Tuesday, July 20, 2021
By K.A. Dilday (July 20, 2021)
On July 12, California governor Gavin Newsom, signed into law AB-1764, a bill to pay reparations to people who were forcibly sterilized in California during the years 1909 and 1979 when the state’s eugenic sanctions law (enacted in 1909 and honed throughout the years) was in place, and to people who were sterilized in the state's prison system after that time. California is the third state, following North Carolina and Virginia, that will compensate victims of forced sterilization.
The bill signed by Gov. Newsom is particularly noteworthy as both the issue of reparations and of forced sterilization figure prominently in national dialogue. Just last year, a nurse at a privately owned immigration jail in Georgia joined in a whistleblower complaint alleging that a doctor at the facility performed a high rate of hysterectomies on migrating women without “proper informed consent,” and bills proposing reparations for the descendants of enslaved Black Americans are regularly debated in the U.S. Congress.
According to the final text of California’s AB-1764, the forced eugenics law targeted people deemed afflicted with “mental disease,” “feeblemindedness,” and, “those suffering from perversion or marked departures from normal mentality or from disease of a syphilitic nature.”
During the 70 years that the law was in place, the reparations bill states, “more than 20,000 people were sterilized, making California the nation’s leader by far in sterilizations, a number that was more than one-third of the 60,000 persons sterilized nationwide in 32 states … between 1919 and 1952, women and girls were 14 percent more likely to be sterilized than men and boys. Male Latino patients were 23 percent more likely to be sterilized than non-Latino male patients, and female Latina patients were 59 percent more likely to be sterilized than non-Latina female patients.”
That law was finally overturned in 1979 after 10 Los Angeles women of Mexican origin brought a lawsuit in federal court against the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center for involuntary or forced sterilization in Madrigal v. Quilligan (1978). While the judge ruled in favor of the defendants, ascribing the unwanted sterilizations to miscommunication and language barriers, the women of Madrigal v. Quilligan nonetheless reshaped history. The next year, the state legislature overturned the law. They did not win for themselves but they won for future Californians.
Or so it seemed, since, notably, while the formal eugenics law ended in 1979, a program of sterilization as birth control and for dubious medical reasons led to the sterilization of approximately 150 mostly Latina and Black women in California prisons between 2006 and 2010.
In 2014, the bill SB 1135 made sterilization for birth control in California prisons unlawful, and put in place safeguards to ensure that any sterilization deemed medically necessary for an imprisoned person actually is. However, no reparations for past sterilizations were mandated at that time.
Eugenics-driven sterilization in the United States has always been directed at those deemed mentally infirm or undesirable, a characteristic that is often assigned to people of color and to imprisoned people. This practice was sanctioned federally by the notorious 1927 Buck v. Bell U.S. Supreme Court decision. While Buck v. Bell was discredited by the Supreme Court decision in Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942) that established procreation as a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution, and has been chipped away by other protective laws, Buck v. Bell has never been overturned.
In addition to the eugenics programs in California, throughout the 19th century and through the mid-20th century there was mass forced sterilization of poor people (many black and Latino) in the South, Indigenous people in Western and middle-America, and of Puertoriquenos in Puerto Rico through the 1970s. But forced sterilizations were also performed on people who were deemed either mentally or morally unworthy, regardless of race.
California convened a "Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans" this year, and while some may see AB-1764 as another step toward direct reparations, the bill only authorizes payment to individuals who were sterilized, thus avoiding the complex issue of generational injury. And, unless they adopted or had biological children before the procedure, many people who were sterilized likely do not have offspring, reducing the number of descendants who might protest the bill’s limits on eligibility to bring a claim.
The status of potential claimants who are undocumented is unclear.
The state has allocated $7.5 million to pay the victims. According to The New York Times, the limited number of living potential claimants means that each successful applicant is likely to receive approximately $25,000.
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
By K.A. Dilday (June 1, 2021)
On Friday, President Joe Biden released a proposed budget for 2022. Reproductive rights advocates hailed it for the historic exclusion of the Hyde Amendment: It is the first White House budget in decades to exclude the 1976 Amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion.
The exclusion is largely symbolic: The Hyde Amendment can only be repealed by lawmakers, and Democrats who support repealing it don’t hold sufficient majority in the Senate to do so. But it is a turnaround for Biden who voted to pass the Amendment as a senator and continued to back it for many years. With this latest step, President Biden is signaling that his administration will support the right of reproductive freedom for all women.
Thus, some reproductive rights activists are cautiously optimistic despite the looming specter of the Supreme Court’s hearing next term of a case that could potentially eviscerate the protections of Roe v. Wade. But there is a group of women in the United States that has suffered disproportionately under the Hyde Amendment and therefore to whom symbolic gestures mean little.
Although all low-income women bear the weight of the Amendment’s restrictions as it affects recipients of the federal-state healthcare program Medicaid, non-elderly American Indian and American Native women use public health services at a higher rate than any other ethnicity according to the healthcare research foundation KFF.
While some states have a workaround for abortion services provided by Medicaid—using exclusively state funds rather than federal—many of the U.S. Indigenous population use the federally funded Indian Health Service (IHS) which operates hospitals and outpatient facilities in addition to providing other support services. Approximately 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Native women living on or near reservations receive care at those facilities and through linked health service providers.
The Hyde Amendment did not technically apply to the Indian Health Services until 2008: As noted by Andie Netherland in the American Indian Law Review, “...the Hyde Amendment provided that ‘[n]one of the funds contained in [the] Act’ could be used for abortions, [but] the Amendment did not apply, at that time, to the funds allocated to the Indian Health Service through a different act.” In 2008, the Senate expanded the Hyde Amendment’s application to the Indian Health Service.
Despite its not being legally bound by the Hyde Amendment, the Indian Health Service adhered to it in years preceding 2008. A 2002 report by the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) found that between 1981 and 2001, only 25 abortions had been performed by IHS units. The report also cites a 1996 memo from the IHS director clarifying that the IHS would only provide abortions in the case of rape, incest, or limited circumstances when the mother’s life was in danger, the three exceptions permitted under the Hyde Amendment that were pushed through in 1993 under the Clinton Administration.
Reproductive rights activists say that the difficulty of obtaining an exception under the Hyde Amendment is particularly hard on Native American women based on findings that Indigenous women are 2.5 times more likely to report experiencing sexual assault than other races, and one in three Native American women reports having been raped. And, the American Addiction Centers compiled data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicating that Indigenous Americans have the highest rates of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, inhalant, and hallucinogen use disorders compared to other ethnic groups.
A recent federal case highlights the particular burden that these challenges and the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions to reproductive rights place on Indigenous women. In the precedent-setting United States v. Flute (2019), the Eighth Circuit reinstated an indictment dismissed by the District Court for South Dakota-Aberdeen against a young Native American woman for manslaughter, after prenatal drug use resulted in the death of her baby four hours after birth. As Eighth Circuit Judge Steven M. Colloton noted in his dissent: “According to the United States Attorney, the government has never before charged a mother with manslaughter based on prenatal neglect that causes the death of a child.”
Flute gave birth on the Lake Traverse Reservation of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, which is under federal jurisdiction. Her case was characterized by the Harvard Law Review as escalating “to the federal level the state judicial trend of using broad interpretations of statutes designed for other purposes to criminalize prenatal conduct.” As Judge Colloton also wrote in his dissent: "No federal statute enacted after 1909 has expanded the manslaughter statute to encompass a mother’s prenatal neglect." In an article about the Flute case in the most recent edition of the American Indian Law Review, Andie Netherland noted that pregnant Indigenous women who face addiction may face criminal prosecution for involuntary manslaughter “more frequently than non-Indian women due to the unavailability of abortion services within the Indian Health Service.”
For these reasons, Native-American reproductive rights activists say that even post Roe v. Wade, the immediacy of their fight for reproductive justice and self-determination never changed. A 2019 article in Indian Country Today noted “the new abortion laws don’t ever have to be implemented and the Supreme Court doesn’t have to overturn Roe to make abortion inaccessible for Native women; restrictions are nothing new. For Native women, the lack of access to abortions has been real for years.”
The looming loss of reproductive rights feared by many in the United States would not be a loss but a reiteration of the status quo for many Indigenous women. In the absence of real, tangible change, the symbolic exclusion of the Hyde Amendment does not give Indigenous women much cause for celebration.
Friday, September 20, 2019
Sept. 11, 2019 (Rewire.News):‘We Are Headed Toward a Public Health Crisis’: Title X Clinics Grapple With Trump’s ‘Gag Rule’, by Erin Heger:
The Trump administration recently introduced a 'gag rule' on recipients of Title X funding, which provides federal money for family planning services to low income individuals hroughout the country. The new rule prohibits clinics receiving Title X funding from referring their patients for abortion care. Clinics that provide abortion services will also have to physically separate abortion and Title X-approved services.
HHS Office of Population Affairs operates Title X by funding “grantees” (health care organizations, state health departments, or non-profits) that oversee the distribution of Title X funds to safety-net clinics and other sites to provide family planning services to low-income, uninsured, and underserved clients.
Because of the recently introduced restrictions, health care organizations and some states are choosing to opt out of receiving Title X funding altogether rather than attempt to comply. The most notable of rejections may be from Planned Parenthood, which announced last month that it was rejecting funding under the new guidelines. The organization's clinics serve 40 percent of the country's Title X patients, and there are concerns that other providers will struggle to take on the resulting predicted increase in patients. According to Guttmacher Institute, there will need to be an estimated 70 percent expansion in clinics' caseloads in order to make up for Planned Parenthood's absence.
Seven states have also opted out, but other states and health care organizations have decided to stay, for fear that clinics they fund will not be able to afford to stay open without the Title X money. Providers in Missouri, for example, are in large part continuing to accept funding. With previous restrictions on abortions leaving the state with only one abortion clinic, access to reproductive health care is extremely limited as is. "For the majority of Title X patients, their Title X provider is their only source of health care, particularly in small and rural communities," Audrey Sandusky of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association told Rewire.News.
The second part of the gag rule requires that clinics somehow separate out their abortion services from their other functions. This is set to go into effect this coming March, but it's yet to be determined what hoops clinics will have to jump through to remain safely in compliance under these new standards. Many of the providers' plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have not been approved as of yet. The largest of the Title X administrators, Essential Access Health, has had their plan approved, but its details have not been released.
Sandusky pointed out how low-income individuals already face serious barriers in their lives, and this new restriction makes it even more likely that they will go without care if they cannot go to a Title X provider. "That means they go without cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and HIV services. Given the uncertainty that exists across the country, we are headed toward a public health crisis." This certainly seems to be the case.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
September 10, 2019 (NBC News): It just got a Little Easier for Low-Income Women in Texas City to Access Abortion Care, by Adam Edelman:
Last week, City Counsel members in Austin, Texas voted to include funding for low-income women to access abortion. This creative measure supports abortion access through funding services like travel to and from abortion clinics, lodging, and child care for women who need abortion procedures.
A Texas state bill enacted earlier this year, SB22, bans any Texas municipality from allocating public funding to groups that provide abortion care. However, the City Counsel's funding does not actually fund the procedure, sidestepping the restrictive legislation.
'Advocates of the funding told NBC News it would not violate any of Texas’ restrictive abortion laws. Rather, they explained, the bill would merely help low-income women who need abortion care navigate a complicated landscape.'
Current Texas law imposes a number of barriers that make obtaining an abortion more time consuming and costly. Texas law bans abortion after 20 weeks post fertilization and requires pregnant women in Texas to visit an abortion clinic twice, first to undergo a sonogram and then, after a 24 hour wait, to actually have the procedure. Additionally, all such costs must be paid out of pocket, as Texas law also prohibits private insurance from covering abortion care. The Austin law helps women pay some of the additional costs imposed on them by Texas law.
New York City Council recently approved a similar funding measure that allocated $250,000 to fund abortions for poor women who live in, or have traveled to New York City from the procedure.
Advocates of the Austin measure hope that this action can provide an example for blue cities in red states to creatively advance abortion rights in their own cities.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
Devex (Feb. 5, 2019): In Nigeria, Trump administration policies bite hard, by Paul Adepoju:
Trump's policies limiting reproductive rights and funding for reproductive health and education services continue to wreak havoc on foreign initiatives aimed at promoting family planning, slowing population growth, and educating girls and women.
Nigerian hospitals and NGOs are facing severe shortages of reproductive health supplies since Trump both cut funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and implemented the "global gag rule," withdrawing funding from any agency that offers abortion-related education or services.
Nigeria, a middle-income country facing a population boom, lost over 60% of its funding for family planning supplies and services in the year after Trump pulled UNFPA funding. "In 2016, when UNFPA got its last support from the U.S. government, it was able to spend $15,444,880 on family planning in Nigeria. In 2017, it spent just $6,132,632."
Trump justified these funding cuts by promulgating theories that the UNFPA cooperated with coercive abortions and involuntary sterilization, which the UNFPA categorically denies and is readily backed up by multiple human rights organizations.
The rate of contraceptive usage in Nigeria is already very low, and the African country also faces one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
Several organizations--including Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network--are on-the-ground in Nigeria working to educate women and provide safe and reliable access to health care to shift these statistics. Their work, though, has been severely limited by the loss of funding as a result of U.S. policies under the Trump administration.
Erin Williams, program officer for grantmaking and international partnerships at the International Women's Health Coalition, told Devex:
As a result [of these policies], Nigerian health services will continue to fragment, deteriorate, and decrease, increasing the burden on vulnerable women and girls in search of comprehensive and quality health care. More women will look for contraceptive and pregnancy alternatives outside the medical and legal system.
While much of the justification for pulling U.S. funding relies on anti-abortion ideology, the implications of the policies are much farther-reaching than "just" abortion. Nigeria has slowed in its ability to address maternal health needs generally, including instances of gender-based violence, as well in its ability to address wide-reaching disease concerns like the spread of malaria and tuberculosis. Furthermore, the policy-shift has actually led to increased numbers of abortions throughout Sub-Saharan Africa in the countries hit hardest by the loss of funding.
Congress this week is set to introduce the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights Act, which would repeal the global gag rule permanently and help to ensure consistent reproductive health care around the world. It is unlikely to be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, however, or to be signed by Trump.
February 9, 2019 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception, Current Affairs, International, Medical News, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy & Childbirth, President/Executive Branch, Reproductive Health & Safety, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
AP (Nov. 12, 2018): More women in poor countries use contraception, says report, by Ignatius Ssuuna and Rodney Muhumuza:
A report released this week states that modern contraception is effectively expanding and becoming more commonplace in developing countries throughout the world.
The report--issued by Family Planning 2020, a U.N.-backed international advocacy group--cites that there are 46 million more users of contraception in the world's 69 poorest countries in 2018 than there were in 2012.
Access to modern contraception helped prevent over 119 million unintended pregnancies and averted 20 million unsafe abortions between July 2017 and July 2018, although populations continue to soar across Africa and other low income countries, the report said.
'The best way to overcome this challenge of rapid population growth is by giving women and girls (the) opportunity to decide how many children they want to have,' Beth Schlachter, executive director of Family Planning 2020, told The Associated Press.
Many of the countries included in the report are in sub-Saharan Africa. The birth rate in this part of the world is about 5.1 births per woman, according to a recent U.N. global population report. "Over half of the global population growth between now and 2050 will take place in Africa, according to U.N. figures." Despite the growing fertility rates in Africa, contraceptive use is growing fastest in this region of the world as well.
Options for various contraceptive methods--including short-term, long-lasting, emergency, and permanent--have significantly expanded in many of the countries analyzed in the report.
Many millions of people who wish to delay or prevent pregnancy, however, still do not have adequate access to birth control. Lack of information--including perceived side-effects of medications as well as societal disapproval--deter many from finding the right contraceptive method for them.
The goal of Family Planning 2020 is to bring contraception to "120 million more women and girls in developing countries by the year 2020." Donors have committed millions of dollars to meet this goal.
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
The Guardian (Nov. 12, 2018): Woman who bore rapist’s baby faces 20 years in El Salvador jail, by Nina Lakhani:
In the wake of fetal personhood, or similar, ballot measures being proposed and passed throughout the U.S., it's important to look to other countries where abortion is criminalized to see the effects of living in a world where abortion and those who seek or perform them are punished.
A survivor of habitual sexual abuse by her grandfather has been imprisoned in El Salvador since April 2017 on charges of attempted murder. Last April, Imelda Cortez, then 20-years-old, gave birth to a child fathered by her rapist. She experienced intense pain and bleeding before the birth, which caused her mother to bring her to the hospital. The doctors there suspected an attempted abortion and called the police. The baby was born alive and well, but Imelda has never been able to hold her, as she's been in custody since her time in the hospital last year.
Authorities conducted a paternity test, which confirmed Imelda's claims of rape, yet her grandfather has not been charged with any crime. Imelda's criminal trial began this week and a decision from a three judge panel is expected next week.
Abortion is illegal in all circumstances--no exceptions--in El Salvador. The strict ban has led to severe persecution of pregnant people throughout the country, often most heavily affecting impoverished, rural-living people. Most people accused of abortion simply experienced a pregnancy complication, including miscarriage and stillbirth.
This pattern of prosecutions targeting a particular demographic suggests a discriminatory state policy which violates multiple human rights, according to Paula Avila-Guillen, director of Latin America Initiatives at the New York based Women’s Equality Centre. Cortez’s case is a stark illustration of how the law criminalises victims.
Abortion has been criminalized in El Salvador for 21 years. While a bill was drafted nearly two years ago--with public and medical support--aiming to reform the system and relax the ban to allow the option of abortion at least in certain cases (for example, rape, human trafficking, an unviable fetus, or threat to a pregnant person's life), it remains stuck in committee and is not expected to make it to vote.
November 13, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Courts, International, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexual Assault, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Sierra (Sept. 18, 2018): Climate Activists Say Women Are Key to Solving the Climate Crisis, by Wendy Becktold:
Last week, San Francisco hosted the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS). The three-day conference brought together heads of state, policy makers, scientists, and leaders from civil society to discuss clean energy and averting catastrophic climate change. One of the recurring topics focused on the necessity of investing in women's rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, in combating climate crises.
Decades of research indicate that investing in women's rights can dramatically contribute to addressing both development and climate challenges around the globe. In particular, access to education and robust reproductive rights strengthens opportunities for women worldwide. Supporting women is proven to translate to more sustainable development including the promotion of clean energy over fossil fuels.
"Access to reproductive health services is...key to reducing pressure on natural resources." A lack of access to contraception, for example, leads to many millions of unplanned pregnancies, which in turn can prevent women from creating the productive and sustainable systems they would otherwise be able to contribute to. Better education can also reduce birth rates and further improve the livelihood of women around the world.
In poorer parts of the world, women produce 60-80 percent of food crops. Providing women with better education and resources such as access to small business loans (like their male counterparts often have) could could reduce the number of people who go hungry around the world by 150 million.
Many summit conversations at the conference, in addition to countless side events, highlighted the shared frustrations of women around the world.
Some climate activists found the summit’s emphasis on high tech solutions exasperating. 'There’s often a focus on techno fixes,' said Burns [of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization], 'when for years, we’ve been saying that investing in women’s human rights is how we can address climate change. There is still this huge disconnect between the rhetoric and the solutions that are coming from feminists and frontline voices.'
"Women are also disproportionately affected by climate change," in part because global warming reaches the impoverished first and most people living in poverty are women.
The conversations at the GCAS highlighted how integral reproductive rights and support of women's opportunities are to innumerable issues. The ripple-effect of guaranteeing sexual and reproductive rights, the research shows, extends far past simply being able to plan a pregnancy; such support builds up communities around the globe, reduces poverty, and has the power to fight behemoth challenges like climate change as well.
September 19, 2018 in Conferences and Symposia, Contraception, International, Miscellaneous, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety, Scholarship and Research, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, August 6, 2018
Aug. 3, 2018 (New York Times): Brazil’s Supreme Court Considers Decriminalizing Abortion, by Manuela Andreoni & Ernesto Londoño:
The death of Ingriane Barbosa Carvalho on May 16, a 31-year-old mother of three who underwent an unsafe illegal abortion, illustrates the high stakes of the fight over reproductive rights that is taking place before Brazil’s Supreme Court during a rare two-day public hearing that started this past Friday.
The nation's high court is considering whether Brazil’s abortion laws — which forbid terminating pregnancies with few exceptions, including cases of rape and instances in which the mother’s life is in peril — are at odds with constitutional protections.
The hearing, which continues Monday, is unlikely to lead to the immediate legalization of abortion care, but reproductive rights activists in Brazil hope the hearing will set off a national debate on the issue, draw attention to the risks hundreds of thousands of women take each year as they resort to illegal abortions and ultimately pave the way to overhauling the existing law.
During the first day of arguments, a majority of the 26 speakers argued for decriminalizing abortion. Though the national Ministry of Health did not take an official position on the issue, Maria de Fátima Marinho, representing the ministry before the court, stated that unsafe, illegal abortions create public health challenges, leading to overcrowding of health care facilities as well as preventable illness and death.
The hearing is being held as Brazilian lawmakers take steps to adopt even more restrictive laws and abortion rights groups across the region face a strong backlash after attaining victories.
Brazil’s top court has ruled narrowly on abortion cases in recent years, signaling an inclination to expand access, but it has stopped short of making sweeping legal changes related to the issue.
In March 2017, the Socialism and Liberty Party and Anis, a women’s rights group, filed a petition asking the court to rule that abortion care within the first twelve weeks of gestation should not subject the pregnant person or the abortion provider to prosecution.
They argue that abortion laws written in 1940 violate protections conferred by the 1988 Constitution, including the right to dignity, equal protection, and access to health care.
A ruling in favor of proponents of decriminalization would be the first step toward legalizing abortion in a nation of 210 million people where an estimated one in five women have terminated unwanted pregnancies.
Estimates of the number of abortions performed in Brazil each year range from 500,000 to 1.2 million. Each year, more than 250,000 women are hospitalized as a result of complications from abortions, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry. In 2016, the last year for which official figures were available, 203 women died as a result of illegal and unsafe abortions.
Since 2000, 28 countries and regions have expanded abortion rights. Last year, lawmakers in Chile lifted the country’s total prohibition on abortion, and next week the Senate in Argentina will vote on a bill that could legalize abortion there.
The Supreme Court hearing prompted Ladyane Souza, a lawyer in Brasília, to publicly disclose that she had an abortion two years ago, even though doing so means she could be prosecuted.
“It’s very cruel to submit women to dealing with this all alone, underground,” Ms. Souza, 22, said. “During that time, I wanted very much to talk to my mother, because I felt it would have been easier if my mother knew, if my friends knew, but I was afraid of being prosecuted.”
Ms. Carvalho’s relatives opted to bury her in a cemetery several miles from her hometown after local residents reacted with outrage and scorn to details of her death. They held a low-key ceremony as her remains were deposited in an unmarked grave in a small hillside cemetery.
“I wish she had survived, so she could have been arrested and learned to be responsible,” Ms. Barbosa, her aunt, said.
Monday, February 12, 2018
CUNY Law's Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic Co-Hosting Symposium on Poverty and Women in the U.S.
On February 27, 2018, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CUNY Law's Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, NYU Law, and others will host a symposium titled "American Poverty and Gender: Government Control and Neglect of Women Living in Poverty."
After an opening keynote from Dr. Khiara Bridges, author of The Poverty of Privacy Rights, a panel of experts will address issues ranging from reproductive justice and maternal health to criminalization and its impact on women.
The moderated discussion follows the December 2017 fact-finding mission to the United States by Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. This forum aims to address the particular ways poverty affects women in the United States from an intersectional perspective considering gender, poverty, and race.
"American Poverty and Gender" is free and open to the public. It it will take place at NYU's Vanderbilt Hall on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 from 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Huffington Post (Sept. 17, 2017): Breastfeeding Behind Bars: Do All Moms Deserve the Right?, by Kimberly Seals Allers
33-year-old Monique Hidalgo is mom to a 5-week old baby. Her child's father brings their infant to visit her on the weekends, as Hidalgo is also an inmate at a New Mexican state prison. Due to her incarceration, Hidalgo was refused contact with her newborn when she wanted to breastfeed her. She was also denied access to a breast pump that would've allowed her to provide milk for her baby from behind bars.
Last month, though, a Sante Fe judge ruled that the Corrections Department policy denying incarcerated mothers their right to breastfeed was unconstitutional. The judge ordered that Hidalgo be able to breastfeed her child during visits and also ordered that she receive access to an electric pump.
"While there have been many cases, both in federal and state court, affirming a woman’s right to breastfeed in a public place or at work, incarcerated women have largely been left out of this conversation,” said Amber Fayerberg, Ms. Hidalgo’s lead counsel, at Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, whose firm is working the case pro-bono. “This case acknowledges that incarcerated women are not just “inmates,” but women and, often, mothers,” Fayerberg said in an email interview.
Prisons are generally punitive over rehabilitative when it comes to incarcerated parents dealing with incarceration. Society rarely accounts for the circumstances that led to a parent's imprisonment, including poverty and racism. An incarcerated mother is deemed a "bad mom" in order to justify stripping her of the opportunity to maintain important, biological connections with her child like breastfeeding.
Women's advocates highlight that, in an effort to punish mothers, policies like those that forbid breastfeeding are actually punishing the infants as well, depriving them not only of their mother, but also of the benefits associated with breastfeeding. Experts also find that enabling the mother-baby connection may be a beneficial way to keep a mother connected to her family and community, therefore increasing her chances of successful re-integration and discouraging recidivism.
Reproductive justice is scarcely considered with incarcerated women in mind, however, Democratic senators have recently introduced positive legislation. Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) introduced The Dignity for Incarcerated Women's Act. The bill would prohibit federal prisons from shackling pregnant women or placing them in solitary confinement, require federal prisons to provide free tampons and pads for women, and would extend visiting hours for inmates and their children.
Even as we make progress, though, the question remains: which aspects of the mother-child connection are a right versus a privilege? When the early months of an infant's life are so critical to future development, shouldn't minimizing the separation of incarcerated mothers and their children be a societal goal rather than a constitutional battle?
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Los Angeles Times (June 16, 2106): Good riddance to a repugnant California cap on family aid, by Times Editorial Board:
As part of a budget deal struck by California legislators, California will end the "maximum family grant" rule, a cap on family aid designed to discourage poor women from having babies while on welfare. Although typically the amount of aid welfare recipients receive is based upon the number of children in a family, the maximum family grant rule prohibited any increase to aid based upon a birth that occurred to a family that was already receiving benefits.
It was a repugnant policy and, furthermore, it didn’t seem to work. Studies have found little evidence of a link between caps in benefits and reproduction. What we do know, however, is that the maximum family grant rule punished poor kids for the choices of their parents.
Twenty-two states adopted family caps in the 1990s. California is the seventh state to repeal the cap. According to ThinkProgress, 12 states give families no extra money for additional children while enrolled in welfare. Two other states give a flat amount of money no matter the number of children in the family, and tow states reduced benefits for additional children. Check out ThinkProgress for a map and listing of states that still have maximum family caps.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Daily Illini (Feb. 29, 2016): Illinois Representatives Drop Bill after National Outcry
Two Republican lawmakers in Illinois have withdrawn a proposed law that would have denied public assistance and birth certificates to the children of unwed mothers who do not name the fathers of their children. The penalty would not apply to children whose biological fathers were identified conclusively through DNA evidence or who had a family member agree to support the child. The bill included an exception for artificial insemination as long as the mother waived her right to public assistance for the child. The bill did not, however, include an exception for rape and incest.
The lawmakers withdrew the bill after a national outcry was triggered by editorials criticizing the bill and published on Salon, Chicagoist and Jezebel.
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. . . .