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Six Supreme Court Cases to Watch This Term

By: RH Reality Check Tuesday September 17, 2013 12:08 pm

Written by Jessica Mason Pieklo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The US Supreme Court

These Supreme Court cases could affect women’s rights in the near future.

The United States Supreme Court term begins in October, and while the entire docket has not yet been set, already it’s shaping up to be a historic term, with decisions on abortion protests, legislative prayer, and affirmative action, just to name a few. Here are the key cases we’re keeping an eye on as the term starts up.

1. Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice

The Supreme Court looks poised to re-enter the abortion debate, and it could do so as early as this year if it takes up Cline, the first of the recent wave of state-level restrictions to reach the high court.

Cline involves a challenge to an Oklahoma statute that requires abortion-inducing drugs, including RU-486, to be administered strictly according to the specific Food and Drug Administration labeling despite the fact that new research and best practices make that labeling out of date. Such “off-label” use of drugs is both legal and widespread in the United States as science, standards of care, and clinical practice often supercede the original FDA label on a given drug. In the case of cancer drugs, for example, the American Cancer Society notes that “New uses for [many] drugs may have been found and there’s often medical evidence from research studies to support the new use [even though] the makers of the drugs have not put them through the formal, lengthy, and often costly process required by the FDA to officially approve the drug for new uses.” Off-label use of RU-486 is based on the most recent scientific findings that suggest lower dosages of the drug and higher rates of effectiveness when administered in conjunction with a follow-up drug (Misoprostol). According to trial court findings, the alternative protocols are safer for women and more effective. But, according to the state and defenders of the law, there is great uncertainty about these off-label uses and their safety.

When the issue reached the supreme court of Oklahoma, the court held in a very brief opinion that the Oklahoma statute was facially invalid under Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In Casey, a plurality of justices held that a state may legitimately regulate abortions from the moment of gestation as long as that regulation does not impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Later, in Gonzales v. Carhart, a majority of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, interpreted Casey to allow state restrictions on specific abortion procedures when the government “reasonably concludes” that there is medical uncertainty about the safety of the procedure and an alternative procedure is available.

Cline, then, could present an important test on the limits of Casey and whether, under Gonzales, the Court will permit states to ban medical abortions. But it’s not entirely clear the Court will actually take up Cline. At the lower court proceedings, the challengers argued that the Oklahoma statute bars the use of RU-486’s follow-up drug (Misoprostol) as well as the use of Methotrexate to terminate an ectopic pregnancy. If so, the statute then bars both any drug-induced abortion and eliminates the preferred method for ending an ectopic pregnancy. Attorneys defending the restriction deny the law has those effects, and do not argue that if it did such restrictions would be constitutional. With this open question of state law—whether the statute prohibits the preferred treatment for ectopic pregnancies—the Supreme Court told the Oklahoma Supreme Court those disputed questions of state law.

So a lot depends on how the Oklahoma Supreme Court proceeds. Should the Oklahoma Supreme Court hold that the Oklahoma statute is unconstitutional because it prohibits the use of Misoprostol and Methotrexate, this case could be over without the Supreme Court weighing in. But if the Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidates the law insofar as it prohibits alternative methods for administering RU-486, the Supreme Court will almost certainly take a look.

2. Town of Greece v. Galloway

The Roberts Court is set to weigh in on the issue of when, and how, government prayer practices can exist without violating the Establishment Clause’s ban on the intermingling of church and state. In Marsh v. Chambers, the Supreme Court upheld Nebraska’s practice of opening each legislative session with a prayer, based largely on an unbroken tradition of that practice dating back to the framing of the Constitution. In Marsh, the Court adopted two apparent limits to a legislative prayer practice: The government may not select prayer-givers based on a discriminatory motive, and prayer opportunities may not be exploited to proselytize in favor of one religion or disparage another.

Don’t Use India’s Missing Girls to Deny Women Reproductive Rights

By: RH Reality Check Monday September 16, 2013 11:57 am

Written by Mallika Dutt for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Mallika Dutt

Mallika Dutt on the struggle for women’s equality in India.

On Tuesday last week, I testified at a hearing of the Congressional Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, entitled “Improving the Status and Equality of Women and Girls—Causes and Solutions to India’s Unequal Sex Ratio.”

Gender-biased sex selection—the illegal misuse of medical technologies to determine the sex of a fetus in order to ensure a male child—has led to an alarming decline in the number of girls across India and elsewhere in the world. By some estimates, India is missing approximately 40 million girls. In the state of Haryana, there are only 832 girls for every 1,000 boys—a dramatically skewed ratio. This clear preference for sons is yet another manifestation of worldwide devaluing of women.

The problem requires an urgent and global response. So one might think that attention to son preference by the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee would be cause for celebration.

If only. The truth is that the people shaking their fists the hardest about the issue are actually those who are most hostile to women’s rights. Anti-abortion advocates have seized upon and rebuilt the issue as a Trojan horse for their own agenda. What they’re really trying to do? “Protect” women’s rights by denying women rights.

It is imperative that we stop gender-biased sex selection (GBSS). And it is imperative that we understand why we must stop it.

GBSS is a cultural practice driven precisely by devaluing and discrimination of women. Stopping it, therefore, is not about denying individual women their “choice.” It is about promoting the rights and worth of girls and women. What, after all, are the particular and age-old drivers of son preference? The view of girls as risks and burdens. Daughters are expensive—often requiring dowries, rarely able to bring in income. Daughters are “bad investments”—traditionally leaving their families for their husbands’ and not helping care for aging parents. Daughters are dangerous, inviting the risk of real assault or indiscretions that could besmirch family “honor.” Daughters are expendable.

So families have acted on son preference since long, long before the latest technologies facilitated, for a relatively small number of people, sex-selective pregnancy termination. Yet strangely, it is only when abortion enters the equation that certain individuals—like those I debated at the hearing—get interested in “saving” girls and women.

In reality, only 5 percent of abortions in India are connected to GBSS. At the same time, 47,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortion each year; the vast majority of these deaths occur in low-income settings. Deaths from complications of unsafe abortion account for 13 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide.

If you want to “protect” women, make sure they have access to safe abortions. And get to the root of the problem by challenging and changing the cultural and institutional norms that enshrine the devaluing of girls. We also need more reliable data to better measure the extent of sex-selection practices and progress made toward challenging them. And we need better law and enforcement on inheritance lines, dowry, and legal and safe abortion. Most of all, women and girls require access to information, health services, education, and security. When we make daughters welcome in households, neighborhoods, and nations, we are all able to thrive. What they don’t need is to have their rights taken away under false claims.

A Case Study in Awful: The 8 Worst Parts of the Recent Naval Academy Rape Hearing

By: RH Reality Check Friday September 13, 2013 11:33 am

Written by Erin Matson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Recently, attorneys defending three former Naval Academy football players against allegations of sexual assault at an off-campus party spent more than 20 hours over five grueling days questioning, taunting, blaming, shaming, and what appears to be re-victimizing a 21-year-old female midshipman.

At one point, the midshipman said she was too exhausted to continue testifying and the commander presiding over the hearing granted her a day off. “This is borderline abusive,” her attorney Susan Burke said upon leaving the Navy Yard that day. Abusive, yes, and sadly all too instructive in how rape culture encourages attorneys, members of the media, and others to turn sexual assault victims into the accused.

The routine process of victim blaming, as illuminated by this Article 32 hearing, serves to silence other sexual assault victims, generate sympathy for rapists, and create doubts that the definition of sexual assault includes anything beyond a stranger jumping out of an alley and raping a sweet, chaste woman wearing modest clothing.

In this case, the midshipman saw social media posts that led her to believe she was raped while drunk. All three defendants admitted sexual contact with the midshipman on the night at the center of the allegations—either to her, or prosecutors. What follows is a look at some of the horrible insinuations, statements, and questions used by defense attorneys to impugn the character of the midshipman, which offer an entry point to talk about and refute rape culture as a whole.

How do you perform oral sex?

Defense attorneys repeatedly asked the midshipman how she performs oral sex. This question is irrelevant, even though one of the defendants has said that he put his penis in her mouth that night. Here’s the deal: It doesn’t matter if a sexual assault victim has had sex, and it doesn’t matter how she (or he) prefers to have sex. People are biologically driven to have sex. Sex is part of normal life. A history or manner of having oral sex, or rough sex, or any specific style of sex, does not mean that you can’t be sexually assaulted orally, or roughly, or in that specific style. There are infinite ways to have sex, minus one: Sex without consent isn’t sex. By definition, it’s rape.

Tell us about your sex life.

Along with repeated queries about how she performs oral sex, the midshipman was asked to describe her sex life in detail. This, like the oral sex question, is also irrelevant and demeaning. Casting the spotlight on a victim’s sexual history in the context of discussing her (or his) rape serves to make others imagine the victim sexually. It serves to degrade her (or him). Sharing your sexuality with others is a personal choice. Being cast in a sexual light can be highly desired, even great, when freely chosen. But painting a sexual picture of someone when they haven’t asked you to serves to shame, silence, and sluttify.

You had sex with him before, right?

Today We Stood #4ImmigrantWomen and Got Arrested

By: RH Reality Check Thursday September 12, 2013 9:33 am

 

Written by Jessica González-Rojas and Kimberly Inez McGuire for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

If you’re reading this, it’s because we have just been arrested. On Thursday morning, we stood outside Congress as part of a group of 100 women leaders, and we demanded “salud, dignidad, y justicia”—health, dignity, and justice—for immigrant women. We called on the House of Representatives to take action on immigration reform that recognizes the contributions, and reflects the needs and experiences, of immigrant women and families.

For years, we at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health have been mobilizing Latinas to advance reproductive justice for immigrant women, and early this year we redoubled our organizing and advocacy on these critical issues. On Thursday, we took our efforts one step further, accepting the risks of arrest and separation from our families because we know Congress needs to wake up, listen, and act. We participated in this action because we can no longer stand by while some policymakers ignore the need for inclusive, comprehensive immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship—and others like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) peddle tired, racist stereotypes and propose punishing restrictions on the health, success, and full integration of immigrant families into society.

By participating in an act of principled civil disobedience, we stand on the shoulders of leaders in women’s, civil, and human rights who have established a long and honored tradition of peaceful protest. This history includes many women, Latin@s, and people of color—people like the Puerto Ricans who protested the U.S. military presence in Culebra and Vieques, the women suffragists who were imprisoned for demanding a vote, and then force fed when they went on hunger strikes, and of course the legendary leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement like Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height. More recently, Latina DREAMers and immigrant advocates have led by example, engaging in civil disobedience and even infiltrating detention centers to call for compassionate, common sense immigration reform.

Today, we humbly add our names to these ranks, in hopes of helping to tip the scales toward justice.

We also recognize that our sacrifice today is small—particularly when we consider that right now thousands of women across the country are being held in immigration detention centers, separated from their families and support networks, and subjected to human rights abuses, from denial of HIV medication to shackling during childbirth. It is for these women that we raise our voices.

We also know that immigrant women living in the shadows of our communities face another kind of confinement, as they are locked out of our health care and family support systems. We know that right now, there is a woman with a lump in her breast that she can’t get checked out because she has no access to health care. There is a trans woman who is being profiled and targeted by immigration officials. There is a woman who is risking her health with black market medication because it’s the only kind available to her. It is for these women that we risked arrest.

We’re fighting #4immigrantwomen. And we’re going to keep fighting after we’re released from jail, until Congress reforms our immigration system to recognize the basic human rights of every person within our borders—including access to quality, affordable health care, regardless of immigration status. Will you join us? Click here to take action and tell Congress that you’re fighting for immigrant women too.

¡Que siga la lucha!

How the Military Discriminates Against Transgender Individuals

By: RH Reality Check Monday September 9, 2013 10:29 am

Written by Autumn Sandeen for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Mural: Hero Chelsea Manning

“I enlisted in part an attempt to be the man I wasn’t. Chelsea Manning recently gave that same explanation as to why she enlisted.”

When I joined the U.S. Navy back in 1980, I knew I was transgender. I didn’t know the word transgender, but I knew deep down that’s what I was.

Prior to joining the Navy, in 1979, my pentecostal parents considered transgender identities and transgender expressions to be sinful, and made going to “conversion therapy” a condition of living at home. Due to my own internalized transphobia, I thought I was sinful too, so I underwent the therapy, which had the goal of having me become “ex-transgender.”

A goal of both gay and transgender conversion therapy is to embrace societal gender role norms, so in my case embracing masculine norms was the goal. It should come as no surprise then that when I enlisted in the Navy in 1980, it was in part an attempt to be the man I wasn’t.

Chelsea Manning, who enlisted under the name Bradley Manning—and who in August received a 35-year prison sentence for releasing classified government documents to WikiLeaks—recently gave that same explanation as to why she enlisted.

If either of us had admitted to being transgender before we joined the military, we wouldn’t have been allowed to join. This is because Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03, the Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services, states that “[c]urrent or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias” precludes induction.

Department of Defense (DOD) policy also discharges currently serving personnel if they admit to, or are discovered to be, transgender. For enlisted service members, Department of Defense Instruction 1332.14 (the Enlisted Administrative Separations) is the controlling regulation. The Army’s applicable regulation is Army Regulation 40–501, the Standards of Medical Fitness, which states:

A history of, or current manifestations of, personality disorders, disorders of impulse control not elsewhere classified, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias, or factitious disorders, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity disorder to include major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex or a current attempt to change sex, hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions render an individual administratively unfit [to serve].

This transgender exclusion is backed by case law. The first such case in which such exclusion was discussed is 1981′s Doe v. Alexander. Tarynn M. Witten wrote about the case in a 2007 whitepaper entitled “Gender Identity and the Military – Transgender, Transsexual, and Intersex Identified Individuals in the U.S. Armed Forces,” saying:

[T]he Army defended its policy of denying enlistment to transsexual persons, arguing that transsexual persons presented a medical problem in that their requirements for hormone supplementation might not be available at some location where they could be assigned.

The 2007 DeGroat v. Townsend decision by the U.S. Southern District Court in Ohio, Western Division, echoed the decision in Doe v. Alexander, finding Joanne E. Degroat, a member of the U.S. Armed Forces (USAF) from 1974 to 1989, medically unfit to serve. In the decision, the court stated that “USAF medical staff encouraged and counseled her to dress in female street clothing when off-base and off-duty” as part of the treatment plan for her gender dysphoria. Major DeGroat was seen attending church in female clothing, and then “was notified that she had to show cause for retention on active duty for substandard performance due to a failure to show acceptable qualities of leadership required by an officer of her grade, based on her wearing female clothing on two instances and subjecting herself to public view.” Her separation for service was upheld.

The Leyland v. Orr decision is also on point. Jane Anne Leyland was honorably discharged from the Air Force Reserves as being found mentally and physically unfit to serve due to being transsexual and receiving trans-related medical treatment. As Witten wrote in her paper, “Leyland’s fitness for duty recommended discharge on the grounds of psychological unsuitability, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records affirmed the discharge on grounds of psychological unsuitability and physical unfitness.”

From the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Dr. Donald Novicki, a urology consultant to the Air Force surgeon general, stated that the known and potential long-term effects of a sex change constitute a risk significant enough to restrict the individual’s performance of Air Force duties, especially when remote geographic assignments are involved. Dr. Novicki stated that assigning such a person to such places “would be equivalent to placing an individual with known coronary artery disease in a remote location without readily available coronary care.” He added, “It has been and remains the policy of the Surgeon General that such abnormalities be identified and that such individuals be denied entry or continued active duty for their benefit and for the benefit of the United States Air Force.”

Lastly, in 1988′s United States v. Davis, the appellant was charged under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice after having several Navy psychiatrists diagnose her with what the DSM-V refers to as “gender dysphoria,” and was recommended for continued treatment of the condition. The U.S. Court of Military Appeals ruling on the case stated that expressing gender as one’s target sex while on base in a manner as required by the relevant standard of care “virtually always would be prejudicial to good order and discipline and discrediting to the Armed Forces.”

Mexico’s Abortion Wars, American-Style

By: RH Reality Check Friday September 6, 2013 12:04 pm

Written by Kathryn Joyce for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and originally published in the September 16 issue of The Nation.

Anti-choice activists hand a small child propaganda material in Mexico City.

On May 1, a familiar anti-abortion story line played out on Azteca 13, a popular television channel in Mexico. In the opening scenes of an episode of Lo Que Callamos Las Mujeres (What We Women Keep Silent), a Lifetime-like telenovela series about “real-life” stories, a pretty brunette with a heart-shaped face, Alondra, discovers she is pregnant when overtaken by a sudden bout of morning sickness. Her sister Sofía is concerned, but later that night, when Alondra’s boorish boyfriend comes home and she breaks the news, he asks if it’s his, then tells her to abort.

Alondra complies and, in a series of hazy scenes, visits a clandestine abortion provider. But she’s haunted by what she has done, and is awoken at night by phantom baby cries that send her searching throughout her apartment until she collapses on the living room floor, her white pajama bottoms soaked through with blood. Her illegal abortion was botched, it turns out, and by terminating her pregnancy, a doctor tells her sister, she has forfeited her fertility as well. Some weeks later, Alondra’s boyfriend is accosted on the street by another woman, also pregnant by him, who begs him to acknowledge his future child. Sheepishly, he does, shrugging as he tells Alondra, “I’m going to be a papa,” before walking out the door to be with the other woman—the one who didn’t abort.

The message seems clear enough, but the story doesn’t end there. Two years later, when Alondra meets a good man who wants a family, she pushes the memory of the abortion out of her mind. In a state of manic delusion, she experiences a hysterical pregnancy, her belly swelling with her hopes, until Sofía forces her to see a doctor and Alondra breaks down, confronted with her unresolved grief. As Alondra again lies in a hospital bed, two years wiser and infinitely sadder, the doctor hands her a pamphlet. On its back cover, facing the camera, is the logo of the Instituto para la Rehabilitación de la Mujer y la Familia, or IRMA, a Mexican Catholic ministry that offers counseling for women suffering “post-abortion syndrome”—the medically unrecognized claim that terminating a pregnancy leads to serious psychological trauma.

The May episode of Lo Que Callamos was one of several instances in which IRMA was invited to suggest a “true-life” story line for the show, broadcasting to millions of viewers its message that abortion causes devastating harm to women and their families. One episode alone had generated some 200 calls and 400 emails to IRMA in a single day, said María del Carmen Alva López, IRMA’s president and founder, when I met her last October.

“They take a real story from us, a real history, and then at the end the lady goes to IRMA and receives help,” explained Alva, a cheerful 42-year-old with beauty-pageant poise. In a lush Mexico City suburb full of gated houses, Alva sat me down on a pleather loveseat in IRMA’s small, stucco-walled counseling room. The bookshelves outside were lined with copies of Alva’s book, Y después del aborto, ¿que? (And After the Abortion, What?), and in her hands she held a thick binder containing the results of a survey of 135 clients. Of these 135 “post-abortive” women, said Alva, her smile dimming and her eyes heavy with sympathy, IRMA estimates that 70 percent have clinical depression and 10 percent have attempted suicide. Results like these, she says, prove that post-abortion syndrome is real.

That these numbers are gathered from a self-selecting group of women who have sought out IRMA’s services doesn’t dampen Alva’s conviction that all Mexican women need to hear how abortion can hurt them. They especially need to hear it now, Alva believes. It’s been six years since first-trimester abortions were decriminalized in Mexico’s Distrito Federal, home to Mexico City, and more and more Mexican women are gradually learning about their limited right to choose—although abortion rights advocates fear this message hasn’t yet made its way to provincial, working-class women.

In this atmosphere, the claims about post-abortion syndrome and other supposed risks advanced by groups like IRMA are having real effects. According to Dr. Raffaela Schiavon, director of the Mexican chapter of the international abortion rights group Ipas and a former OB-GYN who served in Mexico’s Ministry of Health, a 2012 study suggests that Mexican women decide whether or not to have an abortion based not on their religion, politics, or socioeconomic status, but rather on their fears that an abortion will hurt or kill them. The main difference for women, said Schiavon, is whether or not they’ve received information that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility, depression, or suicide—exactly the information IRMA is helping to spread around the nation.

“They’ve gotten out the message that abortion is unsafe and dangerous,” Schiavon said. Ironically, she added, “That is the case when it’s illegal.”

When Mexico City’s law changed in 2007, allowing elective abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, it was a substantial victory for reproductive rights advocates in a country, and a region, where the Catholic Church dominates daily life. Across Latin America, access to legal abortion is a rarity, and in 2007, all eyes turned to Mexico City to see how the experiment would play out—and whether it could be replicated. To date, only Uruguay has followed Mexico City in liberalizing its abortion law, and this June, the world watched as El Salvador denied a lifesaving abortion to a woman known as Beatriz for five months before finally allowing a c-section delivery for the nonviable fetus.

After decriminalization, however, a fierce backlash unfurled across Mexico. In the first three years, half of the country’s 31 provinces passed new constitutional amendments enshrining abortion bans—two of which were just upheld by Mexico’s Supreme Court this May. As a result of the amendments passed after 2007 in 18 Mexican states, women in the provinces are increasingly being prosecuted for “attempted abortion,” often reported by hospital staff when they seek help after self-abortions, unsupervised use of the medical abortion drug misoprostol, or unsafe back-alley terminations.

Regina Tames, a lawyer and executive director of the reproductive rights advocacy group GIRE (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida), worked with several of the dozens of women being prosecuted for attempted abortion in 2012. If convicted, some of these women could face up to six years in jail, while others would be sentenced to fines or community service. Many were already condemned in their communities after newspapers printed their pictures and identified them as criminals and baby killers.

In Mexico’s so-called Rosary Belt, a band of ultraconservative states like Jalisco and Guanajuato in the center of the nation, anti-abortion advocates and other traditionalists are embracing U.S.-style culture war tactics and rhetoric. Conservative Mexican Catholics have mobilized across the provinces to Catholicize public school education, block public health announcements for condoms, and even destroy public school books that contain comprehensive sex ed. Some anti-abortion activists have marched under a powerful old symbol: the flag of the 1920s Cristero War, which pitted devout Catholics against a secularizing government that persecuted religious expression. The bloody conflict resulted in atrocities on both sides, including priests being executed among their flocks—some since canonized as martyrs of the faith—and a 2012 film about the war has resonated with conservatives in both Mexico and the United States. (U.S. Catholic commentator George Weigel recently went so far as to compare the contraception mandate in Obamacare to the legacy of the persecuted Cristeros.) Waving the flag now helps cast the terms of Mexico’s current abortion debate as a new clash in an ongoing war over religious freedom. Some abortion rights advocates say there’s a sense that today’s Mexican right “has the Cristero spirit again.”

Next to the harsh penalties of criminalization and the simmering threat of culture war, groups like IRMA and its peers seem to offer a softer, gentler approach to the anti-abortion cause. When I spoke with María del Carmen Alva López, she was preparing to meet with the ministry’s partners at Vifac, a nearby maternity home that houses women who have been convinced not to abort. Both IRMA and Vifac count themselves as part of a network of anti-abortion groups in Mexico, along with a proliferating number of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) that are adopting the same ostensibly women-centered focus that has marked the modern U.S. anti-abortion movement.

On a sunny day in October, a 29-year-old Mexican-American woman named Katia walked into a CPC in the upscale Mexico City neighborhood of Anzures, explaining that she thought she might be pregnant. After Katia entered and gave her name, she was taken to a back room by a Catholic volunteer, who asked her why she didn’t want her baby. If she was pregnant, the volunteer suggested, she should marry her boyfriend or, barring that, accept the center’s offer of a place to stay where her parents wouldn’t have to know. The CPC staffers told Katia that they would perform an ultrasound to show her the fetus, but first she was legally obligated to watch a video: a four-part movie starting with the miracle of life and proceeding to a graphic abortion, interspersed with testimony from women who had variously given birth to their babies and were happy, or who had chosen abortion and were devastated. When a CPC staffer who claimed to be a nurse finally performed the ultrasound, she puzzled at length over the image on the screen before suggesting that Katia was probably seven-and-a-half weeks pregnant. When she left, they handed her a lollipop.

Katia’s experience would be nothing out of the ordinary in heartland America, where CPCs have been a fixture since the 1960s. What’s new is that this model has been exported to Mexico, where anti-abortion groups have established more than 40 CPCs in recent years.

Frequently posing as medical facilities, and often located right next door to actual abortion clinics, CPCs function by attracting women with free pregnancy tests and implied offers of abortion services, only to ambush them with graphic videos, intensive anti-abortion coercion, and strategic misinformation. (Some in the United States have even been sanctioned for fraud.) Now, thanks to the expanding reach of American evangelical and Catholic anti-abortion activists, CPCs are becoming important players in the abortion debates overseas, in countries as varied as Ethiopia, Israel, Serbia, and South Africa. Mexico is just one of the 47 nations where Heartbeat International, an anti-abortion network based in Ohio, now has partner centers. Heartbeat International, which represents more than 1,000 similar centers in the United States and 1,800 groups worldwide, has partnered with a Spanish-language website to track and promote Mexican CPCs as well. In fact, it was Heartbeat International’s website that had listed the Mexico City CPC that Katia—who was actually my translator—visited.

In Mexico, the history of CPCs (in Spanish, centros de ayuda para mujeres, or CAMs) begins with Jorge Serrano Limón, founder of the early Mexican anti-abortion group National Pro-Life Committee, or ProVida. In 1989, Serrano Limón traveled to New Orleans for a conference put on by Human Life International (HLI), an American group whose ultraconservative Catholic founder, the late Father Paul Marx, charged that Jews control the abortion “industry.” In Louisiana, Serrano Limón (who has his own unsavory connections with a Nazi-sympathizing Mexican historian) met HLI staff and CPC founders who inspired him to set up his own center in Mexico, fighting abortion before it was even legal.

Serrano Limón fell into disgrace in the mid-2000s, as ProVida became the focus of an embarrassing embezzlement scandal known as “Tanga-Gate” (Thong-Gate)—in which government funds meant to buy ultrasound equipment were instead spent on unauthorized purchases, including women’s clothing and thong underwear. Pro-choice activists gleefully took the opportunity to protest Serrano Limón’s appearances by waving cheap thongs at him in public. But HLI continued to sponsor Mexican and Latin American CAMs.

Greg Berger, a U.S.-born documentary filmmaker living in Mexico, made a film about Mexico’s CAMs in 2008, El Derecho de Decidir en Paz (The Right to Choose in Peace). Implicit in the centers’ rise was a tactical shift: from Mexico’s version of noisy clinic protests—amplified sessions of praying the rosary directed at entering patients—to appearing instead to offer women help in making an informed choice. “I think they found that it was much better to pretend that they were providing information about abortions,” Berger says, “a much better technique than the fetus-in-a-jar model.”

After Tanga-Gate, ProVida seemed to take another lesson from the United States, where women have risen to leadership positions in the anti-abortion movement, when it named a female president, Rocío Gálvez, whose promotion was announced while she was pregnant. “She was [presented as] a pregnant woman who was proud to bring life,” recalled Eugenia López Uribe, a radical young activist who is executive coordinator of the sexual rights group Balance, which works on both reproductive and LGBT rights.

This shift not only mirrored the U.S. anti-abortion movement’s trajectory but also marked a moment when U.S. partners began exerting more influence. At Gálvez’s inauguration celebration in an expensive Mexico City hotel, recalls López Uribe, the featured speakers were all from the United States, and the organizers even screened an anti-abortion video clearly made in the States and featuring an African-American baby.

Since Serrano Limón’s first CPC, Mexican CAMs have grown to several dozen and today claim to have served some 60,000 women and prevented 51,000 abortions. Mostly, the CAMs approach women as they’re heading into clinics or hospitals. Ever since Mexico City’s decriminalization in 2007, CAMs have been setting up small booths on the walkways into clinics, amid stands vending candy and food for hospital visitors. With a banner overhead offering information about abortion, the stands intentionally appear as an official part of the hospital’s intake procedure. If women stop, CAM staffers try to transport them to their remote centers, luring them to a van with the promise of a safer, cleaner, and faster abortion clinic nearby.

For women in a city where abortion is newly legal—an island of access in a country devoid of it—the CAMs’ message is disorienting. The advertisements for these “crisis centers,” including posters along Mexico City streets, make the same ambiguous offer that can be seen in New York City subway cars: “If you’re pregnant, we can help.”

“The message [of decriminalization] has not arrived to the most vulnerable, poorest, least-educated women,” says Ipas’s Raffaela Schiavon, who suspects that most working-class migrant women, often serving as domestics for Mexico City’s elite, aren’t aware of their rights and are therefore the most likely to be taken in.

Women who go with the CAM volunteers are likely to experience the same protocol that has been extensively documented in the United States. They are shown graphic videos about how aborted fetuses cry for their mothers. They are given a letter to read “from a fetus,” forgiving its mother for aborting. They are invited to stay with the CAM’s partner maternity home.

“They have all these choices,” says López Uribe: “‘What are you scared of? That your family will find out? Perfect—we’ll send a letter that you were accepted to a school, and we will take you to the [maternity] house and nobody will ever know.’” In her OB-GYN practice, Schiavon says she sometimes encountered new mothers who came to the hospital from provincial maternity homes, where they’d been cloistered away from family and friends and hadn’t felt free to leave.

But even for women who know to avoid the CAM booths, their very presence undermines the culture of safe access that advocates are trying to foster in Mexico City. “We’re trying to build an environment of rights—that we have this law and that you can exercise your rights,” López Uribe says. “When you have to tell [patients], ‘If you see this stand, don’t go to it, go straight; don’t pay attention to the people praying,’ it makes them feel like they’re doing something wrong.”

It’s no coincidence that the Spanish-language pamphlets that the CAMs hand out bear the exact same pictures of mangled fetuses as the anti-abortion protest signs on the Washington Mall. On the back of one gory leaflet collected by López Uribe’s group Balance, a black-and-white tract with images of dismembered second-trimester fetuses under the caption “human trash,” there is listed, in small type, the name and address of its publisher—in Cincinnati, Ohio. And when Mexican women show up at a CAM, it’s often an American movie they see: a subtitled version of the gruesome anti-abortion classic The Silent Scream.

To Mexico’s pro-choice community, the ties between the Mexican and U.S. anti-abortion movements are so blatant as to be self-evident. There is funding flowing from North to South, but probably more important is the wholesale migration of the U.S. anti-abortion model. “Serrano Limón went and took courses in the United States, networked, and got ready,” explained Sofía Román Montes, coordinator at the pro-choice group Equidad de Género. “He used tactics from the U.S.: The Silent Scream, the screaming at women, the vans with ultrasounds. That was all from the United States. Nothing is made here.”

Well, there might be one part of the Mexican CAMs that is indigenous, a sort of local twist. Though my translator Katia emerged from her visit to the CAM with the suggestion that she was nearly two months pregnant, the ultrasound reading was false: Katia was not pregnant. According to Mexican reproductive rights groups, such false diagnoses by CAMs are routine, with widespread reports of women being shown ultrasound images of fetuses far more advanced than they could possibly be carrying—for example, a woman early in her first trimester being shown images from a late-second-term pregnancy—as well as numerous instances of women who were not pregnant being shown an ultrasound of their “baby.”

Abortion rights advocates believe that the CAMs are showing prerecorded videos instead of actual ultrasounds. When a non-pregnant student working with Balance went to a clinic, she was shown an ultrasound image of a 13-week-old fetus. And Equidad de Género’s Román Montes seconded the experience: every time she’s sent employees into CAMs undercover, she says, “all of our workers come out pregnant, too.”

* * *

Like the CAMs, María Del Carmen Alva López’s group IRMA was similarly inspired by the U.S. anti-abortion movement. Twenty-five years ago, Alva conducted her college thesis work on U.S. anti-abortion movement leaders, interviewing many at Project Rachel, the Catholic Church’s official post-abortion ministry, which has chapters in more than 110 U.S. dioceses. Alva dreamed of setting up her own group in Mexico. After a colleague in Monterrey offered to translate Project Rachel’s materials for her, she started her own organization and assembled a team of counselors.

Today, IRMA offers individual counseling and special Bible-study weekend retreats for women who have had abortions, modeling their therapy on a support group manual written and sold by Rachel’s Vineyard—another U.S. organization that takes its name from the biblical Rachel, who mourns her dead children, this one founded by the New York-based anti-abortion group Priests for Life. On Rachel’s Vineyard’s website, IRMA is listed as the group’s Mexican partner.

Last year, an official of Human Life International spoke of visiting “as many key players as possible” to help coordinate the fight against Mexico’s “culture of death.” HLI also sponsored the creation of a large-scale, online anti-abortion resource site in Latin America. The Knights of Columbus send money. And on it goes.

Reproductive rights advocates say that with this support, the anti-abortion movement in Mexico has built a strong advocacy network to rival that of feminist NGOs, growing beyond the initial activism of the Catholic Church and ProVida to a coalition of hundreds, with new groups sprouting up “like mushrooms.” One “pro-family” leader in Mexico, Red Familia, aligns hundreds of partner organizations on a shared traditionalist platform. Red Familia is itself part of a larger network, the American-based global conservative coalition called the World Congress of Families. The WCF is an interfaith right-wing group that condemns the international expansion of abortion and LGBT rights as a form of U.S. cultural imperialism, forcing decadent liberal social mores on allegedly orthodox, traditional nations.

It seems like a laughable accusation, given conservatives’ own abundant overseas networking, but it’s a familiar argument to filmmaker Berger, who was inspired to make his 2008 film on CAMs by the frustrating popularity of the charge that abortion rights are a form of “Yankee imperialism” aimed at limiting Latino birth rates. There’s a reason why the story has appeal: The shameful history of abusive population control measures enacted on the developing world, often by U.S. groups or with U.S. money, give potency to the claim that abortion rights are a form of contemporary eugenics being forced by Americans onto a life-loving Catholic people. But what Berger found instead was that the reverse was true. While Mexico’s Catholicism may be indisputable, the recipe for its “pro-vida” movement was the true U.S. export: its leaders trained and supported in the United States, its activism model a mirror image of the U.S. one.

Mexican women, on the other hand, have needed and obtained abortions since long before colonialism. “The desire for a woman to end her pregnancy when she doesn’t want to carry to term isn’t an import from the U.S.,” said Berger. “That’s something that women go through every day and is a personal experience—not somehow imported from abroad.”

Nor is Mexico’s Catholic heritage everything that the “pro-vida” activists claim. In an attempt to counter IRMA’s widely broadcast message, the pro-choice group Catholics for Choice-Mexico has begun airing a short, regular animation series, Catolicadas, on a TV news program, advancing the idea that being a good Catholic can include supporting reproductive rights.

For some Mexican pro-choice advocates, that heritage—and the different tradition of Catholicism they practice—is already the backbone of their activism. A woman I’ll call Ramona, an abortion provider working illegally in the state of Morelos, says it was precisely growing up Catholic in Morelos—a cradle of Mexico’s liberation theology movement in the 1970s and ’80s—that made her pro-choice. She can recall the moment when a Catholic teacher in her radical church asked the class whether they thought it was acceptable for a woman to have an abortion. The students were told to answer by moving to one side of the room or the other, and Ramona found herself alone on her side.

Though abortion rights were anathema to Catholic doctrine, Ramona said, everything else the church had taught her about the fight for justice convinced her that it was right for a woman to be able to choose, and that other Catholics might come to see that. “Jesus, for me, was another person fighting for justice. It’s why it’s easy for me to be where I am. It was a chance to say the struggle is here in the world, not in heaven.”

For more from this issue of The Nation, click here.

Image worldfocusonline / YouTube

An Abortion Story Both Radical and Ordinary

By: RH Reality Check Wednesday September 4, 2013 1:52 pm

Written by Cynthia R. Greenlee for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Groom & Bride Wedding Decorations

An abortion on the road to wedded bliss.

For more than 20 years, the New York Times’ Vows column has shared newly hitched couples’ idiosyncratic paths to marriage. Vows has followed Wall Street wunderkinds down the aisle as well as a flame-throwing bride, a couple who admitted they fell in love while meeting at their children’s pre-K class (and while married to other people), and countless stories about partners whose first meetings did not foreshadow connubial bliss.

In a September 1 Vows column titled “Taking Their Very Sweet Time,” the paper profiled a couple who talked openly about their shared abortion experience. It’s an atypical abortion mention for the Times, where coverage is more likely to focus on state-level efforts to restrict the procedure. And, indeed, it would be rare in most newspapers, where formulaic wedding announcements often contain little more than references to wedding fashion and family trees.

At first glance, the wedding announcement of 32-year-old stay-at-home mom Faith Rein and 33-year-old Miami Heat basketball player Udonis Haslem fits the mold of many Vows columns: a meeting in college, stumbling blocks, and an extended courtship. Athletics helped them bond despite the differences in her suburban upbringing and Haslem’s hardscrabble Miami childhood; she ran track at the University of Florida, while Haslem was a Gators basketball standout.

But in the column written by Linda Marx, Rein and Haslem described the unplanned pregnancy that threatened to derail her junior year, his NBA draft plans, and their educations. Haslem was already a father and said that while “I am not a huge fan of abortion,” they had sports careers to think about and very little money to start a family together. Haslem’s support of Rein solidified their bond. Rein said, “I saw another side of him during that difficult time and fell deeply in love. He had a big heart and was the whole package.”

The announcement’s matter-of-fact tone and the couple’s understanding of their abortion as just one important event in their relationship makes the article remarkable, says Tracy Weitz, a public health professor and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) research group and think tank.

“From my perspective, what is amazing about this story is that the abortion is not the beginning or end of the story—the way we usually tell abortion stories,” she said.

The usual abortion story often unfolds in this way, according to Weitz: “Here’s a woman in crisis. She doesn’t get the abortion or she does. Either way, her whole life trajectory is determined by this one event. Maybe she’s 21 weeks’ [pregnant] and there’s a fetal anomaly, and it’s a terrible situation. The story isn’t actually about the woman, it’s about the abortion.” The Vows article, by contrast “was really about the couple. Part of their story was about the abortion, part was about professional athletics, and part of it was about their class differences.” It reflected the totality of their lives and not just a single moment.

As extraordinary as the inclusion of abortion in a wedding announcement is, the Times article is just one of many abortion stories to be publicized. For example, the Oakland, California-based group Exhale addresses the emotional well-being of men and women after abortion and sponsors abortion “storyteller” tours. Films like I Had an Abortion to initiatives such as the Abortion Conversation Project have all tried to open a broader, more constructive conversation about abortion in small, intimate groups or larger public venues.

The New York Times itself has weighed in on the public sharing abortion of stories. In June, its Room for Debate series offered different perspectives—from, among others, an artist who integrates her abortion experience into her performances and an Anglicans for Life representative—about whether or how women should share their abortion stories.

Anti-Choicers Can’t Get Around It: Their Arguments Have No Standing

By: RH Reality Check Tuesday September 3, 2013 1:06 pm
Birth Control Pills

Arguments against mandated access to birth control have no legal (or ethical) standing.

As part of the struggle to prevent women from using the health-care benefits they earn, six state attorneys general—who clearly need something better to do with their time—launched a suit to give employers the right to deny employees coverage of birth control as part of their health policies. Now, those attorneys general are giving up the lawsuit, for now at least, in no small part because a federal judge earlier ruled they have no standing to sue. What other people do with their own insurance coverage does not, it turns out, cause any actual damage to strangers, making it really hard for these conservative attorneys to argue that they have standing. Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress explains:

“Standing” is the requirement that a plaintiff show that they have actually been injured by a law before they are allowed to sue to challenge it in federal court. No one, not even a state attorney general acting on behalf of his or her state, is allowed to bring a case to federal court simply because they do not like the law, or because they are able to offer some speculative reason why the law might somehow injure them at some point in the future.

This problem that these attorneys general were facing is a fundamental problem for the anti-choice movement generally: All their beliefs go back to the conviction that what other people, even perfect strangers, are doing in bed somehow affects them and so needs to be stopped by any means necessary. (Sadly, as family planning clinics and abortion clinics can tell you, this sometimes means that criminal and even violent behavior is often a part of the arsenal that anti-choicers use in attacking other people for having sex without their permission.) The problem with this belief is self-evident. What other people are doing with their bodies does not actually affect anti-choicers, and so their standing—not just legally, but morally—is always hard to impossible to establish. Thus, the never-ending parade of bad faith arguments and outright lies that come from anti-choicers.

With their support of abortion bans, there’s at least a mild plausibility to their claim to be concerned over fetal life, though of course it crumbles the second you start looking more deeply at the evidence, particularly when it comes to the fact that anti-choicers consistently resist every realistic policy known to reduce the abortion rate because those policies don’t actually satisfy their real desire to punish women for having sex. Beyond that, though, they lose the ability to come up with arguments that don’t nakedly expose their belief that they are the proper owners of your body.

The contraception mandate battle is a perfect example of this. Unable to come right out and say that they don’t want it to be too easy for women to have non-procreative sex, anti-choicers have instead latched onto this “religious freedom for employers” argument. Unfortunately, the argument doesn’t work without the assumption that your employer has some ownership over his employee’s private life, including her own religious beliefs. The argument rests on the assumption that because your employer has a right to control your compensation after he’s released it to you, that even though the insurance plan actually belongs to you and not your employer—because you earned it, alongside your paycheck—he has a right to dictate how you use it. It really is no different than trying to control how you spend your paycheck, but anti-choicers hope the public, confused by the heavily bureaucratic insurance system, won’t see that. But if you spend even a few moments thinking about it, it becomes clear that the objection to the contraception mandate is rooted in the belief that your employer has a right to try to impose his religious views on you in the bedroom.

Another favored tactic is to focus excessively on young women under the age of 18, exaggerating how much control parents have over the bodies of teenage girls and appointing themselves substitute parents in order to gain control. But inevitably, these kinds of arguments always end up giving them the control over adult women they quietly believe they are entitled to. Laws requiring Plan B to be put behind the pharmacy counter were justified as ways to keep teenagers from defying their parents’ supposed right to force them to ovulate, but the result was that adult women also had incredibly restricted access.