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Forty Years After Roe v. Wade, Getting an Abortion Is Still a Major Challenge

By: On The Issues Magazine Wednesday January 23, 2013 3:14 pm

By Eleanor J. Bader, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

Defend Roe V Wade stencil

Abortion rights are endangered, forty years after Roe V Wade.

Ramona, 32, mother of a four-year-old daughter, is dropped off at the Summit Women’s Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut at 8 a.m. on a frigid December Saturday. As she gets out of the car to walk the thirty feet to the clinic, she notices a dozen people holding weathered pictures of mangled babies bearing the words “abortion kills.” The protesters can’t trespass on clinic property or enter the fenced-in parking lot, but plastic bullhorns amplify their voices. “The Lord loves you,” they shout. “He has a purpose for every life. You don’t need to go in there and murder your child.”

“I didn’t want to be rude so I approached them when they called out to me,” says Ramona, once inside the clinic. (All quotes are verbatim; name has been changed to protect privacy). “They bombarded me. They said that if I go through with the abortion I’ll become so depressed that I’ll start to drink and do drugs and will think about suicide.

“I was dropped off this morning by my mom,” she continued. “My little girl was also in the car and I don’t know what she understood or heard. These people say they want to help me, but how does traumatizing my child help me? They’ve made my life harder because now I have to worry about whether she heard them, saw the pictures they were carrying, or is scared because she heard people yelling at her mommy.”

As she speaks, Ramona’s voice rises with indignation and fury. “I know that this is not the right time for me to have a second child. I’ve discussed the pregnancy with my family and with my personal physician and I know I’m doing the right thing, the best thing, for all of us. How can these strangers think they know better?”

Good question. Forty years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was issued, the idea that abortion may at times be the best option for women and families remains contentious. True, great advances in the availability of safe abortion care have been made since 1973. But the vigilance of anti-abortion protests has also ramped up.

Members of the Connecticut chapter of the North Carolina-based Operation to Save America (OSA) are a frequent presence outside the Summit Women’s Center in Bridgeport. And while regular picket lines, like this one, are fewer and farther between than they were 25 years ago, OSA continues to conduct “sidewalk counseling” in many cities throughout the United States. Ringleader Marilyn Carroll, the head of the state’s OSA chapter, is at the Summit Women’s Center when Ramona is accosted.

Fortunately, once Ramon is inside Summit the atmosphere changes. The Center, which opened in 1975 and is now owned by David Lipton, is located on Bridgeport’s Main Street. Its ambiance is pleasant and inspiring signs decorate the walls:

“The staff in this office does sacred work and though you may hope to never come back, we return each day to hear your stories, hold your hands, and ease your fears. Our lives are consumed with caring for yours. In these walls and in our hearts you are forever valued, treasured, respected and safe.”


Despite being rattled by the antis, Ramona’s decision to have an abortion is ironclad. Indeed, the presence of the antis has done little stop women from terminating unwanted pregnancies. According to the Guttmacher Institute [] nearly one-third of U.S. women will have an abortion by the time they turn 45. Ninety per cent will end these unwanted pregnancies—either medically or surgically—during the first trimester. Like Ramona, 61 percent already have at least one child at the time of their abortion.

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The Abortion Rights Looking Glass: Canada Reflects Women First

By: On The Issues Magazine Thursday December 13, 2012 6:48 pm

By Nick van der Graaf, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

Currently, Canada is the only country in the world where there are no criminal laws pertaining to abortion. Combined with our publicly-funded universal health care system, this means abortion is available on demand, period.

Many in the United States don’t know that, or how that right was secured, or why — despite facing renewed anti-choice activism and a horrendous right-wing federal government in Ottawa — abortion rights are likely here to stay.

Canadian feminists worked for decades to create a pro-choice culture, and the effort has paid off. Carolyn Egan, originally a Boston native, is a director and founder of the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics. She sees Canadian feminists’ success as a result of building a movement rather than focusing on politicians and legislatures. “I think we recognized there was a large pro-choice sentiment in this country that had to be organized,” says Egan. “We felt a direct challenge to the law [that declared abortion a criminal act] would be the spark to do that. If a clinic was opened it could — and did — become a symbol of women’s resistance to an unjust law. So we tried to build a movement that went beyond the women’s movement, that had trade unions, immigrant communities, students, etc.”

In May 1970 the Abortion Caravan — a motley collection of vehicles driven by dedicated activists — drove 5,000 miles from Vancouver to Ottawa, organizing demonstrations and picking up supporters along the way. When they got to Parliament Hill they launched two days of protests, including an unprecedented disruption of Parliament itself. The country was electrified. Egan strongly believes that grassroots organizing is what did the trick.

Building Pro-Choice Consciousness

In the years following, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CAREL) mostly worked like its similarly named ally south of the border, NARAL: lobbying politicians in Ottawa. But, across the country, grassroots organizations like the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics kept up the pressure in the streets, organizing frequent and ever-growing protests. “We wanted to organize a pro-choice consciousness across the country and in effect change the balance of power in a significant way,” Egan adds, “so that judges would have no other option but to see that the law, as it was framed, was unenforceable.”

Decades later, evidence of Egan’s “pro-choice consciousness” is still readily apparent. The province of Alberta, Canada’s own oil-laden Texas, held a provincial election this past spring. The ruling Conservative Party faced certain defeat from the upstart libertarian Wildrose Party. When Calgary writer Jane Cawthorne (“The Abortion Monologues”) asked Wildrose leaders about their views on abortion rights for her blog, they candidly admitted they were prepared to hold a referendum on it. Albertans’ ardour for Wildrose evaporated overnight. They lost the election.

“Once the Wildrose Party’s stance on social issues became clear, Albertans fled from them,” says Cawthorne. “It was a combination of their position on abortion and conscience rights that finally woke the public up to their very Republican brand of politics. This won’t fly, not even in Alberta.”

A penal code devoid of abortion as a crime, combined with our publicly-funded universal health care system, has brought most Canadian women close to what the Abortion Caravan called for: “Free abortion on demand, from B.C. to Newfoundland!”

In 1969, abortion became legally available as long as it was performed in accredited hospitals, with a woman first having to face a “therapeutic abortion committee” which determined whether she was “allowed” to have one. While an improvement on the previous total ban on abortion, the system was designed to accommodate the doctors involved, not the women who had to go through this demeaning process, all the while under a ticking clock.


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How My Friend From Kabul Escaped an Honor Killing and Saved Her Life – So Far

By: On The Issues Magazine Thursday December 6, 2012 12:46 pm
On The Issues Magazine - Rezaie2  height=

© Mahnaz Rezaie

By Mahnaz Rezaie, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

I am from Afghanistan. I am now an undergraduate student on scholarship at an American college. I was on campus last Sunday when I read – and agonized over – an article on the front page of The New York Times about the attempted “honor killing” of an Afghan teenager.

This young woman was from the provinces and dared to run away with a man who was not her husband. Along with emphasizing the horror of all this, I want Americans to know that this is not merely a practice of the provinces of my country. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is in some ways a relatively sophisticated city. But this kind of wicked ignorance happens there too.

I also want Americans to know that some women manage to save their own lives. They hide and escape. A friend of mind from Kabul did just that. With a secret mobile phone she messaged her boyfriend from the bathroom of the family house where her father was keeping her a prisoner – and they plotted their escape.

That Sunday newspaper article told the story of Gul Meena, struck by an ax fifteen times because she “dishonored” her family.

My friend – before she ran away – was persecuted in the name of religion. But an honor killing can happen simply because a woman and a man fall in love without the permission of elders. That seems to have been the case with Gul Meena. It is said that Gul Meena broke fundamental moral codes.  I say that she broke absurd patriarchal laws.

I will call the friend who came to mind on Sunday “Samana.” I will call the boy with whom she fell in love and with whom she ran away “Khalid.” It would be too dangerous for me to use their real names.

Standing Our Ground: Going Beyond Maslow’s Basic Needs

By: On The Issues Magazine Friday November 30, 2012 1:38 pm


By Mary E. Plouffe, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that basic needs (food, shelter, safety) must be satisfied before higher level needs (social relationships, self-esteem, self-actualization) can be given much attention.

A University of Illinois study published in 2011 challenges this assumption. In fact, even in countries where survival is a daily battle, people report a need for relationship, accomplishment and a feeling of effectance (personal power) in the world. We can, it seems, concern ourselves with many things at once.

The day after the election, the women’s movement needs to remember this.

The forces that want to turn back the clock on women’s rights, on reproductive rights and “issues of the womb” are counting on the old paradigm to be true. They are hoping that women will be so distracted with these core issues of safety and security in our own bodies that we will leave their war rooms and policy rooms bereft of our voices. This would be a big mistake.

There are extremists who want to put women and their bodies back under the control of a single conservative perspective. The laws and regulations they are proposing need to be challenged and beaten back. But I believe that this group is small, loud and beatable.

Women born in the last 30 years may have grown up without the need to grab the feminist flag, but they will rally if the rights they have enjoyed since they were born are in danger. And their mothers and grandmothers, who fought for those rights years ago in the trenches, will know how to lead them.

The larger danger comes from those who want to preserve and extend the balance of the past, the long-held reality that debates about economics and military policy and international policy are held almost exclusively in male voices.

Their use of Maslow’s psychology is simple: Keep the pot overflowing on the stove and the drawing room will remain cigar-friendly. Whether this is by chance or design, the resurgence of old feminist battles risks usurping too many women’s voices, and leaving critical issues without our influence. It will be no one’s fault but our own if we let that happen. Women have won many battles by uniting our voices. I believe, the day after this election, we need to hold our ground, and respond with a chorus of diverse feminine voices from every powerful position we own.

Here is how progressive feminists can do this.

Moving Forward with Four Action Steps

First, as a community, we need to encourage our members to put their energy and resources where they will make the most impact. I want female engineers talking about energy policy, and female economists talking about financial policy. I want them not only to feel free to do this, but to be applauded when they put their time and energy where they have the most credibility and where it will have the most impact for good.


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Military Women Thankful as SWAN Combats Sexual Abuse

By: On The Issues Magazine Wednesday November 21, 2012 2:24 pm

On The Issues Magazine - HagenHT

By Jamie J. Hagen, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

The world may be concentrating on General Petraeus’ dalliance. But the real story of sexual misbehavior in the military is far broader – and far more serious and damaging to so many of our women and men who serve. SWAN, the Service Women’s Action Network, is one organization that knows the real scenario. It advocates for the 2.5 million women who make up 15 per cent of the United States military.

With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) more than a year ago, SWAN is now better able to provide services with more transparency. But it still has a lot of work to do.

SWAN’s efforts also include policy development, litigation and direct services. Earlier this year, in Washington, D.C., the organization hosted Truth and Justice: The 2012 Summit on Sexual Violence covered by Outserve Magazine. Outserve-SLDN is a gay rights group supporting LGBT troops. Violence against women in the military and harassment of LGBTQ women – and men – are connected, in that both actions arise from the same dangerous, irrational hatred of difference.

“This was the first mass globalization for sexual assault survivors on Capitol Hill,” said Katy Otto, a spokesperson for SWAN. “This is significant because there have been a lot of stories in the press, especially about sexual assault in the military, but those stories have not included LGBT survivors. The summit provided opportunities to get those voices out to the media.”

Anu Ghagwaiti, executive director of SWAN, recently lauded the appointment of Outserve-SLDN’s new executive director, transgender veteran Allyson Robinson. “’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ may have happened a year ago, but we still have a military that treats LGB service members and their families like second-class citizens, and bars transgender people from serving at all.”

Postscript:  This week the Air Force imposed what it calls a “wingman policy” requiring its trainees at the Lackland base in San Antonio, Texas, to be with at least one classmate at all times. The move comes in response to an Air Training and Command investigation that identified 23 instructors on the base who had allegedly raped, sexually harassed or had “unprofessional relationships” with 48 trainees.

Editor’s Note: In the upcoming January 2013 issue of On the Issues Magazine, Jamie J. Hagen will report on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among women military veterans.  As part of that report, she will describe how the Service Women’s Action Network, known as SWAN and founded in 2007, offers support to women who suffer from PTSD.

Your Vote Got Counted. Here’s Why

By: On The Issues Magazine Wednesday November 14, 2012 4:03 pm

By Sheila Parks, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

Yes, my side won. So, the argument could be made that I was wrong when it comes to election fraud. The real story is more complicated. I believe that my side – your side, the women’s side – won in part becausevoting rights activists were vigilant. They kept Americans watching, to make sureto document irregularities at the polls.

As the result of a fair election, women now have a far better opportunity to lead and influence. More glass ceilings were shattered, although we still await total demolition. We also won due to a heavy turnout from diligent voters. At one polling place in Boston, many were still standing in line to vote at 9:30 PM. Women voted in large numbers, as did African Americans, Latinas, LGBTQs and youth. They voted for our side – for their side – and thanks to voting rights activists their votes were counted.

Here are some ways in which activism worked:

  • Early in the day, a Pennsylvania voter caught an irregularity on his android (and it went viral) as he tried to vote for Obama and the machine kept highlighting Romney. A poll worker told him not to worry. But voting rights activists everywhere repeatedly told people to take pictures of all unusual events. It worked. At the time of this writing, there are over 9 million views on that Pennsylvania voter’s YouTube post.
  • At a press conference at the Washington Press Club on November 5, the day before the election, Harvey Wasserman announced: “We are in the process as we speak of filing a federal lawsuit in Columbus, Ohio, asking for the removal of some software that has been installed into the computer system…”
  • Also, bold and righteous acts in Ohio had all eyes on the state. These acts included research conducted by Gerry Bello, Bob Fitrakis and Wasserman of the Free Press and a lawsuit filed by Cliff Arnebeck, including an affidavit by Michael Duniho. The lawsuit charged that Ohio Secretary of State John Husted “has installed ‘experimental’ uncertified and untested software [experimental software patches on the ES&S machines] to count a large portion of the Ohio vote. It was also filed against ES&S. The judge “declined to interfere in an on-going election, but indicated that he would consider taking action as the case continues after the election if it was needed.”
  • In Boston, one of the lawyers I had approached as part of my own efforts to combat election fraud is Mimi Turchinetz. She initially said she was skeptical that the machines could be hacked and requested more evidence. I provided this evidence and ultimately we joined forces to enlist an election attorney to file an injunction in case the Massachusetts Senate race was very close due to possible irregularities caused by the machines – machines that would be used by 69 percent of voters. We wrote and circulated a paper about the dangers of these machines and also distributed a book I wrote about election fraud. Although our time was short, we had email, telephone or face-to-face conversations with lawyers in different specialties in Massachusetts and other states. Included among them were election specialists, radicals, non-profit attorneys, attorneys for the Democratic Party, Harvard law school faculty, a judge and attorneys for Albert Gore. Some disagreed with our position. Others said they believed us but were preoccupied with “Get Out the Vote,” (GOTV). We will continue this work.
  • Earlier Turchinetz told me in great detail what GOTV accomplished in Massachusetts this year. Volunteers knocked on doors, distributed literature and returned and/or repeatedly called those who were not at home. They went to those who voted regularly and those who voted infrequently.

On Election Night, as Obama was named the winner – even by Fox News – Karl Rove said those words everyone has heard by now: “I’d be very cautious about intruding in this process.” I heard that and stopped exhaling. I thought, oh my Goddess, they are going to rig it again. Rove mentioned Republican suburbs in Hamilton County, Ohio, where they use Hart InterCivic voting machines. The Romney family’s financial connection to Hart InterCivic has been widely discussed in the media (here, for one, is a Forbes report on this connection). Snopes says it isn’t true; but Forbes says it is. Who would you believe? Also, a dazzling roadmap details “Karl Rove’s Empire of Election Fraud.” It is by Jill Simpson, an attorney and former Republican and Jim March, a Black Box Voting Board member and a Libertarian.

Honest elections depend on a three-legged stool: stopping suppression  of the vote; overturning Citizens United; and getting rid of all electronic voting machines. The work by activists on stopping the suppression has been constant and brilliant and taken up by the mainstream media. The outcry against Citizens United has been ongoing and continues to be widespread and fierce. And we, as activists, will continue to ensure that Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers know forever, as they did this time, that they cannot rig our elections via the electronic voting machines. We will be everywhere, taking many actions.

Just imagine what you would be thinking and feeling now had the election not gone the way it has. As I write this, the GOP in Ohio has started to get the “Heartbeat Bill,” HB 125, on the table again. It would be the most prohibitive anti-abortion bill in the country, with no exceptions for rape.

And just imagine what it means that in 2012, the Voting Rights Act is being challenged in the Supreme Court.

No, Joe Walsh: Women Do Not Have Nine Lives

By: On The Issues Magazine Monday October 22, 2012 2:12 pm

By Merle Hoffman, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine.

A patient in a hospital bed on an IV

Photo: José Goulão / Flick

Congressman Joe Walsh says abortions never save women’s lives.

He’s wrong. Here’s one story out of many:

This happened in 1989. Very publicly.

Nancy Klein, a pregnant Long Island woman rendered comatose by a car accident, was finally given an abortion, woke up, and once again was able to recognize her husband Martin and her daughter Arielle, four.

I, along with another abortion rights activist — Bill Baird — joined forces with Nancy Klein’s husband to make this happen.

Klein’s husband wanted her to have an abortion because, based on medical advice, he firmly believed that continuing the pregnancy would kill her. The people I call the “antis” (they are not pro anything except controlling women’s bodies) took Martin Klein to three courts and the state supreme court to stop the abortion by fighting his petition for guardianship of his wife.

I can still see the pain in this accountant-husband’s eyes as he fought for his wife’s life against strangers who placed themselves as “guardian at litem” for the fetus.

So here we are in 2012, and people like Joe Walsh are still spewing dangerous misinformation about women’s bodies. If Mitt Romney is elected, it won’t be 1989 in this country. It will be 1971, before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal nationally. It will be very much like the year I opened one of the first abortion clinics in the country, in Queens, New York — a state ahead of the curve in reproductive rights. The first patient who came to Choices, my clinic, came from New Jersey because abortion was illegal in that state. If Mitt Romney gets his Personhood Amendment passed, abortion will be illegal in every state.

Women are not cats. They do not have nine lives. And the one life a woman does have could very easily be lost if she does not have an abortion when she needs one. Cancer, severe renal and heart disease, and severe diabetes are all pre-pregnancy conditions that can threaten a woman’s life, requiring her to have an abortion if she becomes pregnant. Now, that decision is a hard choice. Under President Romney, there would be no choice.

Since the nuance of medical literature is clearly beyond Walsh and his ilk, I’ll describe another situation in which, indeed, women do die when abortion is unavailable to them.

Even with the “modern technology” to which Walsh alludes.

Ectopic pregnancy is a complicated condition in which the embryo implants outside the uterus. With rare exceptions, ectopic pregnancies are not viable. They are also very dangerous for a woman, since internal hemorrhaging, a life-threatening complication, can occur. Ectopic pregnancy is a potential medical emergency and, if not treated properly, can lead to death.

I hope these facts help women see the truth. I will see it tomorrow — October 20 — when more than 200 protestors are expected outside my clinic to bully, harass, and intimidate patients on their way inside. Tomorrow it will feel like 1971 all over again to me.

So remember your family values, Walsh, Todd Akin, and friends: the life and health of women is the fulcrum around which the family and society turn. A woman’s life is a human life and one that must be honored. A woman’s choice is hers alone and one that must be protected.

Where Are The Women?

By: On The Issues Magazine Thursday October 4, 2012 8:42 am
Pro Choice Protect Women's Health March March 26, 20112

(Photo: stevendepolo/flickr)

By Merle Hoffman, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

After debating every major “right-to-life” leader in this country- including Jerry Falwell – I didn’t need to watch the debate tonight to know that no matter who the pundits say won, it is women who are losing.

In the meager segment set aside to discuss health care in tonight’s debate both candidates brought out their shop-worn stump speeches on the merits and weaknesses of Obamacare.

At one point Governor Romney said “the government shouldn’t be telling a patient and a doctor what kind of treatment they should have.”

What an opening for Obama to come out strongly in favor of reproductive freedom and a woman’s right to choose. This was Obama’s opportunity to emphasize, with strength, that he supports Roe v. Wade – which I consider to be the Medical Equal Rights Amendment for women.

But he didn’t. Like I said, it’s the same old story.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a Romney supporter. Far from it. I just wish that one of the candidates would have said something specifically about women beyond wishing Michelle Obama a happy anniversary. (Actually Romney’s congratulations were focused more on the president. Weren’t they?)

The candidates talked about a grandmother and the women they met on the campaign trails. But not a word about women’s health care–or the fact that it is the women of this country sitting at all those “kitchen tables” who make the health care decisions for their families.

It is the women of this country who are the most impacted by the economic downturn. And this is intrinsically related to health care.

For example, as the Founder and President of Choices Women’s Medical Center, I commissioned an analysis of previous studies, what I termed “Abortionomics,” which showed that today’s economic hardships are a major factor in women’s decisions to have abortions. I presented at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Jan. 17, 2011.

It seems obvious: When the economy dips, it’s harder for people to raise a family. But this living reality, borne out in the report’s findings, remains outside today’s heated political debates about abortion and birth control. As a result, too many politicians seem oblivious to the consequences of unwanted pregnancies. They are oblivious that when these pregnancies are carried to term, the resulting births impose difficult, if not impossible, financial burdens on already strapped mothers and families.

The debate was mute on the subject of women. but the climate outside in the real world is dangerously loud. A new videotape just surfaced on MSNBC showing Todd Akin-speaking to Congress in 2008, comparing abortion to slavery-and saying that “abortion doctors” perform these procedures on women who are not pregnant.

Now, according to Akin, not only can women’s bodies decide for themselves if they will become impregnated with a legitimate rapis sperm,-they can also produce fetuses on demand for abortion doctors to abort!

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

Aiken is not going rogue– Aiken is just going public on expressing the political/philosophical foundations of the current Republican party, including Rick Santorum, Jim DeMint and Newt Gingrich, all of whom have come out in support of the congressman. Clearly, the dangerous views of my old debating opponent, Jerry Falwell, live on even if he no longer is with us.

This is what Mitt Romney represents for women of this country.

But where is the response from President Obama?