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Five Things I Learned About Abortion by Checking My Assumptions at the Door

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Samara Azam-Yu 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 post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a blog series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.

Originally posted at Colorlines.

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Five

When it comes to the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I have this deep, yet complicated sense of gratitude to people who poured their hearts into the issue of making abortion a legal right. It is humbling to think about all the work that came before this moment in the civil rights, social change, and social justice movements.
As a young woman of color and an activist, it can feel like being a tiny, relatively unimportant drop in a formidable tide of change. But one thing makes me certain I must continue to do this work: somehow, women of color, young women, low-income women, immigrant women, and women in rural areas are still waiting while barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, continue to trump legal rights and provision of health services, human dignity, and self-determination.

After college, while working on public policy related to reproductive health, I began to see a gap in the way our institutions treat people of color, and believe that I must do something to help change the situation. I volunteered for ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in 2007, providing rides and housing to women traveling long distances because they could not access abortion services in their area. On a very basic level, I volunteered because, were I to need help, I would want someone to be there for me.

I grew up in a conservative area and had internalized some challenging attitudes about abortion, poverty, and the death penalty — attitudes aligned with policy that worked against my (and my family’s) interests. Still, I discovered that I was ready to drop everything for a friend who needed my help. Eventually, I learned to hold this level of compassion for complete strangers, too.

While volunteering, I had the honor of meeting incredible, resilient women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. The most striking part of this experience was when I realized that despite how seemingly different each woman is, we are also all deeply connected by the human experience, and that I needed to check my assumptions at the door.

Here are some things I learned when I began to leave my assumptions behind.

1) Teens often include their parents and have their parents’ support in making decisions.

One of the first young women who came to stay with me was still in high school. She came to the San Francisco Bay Area on a bus with her mom. They didn’t have a suitcase and had to borrow her mom’s boyfriend’s duffle bag and cell phone to make the journey. The mother was exhausted from a long bus ride from the Central Valley, but she really needed someone to talk to about her daughter. The mother also told me that she got pregnant and had her daughter at her daughter’s age. Things had been difficult raising her daughter, and she wanted a better life for her. At least, she wanted her daughter to have the opportunity that she never had — to graduate from high school. It was hard for her to see her daughter pregnant, feeling sick, and vomiting, knowing that this was only the beginning.

2) Real life is not a movie or a story with a neat conclusion.

The same mother and daughter both called me to say they felt relieved and exhausted after the daughter’s pregnancy termination. They had made it all the way home, but someone stole their bags, including the lunches I packed for them, their clothes, their money, and the mother’s boyfriend’s cell phone. The mother and the daughter were moving forward, but the lost phone and bag seemed like it would put a strain on their relationship with the mom’s boyfriend. I quickly learned that helping someone access abortion services is but one moment in their broader lives.

3) Many women who get an abortion already have kids.
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The Originalist Argument for Abortion Rights: Compulsory Childbearing During Antebellum Slavery and Its Relevance Today

10:03 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Killing the Black Body

In Killing the Black Body, Dorothy Roberts discusses the racist origins of reproductive control over women.

On the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade we can expect to hear the perennial criticism that the Court’s decision is insufficiently grounded in the text of the Constitution. Even among commentators who agree a woman has a fundamental right not to remain pregnant against her will, many are critical of its grounding in the right to privacy, locating it instead in explicit Constitutional guarantees like the right to equal protection before the law. The most vehement critics of Roe, however, are so-called originalists who not only deny there is any right to privacy, but are certain abortion cannot be protected by any constitutional provision based on the “original meaning” of the text.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who famously rejects interpretive methods that entail identifying the values the Constitution protects, purports to instead decide cases based on the meaning of Constitutional text when written. According to Justice Scalia, abortion is an “easy” case. There is no mention of abortion in the Constitution so it can’t be protected. However, in a recent essay, Andrew Koppelman challenges this assertion on originalist grounds: forced reproduction was intrinsic to slavery, which the framers of the Thirteenth Amendment sought to prohibit.

As Dorothy Roberts writes in Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, “[t]he essence of Black women’s experience during slavery was the brutal denial of autonomy over reproduction.” Female slaves’ ability to produce more slaves was central to the economic interests of slaveowners and, once the importation of slaves was banned, to the perpetuation of the institution of slavery. A woman’s reproductive capacity figured into her price on the market and was as valuable as labor in the fields. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man on the farm.”

Slaveowners beat women who did not reproduce or sold them, separating them from their families. Some engaged in slave-breeding, forcing slaves considered “prime stock” to mate in order to produce particularly valuable new slaves for labor or sale. Evidence exists that slaves resisted slaveowners’ demands that they reproduce by using herbal and other makeshift contraceptive and abortive methods. Slaveowners were free to rape slaves with impunity and the children who resulted increased their wealth. A slave women’s child was not her own, but the property of her master. Even prior to conception, a slaveowner held a property interest in a woman’s future children that could be bequeathed by will.

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New Study Shows Anti-Choice Policies Leading to Widespread Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Read additional 2013 coverage on the personhood of women here.

The full table of contents for Volume 38, No. 2, of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law can be found here. Articles in this edition will be available for public access for a full month here.

Pregnant woman

A new study cites hundreds of instances where pregnancy cost women their constitutional rights.

On Tuesday, January 15th, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law will publish our study, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health.” This study makes clear that post-Roe anti-choice and “pro-life” measures are being used to do more than limit access to abortion; they are providing the basis for arresting women, locking them up, and forcing them to submit to medical interventions, including surgery. The cases documented in our study through 2005, as well as more recent cases, make clear that 40 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, far more is at stake than abortion or women’s reproductive rights. Pregnant women face attacks on virtually every right associated with constitutional personhood, including the very basic right to physical liberty.

Our study identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) and 2005. Because many cases are not reported publicly, we know that this is a substantial under count. Furthermore, new data collection indicates that at least 250 such interventions have taken place since 2005.

In almost all of the cases we identified, the arrests and other actions would not have happened but for the fact that the woman was pregnant at the time of the alleged violation of law. And, in almost every case we identified, the person who initiated the action had no direct legal authority for doing so. No state legislature has passed a law that holds women legally liable for the outcome of their pregnancies. No state legislature has passed a law making it a crime for a pregnant woman to continue her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem. No state has passed a law exempting pregnant women from the protections of the state and federal constitution. And, under Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal.

Yet, since 1973, many states have passed feticide measures and laws restricting access to safe abortion care that, like so-called “personhood” measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman. We found that these laws have been used as the basis for a disturbing range of punitive state actions in every region of the country and against women of every race, though disproportionately against women in the South, low-income women and African-American women.

Women have been arrested while still pregnant, taken straight from the hospital in handcuffs, and sometimes shackled around the waist and at the ankles. Pregnant women have been held under house arrest and incarcerated in jails and prisons. Pregnant women have been held in locked psychiatric wards, as well as in hospitals and in drug treatment programs under 24-hour guard. They have been forced to undergo intimate medical exams and blood transfusions over their religious objections. Women have been forced to submit to cesarean surgery. They have been arrested shortly after giving birth while dressed only in hospital gowns. And, despite claims by some anti-choice activists that women themselves will not be arrested if abortion is re-criminalized, women who have ended their pregnancies and had abortions are already being arrested.

Consider the following:

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