Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Jun. 26, 2019 (Vice): Med Students Are Doing Vaginal Exams on Unconscious, Non-Consenting Patients, by Hannah Harris Green:
For decades, medical students around the country have been expected to perform pelvic exams on unconscious women--not for the patient's benefit but solely for the student's experience. Sometimes these exams are performed multiple times by different students on the same patient. The exams involve a student inserting "two gloved fingers into the patient’s vagina and [placing] one hand on her pelvis in order to feel the uterus and ovaries." This patient is never asked for consent prior to the procedure nor is she informed of the exam afterward.
One former student--now a pediatrician in Baltimore, Maryland--learned of these procedures during his OB/GYN rotation while studying at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in the 1990s. He refused to participate, joining in a movement to ban the practice. Ari Silver-Isenstadt took a year out of his medical studies to study the ethical implications of this practice at Penn's School of Education. He subsequently published a study in 2003 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that found that over 90 percent of students at the five Pennsylvania medical schools he had focused on had performed vaginal exams on non-consenting, unconscious patients. He noted that students' initial discomfort with the procedure quickly dissipated as it became a regular part of their rotations.
California became the first state to ban these invasive exams in 2003, the same year of Silver-Isenstadt's study. Since then, Illinois, Virginia, Oregon, Hawaii, Iowa, Utah, and Maryland have followed suit. Additional states that have introduced similar legislation this year include Connecticut, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Washington, and Texas. No federal legislation yet addresses the issue.
Some medical schools have also banned the practice institutionally as well--like Harvard--but others, including Duke University, consistently ask their medical students to perform pelvic exams sans consent throughout their education.
While the procedure invades the privacy of any patient, consequences can be particularly severe for patients with a history of sexual trauma who either find out a pelvic exam was performed on them while unconscious or else wake up during the produce, as did Ashely Weitz in 2007.
Weitz said testifying about her experience in support of Utah's law in February was nerve-racking, especially because she expected there to be other women at the hearing at the state house with similar experiences, but she was the only one. Given the nature of these exams, people don’t know if it's happened to them. She said it was “a very healing practice to say 'this shouldn't happen to me, it shouldn't be happening in the way that it is happening in an institution.'” But there are still parts of the incident that she hasn’t recovered from. “It changed the way that I sought and received medical care,” she said. “I was, you know, thereafter very certain that I was never going to be sedated or unconscious in a manner that would have allowed that situation to happen again. So it was in itself very traumatizing.”
Utah's ban on unconscious pelvic exams was signed into law in March of this year. It requires both medical students and doctors to get explicit consent to perform such exams on anesthetized women. A law professor at the University of Illinois, Robin Fretwell Wilson, credited Weitz's testimony as the primary driving force behind the state legislation.
Wilson herself advocates for requiring specific consent for any pelvic exams. While opponents to legislation requiring consent argue that general consent forms signed upon entering a teaching hospital already cover these exams, Wilson and other advocates for patient protections assert that it is ethically wrong to practice procedures that are of no benefit to the patient without direct consent.
Many advocates, including Weitz, connect the growing opposition to these vaginal exams to the rising tide of the #MeToo movement in recent years. "The #MeToo movement has helped people like Weitz better understand that the violations they endure are part of a wider cultural problem."
Wilson acknowledges that even 10 or 15 years ago, the attitude toward this practice was completely different. "At the time, medical school faculty 'were more than willing to stand their ground and say, "not only do we do it, but the patients in our hospitals have a duty to participate."' . . . 15 years ago, many schools 'did not see it as an issue.'"
Advocates of legal regulations requiring patient consent, though, still fear that enforcement of the new laws will be difficult. "In order for authorities to find out, students would need to both be aware of the law and willing to report wrongdoing by their supervisors, so [Silver-Isenstadt is] hoping the culture is what will ultimately change."
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Jun. 11, 2019 (The New York Times): Botswana's High Court Decriminalizes Gay Sex, by Kimon de Greef:
A three-judge panel in the capital of Botswana voted unanimously to overturn a colonial-era law banning gay sex in the country.
"'Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized,' Judge Michael Leburu said as he delivered the judgment, adding that laws that banned gay sex were 'discriminatory.'"
"Homosexuality has been illegal in Botswana since the late 1800s, when the territory, then known as Bechuanaland, was under British rule." The penal code outlawed “unnatural offenses,” defined as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Violations of this law could result in seven years in prison; a five-year sentence could be imposed just for attempting to have gay sex or engage in any other "homosexual acts."
The court had the opportunity to strike down the law, because an anonymous gay plaintiff challenged the law's constitutionality. The court had previously upheld Botswana's discriminatory laws in the face of a prior 2003 challenge.
Last year, India similarly struck down its anti-gay statutory vestiges of colonialsm.
Unfortunately, other African countries like Kenya have decided the opposite way, upholding laws that criminalize sexuality.
Homophobia is widely entrenched on the continent, with gay sex outlawed in more than 30 countries. In several northern African nations, including Somalia and Sudan, homosexuality is punishable by death; offenders in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda face life in prison.
Even in countries like South Africa with progressive gay rights legislation, the African continent continues to find "widespread rejection" of homosexuality.
Nonetheless, gay rights groups and LGBTQ activists in Botswana celebrate the historical moment this week that came with the High Court's decision.
Monday, March 11, 2019
Rewire.News (Mar. 7, 2019): Here's How Democrats Want to Classify Reproductive Rights as Human Rights, by Katelyn Burns:
The Trump administration's State Department deleted reproductive rights from its human rights report last year. Now, Congressional Democrats have introduced a bill that would require the inclusion of reproductive rights--by way of an accounting of "access to reproductive health care"--in the report.
"The 'Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act' was introduced by Democratic caucus vice chair Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and announced at a press conference Thursday [March 7, 2019] along with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and U.S. Senate co-sponsors Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)."
Representative Clark said:
The way that we are able to protect human rights internationally is through shining a light on the violations. I think what this administration is saying is that we are no longer interested in finding out what is happening with women’s health and monitoring, assessing and protecting women across the globe.
The State Department's annual human rights report is of critical important to the our government, notes Amanda Klasing, acting co-director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. Congress uses this report in determining appropriations pertaining to foreign assistance, and immigration judges likewise rely on the report in making decisions about pending asylum claims.
If a woman crosses the border from El Salvador claiming asylum in the United State because she is threatened with jail time in her home country for having a miscarriage, for example, an immigration judge might look to the human rights report to determine whether this is a credible basis on which she may claim asylum.
The information that used to be included on the report was gathered by foreign service officers who had established relationships with health care providers and advocates around the world. These relationship no longer exist under the current administration. Not only is the information foreign service officers previously gathered lost, the contacts that enabled substantial, accurate reporting are gone.
"There will be a minimum of a year or two years for embassies to rebuild meaningful relationships where they can actually be substantially reporting on what’s happening," said Stephanie Schmid, U.S. foreign policy council at the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).
Since the deletion of reproductive rights from the report, the CRR has twice sued the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act in an effort to access documentation about the erasure. The newly-proposed bill "mandates that foreign service officers must consult with reproductive health and rights organizations in local communities to gather accurate information for the human rights report."
Advocates for reproductive rights hope this bill will solidify the importance of including reproductive rights among human rights generally.
'There is a sense that there are hard human rights issues and then there are soft human rights issues,' Klasing said. 'The State Department is still reporting on the hard human rights issues like torture, extrajudicial killings, but there’s some flexibility as to whether or not these [reproductive rights] actually qualify as human rights. As somebody who has interviewed both people who have been victims of state sponsored violence, torture, abuse, and people who have had their reproductive rights violated, the feeling of abuse, the feeling of violation is the same. It’s a visceral feeling.'
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Essence (Feb. 20, 2018): Black History Legacy: Honoring The Black Women Who Birthed Our Movements, by Cameron Glover:
"[N]aming the Black women who have metaphorically given birth to the movements that are so vital to social justice and our collective well-being is a necessary step toward truly celebrating Black excellence."
Here is a small reminder of important Black women and their organizations that have and are trailblazing the way toward reproductive justice:
SisterSong, a Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, coined the term "reproductive justice" to specifically address the disparities in reproductive health care women of color face.
Defining reproductive justice as "the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities," SisterSong has worked in the Southern United States to fight states’ invasive abortion bill laws, which further restrict access to abortions. But the group has also worked to help communities of color get greater access to resources, education for improved reproductive health, and support for the personal choice to start a family or end a pregnancy.
The Combahee River Collective.
The Combahee River Collective, a Black lesbian feminist group based in Boston from 1974-1980, highlighted mainstream feminism's problem with inclusivity. The Collective's legacy lives on today calling feminists to intersectionality and inclusivity.
Audre Lorde established the importance of "self-care."
Identified by Lorde as a method of self-preservation and as "an act of political warfare," Lorde's self-care is touted by activists fighting for reproductive rights and justice today as an essential element to centering their own well-being in the midst of the ongoing political fight.
Tarana Burke started the Me Too Movement many years before #metoo became a mainstream hashtag.
The movement began as a way to increase awareness of sexual violence against Black women and girls. While the movement has grown into a larger conversation and is now often incorrectly credited to the White women who helped amplify the national conversation on sexual harassment and assault, it's important to know that the movement's origin lies with Tarana Burke, a Black woman empowering Black women. "This erasure is all too common for Black women, and it makes the push for centering and saying their names alongside the work they do both necessary and non-negotiable."
From SisterSong to the Combahee River Collective, from Audre Lorde to Tarana Burke, we must ensure that the Black women behind the movements that are vital to our understanding of sexuality and liberation are cited and credited. But the work is not done. We also need to make sure that publicly crediting these Black women becomes routine because, in light of the violence and discrimination that Black women face, these movements are some of the few ways that they will gain public acceptance. It’s time that we move Black women from behind the curtains and into the spotlight, celebrating them for their commitment to change and to centering those that need change most.
Friday, October 19, 2018
FIGO.org (Oct. 16, 2018): International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) Speaks Out on Violence Against Women:
The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (Fédération Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique - FIGO) is a global organization that represents national societies of obstetricians and gynecologists. FIGO is meeting for their XXII World Congress in Rio de Janeiro this week. Early in the week FIGO announced, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), a Global Declaration on Violence Against Women, citing stark statistics of the violence women suffer and the wide-reaching effects of such harm, including on reproductive health and safety.
The organizations found that 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Most of this violence is committed by intimate partners. Circumstances of unrest, armed conflict, and displacement exacerbate the statistics. Women in South Sudan, for example, experience intimate partner violence at a rate double the global average.
WHO estimated that women who have been physically or sexually abused by a partner are 16% more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby.They are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression, and, 1.5 times more likely to acquire an STI, and in some regions, HIV, as compared to women who have not experienced partner violence.Health services are critical for supporting survivors to heal, recover and thrive. If accessed in time, health services can prevent unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of HIV, STIs, following rape. Unfortunately, these services are often not available and survivors lack access to basic, lifesaving care.
The Declaration on Violence Against Women announces members' dedication to, among other things, promoting women's health and rights, including sexual and reproductive rights. It announces concern over the "global public health problem" of violence against women and how it affects women physically, mentally, and sexually as well as how the violence affects the children of surviving women.
The Declaration concludes with several calls to action, urging delegates' governments to ratify CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and ensure the treaty's thorough implementation. It also calls for strengthened health systems, better allocation of budgets and resources to prevent and respond to violence, and the promotion of widely-available health services. The Declaration further advises obstetricians and gynecologists to "advocate for strategies to address violence against women in their communities, towns, cities or countries and [to] collaborate with civil society and voluntary organizations, particularly women’s health and rights organizations, which advocate for women affected by violence"
The World Congress continues to meet through the end of this week.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Rewire.News (Sept. 25, 2018): Alaskan Survivors of Sexual Assault Urge Murkowski to Vote ‘No’ on Kavanaugh, by Katelyn Burns:
Even before last week's hearing for Dr. Blasey Ford's allegations against SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh, indigenous groups in Alaska have been voicing their opposition to the Judge's confirmation.
Alaskan sexual assault survivors--many of whom are Natives--are calling on Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to vote "no" on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination this week. Activists have also been protesting at Senator Dan Sullivan's office (R-AK), however, unlike Senator Murkowski, he announced his support for Kavanaugh shortly after the nomination in July.
Sexual assault is a pervasive problem in Native American communities. Natives, including Alaskan women, suffer from rape and sexual assault in staggeringly disproportionate numbers with little access to justice.
"According to the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey, 50 percent of Alaskan women have been victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or both." Furthermore, 97 percent of Native Alaskan sexual assault survivors suffered the violence at the hands of non-Native perpetrators. Notably, tribal justice systems cannot prosecute non-Natives for sexual assault.
Survivors are also speaking out in defense of Dr. Ford's delay in coming out publicly with her allegations. “Most of the time we would be blamed for being provocative in some way. So I can understand why someone would wait years to bring up a sexual assault," said one Alaskan Native survivor.
Native communities also oppose Kavanaugh's nomination on his views of Native rights generally and his misunderstanding of tribal history and government systems.
October 2, 2018 in Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Medical News, Politics, Public Opinion, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexual Assault, Supreme Court, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 21, 2018
Daily Intelligencer (Sept. 20, 2018): Is the Anti-Abortion Movement Just Applied Anti-Feminism?, by Ed Kilgore:
Kilgore writes for New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer responding in part to conservative Ross Douthat's New York Times piece claiming that the current allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are harmful to the "pro-life" movement.
Kilgore says that despite the arguments of many anti-abortion activists that their purported moral high ground turns on fetal personhood or the rights of the unborn, "the prevailing sentiment among abortion rights activists is that the anti-abortion movement is just applied misogyny."
Anti-abortion work generally is rooted in a position that elevates the patriarchy and promotes "fear of women's sexuality and autonomy."
Kilgore highlights that Douthat interestingly links anti-abortion work with anti-feminism. Douthat is concerned that confirming Kavanaugh amidst the #metoo movement generally and his allegations of sexual assault specifically might "cement a perception that’s fatal to the pro-life movement’s larger purposes — the perception that you can’t be pro-woman and pro-life."
Even if many Republicans (in particular, Republican women) have identified with the labels pro-woman and pro-life, there is no longer any Republican party-wide commitment to the pro-woman side of the pairing, Kilgore says.
Ross Douthat is right to worry that it’s getting harder every day to disassociate pro-life from anti-woman views. It’s certainly getting harder for me to believe that anti-abortion activists care more about saving embryos than about shackling women.
September 21, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Congress, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Public Opinion, Supreme Court, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 14, 2018
Slate (Sept. 12, 2018): Planned Parenthood’s Next President: An Immigrant Doctor of Color Who Grew Up on Medicaid, by Christina Cauterucci:
Planned Parenthood announced in September that its new president, Leana Wen, will start in November. Wen currently serves as Baltimore's health commissioner and is also an emergency room physician. She will be the second doctor to head the organization and the first one to do so in 50 years.
"In both her career and her lived experience, Wen is a near-perfect embodiment of the organization’s core concerns, client base, and trajectory." Wen left China for the United States as a political asylum-seeker when she was eight years old. Growing up in poverty in California, she relied on Medicaid and Planned Parenthood for her health care, and gave back as a medical student by volunteering with Planned Parenthood as well.
In her current role as health commissioner of Baltimore, Wen has contributed both to reducing infant mortality and to fighting against disparate racial treatment in the health care system.
After 10 years of leadership focusing on the political side of the organization under Cecile Richards, Wen is expected to emphasize the legitimacy of the medical branch of Planned Parenthood while also continuing to bolster PP's political activism.
While the majority of Americans support Planned Parenthood, it's often considered a political body and branch of the Democratic party above all else. "Wen will be well-positioned to make the medical case for practices like telemedicine abortions," among other services Planned Parenthood offers and causes it supports.
That Planned Parenthood chose as its next leader a young immigrant woman of color who grew up on Medicaid and has worked to combat health inequities is a testament to the organization’s semi-recent rebranding as one committed to not only reproductive choice but reproductive justice, an ethos that prioritizes equal access to care and includes related issues like mass incarceration and poverty. The organization came under fire in 2014 when several reproductive justice advocacy groups accused it of engaging in “the co-optation and erasure” of work done by women of color in the field by claiming the mantle of reproductive justice without crediting those who’d pioneered the framework. It has been working to shake that reputation ever since.
In hiring Wen, the organization seems to hope to cement their relevancy in the reproductive justice world, re-focusing on intersectionality in the movement as well as making the case for the medical necessity of Planned Parenthood in a country facing growing threats to reproductive rights.
Saturday, September 8, 2018
The New York Times (Sept. 6, 2018): India Strikes Down Colonial-Era Ban on Gay Sex, by Jeffrey Gettleman, Kai Schultz, and Suhasini Raj:
India's Supreme Court unanimously struck down a ban on consensual gay sex, a remnant of the country's colonial past and one of the oldest bans of its kind. The Court called the law "irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary."
The Court's decision came after weeks of deliberation, years of legal arguments, and decades of activism. Human rights advocates in India and around the world celebrated as India joined the growing list of countries granting full rights to gay-identifying people. Similar laws have been overturned in the United States, Canada, England, and Nepal, among others.
In 2009, a court in New Delhi had ruled that the law could not be applied to consensual sex, but religious resistance to this decision followed by an appeal led to the restoration of the full law in 2013. The court deferred at that point to the Parliament and claimed the law only applied to a "minuscule fraction of the country."
In 2016, activists rallied five brave plaintiffs identifying as gay and lesbian Indians who alleged their rights to equality and liberty were violated under the law (Section 377). Eventually, more than two dozen additional Indians joined the case while it was pending before the Supreme Court.
The September 2018 decision struck down the prohibition against gay sex, and the Court also made illegal all discrimination based on sexuality, extending "all constitutional protections under Indian law" to gay people.
The law was written in the mid-19th century and applied to "unnatural sexual acts." The law, which criminalized people who engaged in "intercourse against the order of nature," remains on the books to apply to cases of bestiality, for example, but now no longer can be used against consensual sex. “'History owes an apology to members of the community for the delay in ensuring their rights,' Justice Indu Malhotra said."
Menaka Guruswamy was one of the lead attorneys representing the petitioners. This decision is a "huge win" she said. The lawyers' arguments centered on the legal issues but also embraced pleas to the Justices to recognize the humanity of those who have been affected by Section 377 for decades.
The law is notably a vestige of British colonialism. Hinduism, the dominant religion in India, is generally permissive of same-sex relationships, but levels of tolerance were eviscerated under British rule. The British leaders implemented Section 377, which imposed a life sentence on those in violation. While the law has been greatly limited, India remains a conservative country in many ways, and fundamentalist groups across religions--Hindu, Muslim, and Christian--protested the decision.
In recent years, though, many more Indians have come out, identifying publicly as gay, lesbian, and transgender. Now that these lifestyles are no longer criminalized, Indian activists hope that many more Indians will come out and be embraced by their country.
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Moms throughout country under investigation while Utah's 'free-range parenting' law said to be first in the nation
The Washington Post (Mar.28, 2018): Utah's 'free-range parenting' law said to be first in the nation, by Meagan Flynn:
Lenore Skenazy reinvigorated debates about best parenting practices when she decided to let her 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone (with a map, MetroCard, and cash) to instill in him independence in 2008. After the court of public opinion contested whether she was a terrible or great parent, Skenazy wrote a book on her philosophies and coined the term "free-range parenting."
The idea was to let her child engage in "various activities without stifling supervision." Unforunately, many parents who subscribe consciously or not to Skenazy's "free-range" style have encountered the scary side-effects of leaving their children without supervision: interference from child services or the police.
A mother in Chicago allowed her 8-year-old to walk their dog around the block. After the girl arrived safely home, the police stopped at their home upon receiving an anonymous tip about a child walking alone. The investigations that ensue in these scenarios are looking for child neglect. And even if the parents under investigation are cleared by officials (whether child services or the police), they have to endure "invasive and stressful" investigations that can not only be humiliating but are often considered a waste of time and resources. "Experts say that the problem stems from vague laws that often ensnare well-meaning parents who are trying to give their children freedom or responsibility."
A sociology professor at the Univesity of Illinois at Chicago, Barbara Risman, also notes that the expectation that mothers keep "a constant eye on their children" doesn't often extend to fathers:
This shaming mechanism underlies the cultural logic that women should spend all their time making sure their children are never alone. The opposite is true of dads. No one presumes fathers have a moral responsibility to take care of (their children). When they do, they get praise and positive reinforcement.
Child abuse and neglect laws can be vague, defining neglect, for example, as leaving a child under 14 "without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor." Those charged with investigating a report of neglect generally find it important to thoroughly explore every allegation.
Society is pushing back, though, against what it considers unreasonable surveillance of reasonable parenting. The free-range parenting concept has now translated into law in Utah. State Senator Lincoln Fillmore (R) sponsored the measure, which exempts a range of activities children of a "sufficient age" can do without supervision from the definition of child neglect. These activities include walking, running, or biking to and from school or recreational facilities as well as playing outside or staying inside at home unattended. While the bill was in committee earlier this year, Fillmore told Fox 13:
As a society, we’ve kind of erred, as our pendulum has swung for children’s safety, a little bit too much to the side of helicopter parenting, right? We want kids to be able to learn how to navigate the world so when they’re adults they’re fully prepared to handle things on their own.
Skenazy, too, has remained involved in the conversation. Arkansas attempted to pass a similar bill last year. It failed in committee from fears of child abduction. Skenazy wrote: “Why give kids freedom — why give parents freedom — when you can take it away so easily and say you’re championing safety in the process?”
Saturday, August 25, 2018
Bustle (Aug. 22, 2018): A California Abortion Pill Law Would Require Colleges To Offer Them, Thanks to These Activists, by Lani Seelinger:
California could require medication abortion pills to be available across all of the state's public college campuses if a bill that originated through student activism passes by the end of the month. Activists at the University of California-Berkeley were already focusing on promoting reproductive health care when they realized that expanding that care to include access to medication abortions on campus in particular would improve many student lives.
"Medication abortion is the process by which a woman can terminate her pregnancy by taking a series of pills within the first 10 weeks of her pregnancy." These procedures are considered very safe and efficient, and activists recognize that campus access could alleviate the logistical issues of accessing the medication. Often the stress of accessing a medication abortion can harm a student's emotional, academic, and financial well-being. Over 500 students a month on University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) campuses seek medication abortions.
The Women's Foundation of California--which fights for racial, economic, and gender justice--partnered with the students and alumni promoting the cause, and from there the effort spread from Berkeley throughout the state. California Senator Connie Leyva introduced the bill in the Senate earlier this year. It passed. Next, the bill must pass in the Assembly before August 31 in order to land on Governor Jerry Brown's desk.
The activists spearheading the campaign for the bill (SB320) are driven by the greater mission of de-stigmatizing abortion.
August 25, 2018 in Abortion, Contraception, Culture, Current Affairs, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Public Opinion, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Aug. 8, 2018 (The New Republic): The Glaring Exception in the Coming Battle Over Reproductive Rights, by Emma Scornavacchi:
Justice Kennedy's retirement announcement earlier this summer immediately sparked discussion and concern over the fate of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights, and reproductive rights in general. Conservative and anti-abortion activists now feel that, depending on Trump's SCOTUS nominee, making abortion illegal in the United States is a real possibility. Further, "an emboldened anti-abortion campaign could lead to consequences for women’s health care and reproductive rights that range far beyond abortion restrictions. Contraceptive devices, such as IUDs or even the pill, could cease to be covered by insurance."
Notably, though, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), tends to be left out of the reproductive rights debate.
A leader of the Pro-Life Action League cited that it can be too difficult to explain what is "objectionable" about IVF as a reason for focusing conservative efforts on abortion alone--despite the fact that the typical IVF cycle results in the disposal of many fertilized embryos. "IVF poses a puzzling challenge for conservative groups: How do organizations that liken embryos to people reckon with a technology that creates babies for families, but destroys embryos along the way?"
In the United States, the success rate for IVF in women under 35 hovers around 42%. To achieve that success, though, IVF cycles may produce anywhere from 3 - 25 embryos at a time. Many of the unused embryos remain frozen, some may be donated to research or to another family, and some may be "thawed" right away (that is, disposed of).
Usually, anti-abortion arguments pertain to the right to life of unborn embryos, who do not get a say in the termination of life. "Unborn" embryos are being terminated by "thawing" across the country, as well, however, with no general outcry from conservative anti-abortion activists. "'There’s a disconnect between how public policy treats women who undergo IVF and women who have abortions,' says Margo Kaplan, a Rutgers law professor." Kaplan herself underwent IVF, and she and her husband chose to donate their unused embryos to medical research. Such research contributes to developments in treatments and cures for diseases like Parkinson's, yet Planned Parenthood was harshly targeted for participating in embryonic research partnerships.
Women who undergo IVF and choose to donate embryos do not have to read any mandated material or sit out a waiting period, both of which are required of women in many states who choose to get an abortion. “Nobody ever questioned my ability to make my own decision. And we don’t assume that women have the same ability to do that when they have an abortion,” Kaplan says.
Anti-abortion activists are hesitant to focus on the IVF issue when they see the opportunity to at least make strides criminalizing abortion, especially in light of today's Supreme Court opening. Kaplan also posits that activists are hesitant to focus on IVF as problematic, because it's a procedure that values and supports a woman's desire to be a mother, while abortion tends to implicate women who are pregnant but do not want motherhood.
Patriarchal values combine with the stigma around abortion to explain the dichotomy in how conservatives are choosing to respond to abortion versus IVF. Further, IVF is steeped in privilege--the costs to undergo IVF cycles can exceed $20,000 and the treatments are out of reach for many people who would otherwise avail themselves of it. As such, IVF is often enjoyed exclusively by well-educated, wealthy, and white women. If it continues to thrive--even amidst anti-abortion attacks on other forms of reproductive rights--its privilege will likely bolster its continued growth and support.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Aug. 9, 2018 (New York Times): Argentina's Senate Narrowly Rejects Legalizing Abortion, by Daniel Politi and Ernesto Londoño:
After 16 hours of deliberation, Argentina’s Senate narrowly rejected a bill to legalize abortion on Thursday, dealing a painful defeat to a vocal grass-roots movement that pushed reproductive rights to the top of Argentina's legislative agenda and galvanized abortion rights activist groups throughout Latin America, including in Brazil and Chile.
As legislators debated the bill into the early hours of Thursday morning, thousands waited outside the Congress Building in Buenos Aires, weathering the winter cold.
Supporters of the legislation, which would have legalized abortion care during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, had hoped Argentina would begin a sea change in reproductive rights in a largely Catholic region where 97 percent of women live in countries that ban abortion or allow it only in rare instances.
In the end, 38 legislators voted against legalization, 31 voted in favor, and 2 legislators abstained.
Opposition in Argentina hardened as Catholic Church leaders spoke out forcefully against abortion from the pulpit and senators from conservative provinces came under intense pressure to stand against legalization.
While the bill's failure is considered a major setback for the activists who backed it, analysts said the abortion rights movement has already brought change to Central and South America in ways that would have been impossible just years ago.
On Wednesday, demonstrators rallied in support of the Argentine bill in Uruguay, Mexico, Peru, and Chile, where they gathered in front of the Argentine Embassy in Santiago, chanting and wearing the green handkerchiefs that became the symbol of Argentina’s abortion rights movement.
Recently, activists in Argentina scored a victory with the passage of a law that seeks to have an equal number of male and female lawmakers.
"If we make a list of the things we’ve gained and the things we’ve lost, the list of things we’ve gained is much bigger,” said Edurne Cárdenas, a lawyer at the Center for Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group in Argentina that favors legalized abortion. “Sooner or later, this will be law.”
In the region, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and Mexico City allow any woman to have an early-term abortion.
For Argentina, the debate over abortion has tugged at the country’s sense of self. It is the birthplace of Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, who recently denounced abortion as the “white glove” equivalent of the Nazi-era eugenics program. Recently, though, the country has begun shifting away from its conservative Catholic roots. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to wed. Francis, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, called that bill a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”
The organized movement that pushed the failed bill started in 2015 with the brutal murder of a pregnant 14-year-old girl by her teenage boyfriend. Her mother claimed the boyfriend’s family didn’t want her to have the baby. As debates about violence against women on social media grew into wider conversations about women’s rights, young female lawmakers gave a fresh push to an abortion bill that had been presented repeatedly in the past without going anywhere.
In June, the lower house of the Argentine Congress narrowly approved a bill allowing women to terminate pregnancy in the first 14 weeks. Current law allows abortions only in cases of rape or when a mother’s life is in danger. While the measure failed in the Senate this week, it made some inroads: among the senators who voted for it was Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who as president had opposed legalizing abortion.
“Society as a whole has moved forward on this issue,” said Claudia Piñeiro, a writer and abortion-rights activist in Argentina. “Church and state are supposed to be separate, but we’re coming to realize that is far from the case,” Ms. Piñeiro said as it became clearer that the push for legalization would lose.
“That will be the next battle.”
Thursday, July 26, 2018
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the opening of a new division in January of this year: The Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR's primary mandate is to enforce refusal of care laws.
Refusal of care laws essentially empower medical providers to deny care to patients if they disagree with the ethics of a particular procedure based on their religious grounds. The purported goal of these laws is to protect a healthcare provider from being forced into providing care that "violates their conscience."
This is an Executive-ordered decision that does not require legislative or judicial approval to go into effect or to implement its new rules and regulations.
Critics of refusal of care laws express concern that these requirements do not simply "protect" health care providers consciences, but can instead seriously harm patients. These laws may lead to a pharmacist refusing to fill a birth control prescription, a doctor refusing hormone therapy to a transgender patient, limitations placed on services to LGBTQ persons and partners, and of course abortion services may also become more limited.
HHS does not require providers who refuse treatment to refer patients to other providers or provide any information at all on other providers.
The OCR further has authority to initiate compliance reviews of any organization receiving federal funding to ensure conformity to the new rules.
Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) filed a lawsuit against HHS for refusing to release records pertaining to the creation of the OCR. The organizations initially requested these records via a FOIA request in January 2018. The CRR and NWLC seek knowledge of why the new division was needed, how the OCR operates, allocates funding, and may be influenced by outside groups.
"We’re filing this lawsuit to force the Trump-Pence administration to justify why it’s using resources to fund discrimination, rather than to protect patients," said Gretchen Borchelt, NWLC Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health.
HHS's new Office of Civil Rights follows additional moves by the Trump administration to limit equitable access to reproductive health care, including promoting the "Global Gag Rule," its domestic counterpart, and establishing regulations aimed at severely limiting funding to Title X programs.
July 26, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, Medical News, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
The Washington Post (Jul. 17, 2018): Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says, by Ariana Eunjung Cha:
New court cases cases are grappling with the decision of what to do with frozen embryos created during a marriage that later dissolves. In many cases that Cha reports on, the couples chose to create and freeze several embryos in the wake of a cancer diagnosis and treatment schedule that threatened later fertility.
When these same couples faced divorce, there were bitter divides over what should be done with the embryos: one party wanted to maintain "ownership" of the embryos for a future chance at children while the other wanted the embryos destroyed, fearing unwanted future financial or relationship obligations.
With the number of frozen embryos in the United States soaring into the millions, disputes over who owns them are also on the rise. Judges have often — but not always — ruled in favor of the person who does not want the embryos used, sometimes ordering them destroyed, following the theory that no one should be forced to become a parent.
In Arizona, though, a "first-in-the-nation law" went into effect on July 1 that states "custody of disputed embryos must be given to the party who intends to help them 'develop to birth.'"
The legislation represents for some lawmakers the idea that frozen embryos have their own right to life, and many imagine that the implications could eventually include a delineation of when life begins and a claim to a separate set of embryonic rights of their own as human beings (rather than the discussion being centered on who "owns" the embryos).
Some groups, like the anti-abortion Thomas More Society, advocate for that embryos to be considered "children" in the legal sense, asking judges to make decisions on disputes based on the best interest of the "child."
Debates to extend personhood to unborn embryos and fetuses abound in anti-abortion work. Abortion rights advocates are concerned that these discussions could further disintegrate the right to abortion in the United States. "If a days-old embryo in a freezer has a right to life, why not a days-old embryo in utero?"
While judges have historically ordered disputed embryos destroyed based on the wishes of the party who does not want a child, an Arizona judge chose to balance one party's "probable inability to have a child without the embryos" against the other party's "desire to not be a father" a different way.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronee Korbin Steiner held that Ruby Torres, who wanted the embryos in order to have biological children one day, had no right to them. The judge did not order them destroyed, though, and instead ordered that they go up for donation.
Torres appealed the decision and expects a new ruling any day.
The new Arizona law that states embryos shall be given to the party who intends to develop them to birth was written in response to this case to "help" people in Torres' situation. It also attempts to recognize the rights of those who do not want the embryos used by providing that those parties would not be liable for child support in the future.
Both the judicial decisions and the legislation continue to prove extremely controversial:
The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative lobbying group that has successfully pushed antiabortion legislation in the state, supported the measure, saying the bill would “lead to more consistent rulings.”
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which represents doctors, nurses and other professionals who work on fertility issues, opposed the measure, arguing that it would have a profound impact on reproductive medicine.
Medical professionals foresee profound complications to stem-cell research in particular, which relies on embryos donated to science. Such research is believed essential in developing treatments for many diseases and conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The treatment and storage of embryos as a result of the new legislation will likely make embryonic stem cells much more scarce.
In a friend-of-the-court brief in Torres' pending appellate case, the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys urged judges in the Arizona Court of Appeals to balance the interest of each former spouse. They argue that the parties claims are not equal and that "the constitutional protection against compulsory parenthood is [generally] greater than any procreative interest in pre-embryos."
Time will tell both if the appellate judges affirm Judge Steiner's controversial ruling (likely leading to further appeals) while we also wait for the inevitable challenges to Arizona's new embryo law.
July 18, 2018 in Abortion, Assisted Reproduction, Bioethics, Culture, Current Affairs, Fertility, Fetal Rights, In the Courts, Medical News, Parenthood, Politics, Public Opinion, Scholarship and Research, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Stem Cell Research | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, June 29, 2018
Washington Post (Jun. 27, 2018): Students sue University of Notre Dame for restricting access to some birth control, by Erin B. Logan:
A Notre Dame alumna and three current student sued the university on Tuesday in the wake of Notre Dame's February 2018 announcement that it would deny access to "abortion-inducing" contraceptives. The lawsuit alleges violations of federal law and the First and Fifth Amendments. In addition to the university, the suit names the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury.
These health-care policy changes to Notre Dame's plan will affect undergraduate and graduate students as well as university employees and their dependents. The policy will go into effect on July 1 for employees and in August for students.
The roll-back of coverage by the university is a response to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' fall 2017 announcement that it would rescind the Obama-era rule mandating free contraceptive coverage in health plans. This requirement currently remains in effect, though, due to judicial injunctions. Notre Dame, however, carved out an exception for itself with the federal government after a 2013 suit against the mandate claimed a violation of its moral and religious convictions.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Rewire.News (Jun. 8, 2018): New York GOP Lawmakers Quash Contraception, Abortion Protections—For Now, by Auditi Guha:
The Reproductive Health Act (RHA), or S 2796, was drafted four years ago and recently passed by the Democratic-majority New York Assembly. The RHA is intended to rectify some of the shortcomings of local abortion law. The bill "repeals criminal abortion statutes, permits abortion after 24 weeks when the pregnant person’s health is at risk or when the fetus is not viable, and expands current law so that nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants can provide abortion services."
The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (S 3668), also passed by the Assembly, "would expand contraceptive coverage to include all forms of FDA-approved contraception (including vasectomies), authorize pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception, and add coverage for contraceptive education and counseling."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) supported incorporating the RHA’s changes into state law in his budget proposal this year, but it’s been a hard push in a state where Republicans decide what bills get to be voted on. Procedural glitches made the fight tougher this week for both the RHA and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act as the senate ground to a halt, the New York Daily News reported.
Senate Democrats last week again tried to bring both the RHA and the CCCA to the floor for a vote, but Republican leadership ended the session without action.
“Both these bills are supported by the governor and have passed the Assembly," Sen. Krueger said in a statement. "The Senate Republicans should stop using procedural maneuvers to block these bills which would ensure that individuals would have control of their own reproductive health decisions.”
The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, Robin Chappelle Golston, told Rewire.News: “Obviously legislation as simple as making access to contraception widely available was too much for the majority of the Senate...And I think the best answer for that is that people need to go out and vote this fall.”
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: