Friday, December 4, 2015
The Poverty of Privacy Rights, by Khiara M. Bridges, Professor of Law, Boston University
For the past year, I have been writing a book, titled The Poverty of Privacy Rights. The punch line of the book is poor mothers do not have privacy rights.
Most people who have examined poor mothers’ experiences with the state agree that they do not enjoy any privacy in any real sense of the word. The state is all around them. It is in their homes, it is in their decision making processes around whether or not to bear a child, it is monitoring them as they parent their children, it is collecting the most intimate information from them, etc. It is everywhere. In light of the fact that the state is all around poor mothers – and in light of the fact that poor mothers can not keep the state out of their lives in the way that wealthier mothers can – most scholars have argued that poor mothers have privacy rights, but their rights are weak, meaningless, or constantly violated. The book that I am writing seeks to shift the discourse. It disputes that poor mothers have privacy rights that are weak or meaningless or constantly violated. Instead, it argues that poor mothers do not have privacy rights at all.
The book proposes that poor mothers have been “informally disenfranchised” of their privacy rights. The concept of informal disenfranchisement refers to the process by which a group that has been formally bestowed with a right is stripped of that very right by techniques that the Court holds to be consistent with the Constitution. The best precedent for informal disenfranchisement is black people’s experience with voting rights. While the Fifteenth Amendment formally enfranchised black men, white supremacists in the South employed methods—poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements, and white primaries—that made it impossible for black men to actually vote in the South for a century after their formal enfranchisement. Moreover, the Court held that each of these techniques of racial exclusion from the polls was constitutional. This is informal disenfranchisement: the status of formally bearing a right, yet being unable to exercise that right because laws that the Court have found to be constitutional make it impossible to do so. As such, my book proposes that poor mothers have been informally disenfranchised of privacy rights.
Now, those who are committed to the belief that everyone enjoys the same rights in the U.S.—even poor mothers—might argue that the government’s interest in protecting poor mothers’ children and children-to-be from abuse and neglect overrides their rights. So, they suggest that the reason why it appears that the government can act as it would act if poor mothers’ privacy rights did not exist at all is because the government interest in protecting children invariably justifies overriding these mothers’ privacy rights.
But, we have to ask: why does the state presume that poor mothers are at risk of abusing or neglecting their children? Now, one might respond: a mother’s poverty yields the possibility that she will be unable to meet the material needs of her child. One might respond: all that the state is doing is ensuring that the indigent woman is able to meet the material needs of her child. But, the Court has authorized states to ask questions that go beyond an inquiry into whether a woman will be able to provide food, clothing, and shelter for her child. The Court has authorized states to enter poor women’s homes just to make sure that they are not lying about their eligibility for public assistance benefits. The Court has authorized states to coerce women to avoid motherhood via family caps on public benefits. The Court has authorized states to coerce women into motherhood via prohibitions on the spending of Medicaid funds on abortion. The state’s surveillance goes beyond ensuring that poor mothers are able to meet the basic needs of their child. Instead, it amounts to a blanket surveillance of poor mothers.
It is worth noting, early and often, that wealthier women engage in the same behaviors in which poor women engage. Wealthier women cohabit with men to whom they are not married. Wealthier women smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol while pregnant. They, too, have histories of sexual and domestic violence. They, too, have unplanned pregnancies. They, too, find themselves pregnant after being in relatively short relationships with the fathers of their babies. Yet, no state has erected an extravagant bureaucratic tool with which it can take an accounting of every non-poor pregnant woman. And the point of my new book is to argue that, if a state did erect this extravagant bureaucratic tool with which it can take an accounting of non-poor pregnant women, it would be struck down as a violation of their privacy rights.
Now, the fact that no state has attempted to erect this bureaucratic tool is telling. It suggests that the state is not really interested in protecting children from abuse and neglect. Instead, it is only interested in protecting some children from abuse and neglect. That is, the state assumes that only some children need to be protected from their mothers. And those children are the ones that are born to poor women. Now, why does the state make this assumption about poor women? It cannot be because poor women engage in problematic behaviors and have problematic histories; wealthier women do, too. It has to be because of something else. My new book argues that that “something else” is poor women’s poverty and the fact that we largely believe that most poverty in this country is a consequence of individual, bad character. We have informally disenfranchised poor mothers of privacy rights because we, as a society, do not trust individuals with bad characters – poor women, presumptively – to competently parent their children.
Saturday, November 29, 2014
In Wake of Forced Clinic Closures, Activists Raise Funds to Help Low-Income Women Travel for Abortions
The New York Times: Activists Help Pay for Patients’ Travel to Shrinking Number of Abortion Clinics, by Jackie Calmes:
The young woman lived in Dallas, 650 miles from Albuquerque, but that was where she would have to go for an abortion, she was told. New state regulations had forced several of Dallas’s six abortion clinics to close, creating weekslong waiting lists. By the time the woman could get in, she would be up against the Texas ban on abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation.
But she could not afford the trip to New Mexico.
So it was that she had left a phone message with a hotline in Austin and, on a recent evening, heard back from Lenzi Sheible, the 20-year-old founder of a fund to help low-income women pay the unexpected costs of traveling for abortions in Texas — or to states beyond. . . .
Monday, June 23, 2014
Louisiana Faces Reproductive Health Care Crisis Even As It Continues Continues To Enact Anti-Choice Laws
RH Reality Check: In Louisiana, a New Law, and a Worsening Reproductive Health-Care Crisis, by Teddy Wilson:
It’s a muggy late May morning in New Orleans’ Broadmoor neighborhood, and dozens of area residents are lined up in the rain for a health-care fair at the Rosa Keller Library and Community Center. For many of the people who live in Broadmoor—a predominantly low-income community of color—this is their only access to health care. . . .
Monday, April 7, 2014
The Huffington Post: The Return Of The Back-Alley Abortion, by Laura Bassett:
. . . The proliferation of well-trained, regulated, legal abortion doctors in the last 40 years has led to "dramatic decreases in pregnancy-related injury and death," according to the National Abortion Federation.
Now, however, Texas and other states are reversing course. State lawmakers enacted more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than they had in the previous decade, a trend that appears likely to continue in 2014. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that nearly 300 anti-abortion bills are currently pending in state legislatures.
The new restrictions have had a significant impact on women's access to abortion. . . .
. . . The poorest area of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley near the Mexican border, has no remaining abortion clinics. Women who live there have to drive roughly 240 miles to San Antonio for the nearest clinic, but many of them are Mexican immigrants with restrictions on their work visas that prevent them from traveling that far.
In addition, the state has slashed funding for family planning, forcing 76 clinics that offer birth control and other reproductive health services but do not perform abortions to shut down.
"It's a horrible natural experiment that is taking place in Texas, where we are going to see what happens in 2014 when U.S. women don't have access to legal, safe abortion," said Dan Grossman, vice president of research for Ibis Reproductive Health, an international nonprofit. . . .
Sunday, April 6, 2014
ThinkProgress: A 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Who’s Pregnant With Twins Is Being Denied An Abortion In Senegal, by Tara Culp-Ressler:
A 10-year old Senegalese girl who became pregnant with twins after being raped by a neighbor is being forced to continue with her pregnancy, thanks to her country’s stringent restrictions on abortion. Human rights advocates have been trying to pressure the government to allow the girl to seek abortion care, but they’ve been unsuccessful so far. . . .
Fatou Kiné Camara, the president of the Senegalese women lawyers’ association, . . . explained that under Senegal’s current abortion law, which is one of the harshest among African nations, requires three doctors to certify that a woman will die immediately unless she ends her pregnancy. But poor women in the country are hardly ever able to visit a doctor, let alone three in quick succession. . . .
Th Guardian: Senegalese law bans raped 10-year-old from aborting twins, by Alex Duval Smith:
. . . "Senegal's abortion law is one of the harshest and deadliest in Africa. A doctor or pharmacist found guilty of having a role in a termination faces being struck off. A woman found guilty of abortion can be jailed for up to 10 years."
Forty women were held in custody in Senegal on charges linked to the crimes of abortion or infanticide in the first six months of last year, official figures show. According to estimates, hundreds of women die every year from botched illegal terminations. . . .
"We had a previous case of a raped nine-year-old who had to go through with her pregnancy. We paid for her caesarean but she died a few months after the baby was born, presumably because the physical trauma of childbirth was too great." . . .
Monday, March 24, 2014
Feministing: No Reproductive Justice for Pregnant Indigenous Women in Mexico, by Juliana:
In October of last year, Irma Lopez Aurelio arrived at a state health clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico, in labor with her third child. The doctors at the clinic told her to come back, that her labor was not advanced enough and no doctor was available to help her. Irma, who is Indigenous, spoke little Spanish and was unable to communicate how advanced her labor was to the monolingual doctors. After hours of waiting, Irma gave birth on the lawn outside of the clinic.
In the past nine months, seven Indigenous women in Mexico have been documented having their babies in the yard, waiting rooms, or front steps of state clinics. . . .
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Anchorage Daily News/AP: Judge grants restraining order against state in abortion rules case:
Judge John Suddock approved the order Tuesday at the request of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, which has sued the state. . . .
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health: The Fight for Women's Reproductive Health in the Rio Grande Valley:
In late 2012 and early 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health documented the impact of state funding cuts to family planning services on women in the Rio Grande Valley. This report draws from their stories to show how funding cuts to women’s preventive services are more than failed policies—they are violations of their human rights. . . .
Friday, November 1, 2013
Feministing: Quick hit: Anti-choicers split on Medicaid expansion, by Veronica Bayetti Flores:
Anti-choice organizations seem to be split on their support of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which expands access to health care for the poorest Americans. Putting aside that abortion care actually is health care (despite the highly unjust restriction on federal funding of abortion care), it seems that the more extreme anti-choice organizations in particular are not very excited about expanding general access to health care for the poor. . . .
Thursday, September 5, 2013
The New York Times - Motherlode blog: Poor, Black and Hispanic Women Are More Often Counseled on Emergency Contraception, by Hope Reeves:
The number of women using emergency contraceptives — commonly known as the morning-after pill or Plan B — has increased significantly in the last decade, according to the results of a new survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 2002 to 2006-10, the percentage of women who reported using an emergency contraceptive in the last 12 months rose to 2.2 percent from 0.9 percent, a 144 percent change. . . .
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Salon: Long Term Study Debunks Myth of the "Crack Baby", by Katie McDonough:
After nearly 25 years of research, one of the nation’s largest long-term studies on the so-called “crack baby” epidemic of the 1980s has concluded that there are no statistically significant differences in the long-term health and life outcomes between full-term babies exposed to cocaine in-utero and those who were not.
Instead, researchers found poverty to be a key determining factor in how well children performed later in life. As Hallam Hurt, the former chair of neonatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center and the study’s lead researcher, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine.” . . .
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Department of Educ. Office for Civil Rights Urges Greater Support for Pregnant and Parenting Students
U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights: Dear Colleague Letter:
We as a nation need to do more to help the hundreds of thousands of young people who become mothers and fathers each year graduate from high school ready for college and successful careers. According to studies cited in the attached pamphlet, Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 26 percent of young men and young women combined who had dropped out of public high schools — and one-third of young women — said that becoming a parent was a major factor in their decision to leave school. And, only 51 percent of young women who had a child before age 20 earned their high school diploma by age 22. The educational prospects are worse at the higher-education level. Only 2 percent of young women who had a child before age 18 earned a college degree by age 30. This low education attainment means that young parents are more likely than their peers to be unemployed or underemployed, and the ones who do find jobs will, on average, earn significantly less than their peers.
To help improve the high school and college graduation rates of young parents, we must support pregnant and parenting students so that they can stay in school and complete their education, and thereby build better lives for themselves and their children. . . .
Thursday, May 23, 2013
This article explores the effectiveness of the decision of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in the case of Alyne da Silva Pimentel Teixeira (deceased) v. Brazil, concerning a poor, Afro-Brazilian woman. This is the first decision of an international human rights treaty body to hold a state accountable for its failure to prevent an avoidable death in childbirth. Assessing the future effectiveness of this decision might be undertaken concretely by determining the degree of Brazil’s actual compliance with the Committee’s recommendations, and how this decision influences pending domestic litigation arising from the maternal death. Alternative approaches include: determining whether, over time, the decision leads to the elimination of discrimination against women of poor, minority racial status in the health sector, and if it narrows the wide gap between rates of maternal mortality of poor, Afro-Brazilian women and the country’s general female population. Determining the effectiveness of this decision will guide whether to pursue a more general strategy of judicializing maternal mortality.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
NPR: Philadelphia Case Exposes Deep Rift In Abortion Debate, by Julie Rovner:
This is the sixth week of the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the physician charged with five counts of murder in the deaths of a woman and infants at the Philadelphia abortion clinic he owned and operated.
The case and its grisly details have prompted considerable debate about a variety of issues, including whether the media has covered it sufficiently.
But it has also laid bare some of the very issues at the heart of the still-simmering debate over abortion 40 years after the Supreme Court made it legal. Most directly, it raises the question of whether increasing regulation on abortion clinics make places like Gosnell's clinic more or less likely to exist. . . .
Listen to the story here.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Feministing: Quick Hit: Gosnell's clinic and the cost of dignity in health care, by Maya Dusenbery:
As we’ve already mentioned, the conservative claims of a liberal media “blackout” surrounding the trial of Kermit Gosnell are totally ridiculous. Feminist bloggers and journalists, including us, have been covering this terrible story from the beginning. Our own Lori wrote an article in the Grio two years ago on the racial segregation of Gosnell’s clinic and what this story says about safe abortion access for low-income women of color. . . .
The Atlantic: 14 Theories for Why Kermit Gosnell's Case Didn't Get More Media Attention, by Conor Friedersdorf
The New York Times - Public Editor's Journal: Politics Aside, the Gosnell Trial Deserves — and Is Getting — More Coverage, by Margaret Sullivan
Slate: Kermit Gosnell: The Alleged Mass-Murderer and the Bored Media, by David Weigel
The Atlantic: If More Funding Went to Safe, Legal Abortions, Would Kermit Gosnell Have Happened?, by Jeff Deeney
Monday, April 15, 2013
ACLU (blog): Reproductive Rights and Yesterday's Budget Release, by Sarah Lipton-Lubet:
President Obama yesterday released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2014. Here are five things you should know about how it affects reproductive rights:
Home Rule for the District of Columbia
As he has each year of his presidency, President Obama removed the D.C. abortion ban from his budget proposal. That ban prohibits the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised funds to pay for abortion care for low-income D.C. residents. By contrast, all other states are permitted to use non-federal revenues to pay for abortion care if they so choose. . . .
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
azdailysun.com: Brewer omits anti-abortion provision in Medicaid plan, by Howard Fischer:
PHOENIX -- Saying the move would make no sense, Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday refused to insert an anti-abortion provision into her plan to expand the state's Medicaid program.
Brewer noted she signed legislation last year to preclude funds from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System from being used to pay for services provided by Planned Parenthood.
State and federal laws already preclude public funds from paying for elective abortions. But proponents said they feared that these family planning dollars would end up underwriting the organization's abortion costs. . . .
Saturday, March 16, 2013
MSNBC: The Catholic Church’s costly stance on contraception, by Meredith Clark:
The election of Pope Francis on Wednesday has reignited the discussion about the future of the Catholic Church and whether it will address the ever-growing gap between doctrine and modern society. The cost of its intransigence is not simply a moral one; the church’s anti-contraception stance has a major economic impact for its 1.2 billion members, both in the developing world and the U.S. . . .
Thursday, March 7, 2013
The Huffington Post: International Women's Day 2013: 7 Sadly Disturbing Truths About Women's Bodies (HOW YOU CAN HELP), by Eleanor Goldberg:
On International Women’s Day, we have a number of groundbreaking accomplishments to celebrate. This year alone, women in the U.S. won the right to serve on the front lines in combat and President Obama inched closer to pushing for equal pay for men and women.
Global health for women has also seen some major boons, too. The number of mothers who die during childbirth has been reduced by almost 50 percent and HIV drug prices have fallen by more than 99 percent since 2000.
But we’re not done fighting yet. . . .
The New York Times: Posters on Teenage Pregnancy Draw Fire, by Kate Taylor:
The curly-haired baby looks out from the poster with sad eyes and tears dripping down his tawny cheeks.
“I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,” the text next to his head reads.
In another poster, a dark-skinned little girl casts her eyes to the sky and says, “Honestly Mom ... chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?”
These images, part of a public education campaign targeting teenage pregnancy that the city unveiled this week, are drawing mounting criticism from reproductive health advocates, women who had children as teenagers, and others . . . .
The two ads described here, in addition to stigmatizing pregnant teens and reinforcing stereotypes, are disturbing in the way they target teen mothers through the fictional accusations of their own babies. Did the mayor's office forget that it takes two to create a pregnancy? Blaming "bad mothers" is a time-worn, punitive, and utterly unproductive way to try to address the social realities of poverty and sex and race discrimination. Read PPNYC's response to the ads here.