Wednesday, May 2, 2018
The New York Times (April 26, 2018): Supporters of El Salvador’s Abortion Ban Foil Efforts to Soften It, by Elisabeth Malkin:
El Salvador remains one of six Latin American countries with a total ban on abortion after the Legislative Assembly failed to debate and vote on a measure that would have relaxed the ban in two circumstances: when the mother's life is in danger and in the case of a minor becoming pregnant as a result of rape.
In El Salvador, abortion is criminalized and punishable by up to eight years in prison for both doctor and patient. Human rights groups around the world have a lobbied for a change in the harsh policies that sometimes criminalize women who have late-term miscarriages. These women have historically been charged with abortion or even aggravated homicide.
Advocates aiming to soften the total ban had been lobbying for months, but their efforts were unsuccessful when the former, left-wing-led national legislature adjourned last week without voting on the proposals. A new Legislative Assembly convenes this month, dominated by conservatives who are not expected to revive the debate or offer reform proposals.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The New York Times Magazine (April 11, 2018): Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis, by Linda Villarosa:
Villarosa of The New York Times Magazine profiles several black mothers and their pregnancy, child birth, and health care stories while exploring the extraordinarily wide disparity in care that black women receive compared to white women.
The U.S. is one of only 12 countries whose maternal mortality rates have actually increased in recent years and now has a mortality rate worse than 25 years ago. Maternal mortality refers to "the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy." Women of color are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women.
Moms are not the only ones facing the consequences of underdeveloped care.
Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel.
In the past, many explanations for the disparity turned to poverty, assuming that it was poor and uneducated black women and their babies that suffered the most. But the crisis does not consider class lines, it turns out. "In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education."
In 2014, Monica Simpson--the executive director of SisterSong, an organization dedicated to reproductive justice for women of color, and a member of advocacy group Black Mamas Matter Alliance-- testified before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. She called on the United States to “eliminate racial disparities in the field of sexual and reproductive health and standardize the data-collection system on maternal and infant deaths in all states to effectively identify and address the causes of disparities in maternal- and infant-mortality rates.” That the United States has not done so is a violation of the international human rights treaty, she says.
This is important for many reasons, one of which is the dramatic effect that society and systemic racism have on a pregnant person's "toxic physiological stress levels." This stress increases the chances for hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and other dangerous pregnancy complications, and it is exacerbated by the pervasive, systemic racial bias embedded in the United States' health care system. Racial bias, discrimination, and the toll it takes on women of color throughout their lives and pregnancy contributes to increased maternal complications across all class and education levels.
Even when controlling for income and education, African-American women had the highest allostatic load scores — an algorithmic measurement of stress-associated body chemicals and their cumulative effect on the body’s systems — higher than white women and black men. ...Though it seemed radical 25 years ago, few in the field now dispute that the black-white disparity in the deaths of babies is related not to the genetics of race but to the lived experience of race in this country.
Community care systems that incorporate the medical and personal support of doulas and midwives have proven to increase black women's chances at a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum experience.
"One of the most important roles that doulas play is as an advocate in the medical system for their clients." A doula may sometimes be the only person consistently present with the mom-to-be during her birth experience, too. One study of 2,400 women found that "more than a quarter of black women meet their birth attendants for the first time during childbirth, compared with 18 percent of white women."
Doulas “are a critical piece of the puzzle in the crisis of premature birth, infant and maternal mortality in black women.”
Rachel Zaslow, a midwife and doula in Charlottesville, Virginia established Sisters Keeper--a collective of 45 black and Latina doulas in Charlottesville. They offer free birthing services to women of color.
'The doula model is very similar to the community health worker model that’s being used a lot, and successfully, throughout the global South,' Zaslow says. 'For me, when it comes to maternal health, the answer is almost always some form of community health worker.' Since 2015, the Sisters Keeper doulas have attended about 300 births — with no maternal deaths and only one infant death among them.
An analysis of a similar program in New York City showed that, over a five-year period, moms receiving the support of the doula program experience half as many preterm and low-weight babies compared to other community members.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
John Oliver takes aim at crisis pregnancy centers and anti-abortion activists 'controlling women's behavior'
The Guardian (Apr. 9, 2018): John Oliver takes aim at anti-abortion activists 'controlling women's behavior', by Guardian staff
John Oliver examined crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) designed to prevent abortions on this past Sunday's episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight, criticizing their “disingenuous and predatory” tactics and explaining how their "primary purpose is to talk women out of terminating a pregnancy.”
There are 2,752 CPCs in the United States, compared with 1,671 abortion providers. Many CPCs use the word "choice" in their names and give out advice that is medically inaccurate. They often pretend to be abortion clinics on the exterior to fool women to enter. “Normally, the strategy ‘pretend you’re an abortion clinic’ is not actually a great marketing stunt, although I am pretty sure that Radio Shack would have tried it if they’d thought of it,” Oliver said.
Oliver also discussed how CPCs discourage the use of contraception. There are claims from within CPCs that condoms are ineffective at preventing pregnancy. “For all the lengths that CPCs will go to to prevent abortions, many of them don’t do a key thing that would help that and that’s give women access to birth control,” he said. “The fact is if you want fewer abortions, you should love birth control."
Oliver said that the real goal of CPCs is “controlling women’s sexual behavior”, as many of them are affiliated with religious figures and organizations.
Watch the segment below:
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Baltimore to join lawsuit against U.S. health agency over cuts to programs that help prevent teen pregnancy
The Baltimore Sun (Mar. 7, 2018): Baltimore to join lawsuit against U.S. health agency over cuts to programs that help prevent teen pregnancy, by Ian Duncan:
The city of Baltimore intends to join a lawsuit against President Trump filed last month by the nonprofit Healthy Teen Network. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore after Healthy Teen Network's federal grant--given to develop and fund the study of an app providing sex education--was significantly reduced.
Baltimore’s health department received an $8.5 million federal grant to help provide sex education for about 20,000 students over five years. Last year, the federal health agency told Baltimore that the program would be severed from its funding after three years instead, leading to a loss of $3.5 million.
The lawsuit alleges that Trump’s appointee to a senior position in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reduced federal grants for programs that do not match the official’s belief that people should not have sex until they are married.
While the lawsuit by Healthy Teen Network states they did not receive a clear explanation for the funding cut, the lawyers claim that the cut in funding is directly related to the appointment of abstinence-only advocate Valerie Huber, who was appointed Chief of Staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services in June 2017.
"Dr. Leana Wen, the city’s health commissioner, said the reduction would greatly harm the department’s ability to provide services."
“We have made significant progress to reduce teen birth rates, and the last thing that should happen is to roll back the gains that have been made.”
March 10, 2018 in Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Sexuality Education, State and Local News, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
ProPublica (Feb. 22, 2018): A Larger Role for Midwives Could Improve Deficient U.S. Care for Mothers and Babies, by Nina Martin:
The results of a five-year study, conducted by researchers in both the U.S. and Canada, on the effects of midwifery on maternal and infant health are in. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE; it analyzes hundreds of laws throughout the United States that dictate what a midwife can and cannot do when it comes to prenatal care and the birthing process.
'We have been able to establish that midwifery care is strongly associated with lower interventions, cost-effectiveness and improved outcomes,' said lead researcher Saraswathi Vedam, an associate professor of midwifery who heads the Birth Place Lab at the University of British Columbia.
The midwife model emphasizes community-based maternal and infant care along with avoiding any unnecessary, and potentially dangerous, interventions. Midwives have long been widely embraced in Europe as a positive component of maternal care. In the U.S., though, midwives often represent a "culture war that encompasses gender, race, class, economic competition, professional and personal autonomy, risk versus safety, and philosophical differences."
The title "midwife" can have multiple meanings, ranging from "certified nurse-midwives," to "direct-entry midwives," to "lay midwives." Depending on the title and the state in which the midwife works, the midwife will have a different level of training and may or may not be licensed or regulated by the state.
This new study indicates, though, that midwives may be part of the answer to the U.S.'s problematic infant and maternal mortality rates. Severe maternal complications have sharply risen over the past 20 years, and maternal care is seriously sparse in certain areas of the country. "Nearly half of U.S. counties don't have a single practicing obstetrician-gynecologist."
While midwife regulations vary widely among states, the study shows that states that have more fully integrated midwifery systems within their health care have significantly better outcomes for mothers and babies. States with restrictive midwife regulations--like Alabama, Ohio, and Mississippi--regularly score much lower on tests of maternal and neonatal well-being.
Alabama, which has the worst infant mortality rate in the country, has long had strict midwife regulations, "reflecting attitudes that wiped out the state's once-rich tradition of black birth attendants." Alabama lawmakers, though, recently passed a bill legalizing certified professional midwives, taking one small step toward the process of greater midwife integration, and, hopefully, improved maternal and infant health care across racial and economic lines.
Access to midwifery is often split among racial lines, as many of the states with the worst outcomes (and higher levels of opposition to midwives), including Alabama, have large black populations. The study suggests a correlation between improved access to midwifery and reduced racial disparities in the maternal health care field.
Jennie Joseph, a British-trained midwife who runs the Florida birthing center and nonprofit Commonsense Childbirth affirms this:
“It’s a model that somewhat mitigates the impact of any systemic racial bias. You listen. You’re compassionate. There’s such a depth of racism that’s intermingled with [medical] systems. If you’re practicing in [the midwifery] model you’re mitigating this without even realizing it.”
The study, though, does not conclude that better midwife access will directly lead to better outcomes or vice versa. It acknowledges that many other factors also affect maternal and infant health among states, including access to preventative care, insurance, and rates of chronic disease.
Nonetheless, maternal health advocates have long recognized the benefits of midwifery and this is not the only study to highlight the positive effects of supporting midwives. A 2014 study found that integrating midwives into health care could prevent more than 80 percent of maternal and infant fatalities worldwide, in both low and high-resource communities. Even in the U.S., organizations such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have begun embracing nurse-midwives despite lingering skepticism by many.
Friday, February 23, 2018
Futurism (Feb. 2, 2018): Advanced Reproductive Technology is Here. But Who Decides Who Gets Access?, by Claudia Geib:
Reproductive technology has expanded and improved immensely over the years. The accessibility of assisted reproduction, fertility treatments, and even adoption, though, is highly limited, particularly in the United States. All of these processes can be prohibitively expensive, and, often, insurance does not cover them or organizations can arbitrarily choose not to provide them.
As reproductive technology is largely unregulated in the U.S., private organizations that manage processes such as embryo donations have full discretion when choosing who can participate in their programs. The National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) states in its policies that they will only provide embryos to heterosexual, married couples, for example. The NEDC is founded in the Judeo-Christian worldview, and they explicitly exercise this viewpoint--or their perspective of it, at least--when selecting eligible couples for their services.
Jeffrey Keenan, the NEDC's medical director, says that their policy is to operate based on the "biological reality" of a family and God's intention for conception.
As much as you see gay people having children, you have noticed that none of them do it on their own. It is physically and scientifically impossible for gay people to have a child. So why just because we can have someone act as a surrogate, or because we can donate into a [gay] woman, why does that make it right? It doesn’t, not in and of itself.
Civil rights communities, LGBT groups, and, increasingly, the courts oppose these views. What many consider illegal discrimination, though, endures under the protection of U.S. law since such procedures are not generally considered "medically necessary."
Basic fertility treatments are rarely covered by U.S. insurance policies, and when they are, the insurance company may first require proof and documentation of a medical reason preventing "natural" pregnancy.
This is not the case in many other developed countries, where formal regulations, ethical requirements, and even entire administrative departments preside over reproductive technology. The United Kingdom's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, for example, is solely committed to the regulation of fertility treatments and embryonic research in the U.K.
In the U.S., there is simply "no equality of access" to reproducing, says Antonio Gargiulo, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of robotic surgery at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. As it stands, Boston residents do have access to fertility treatments under insurance, though; Massachusetts was the first state to pass laws requiring treatments be covered by insurance back in 1987. Just last year, New York also began requiring insurance companies to provide infertility treatments to those seeking, including homosexual couples and single women.
Many medical professionals, though, are skeptical that the federal government--particularly under the anti-regulation Trump administration--will make any moves toward ensuring fertility treatments and reproductive technology are uniformly covered by insurance and accessible to all Americans.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
ThinkProgress (Jan. 25, 2018): It’s now easier for trans people to update birth certificates in Russia than in many U.S. states, by Zack Ford:
Last month, Russia established new procedures to allow transgender persons to obtain gender-affirming medical documentation without undergoing surgery. Previously, the only way for a trans person to officially change their gender identity was through the submission of a "medical certificate on gender/sex change" to a civil registry office where individual civil servants would determine whether or not to change the applicant's listed identity. The Russian Ministry of Health signed the new order in January, and it went into effect on February 2, 2018.
Although Russia is regularly condemned for its anti-LGBTQ reputation, this new procedure is considered more progressive than those in the United States, which often require transgender patients to undergo surgery before their gender identity will be officially recognized.
The U.S. does not have uniform procedures on how to update gender on a birth certificate or other official documentation. "According to the Transgender Law Center...there are only 17 states that offer clear policies for changing birth certificates and do not require surgeries for recognition." 18 states have policies specifically mandating surgical requirements as a prerequisite to the paperwork. Governor Chris Christie twice vetoed bills in New Jersey that would have eliminated such requirements. The U.S. courts have so far produced inconsistent and unpredictable results for trans persons seeking policy changes.
Russia is not the only country making gender identity documentation more accessible. India and Nepal recognize transgender persons by issuing papers that identify them as a "third gender." Sweden, which practiced forced sterilization well into the 20th century, eliminated its surgical requirement for transgender people in 2013.
Gender reassignment surgery, meant to align a person's gender with their reproductive organs, often results in the patient losing their reproductive ability. Requiring surgery to recognize a trans person's gender is increasingly considered an unacceptable and illegal form of forced sterilization throughout the world. Furthermore, such procedures are often financially prohibitive, making gender alignment surgery, and thus--in the U.S. at least--obtaining legal documentation that recognizes one's gender, inaccessible.
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against surgical requirements in a French case. The Court cited Article VIII of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives everyone the right to respect for "his private and family life."
Although Russia still faces intense discrimination against its LGBTQ community, Tatiana Glushkova of the Transgender Legal Defense Project is optimistic that the new procedures eliminating the need for surgery before trans persons can obtain proper medical certificates will “significantly improve the situation of trans people in Russia."
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Rewire (Jan. 25, 2018): For Nonbinary Parents, Giving Birth Can Be Especially Fraught, by S.E. Smith
Pregnancy and childbirth are vulnerable times in any parent's life. Add to that the highly gendered-status of both pregnancy and birth, and trans and non-binary parents are finding it difficult to locate an inclusive community with educated medical staff as they, too, enter childrearing chapters.
With the trans community, conversations about birth and parenting are few and far between and often fraught with discomfort. Now, though, more parents-to-be identify as trans men or somewhere else on the non-binary spectrum of gender identity. And the medical community has not yet caught up. "And, as in any area of reproductive health-care services, this isn’t simply a matter of gender: Race, class, and geography can play a huge role in whether non-binary people are able to access inclusive, affirming birth care."
Gender-affirming care--including asking for a patient's pronouns with their name, using gender-affirming language, and regularly seeking consent before performing examinations, particularly those that require a medical professional to touch the patient's genitalia--is important. When it is absent, patients report both physical and psychological trauma.
Many in the trans and non-binary communities are increasingly seeking home births with gender-affirming midwives in order to create the most comfortable environments for themselves. Midwifery can be prohibitively expensive though, and insurance rarely covers it. So for others, a hospital may be the safest or the only choice. Advocates say that hospitals and birth collectives would do well to invest in specialized training for medical providers "to ensure that everyone at a facility is trans-competent, or working on getting there."
This issue is likely to amplify in coming years with a more visible nonbinary community, as well as a more active movement to reframe the way we look at pregnancy and birthing. Trans people—binary and otherwise—are some of the biggest stakeholders in the conversation, and they’re contributing with inclusive birthing classes and provider training in addition to working as care providers themselves.
The trans and non-binary communities call on leaders within the medical community to initiate changes from the inside, including re-training initiatives and reframing core educational documents for inclusivity.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Mother Jones (Nov. 29, 2017): Internal Emails Reveal How the Trump Administration Blocks Abortions for Migrant Teens, by Hannah Levintova and Pema Levy:
Jane Doe isn't the only teenage immigrant the Trump administration has tried to prevent from obtaining an abortion.
While the ACLU represented Doe in her ultimately successfully case to get an abortion, they continue to fight a class-action for other similarly-situation teens. These teens are pregnant and in government custody with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services. The ORR contracts with local shelters to house the minors.
The director of the ORR, Scott Lloyd, is an anti-abortion activist who has "changed ORR policy to prevent pregnant teens at these shelters from obtaining abortions."
As part of the ongoing lawsuit, the ACLU has obtained government emails showing the lengths to which the current administration will go to prevent an unaccompanied minor from seeking an abortion.
For example, ORR temporarily halted a medication abortion for one pregnant minor halfway through the procedure. In another case, ORR suggested that a pregnant minor scheduled for discharge from the shelter not be released until she had been counseled against receiving an abortion.
The ACLU says the government's efforts amount to a violation of the minors' Constitutional rights and defy Supreme Court precedent such as Roe v. Wade, which states the government cannot ban abortion. "They are effectively banning abortion for Jane Doe. I am still in shock that this is happening,” says Brigitte Amiri, a lead attorney for the ACLU.
One of the emails, published here, includes a redacted sender questioning whether the ORR's methods of approving (or not approving) a minor's pursuit of a judicial bypass are legal. A judicial bypass allows a minor who would otherwise need a guardian's permission for an abortion to get a court's approval to seek and receive an abortion without such parental or guardian permission.
The redacted email sender says:
My understanding is that the judicial bypass was created specifically so that the young lady does not need approval from her guardian (in our case the Director of ORR) to move forward with a term of pregnancy. Has this policy been vetted by your legal department? I anticipate there would be legal challenges to this policy.
Minors represented in this case have received judicial bypasses for their abortions from the courts, however the emails show that ORR nevertheless instructed the shelters not to allow it. It's unclear how those situations were resolved.
The release of these emails makes the government's targeted policies very clear, as the ACLU continues to fight for the Constitutional rights of unaccompanied and undocumented minors.
Friday, November 17, 2017
The New York Times (Nov. 10, 2017): Facebook is Ignoring Anti-Abortion Fake News, by Rossalyn Warren
As Facebook addresses the role of "fake news" on its platform, largely in relation to the 2016 election and Russian political propaganda, another potentially more difficult concern arises. The spread of false reproductive rights and health news is widespread and often harder for Facebook to spot (and manage).
Facebook’s current initiatives to crack down on fake news can, theoretically, be applicable to misinformation on other issues. However, there are several human and technical barriers that prevent misinformation about reproductive rights from being identified, checked and removed at the same — already slow — rate as other misleading stories.
Identifying a fake news sources is not always straightforward. The social media giant says it often targets "spoof" sites that mimic legitimate news sources. But misleading anti-abortion sites can be hazier to identify. They generally publish original pieces, but often alongside inaccurate facts or with poor sourcing, which "helps blur the line between what’s considered a news blog and 'fake news.'"
Facebook aims to limit fake news by making it more difficult for these sources to buy ads or generate spam. "Most false news is financially motivated," Facebook says. This is not often the case with anti-abortion advocates, though, who are overwhelmingly driven by strong religious or political beliefs. The goal isn't profit but persuasion.
Many are concerned that misinformation regarding reproductive rights and abortion in particular may detrimentally affect current political movements. Ireland plans to hold a referendum next year regarding whether to lessen the country's strict abortion regulations. Pro-choice advocates are worried that the rapid spread of abortion-related misinformation on Facebook (like a purported causal link between abortion and breast cancer) may affect the vote.
Facebook has yet, though, to directly address concerns over this type of scientific misinformation in the same way they have begun to address fake news about last year's election.
November 17, 2017 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
The Atlantic (Oct. 16, 2017): The Movement of #MeToo, by Sophie Gilbert:
In response to the widespread allegations of Harvey Weinstein's sexual assaults, women and men beyond Hollywood have been coming forward via social media with hundreds of thousands of stories ranging from verbal assaults to physical violence.
The "me too" movement began ten years ago when activist Tarana Burke encouraged survivors of sexual assault to foster solidarity and support for each other. This week, it's gone viral after actress Alyssa Milano took to twitter to mobilize women to stand and say "me too" if they had experienced sexual harassment or assault. The goal was "to give people a sense of 'the magnitude of the problem.'" Within the last 24 hours, Twitter has confirmed that the #MeToo hashtag has been circulated nearly half a million times--and this does not account for the stories shared on alternative social media sites, and, of course, those shared in private among family and friends.
Importantly, many are also recognizing that along with those speaking up and sharing, there are just as many who have very likely survived an assault and are not sharing their stories publicly. With a world of voices being raised and heard this week, the hope is that awareness will breed action and the culture of sexual violence against others will end.
Unlike many kinds of social-media activism, it isn’t a call to action or the beginning of a campaign, culminating in a series of protests and speeches and events. It’s simply an attempt to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society. To get women, and men, to raise their hands.
Recent revelations about the alleged abuses of Weinstein and Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile and R. Kelly have proven that truth has power. There’s a monumental amount of work to be done in confronting a climate of serial sexual predation—one in which women are belittled and undermined and abused and sometimes pushed out of their industries altogether. But uncovering the colossal scale of the problem is revolutionary in its own right.
Monday, October 23, 2017
New York Daily News (Oct. 16, 2107): Councilman to introduce bill to protect employees from discrimination when it comes to reproductive health, by Jillian Jorgensen:
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams plans to introduce a bill to prohibit workplace discrimination based on reproductive decisions in the wake of Trump's recent health care initiatives.
This proposal follows the "Boss Bill," currently before the state legislature, which aims to guarantee women access to medical procedures and medicine such as fertility treatments, contraceptives, and abortion.
The bill is co-sponsored by several women council members, including the chair of the Committee on Women's Issues, Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) and co-chair of the Women's Caucus Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan).
The bill would modify the city’s Human Rights Law to protect against employment discrimination based on “sexual and reproductive health decisions.”
That would include fertility treatments, family planning services and counseling, birth control drugs and supplies, emergency contraception, sterilization, pregnancy tests, abortions and HIV testing and counseling.
Monday, October 16, 2017
Devex (Oct. 3, 2017): In West Africa, youth ambassadors serve as family planning advocates, by Christin Roby:
In West Africa, young people are receiving training from health professionals and becoming community-based family planning advocates. They use their skills to initiate conversations with their local ministries of health to demand access to contraceptives, reproductive health services, and to ensure they each have a voice in future reproductive policies.
West Africa has the world’s lowest contraceptive prevalence rate accompanied by the world’s highest fertility rate. While the world averages 2.4 children per woman, African women average 4.7 children. West Africa surpasses even the African average with five children per woman, and a 17 percent modern contraception prevalence rate as compared to the global rate of 64 percent.
These initiatives are part of a larger project by the nations that make up the Ouagadougou Partnership (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo). This Partnership has a goal to provide 2.2 million more people in the region better access to family planning methods by 2020. The youth ambassadors especially aim to reach rural communities that don't often have much knowledge about contraception or family planning.
Experts hope that introducing effective family planning methods into more communities will enable young mothers-to-be to space their births, so as to reduce potentially negative health consequences. Young men are important to the conversation as well, and educating them on the risks of un-spaced births and the health complications that young pregnant women face--especially those under 18 years old--is imperative.
By empowering the youth to advocate for themselves and their communities, these groups--such as Strengthening Civil Society Engagement for Family Planning in West Africa--hope to facilitate cooperation between religious and community leaders. Bridging these spheres is important in order to account for various cultural contexts when considering reproductive rights advocacy and establishing new health services programs. Youth ambassadors have effectively organized trainings within mosques and churches and are beginning to open a line of communication about safe sex practices, discussion of which is often considered taboo.
International health experts are optimistic that the West African model will expand contraceptive use and effective family planning and improve reproductive health in the region.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
UN Ambassador Flounders to Explain U.S. Vote Against Rebuking the Use of the Death Penalty to Target LGBTQ People
Think Progress (Oct. 4, 2017): Haley tries, fails to explain UN vote against rebuking use of death penalty to target LGBTQ people, by Zack Ford:
The United Nations approved a resolution on Friday, September 29 condemning the use of the death penalty in a discriminatory manner. The text of the resolution called for the death penalty to be banned "as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations."
The United States, however, voted against the resolution, along with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Only 13 out of 47 countries on the Human Rights Council voted against it.
A spokesperson for the State Department cited "broader concerns" about the resolution as the reason for the negative vote, specifying disagreement with the resolution's "approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances." UN Ambassador Nikki Haley took to twitter to claim that the vote was not one for "the death penalty for gay people," claiming that Friday's vote was the same as the U.S.'s vote on the same issue under the Obama administration. In 2014, however, the Obama administration abstained from the death penalty resolution, which is distinct from actively voting "no." Additionally, the language regarding same-sex relationships was a new addition to the resolution.
The rest of the resolution’s calls to action refer to how the death penalty is implemented, not whether it should be. It simply calls upon states that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not applied in a discriminatory way and to take all possible precautions to protect the civil rights of people who are facing that punishment.
The controversy surrounding this vote highlights the United States' isolation on the death penalty compared to the rest of the democratized world. Many studies have found the death penalty to be applied in a discriminatory manner across the world where it is still implemented, especially against racial minorities and economically-vulnerable people. In the U.S., 55% of those awaiting execution today are people of color, according to the ACLU.
While the resolution encouraged countries to sign a protocol that aims at abolishing the death penalty, it did not require it.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
The New York Times (Aug. 9, 2017): The Right to (Black) Life, by Renee Bracey Sherman
Three years since the killing of Michael Brown, women of color are asserting that one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time is not abortion, as anti-choice advocates argue, but police brutality.
While the fundamental right to procreate (or not to) remains essential for black women, many point out that this choice, without the legitimate ability to raise their children in safety and away from violence, "rings hollow."
It’s important to understand that the fight for reproductive justice and the fight to end police brutality go hand in hand. State violence and control, whether through racist policing, the criminal justice system or the welfare system, are all issues at the core of reproductive justice. They are fundamentally about whether you, or the state, has control over your own body and destiny.
Reproductive justice as a human rights framework, was initiated by women of color in the early 1990s. Beyond abortion, the movement is about ensuring a woman's right to choose whether to conceive, her right to a safe, shame-free pregnancy, and the right to raise her children free from state control and brutality.
Discrimination against black mothers and mothers-to-be begins right away and is recognized by organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Racial bias, they say, affects mothers and families both directly through unequal treatment, and indirectly through the stress of such an environment.
Anti-abortion activists, in particular, when black mothers survive the killing of their children, look to blame the mother or the child himself. "They scrutinize every parenting decision and ignore the structural issues that force those decisions."
Far too often, compassion for black lives doesn’t extend beyond the womb or to the black women carrying that womb. Too few tears are shed for the people killed by police violence. Reproductive justice is about the resolve to raise our families on our own terms, safely. This is the fight for the right to life.
Friday, August 18, 2017
The New York Times (Aug. 16, 2017): Sperm Count in Western Men Has Dropped Over 50 Percent Since 1973, Paper Finds, by Maya Salam
The sperm count of men in Western countries has been declining precipitously with no signs of “leveling off,” according to new research, bolstering a school of thought that male health in the modern world is at risk, possibly threatening fertility.
By examining thousands of studies and conducting a meta-analysis of 185 — the most comprehensive effort to date — an international team of researchers ultimately looked at semen samples from 42,935 men from 50 countries from 1973 to 2011.
They found that sperm concentration — the number of sperm per milliliter of semen — had declined each year, amounting to a 52.4 percent total decline, in men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Possible causes that researchers have identified include exposure to cigarette smoke, alcohol, and chemicals--such as phthalates--in utero. Age, obesity, and stress also play a role in lowered sperm count and quality. While long-term consequences have yet to be identified, research shows that fertility rates in Western nations are too low to sustain the current population.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Since 2013, the Urban Resource Institute’s program URIPALS (People and Animals Living Safely) has helped families with pets escape domestic violence and enter shelter together. Now the Institute has published a white paper exploring the connection between domestic violence and pet abuse. Excerpts from the report follow:
The connection between domestic violence and pet abuse is very real, and in many cases, pet ownership becomes a barrier to safety because of the survivor’s unwillingness to leave their pet behind. The choice in many cases is forced because there are few programs that allow survivors of domestic violence to bring their pets with them when entering a shelter. This reality points to a great need both in New York City and nationally for more services for domestic violence survivors who are pet owners. It is vital for domestic violence service providers, animal advocates, funders and government partners to work together to support the growth of programs like URIPALS in order to ensure that people are able to leave an abusive environment with their entire family—pets included.
Leveraging findings from URIPALS, the white paper reveals:
- Insights from pet owners and survivors of domestic violence
- Recommendations for building a co-sheltering model, where people and pets are able to live together in shelter
- Current barriers to safety for pet owners seeking shelter
Monday, September 5, 2016
Fast Company (August 15, 2016): Patagonia's CEO Explains How To Make On-Site Child Care Pay For Itself, by Rose Marcario:
Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario explains that many businesspeople ask how companies can afford the plethora of family centered benefits similar to those offered to Patagonia employees: "company-paid health care and sick time for all employees; paid maternity and paternity leave; access to on-site child care for employees at our headquarters in Ventura, California, and at our Reno, Nevada, distribution center; and financial support to those who need it, among other benefits." Marcario writes that while paid leave should be favored because it is the ethically responsible thing to do, it is also an effective business model, with an-in depth look at the tax benefits, employee retention, and employee engagement fostered by Patagonia's policies. This is something Patagonia has done since its inception, and current leadership maintains a staunch commitment to these values:
For 33 years, Patagonia has provided on-site child care—a mandate from our founders, who believed it was a moral imperative. Even in times of economic struggle the program was never cut, because they believed in providing a supportive work environment for working families. Taking care of our tribe is part of our culture and our commitment to helping our own people live the way they want. It’s true, there are financial costs to offering onsite child care, and they can be expensive if you offer high-quality programs or subsidize your employees’ tuition when onsite care is not available.
But the benefits—financial and otherwise—pay for themselves every year. As a CEO, it’s not even a question in my mind. Business leaders (and their chief financial officers) should take note.
Friday, September 2, 2016
New York Times (Aug. 31, 2016): Review: "The Art of Waiting," What to Expect When You're Still Not Expecting, by Jennifer Senior:
In this book review of Belle Boggs's "The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood," Senior describes the book as a dispeller of myths. Myths about infertility abound: it is primarily a while, upper-middle-class problem, it is a woman's problem, it is rare and unnatural. None of these myths is even remotely true. The psychological experience of infertility and the attempts to treat it are harrowing:
There is always one more treatment to try or redo, provided she’s willing to spring for it or disappear into a canyon of debt. There’s adoption to consider; there’s also the simple possibility of giving up, of deciding there’s another kind of life to be lived. Ms. Boggs did that for a while. It was both horrible and a great relief. “I felt split in two,” she writes. “The person I had hoped to become was torn away, leaving only the person I had always been.” She eventually resumes trying.
Apart from the psychological devastation of trying and failing to have children is the crushing social isolation. As Senior puts it, "There’s something truly challenging, if not excruciating, about being out of step with your cohort."
At times the book seem hermetic because Boggs focuses primarily on her mileu of artists and writers. Nonetheless, concludes Senior, Boggs's has given "a cold, clinical topic some much-needed warmth and soul."
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The Atlantic (August 3, 2016): It's Time to Make 'Women's Work' Everyone's Work, by The Atlantic
In such a simple yet powerful video interview, Anne Marie-Slaughter contends that the women's movement is missing an "emphasis on caregiving policies." Slaughter asks why we have failed to recognize that traditional women's work is just as important as traditional men's work. She argues that cultivating the idea that breadwinning and caregiving are equally as important in a successful household is key in achieving true equality.