves off the defensive, and to stop letting extremists run our state and control our bodies under the guise of moderate politics.

To take action and check out these great organizations in Ohio: OhioNow, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio , Women Have Options

ohio-01

Amazing & inspiring art courtesy of the Repeal Hyde Art Project

The River Runs Yellow: The Elk River Spill The Intersection of Environmental and Reproductive Justice

29 Jan

Water from the faucets is flowing a deep and toxic shade of yellow. Parents cannot bathe their babies in a warm tub without burning their skin with chemicals, pour a glass of water in the middle of the night without stomach pains following, or cook a basic meal with water from the tap. A drive to the closest store for bottled water can take an hour or more down winding roads that are difficult to navigate in the snow. The water is poisoned with two chemicals whose long and short term effects and side effects are unknown, and it is seeping into the ground, affecting backyard gardens and farms, wells, septic tanks, and running water.

This is not happening across the ocean, in some land far away – although it may feel like it. It is happening 359 miles from Washington, DC, 228 miles from Pittsburgh and 162 miles from Columbus. It is happening in homes, hospitals, restaurants, and schools. It is happening in Charleston, West Virginia and in and along the Ohio River, where early this month MCMH and PPH were spilled into the Elk River by Freedom Industries. There are parts of Appalachia where the sticky sweet smell of licorice permeates the air — you can almost feel the chemicals land on your skin. Perhaps the most shocking part about the spill is that someone noticed. This beautiful land and the generations of families who live there are fighting on many fronts. But, maybe the greatest threat to justice in Appalachia is environmental. Coal has left an indelible mark on the land and has deeply effected the choices people can and do make when choosing whether to parent and how to raise their children.

While the state is working to increase regulations on the two women’s health clinics in the state, state agencies responsible for the investigation and cleanup of the spill had their budget cut 7.5% for the second consecutive year the day before the spill. Women, their families, and their supporters are marching throughout West Virginia for the ability to access abortion and holistic reproductive care, meanwhile they are drinking water that may be eliminating their ability to make choices about their bodies in the first place. Crude MCHM, the chemical foam used to wash coal and the first of the chemicals to be leaked into the water supply for over 300,000 residents has barely been tested or studied. Does it cause reproductive failure? Cancer? Miscarriage? Fetal Anomalies? Death? No one is sure. And it may be years before we ever know…. If ever.

In a few weeks I will be walking down frozen dirt roads, taking Instagram pictures of icicles on soft pine trees with my dog following close behind on a road in Appalachia, not far from this spill. When we get back to the house we will unbundle, I will get us each some water, and I will take a bath. I have no idea what this water will do to me, if it has been touched by this spill or some other, if it will effect me or my someday children. And, I will be outraged that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin thinks that protecting citizens means letting them wonder whether their water is safe.

Environmental justice is not an issue for environmental and green advocates alone. The ability for parents to raise their children in environments free from unregulated poison – to be able to send their children to school where they can wash their hands safely, to come home and eat a meal, and wash up before bed without fear is essential. Environmental justice is reproductive justice.

Why social workers should care about reproductive justice

12 Dec

After mulling over future career options, I decided to take a break from the reproductive health world and go back to school. This fall I began a Masters of Social Work program in Boston and am working with elders in public housing. Each day I am reminded about the resilience and humanity inherent in each of us. To me, social work means that I have the luxury of not forgetting that we are all capable of extraordinary things. I am loving it.

I chose clinical social work for varied reasons: I wanted do work organized through a justice-oriented lens, assist people to navigate complicated systems, and shift power. I also (more selfishly) wanted a job not in an office where I could talk to people all day. But I worried that I would miss reproductive health. When I made the change, I was concerned about leaving my community, identity as an activist, and work I was passionate about.

Luckily, that hasn’t happened.

One of the first things a budding social worker learns is that, like many professions, we have our ownCode of Ethics. It’s fairly detailed and encompasses a lot, from being a competent and professional practitioner to an obligation to engage in relevant social and political action. Reading through the Code, I was struck by how relevant and similar the principles were to my values as a reproductive justice activist. There is an emphasis on social justice, yes, but also on human dignity, respect, and client self-determination.

In the reproductive justice and abortion access world, I advocate over and over again for people to be able to make their own decisions. Reproductive justice means fighting for people to be able to parent or not to parent and being able to make that decision with dignity and respect; it also includes pushing for logistical, financial, and legal availability of services in order for people to be able to make those decisions. It means acknowledging systems of oppression that disproportionately impact people on the ground, policymakers, myself, and the organizations and communities I work in and for. It is also a commitment to fight to overturn those systems.

Social work follows those same principles. It mandates understanding individuals within the context of their environment and working for multi-level change. I think that this is why I have felt at home in the profession, at least so far. Social work values are reproductive justice values.

The problem is that not all social workers are familiar with reproductive justice issues and how they affect clients. For example, a social worker working with a low-income mom who is putting off paying her rent to pay for her abortion might not understand why the mom is taking that course of action. Similarly, a well-meaning social worker might be the person who reports a client’s abortion self-induction attempt as child endangerment, or who questions a mom’s decision to have another child when she is struggling to feed her existing children.

Each of these situations are difficult to navigate, and it’s up to social workers to avoid getting bogged down with personal or political feelings. No matter how we feel about abortion, welfare, or parenting, we can’t make that decision for someone else. It’s of critical importance to reflect on the Code of Ethics when thinking about clients’ reproductive health decision-making. We need to meet people where they are and understand and support their decisions. If we don’t, we are working within an oppressive system and not against it.

This being said, I am optimistic that social workers will tackle reproductive justice issues in the context of the Code of Ethics. Social workers are in unique positions to advocate for clients, so I also hope that other reproductive health/justice advocates will invite us to the table. We have a lot to say and an obligation to say it. Don’t be afraid to call on us or call us out.

I am looking forward to seeing more social workers included in conversations about reproductive justice and health care access, and I’m excited about navigating my dual roles as an activist and a brand new professional. I am thankful that I have learned so much working in abortion access that I can carry over to my new career. I know my activism will make me a better social worker, and my social work will make me a better activist. I am looking forward to where this journey takes me and what I will learn next.

To learn more about social work/reproductive justice issues, you should check out Social Workers for Reproductive Justice.

How to be an Everyday Reproductive Justice Hero

22 Jul

Recently, I left my job in abortion care. Although I have a social justice, nonprofit, world-saving job that I love now, I miss the clinic, as I knew I would. I knew I would miss my coworkers of course, and the patients and their amazing stories. But what I didn’t realize was what a huge part of my identity it was. I had grown complacent in the knowledge that working in an abortion clinic was a noble act (instead of a privilege), and that my work was what defined me as an activist. Since leaving, I have had to have some serious, soul-searching conversations with myself about what truly constitutes activism, and how to continue and expand my fight for reproductive justice.

I feel that I have not given enough credit during my time in the movement to those who work outside of the clinics and advocacy organizations, who are reproductive justice freedom fighters on top of their day jobs. Unpaid activists who truly act out of the goodness of their hearts. And now that I no longer work in abortion care, it is no longer assumed that I care deeply about reproductive justice – I have to prove that I want it through my unpaid actions.

For my own benefit and for others like me, I have written the following list of how those of us with little time, money and energy to spare can be everyday heroes and activists.

1. Support a friend through a pregnancy.
When a friend tells you she is pregnant, be there for her. There is no need to be overbearing, but just let her know that you are there every step of the way if she needs you. If she decides to terminate, offer to go with her to the clinic, and check in with her afterwards. If she is continuing the pregnancy, ask her what she needs – time, ice cream, someone to hold back her hair, space. And when the baby comes, be a supporter, a babysitter, a researcher of daycare options, if that’s what she wants/needs. Show through your love and trust of the women in your life that women are worthy of love and trust.

2. Be a safe sex educator to your friends.
I know there is somewhere in your area where you can get free condoms. Go get some, and give them out to your friends. Keep a dish in your bathroom with a “help yourself!” sign on it for visitors. Hand them out relentlessly. Ask your friends what method of birth control they are using. Educate yourself and be a source of information and support. Use whatever you have up your sleeve – an air of compassion, a sense of humour – to make it ok to talk openly about sex around you.

3. Volunteer at your local clinic.
Always contact a clinic first and find out what they need. Most clinics do not need counter-protesters; they make patients nervous and incite anger. See if you can be a clinic escort: usually it’s a weekly commitment of a couple hours, and you will be directly helping women accessing sexual health services. Some clinics need other support – people to drive patients from the airport or neighbouring towns; people to host out-of-town patients overnight; people to answer phones or stuff envelopes. If you have the time to give to make yourself useful at a clinic, I promise you it will go far and be very much appreciated.

4. Lead a creative resistance.
If you are a creative person, create something. Write a letter to your representative or to the newspaper; write a blog; paint, write poetry, build a sculpture; do something big and amazing and thought-provoking or something small and quiet and cathartic. Sometimes the challenge of the movement can be so frustrating and make you so angry and sad and lost; express yourself. Often art has a way of reaching others and clarifying the issue in a way that simple explanations cannot.

5. Be an ally.
Who are the people in your community who are suffering most from the lack of access to reproductive healthcare services? Find out what they have to say. Figure out a way to use what privilege you have to be of service. This is a hard one, and a longterm thing. You will screw up. But it’s worth the effort.

6. Learn.
In whatever spare time you have, read about reproductive justice, and ask questions. Talk to people, whoever you can access – doctors, nurses, friends who have had abortions, friends who have had babies, doulas, midwives, your mother, your partner. Read blogs and articles. Inform yourself as much as possible; put yourself in a position of being able to speak to this issue and to help and support and inform the people around you. Knowledge is power.

7. Love.
I feel that this is at the root of it – true activism is an act of love. Never forget why we fight for access and the health and lives of our sisters. If we live every day and act out of love, we can’t lose. When in doubt, follow your heart.

Please feel free to comment with your own ideas and suggestions. Remember, the revolution will not be funded; we all have to keep in mind that service provision, while good and essential work, is only one piece of the puzzle. The battle will be won by the small, everyday acts of resistance that all of us can do.

Why I Stay In The Movement

6 Jul

Herding activists closely resembles herding cats, or Members of Congress, except that activists are generally hungrier, more distracted, and less likely to be on drugs that help them maintain focus. As a result, our fearless leader and editor will frequently send us prompts for posts, with enthusiastic exclamation points and a spritely tone. We don’t always use them, but one has come up a few times and been gnawing at my edges lately: why do we stay in the movement?

The sidelines, where most Americans and many readers of this blog reside on the abortion issue, is both a perfectly fine and completely understandable place to be. Activists need and are grateful for your research, your thoughtfulness, your support and your engagement. For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to work actively in the prochoice and reproductive justice movements, let me tell you. It’s fucking exhausting.

On a personal level, we are frequently berated and disagreed with, politely and less politely. We receive hate mail. We get called terrible things and enthusiastically consigned to the depths of the belly of hell by sweet looking grandmothers. Even when people are polite, they frequently treat us as though we are simply misguided, and just looking to be saved. Many people stand in a middle-of-the-road place on the abortion issue – call it the safe-legal-rare place – and like to engage in what they think of as “interesting debate” and I have come to think of as “totally unnecessary haranguing by people with bare minimum information who think it is my damn job to educate them because they are too lazy to educate themselves and anyway they almost always want to bring God into it when the discussion doesn’t go their way.” The people who argue with us rarely feel the investment in their own cause that we feel in ours, and so are not worn out from endlessly repeating the same fucking arguments over. and over. again. The arguments are all new and fun to them; they think this is an interesting political game.

We don’t think this is a fucking game.

We are in this movement because we know – not believe, know, and have experienced firsthand – that people’s lives depend on it. Really, I can’t be any clearer: without access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive care, people die. People die from this lack every day, and we watch, and we can’t save them, and we hate ourselves, and then we turn back around and keep trying to save the ones we can. Lately, it’s been a losing battle. It sucks.

We are in this movement because we don’t need a weatherman to tell us which way the wind is blowing. Because many of our mainstream feminist forebearers thought that a little ground given was a compromise, a way to hang on to our basic rights, and we have seen that this is not the case. Every time we compromise we just draw a new line in the sand for governments and churches and antichoice crazy people to dance across, erase daintily behind them, and proceed on their merry way towards taking every single thing we have fought for. Five years ago it was absolutely inconceivable that abortion could be completely inaccessible in this great nation. Today that possibility is very real. And after abortion, they will come for birth control. And after birth control, well… “first, they came for abortion, and I said nothing, because I did not want an abortion…”

I stay in the movement because I believe the work I do every day makes it possible to get up in the morning. Because if I don’t, I failed.

I stay in the movement because if I don’t, one day I will wake up and I will need something – a pill, an abortion, a doctor who is adequately trained to provide comprehensive health care for women – and I will simply not be able to get it. I’m not rich and the work I do is never going to make me rich, and it is completely conceivable that if we fail, within the next decade, these things we think of as so basic will be available only to the very wealthy, the people the rules and regulations don’t apply to.

I stay in the movement because I believe, really believe, in freedom and independence and small government. These are things antichoicers think they have the market cornered on, but that’s just not true. They have the messaging down to a science, but much like squirrels are just rats with better PR, antichoice crap is just big government sitting in your damn medicine cabinet, walking you to your doctor’s office and telling you what you can and cannot do. And that is bullshit. My country, my body, my womb, bitch, and I will make what I believe are the best decisions for all three without your invasive surveillance, THANKS.

And then, probably most importantly, I stay in the movement for personal reasons. I stay in the movement because even when I don’t like the people I am working with, I respect them, and they almost always respect me. I stay in the movement because I am queer and loud and independent and frankly the religious right won’t have me. I stay in the movement because we drink and we laugh a lot and we create safe spaces that are also really a lot of fun, and they make me think that maybe people hate us because they’re just jealous that we’re so awesome.