Tag Archives: stigma

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

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.

Breasts and Abortion

9 Aug

I remember the kerfuffle caused when Gwen Jacobs walked down the street topless in Ontario. I was 11 at the time of the court case in 1996 and I remember thinking, good for her. I also remember thinking how terribly unfair it was that men were allowed to walk around topless but women couldn’t. I can’t imagine actually walking around topless but I am glad that I have the right to do so since the Federal law criminalizing it was struck down. This case could be said to be a precursor to the now famous Slut Walks taking place around the world after a Toronto cop ‘confided’ to a group of York University students that the way to prevent sexual assault was to just not dress like sluts. The story became international news and feminists around the world responded with one simple message: women never ask to be raped.

Turns out women in New Delhi, India participated in their own Slut Walk. Unfortunately the author of that article, titled “Do Indian Women Need the Right to Dress like a Tart,” [YES!] asked,

In a country where 10 million babies have been killed in the womb because they were girls, where women are burned for dowry, murdered in honour killings, face domestic violence so frequent it’s as common as a power cut, where Dalit women fear sexual humiliation by upper caste men and where young girls are forced into prostitution, who needs the right to dress like a slut?

Really, I shouldn’t be shocked; it’s just another person who completely misses the point. Somehow, this author thinks all those problems are entirely separate from a woman’s ability to dress however she wants.

When a woman cannot dress however she wants without be subjected to constant sexual harassment, I will show you a woman who may be forced to have a sex-selective abortion or be murdered for the want of honour. I will show you a woman who is not respected, and is in fact disrespected because she is a woman. Women in the U.S. and Canada are certainly subjected to sexual harassment but the situation in India is extreme. Women in India are raped wearing traditional saris just like women here are raped wearing track pants, but the extreme violence against women in India is captured well by the Indian expression for sexual harassment: eve-teasing. As if sexual harassment is just school-yard teasing.

The point that this author misses entirely is that if these women could feel safe walking around dressed like ‘sluts’ then they would have infinitely more power than they do now. When men are punished for harassing women then women are empowered. When women are empowered they are able to free themselves from the shackles of oppression and violence and they are able to demand equality, which would reduce or eliminate sex selective abortions, which would see honour killings go the way of the dodo, which would see a reduction or extinguishment of domestic violence.

On the whole, women in North America have greater reproductive freedom due to a range of factors from financial resources to the law, but to trivialize Indian women’s attempts to empower themselves by declaring their right to dress however they please is to continue to oppress them. The author is correct: Indian women do have bigger fish to fry, but it’s a good idea to gut the fish before you fry it.

The author closes off with this gem,

Yet, the so-called younger generation of Indian feminists now want to dress in clothes that reveal their breasts and buttocks and demand this “self-objectification” as a right? And again focusing attention on their body parts as though it’s liberating? This is either false consciousness gone mad or I’ve got something wrong.

Slut walks have nothing to do with “self-objectification.” Women are objectified by society. There are native cultures where women walk around naked and that’s just the way it is. Objectification comes from outside, not from the individual woman. To suggest that women dressing so as to “reveal their breasts” is focusing attention on their body parts is the same as suggesting men who walk around shirtless are showing off their “breasts.”

As a man said in the article about Gwen Jacobs, we got over ankles so why can’t we get over breasts?

What is the real problem? Abortion and Justice for Immigrant Women

4 Aug

NLIRHI worked at an abortion clinic as a bilingual counselor. I was trained to say the same things to my Latina and non-Latina patients–give the same spiel about birth control, have the same discussion about pre- and post-abortion feelings, and review the same medical instructions, except in Spanish instead of English.

This did not play out very well. I learned almost immediately that I needed to change not only the way I talked about reproductive health, but the way I thought about poverty, family, and immigration.

I didn’t learn this in training. I learned this from my patients. Instead of assuming that a patient would have a valid government ID, I learned how to ask about immigration status without sounding like I had INS on the line. I learned about the shameful history of the sterilization of immigrant women, and how to discuss birth control in way that respected this trauma. I learned not to assume that a woman had family members or friends in this country who could care for her emotionally and physically after the abortion. The list goes on and on.

Thankfully, this wasn’t just something that I noticed. In their recently released report, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice talked to Latina/os about their views on family, pregnancy, and reproductive justice. One of their key findings was that a “lack of understanding about Latino culture is a greater barrier to accessing reproductive and sexual health services than language.” Interestingly enough, Latina immigrant respondents said that providers not understanding their culture is a larger barrier than providers not speaking their language.

What does this mean?

It means that if we want to provide “culturally competent” health care services (and I’m not just talking about abortion care), we need to be constantly learning from and with our patients.  We have to be more than “culturally competent.” We need to be culturally fluent. How do we do that? Well, you can start by reading CLRJ’s report to educate yourself about real Latina/o attitudes about sexuality, abortion, adoption, teen pregnancy, and parenting.

The National Latina Institute for Reprodcuctive Health this week asks,”what’s the real problem behind the targeting of immigrant women?” There are enough to fill volumes. But one is specifically clear to me: a lack of understanding of the diverse Latina/o cultures keeps immigrant women from getting the care they need. Lack of cultural understanding breeds intolerance and scapegoating. We need to speak more than Spanish; we need to comprehend the language of experience.

For more information on immigrant women and abortion access, read this great report from several abortion funds. Read more Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice posts here.

On Shame

3 Aug

A book I am currently reading – about which I will say very little, as the plan is to review it on my blog – features a character who donates her eggs, a process our very own Christie is currently undergoing. In the book, the character is acting out of financial desperation, and sees the process as a violation of her “purity”, and a deeply shameful way to make money.

I am reading this book and feeling absolutely flabbergasted. Call me naive, but I had no idea that people feel this way about egg donation. I can’t imagine it being something to feel ashamed about. The character feels that she is selling her body, and several times in the book there is an implied equivalency to sex work (which I also don’t think is shameful, but I recognize I’m not part of the majority on that one). Every time she mentioned her guilt, the gift of precious life that she was selling, the child that could have been hers, I wanted to reach into the book, take her by the shoulders and say, “You know that egg would have gone in the toilet otherwise, right?” I mean one of her main concerns seems to be that she is a virgin, and this is damaging her purity. But it’s like, if you’re a virgin, you’re not actively trying to get those eggs fertilized, so what’s the problem?

The whole experience of reading this book, while frustrating, is not entirely new to me. I am constantly flabbergasted by the things that women (myself included) find shameful or are expected to find shameful in Western culture. Sex work is a perfect example. I have a friend who is a sex worker – we are not super close, but we go out for dinner when we’re in each other’s cities, and we exchange the occasional email. When I reference her profession in conversation (usually to tell one of her hilarious/weird stories about ridiculous clients), I get more judgment and distaste than I ever did about working in abortion care. But it seems pretty obvious to me how they are connected. Women’s bodies are, after all, public property (didn’t you know?) and therefore it is acceptable for any perfect stranger to judge what you’re doing with yours.

Sometimes I find myself feeling ashamed about the most ridiculous things, and then I have to examine that shame and figure out where it comes from. Why should women be embarrassed to be sex workers? To have abortions? To have miscarriages, for crying out loud! To donate eggs? To shave/not shave their body/facial hair? To seek egg/sperm donors? To be/not be sexually active? To be queer? To masturbate? To suck dick/eat pussy/take it in the butt? To use birth control?

I mean, it’s not stuff you need to bring up apropos of nothing at the dinner table – in fact, you don’t have to bring it up at all if you don’t want to – but it just drives me crazy that we’re carrying all this guilt about stuff like this, and letting it take up so much of our time and energy. But we live in a culture that makes it sometimes quite dangerous for women NOT to be ashamed of these things. It’s easy for me to say, stop being ashamed of your egg donation. But when women risk more than judgment – when they risk being kicked out of their families, churches and/or communities for any of the above behavior – it’s not so simple. We need to change the culture, to make it safe.

I believe the way to do that is for those of us who can, who have the privilege of non-judgmental support networks, to make a conscious decision to stop feeling shame for the decisions we make about our bodies. One person at a time, let’s make it ok to take control over our bodies and our lives, let’s transform the culture into one that accepts a woman’s right to choose (and if you think I’m just talking about abortion, you haven’t been paying attention).

My own mother’s advice is not to fight feelings. When they show up, acknowledge them. “Hello little sadness,” she says. “Hello shame. What brings you here today?” There is no need to engage these feelings; you can decide on your own to feel or not feel that shame or that hurt. The important thing is, where does it come from? Is it even yours?

I don’t know about you folks, but I have enough of my own crap to deal with. I don’t need to be taking on the feelings other people have about my choices. So I reject them and get on with my life. At least I’m trying to. And I encourage you to try to, as well–because loving yourself is a revolutionary act. And revolutionary acts will change the world for the better.

Why YOU Should Be An Abortion Provider

14 Jul

Let’s face it: providing abortions is not the most popular job that a person can choose. Even among the pro-choice medical community, providing abortions is not something that you do; it’s something that you let other people do. I can understand why, too. People don’t generally go to medical school with expectations of being protested, harassed, and threatened when they finish their schooling and get a job. People don’t usually expect to have the simple question of “what is your job?” to sometimes have to be an awkward, nerve wrecking experience. With all of this, some people may wonder why anyone would want to become an abortion provider.

Still, regardless of how many anti-choice laws are passed and how many protests there are, the fact remains that women need abortions. As long as we have pregnancy, we will have abortion. As long as we have abortion, we will need abortion providers in order to keep the abortion process safe. Sadly, the fact is that we don’t have enough abortion providers. In the United States, we have over a million abortions taking place yearly. For all of those patients, we have approximately 1700 abortion providers. Do you see something wrong with this picture? I do.

So how do we solve this problem? Easy! We get more providers! How do we do that? Uh, maybe that’s not so simple. Here’s the truth; it starts with you. To me, one of the basic principles of activism is that, when there’s a problem, you don’t wait for someone else to fix it, or for the problem to fix itself. As activists, we are the repairwomen and the repairmen. We go out and we work our asses off to fix the world’s problems. Providing abortions does not have to be the necessary job that you let other people do. It can be the job that you go out and do yourself.

Obviously, abortion care is not the right career path for all people. However, I believe that one of the main reasons we have so few abortion providers is because so few people ever even consider abortion work as a career path. I don’t blame them. Becoming an abortion provider can seem to be like an “out of the way” kind of thought for most people. My mission today is not to get you to change your major or your career path. My mission today is simply to get people to think about something they may have never considered before: abortion care. A few years ago, every career looked undesireable to me. I had no idea where I was going in life. Then, I considered abortion care, and I found my calling. I decided that I am going to become an abortion provider. Who knows? Maybe this is your calling, too.

Long story short: we don’t just need abortion providers. We need YOU. No one is going to shame you if you decide that providing abortions is not for you; this does not make you a less valuable activist. However, maybe you have it in your heart to become an abortion provider. Maybe it’s simply something you have never considered. If you are one of those people, and particularly if you want to go into medicine, then this might be something to explore. I found my calling; have you found yours?