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Judge Rules Anti-Choice Terrorist Can Claim Religious Protection for Conversations with Tiller Murderer

10:10 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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.

Priest collar

A court ruled communications with Tiller's killer to be covered by ministerial protections.

On Friday U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten handed anti-choice terrorist Angel Dillard a win, ruling Dillard doesn’t have to disclose “ministerial discussions” she had with Scott Roeder, the man convicted of murdering abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

As reported in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Marten’s ruling reversed an earlier decision that Dillard’s communications with Roeder were not protected by the ministerial exception because Dillard is not an ordained minister. But Marten held that Dillard was acting as a lay minister and was therefore entitled to the protection. It’s an incredible expansion of the privilege and one which the radical anti-choice community is no doubt taking notice.

Dillard is accused of sending a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means who was training to provide abortion services after Tiller’s murder. According to the Department of Justice complaint against Dillard, the letter to Means mentioned Tiller’s assassination and warned Means against providing abortion services in Wichita.

In the same ruling Marten said Dillard must disclose communications she had with another inmate, Robert Campbell. Campbell claims Dillard hired him to stalk Means, while Dillard denies this and claims Campbell is trying to blackmail her.

But just because those communications must be disclosed does not guarantee they will make it into evidence in the trial, currently slated for October. At the time of trial they can be excluded from evidence if a judge decides the statements are too unreliable, a fact judge Marten made clear in his ruling. At issue in the case is whether the letter Dillard wrote to Means was a “true threat” in violation of the federal law designed to protect access to abortion clinics. In the letter, Dillard allegedly wrote that thousands of people from across the nation were scrutinizing Means’ background and would know “your habits and routines.”

The letter is chilling. In it Dillard writes, “They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live,” the letter said. “You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

The Dillard trial has shed light on the violent underworld of radical anti-abortion activists and the last thing this community needs is any additional enabling by the federal courts. But that’s exactly what this ruling does. If someone like Dillard can claim to be a minister so as to shield communications with convicted assassins like Scott Roeder who have admitted to wanting to instigate more deadly violence against clinic workers, then we can expect to see a lot more ministers among the most violent actors in the anti-abortion movement.

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Media Silence on Gosnell? Let’s Talk About the Women of Color Without Decent Health Care

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

See all our coverage of the Kermit Gosnell case here.

Kermit Gosnell mugshot

The Gosnell case highlights issues of class, race and access to reproductive healthcare.

Some reporters and media critics have claimed that not enough is being written about the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an illegal abortion provider who operated far outside the bounds of legitimate medical practice. In a recent column for USA Today, for example, Kirsten Powers claimed that the case is not receiving the attention that it deserves.

As a resident of Philadelphia and an abortion provider, I beg to differ. Gosnell’s atrocities have been covered widely. But what haven’t been covered as much as they should be are the reasons why the women who turned to Gosnell for abortion care were disproportionately low-income women of color who felt they had no other place to turn.

Whether you are a supporter or opponent of women’s health rights, or just interested in things related to reproductive justice, you should know that the Gosnell case has been written about steadily since February 2010, when Gosnell’s clinic was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration and his license was suspended. The story was widely covered in the national mainstream media and by women’s health advocates in 2011 when the case’s Grand Jury report came out. So while the trial is news, there is little to no information that has not already been reported about Gosnell up to this point.

Indeed, when Google renders about 9,000 hits in 0.15 sec using the search term “Kermit Gosnell,” it’s hard to say this story lacks attention.

But this case is about more than just a practitioner who did bad things. His case embodies the “off-the-grid” abortions we can expect to see in states like Mississippi and North Dakota, where anti-choice harassment and regulations purposefully pass to close all clinics providing legal, safe abortion care mean only one clinic is left in each state, and even those are under threat of being shut down.

Gosnell’s “Women’s Medical Society” was not an unknown entity. In fact, it was surrounded by well-known and respected hospitals and clinics. But because they adhere to safe abortion care practices and because health care is expensive generally, the cost of care at these clinics was often out of reach to women who, without public assistance, don’t have and cannot afford regular health care of any kind.

Gosnell’s operation bears no resemblance to safe abortion care. His entire “practice” was illegal: There were untrained medical “assistants” and abortions performed at viability without medical cause. His “clinic” was unsanitary and unsafe and what Carole Joffe has referred to as a “chamber of horrors.”

Moreover, in a gruesome quid pro quo, Gosnell charged on a “sliding scale” for anesthesia; you got more anesthesia the more money you paid, so the poorer you were, the more pain you suffered. Women who went to Gosnell may have known of other places to receive abortion care, but they were either beyond the legal time limit when they could get an abortion in the state, or they could not afford safe abortion care.

What this case reveals is that the cost of dignity in health care has risen, and the attack on poor women intensified.

These realities underscore the real missing headline. In 2011, the Grand Jury report stated, “We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color.” Almost all of Gosnell’s patients are identified as poor women of color. Still, the mainstream media is largely not paying attention to the issues of race and class inherent in this story, which contribute to the reasons why Gosnell could thrive. Poor, under-insured women are not getting acceptable health care of any kind, but because this story is about abortion, these usually invisible women are suddenly the subject of public pity by anti-choice activists. They were made to suffer until many lives were taken.

In an age of rising stigma, discrimination, widespread misinformation, and violence against providers, facts get trampled. What Gosnell underscores is a point that women’s health and rights advocates have long asserted: Women who need to terminate a pregnancy will go to desperate lengths to do so, and by isolating abortion care, we drive women to back-alley providers.

Anti-choice conservatives know this but seem not to care. Mississippi state Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter (R-Burnsville) put it bluntly at an Alcorn County GOP meeting:

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Iowa Anti-Choicers Admit They Want to Imprison Women for Abortion

12:26 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Iowa Capitol

Some in the Iowa General Assembly want to send women to jail for getting abortions.

A little over a month into 2013, and one thing is absolutely certain: Anti-choice legislators aren’t going to let the damage that their war on women did to their fellow conservative politicians’ electoral prospects slow them down from competing with each other to show who can concoct the most vile schemes to undermine women’s rights. Now Iowa Republicans are flexing their muscles, trying to show that they hate the ladies even more than the forced-transvaginal-ultrasound folks in Michigan, Texas, and Virginia, or the women-can’t-think-on-weekends-and-holidays nuts in South Dakota.

Nine state representatives in Iowa have introduced a bill that would define killing a fertilized egg as “murder”.

707.1 Murder defined.

1. A person who kills another person with malice aforethought either express or implied commits murder.

2. “Person”, when referring to the victim of a murder, means an individual human being, without regard to age of development, from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, until natural death.

Murder includes killing another person through any means that terminates the life of the other person including but not limited to the use of abortion-inducing drugs. For the purposes of this section, “abortion-inducing drug” means a medicine, drug, or any other substance prescribed or dispensed with the intent of terminating the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman, with knowledge that the drug will with reasonable likelihood cause the termination of the pregnancy. “Abortion-inducing drug” includes the off-label use of drugs known to have abortion-inducing properties, which are prescribed specifically with the intent of causing an abortion, but does not include drugs that may be known to cause an abortion, but which are prescribed for other medical indications.

The point of this bill is, simply put, to throw women in jail for “murder” for deliberately ending pregnancies — and quite possibly for trying to prevent them, as many anti-choicers continue to insist, despite the evidence against them, that the pill and emergency contraception work by “killing” fertilized eggs. (They work by suppressing ovulation and preventing fertilization.) The language of this is quite expansive. They’re not only counting women who reach out to legal providers for abortion as “murderers,” but also women who go online and buy drugs for this purpose. The broadness of this suggests that they may even try to snag women for “murder” for taking common rue, a herbal medication women use to kick start their period (and potentially end an unwanted pregnancy) if they’re late.

This is a dramatic shift in the traditional anti-choice approach to discussing the issue of how to handle women who seek abortion. While I personally have no doubt that many to most anti-choicers fully intend and have always intended to get to a place where women are being jailed for abortion, the official stance of anti-choice legislators and activists is generally to deny believing that nearly a third of American women should go to jail for “murder.” Maintaining the illusion of disinterest in punishing women for abortion with jail is so important that after Rep. Cathrynn Brown of New Mexico was caught proposing jail for rape victims who get abortion, she rewrote the bill specifically to avoid the accusation.

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Lousiana’s Delhi Charter School Violates Title IX: Tell Them to Stop Targetting Pregnant Students

9:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Yesterday morning, I learned about Delhi Charter School’s unethical and illegal school policy. The school has required teen girls to take pregnancy tests at the discretion of school officials. If a girl refused, she would be sent home from school. If her test came back positive, she would be sent home from school. Sound fair to you?

Sign a petition demanding that the school eliminate mandatory pregnancy tests and commit to giving pregnant students the same education, in the same place and at the same time, as all other students.

Not only is this policy unfair, it is illegal! Forcing a girl to take a pregnancy test is illegal. Sending a girl home from school for refusing is illegal. Sending a girl home for being pregnant is illegal. Women should never feel like they can lose their right to an education just for being a woman. This policy is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Being in high school is tough as it is. Imagine being accused of being pregnant and forced to take a pregnancy test. As a former teen parent, I know this is unethical and just so wrong in so many ways. It has been 40 years since Title IX became a law and promised equal opportunities for boys and girls, but Delhi Charter School has demonstrated their lack of respect for our progression.

A school is intended to educate youth and provide them with a safe place to learn. What the Delhi school is teaching is to pass judgment, discriminate, and violate laws that don’t coincide with your personal beliefs. While boys are rightfully acquiring an education at Delhi, girls are pushed out and forced to face devastating consequences. Are the boys at Delhi Charter School having their rights stripped away for potentially being fathers? Are the boys at Delhi Charter School being pushed out for fathering children? Sadly, Delhi has exhibited disturbingly obvious sexism against women.

As a young parent, I can assure you that this ridiculous policy is no solution to any possible problem. When I was just 17 years old, school staff made it almost impossible for me to be in school and enjoy it. They made my life much harder than it had to be. Being an honor roll student with future goals, I knew I could not succeed in such a negative environment. If I didn’t have another option, I would have dropped out of school. Fortunately, I transferred myself to a public school that offered more support and even designated a person to be my coach and advocate. Not only did I graduate, I did it on time and maintained great grades in my honors classes throughout the year. But believe me when I say I had to stand up to staff on a daily basis to ensure I would graduate.

I am ashamed to see our educators making such poor decisions. Teen parents are capable of being wonderful students and amazing parents. Our lives are tough as it is. We don’t need others making it even harder for us to acquire our basic rights. Yesterday, I started my first petition against school officials. Please sign my petition and help me convince the Delhi Charter School to immediately drop their policy AND acknowledge that their policy is a violation of a woman’s rights.

Crime and Obesity: Let’s Get to the Heart of the Problems

11:48 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Photobucket

There is something deceptively simple about New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blanket initiatives. Whether it is giving the police unfettered discretion to stop and frisk anyone they think might look like a potential criminal because “it saves lives,” or banning the sale of large-container sodas because, well, that saves lives too, the initiatives promise easy fixes to complex problems.

They are, however, based on a blindness to prejudice that is compelling precisely because it is wrong.

In short, Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives purport to be color- and class-blind. If the stop-and-frisk program affects mostly men of color, Bloomberg argues, this is purely coincidental. And if most of New York City’s overweight population lives in the poorest boroughs, that is also just by chance. Maybe, this line of argument implies, it is just that men of color and the resource-poor make appallingly bad decisions about their lives and health.

Incidentally, I am not arguing that our definitions of what should be subject to punitive measures and what constitutes a “normal” weight are perfect or even always good. The point I am making is about policy effectiveness. And in that sense, even a cursory look at correctional and obesity statistics in the United States reveals deep-seated disparities which knee-jerk reactions — in particular those that blatantly ignore color and class —cannot fix.

For example, 87 percent of those stopped and frisked in New York City in 2011 were either black or Latino and mostly male, even though drug possession and use — the ostensible reason for most stops — is equally prevalent among whites. And on health, compare the pricing of a Happy Meal and a pound of organic locally grown apples and you might have an idea of why the poor constitute the majority of the nation’s obese, and why many of them, at the same time, are malnourished.

Here’s a hint: It’s not because we don’t know better.

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Now It’s Clear: “Pro-Life” Means “Pro-Imprisonment”

8:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed to consider an amicus (friend of the court) brief filed by the Liberty Counsel in support of the prosecutions of Hope Ankrom and Amanda Kimbrough. The Liberty Counsel describes itself as an organization whose mission includes protecting “the inalienable right to life guaranteed to all, including unborn children.” While a number of “pro-life” leaders claim that recognizing the rights of the unborn and re-criminalizing abortion should not and will not lead to the arrest or punishment of women, the Liberty Counsel has clearly and unequivocally taken the position that “restoring the historic right to life accorded to unborn children” requires that women, including new mothers who have given birth, go to prison.

Ms. Ankrom and Ms. Kimbrough are two of approximately 60 women who have been arrested under Alabama’s 2006 Chemical Endangerment law. The overwhelming majority of these women have given birth to healthy babies.

The Chemical Endangerment law originally was passed to create special penalties for people who bring children into methamphetamine labs. Despite the law’s clear purpose, prosecutors have argued, and the Alabama’s mid-level Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed, that the law may also be used to arrest and jail women who become pregnant, eschew abortion, and go to term, despite having used a controlled substance. In other words, the Court of Appeals has ruled that under Alabama’s Chemical Endangerment law a pregnant woman who has never been to a meth lab and who has never brought a child into a meth lab, can be punished for bringing a child into the world if she tests positive for a controlled substance—even one prescribed to her by her doctor. 

According to the Liberty Counsel, the “convictions of the Defendants under the chemical endangerment law properly protect unborn children as preborn human beings. . . .” Forty-seven medical, public health and legal advocacy groups and individuals, who filed their own amicus brief in these cases, disagree. 

These organizations and experts, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Nurses Association, have concluded that using the criminal law to address issues of drug use during pregnancy undermines, rather than protects, “unborn children.” One reason is that threats of arrest have been shown to deter pregnant women from drug treatment and prenatal and other healthcare that can help ensure maternal, fetal, and child health. Furthermore, if these prosecutions continue, pregnant women who are addicted to drugs and who cannot overcome that addiction in the short term of pregnancy will be pressured into having unwanted abortions to avoid criminal penalties. That is what happened in the Greywind case, in which a pregnant woman had an abortion in order to get the state of North Dakota to drop “fetal endangerment” charges against her.

So why would a group that claims to value life urge Alabama’s highest court to uphold an interpretation of the chemical endangerment law that coerces women into having abortions and punish the ones who don’t?

The answer, perhaps, lies in the Liberty Counsel’s brief that purports to document the historic view that the “unborn child is fully human” and protected by law. This brief references 19th century anti-abortion activists who firmly believed that the only proper role for women (white ones at least) is as wives and mothers. The Liberty Counsel’s brief quotes with approval one such activist who asserted that a woman who even considers having an abortion “. . .demoralizes her whole moral being. It is a prostitution of all her higher nature.”  

Whatever the Liberty Counsel’s reasons, this “pro-life” group argues that the Alabama Supreme Court “should uphold the convictions and thereby move toward restoration of the life-affirming worldview that predated Roe.” It is difficult, however, to see what is “life-affirming” about hauling off to jail new mothers who just gave birth and leaving their children motherless? Penalties under the Chemical Endangerment law range from not less than 1-year-and-1-day to up to 99 years (life) in prison.

Since 2005, National Advocates for Pregnant Women has documented hundreds of cases in Alabama and elsewhere in which women have been arrested for allegedly endangering their pregnancies including: Christine Taylor in Iowa who was charged with attempted fetal homicide after she fell down a flight of stairs while pregnant, Jennie McCormick in Idaho who was charged with having an illegal abortion, and Bei Bei Shuai in Indiana who has been charged with murder for suffering a pregnancy loss after a suicide attempt. 

The Liberty Counsel has established that the “pro-life” position is “pro-punishment,” not just for doctors who perform abortions, and not just for women who intentionally end their pregnancies and have abortions, but also for pregnant women who have no intention of ending their pregnancies and go to term.

Feminists for Life has, apparently, distinguished itself from this point of view. But what about all of the other groups including Priests for Life, Generations for Life, and Americans United for Life that have assured the public that women will not go to jail if their point of view becomes law? If “pro-life” does not mean “pro-imprisonment,” now would be a good time to speak up and stop the growing assault on the dignity, sanctity, and liberty of the women who bring forth life.

Where are they?

Sensationalizing Drug Use in Pregnant Women: How the Media Perpetuates Racist and Ineffective Policies

9:15 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Well before anyone could be certain of how Whitney Houston died, several news outlets rushed to describe her as a “crack cocaine user.” And in all likelihood many will think of the popular singer as succumbing to illegal drugs, even if alcohol eventually is found to be more closely related to her demise.

This is not all that different from how the media deals with infant and child health.

Regardless of the actual causes behind low birth weight, infant mortality, and early childhood health issues, media reports are sure to blame the “crack baby syndrome” or, more recently, women’s abuse of prescription pain killers.

This kneejerk reaction is unhelpful for a number of reasons.

First of all, a pregnant woman’s use of illicit drugs is neither the only nor the most damaging pregnancy phenomenon from the point of view of infant health.

Take, for example, legal drugs, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Peer reviewed research shows that over-consumption of alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (linked with permanent mental retardation), whereas cocaine seems to act only as one contributing factor in some pregnancies to increase non-permanent risk factors such as low birth weight. Approximately twice as many pregnant women drink alcohol frequently as use illicit drugs frequently during their pregnancies.

Epidemiological research published in the mid 1990s shows that the use of tobacco products in the United States at the time was responsible, each year, for tens of thousands of tobacco-induced miscarriages, infants born with low birth weight, infants who require admission to neonatal intensive care units, as well as an estimated 1900 to 4800 infant deaths. Though smoking has gone down over the past decades, around 17 percent of adult women in the United States still smoke, and generally continue to smoke during their pregnancies.

Even drugs administered to women who are in fertility treatment have been associated with low birth weight and premature birth.

Or let’s set aside drugs altogether. Malnutrition in pregnant women is one of the main causes of low birth weight and infant mortality worldwide. In this sense, it is worth noting that food insecurity and hunger has grown steadily in the United States since the start of the latest financial crisis in 2008. (Food insecurity exists whenever the availability of nutritionally-adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire foods is limited or uncertain). According to the latest figures, about 17.2 million households in the United States suffered food insecurity in 2010, the highest number ever registered. Yet the government’s food stamp program is increasingly under attack by pundits and politicians.

Secondly, even a superficial read of arrest and prosecution figures for drug use during pregnancy reveal such a severe race and class bias that the very legitimacy of the approach must be questioned.

Since 1985, 80 percent of the more than 200 pregnant women or new mothers in over 20 states who have been arrested and charged with crimes related to substance use during pregnancy were black or Latina. In 2000, research in Pinellas County in Florida found that while white women and women of color used illegal drugs at comparable rates, black women were 10 times more likely than white women to be reported for child abuse related to substance use during pregnancy. That same year, data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that while black women had a higher overall rate of illicit drug use than white women, most women who use illegal drugs during pregnancy were white. Even so, 41 of the 42 women arrested in South Carolina under a mandatory drug testing program were black. (The program was suspended in the mid-1990s because of allegations of racial discrimination).

Meanwhile, research published in 2006 shows that newborns with white mothers are much more at risk of alcohol and tobacco exposure than newborns with black or Latina mothers.

Moreover, in many cases women with private health insurance are not mandatorily tested for illicit drug use during pregnancy. In this sense, poverty itself is what singles a pregnant woman out for persecution. It is no coincidence that the main focus for drug prosecutions for pregnant women in the United States is crack cocaine, a drug almost exclusively used by the resource-poor. As Whitney Houston herself famously said in an interview in 2002: “I make too much money to ever smoke crack.”

The point here is not that pregnant women should use cocaine, or that the government—and society as a whole—does not have a legitimate interest in ensuring infant and child health.

The point is that the prosecution of drug use in pregnant women does nothing to fulfill a legitimate policy goal and in fact seems to be racially motivated—at least in the implementation—rather than spurred by a concern for children.

In fact, if the objective is to improve infant and child health, efforts to overcome poor nutrition, alcohol addiction, lack of adequate health care, physical abuse, and/or homelessness would make for much better investments. Sadly, such policies don’t make for as sensational news.

In a Victory, Virginia Prisons Will Limit the Shackling of Pregnant Women

10:54 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Shackles

Shackles by publik15 on flickr

Written by Katherine Greenier 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 Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Harold Clarke has led the DOC though a forward-thinking policy change that should begin a statewide conversation and passage of legislation before the Virginia General Assembly.

House Bill 1488, a bill that would have limited the use of restraints on pregnant inmates, failed in the House Militia, Police, and Public Safety Committee in the 2011 legislative session. However, Director Clarke and staff at the DOC took seriously the conversations sparked by the Committee debate over the bill. Supporters of the bill, which was introduced by Delegate Hope, put pressure on the DOC to change their policies in the absence of legislative action.

As a result, the DOC will now adopt regulations that protect a pregnant inmate’s dignity and health, and the health and safety of her pregnancy. DOC regulations will now state that pregnant inmates will only be retrained during transport outside the prison perimeter by handcuffs alone. Ankle restraints or restraints that in any other way restrict the woman’s movement will not be used during transportation outside the prison, or during labor, delivery and post-partum recovery. Additional restraints can be applied if a determination is made that the inmate is a danger to herself or others, but should additional restraints be used, they must allow for the woman to walk around, stand up, and turn over. If additional restraints are applied, an incident report must be submitted that states the restraints used and the reason why in order to ensure compliance and accountability. Finally, all restraints must be immediately removed if medical staff so direct.

The new DOC regulations are sound public health policy. Read the rest of this entry →