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Why the Pro-Choice Movement Needs to Talk About Children

12:46 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Sarah Erdreich’s book Generation Roe

I was recently reminded of the old pro-choice slogan, “Every Child a Wanted Child.” Along with my personal favorite slogan, “Pro-Child, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice,” this decades-old mantra succinctly sums up a powerful pro-choice argument: that supporting reproductive rights is also supporting families, children, and choice.

Yet in large part, the mainstream pro-choice movement seems to have moved away from this focus on the family in favor of concentrating on the arenas of courtrooms and state houses. While the urgency of fighting increasingly severe challenges to abortion care is hard to understate, this shift in attention, messaging, and resources means that the anti-choice movement has been able to make the idea of family, specifically unborn children, central to its emotional power and success. As a result, the pro-choice movement has been left open to charges that it is anti-child and anti-family.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the name of the best-known pro-choice organization—Planned Parenthood. In these words is embedded the very idea of healthy families and children: the idea that people can and should plan their families. Being deliberate and thoughtful about when to have children ensures that every parent is as prepared as possible for the responsibility of raising a child. This is a message that any compassionate person would respond to.

Talking about family planning also places abortion care firmly on a larger continuum, along with contraception, access to good prenatal care, and the right of any woman to have a child. This also allows abortion to be correctly discussed as one part of the larger issue of reproductive rights and justice, rather than as an exotic medical procedure deserving of judgment and stigma.

The majority of women who have abortions are mothers. Millions of women and men have been able to plan their families through access to contraception. There are hundreds of thousands of women like myself, whose own experiences with pregnancy and parenting have made them more pro-choice than they were before they had children.

Our stories and experiences stand as a visceral rebuttal to the anti-choice movement’s desired narrative, which is that every pregnancy should be continued and no one should have a choice after a certain, arbitrary point in gestation.

How to change the national discussion is a big question with many valid answers. For my part, I’d like to see organizations and individual activists alike engage with the idea of respecting the desire of many people to have children while at the same time fiercely advocating for reproductive rights. More tangibly, I would love to see even one of the mainstream pro-choice groups launch a campaign of collecting and highlighting the stories of pro-choice parents—mothers and fathers—that directly affirm the idea of being both pro-choice and pro-family.

Until then, it’s once again on us in the grassroots and online community to be the innovators. And no, I don’t mean that I’m going to start scouring Etsy for tasteful abortion-themed toddler clothing. As I learned through dozens of interviews for my book on the future of the pro-choice movement, one of the most effective ways to increase support for reproductive rights is by doing so one conversation at a time. Emphasizing the pro-family roots and goals of abortion activism is an excellent way to keep these conversations open. If the conversation isn’t so much about abortion per se, but rather abortion’s role in protecting the rights of each family, it can avoid the feeling of discussing a “third rail” and perhaps illustrate that ever-elusive common ground. I’ve lost track of how many times even my most conservative friends have told me that they’re having X number of children, no more. And the next time they do, they’ll be sure to get a gentle, friendly reminder that they can thank the countless pro-choice Americans who are defending their right to make those plans. Read the rest of this entry →

Collision of Reality and Ideology: Karen Santorum’s Past and Rick Santorum’s Vision of Your Future

8:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check


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

“When she met Rick, Karen was living with Tom Allen, an OBGYN who in the early 1970s cofounded Pittsburgh’s first abortion clinic. It was a somewhat unusual pairing. Allen was the doctor who delivered Karen. She began living with him while an undergraduate nursing student at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University.  She was in her early 20s, he was in his 60s…..‘When she moved out to go be with Rick, she told me I’d like him, that he was pro-choice’ said Allen.’”

The above quote is from an article on Senator Rick Santorum first published in a Philadelphia weekly in 2005, with similar material later repeated in U.S.News and World Report. Normally, I feel that the past sexual history of a candidate’s spouse should be off limits to journalists and bloggers. But given Santorum’s rising fortunes as a serious candidate for the presidency, and in particular, his astonishing views on sexuality and contraception, I believe that attention to Karen Santorum’s past is warranted in this instance.

Here, as reported by the journalist Michelle Goldberg, is a summary of the Senator’s position on these topics: “It’s [contraception] not OK. It’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Included in this is birth control used by married couples. Sex, he said, is ‘supposed to be for purposes that are yes, conjugal and unitive, but also procreative. Most presidents don’t talk about such things’, he said, but ‘these are important public policy issues. They have profound impact on the health of our society.’”

Santorum also believes the government should be able to ban adultery and gay sex. Here is his comment to the press, expressing his disapproval of the 2003 Lawrence v Texas decision, in which the Supreme Court overturned Texas’ anti-sodomy law:

“And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.” Read the rest of this entry →

International Family Planning Saves Lives. So Why Is the GOP Cutting It?

7:57 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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


Cross-posted with permission from Impact, a magazine produced by Population Services International.

Few examples of U.S. foreign assistance provide benefits as tangible, cost-effective, life-saving and critical for both the United States and aid recipients as do international family planning and reproductive health services. Women and families across the developing world are healthier and stronger – and societies are more stable – as a result of access to basic health services.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, for every $10 million invested in international family planning and reproductive health:

➤ 610,000 women and couples receive contraceptive services and supplies;

➤ 190,000 fewer unintended pregnancies occur;

➤ 83,000 abortions are avoided;

➤ 500 maternal deaths are averted; and

➤ 2,300 fewer children lose their mothers.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, studies indicate that meeting the unmet need for family planning could reduce maternal deaths by approximately 35 percent, reduce abortion in developing countries by 70 percent and reduce infant mortality by 10 to 20 percent. Read the rest of this entry →

Pointing Toward the Future: How Environmental and Women’s Rights Groups Can Work Together to Solve Global Problems

11:28 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Dr. Carmen Barroso and Carl Pope 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 fall, world population will reach seven billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check, with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines the causes and consequences of population and environmental changes from various perspectives, and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, RHRC asks two experts, Dr. Carmen Barroso, Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region, and Carl Pope, former Executive Director and current Chairman of the Sierra Club, to explain the connections between environmental and population issues and how the movements can work together.

All of the articles in this series can be found here.

RHRC: When did you start to see the synergy between environmental and population issues?


I remember when we didn’t see them. In the 1980s, I was living on the outskirts of Sao Paulo developing a sex education program with local women’s organizations.  True to our feminist lineage, we were advocating for women’s right to decide in matters relating to sex and reproduction. Working in the context of Brazil’s left movement, our sex education also included a critique of population control, which was a prevalent symbol of imperialism at the time.

Our concern was both with coercive practices, such as sterilization without consent, and with the notion that population stabilization could somehow be interchangeable with a fair global economy, the “new economic order,” as it was called then.  At that time, there was considerable tension between social justice-oriented feminists and environmentalists who championed population control. Read the rest of this entry →

House GOP Renews Misguided Effort to Defund UNFPA, Risking the Lives of Millions of Women

1:02 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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


On the heels of Vice President Biden’s recent trip to China, the GOP leadership of the House of Representatives issued a misguided ultimatum to President Obama: defund UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, or else.

UNFPA is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data to develop policies and programs to reduce poverty, to strengthen reproductive health programs, and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.  In a world where 215 million women want access to family planning services but do not have it, in which women make up the majority of those infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS, and in which complications of pregnancy remain the leading cause of deaths among women in many countries, UNFPA is needed more than ever before.

This is not a controversial agenda.  In fact, it is one shown to be supported by the vast majority of Americans. As noted by a Guttmacher Institute Report, 91 percent of Americans believe that “every woman on the planet deserves access to quality maternal and reproductive health care.” Another found 89 percent in favor of “health care services, including access to basic health care and family planning services” as a way to promote economic development and advance the status of women and girls.

But as a result of misguided ideology and politics, and at a time when women’s most fundamental rights are under assault, we have been thrust into a dangerous game of falsehoods versus reality- and the stakes are high. What is the life of one woman worth? When reproductive rights are politicized, the health and safety of every woman hangs in the balance.

Each year, over 150 countries around the world contribute to helping UNFPA carry out the vital tasks it has been assigned by members of the United Nations, including the United States of America. As a global leader, the U.S. should continue to show the way.  U.S. financial support to UNFPA affirms the United States’ long-held commitment to save lives, slow the spread of HIV and encourage gender equality. Yet partisan politics continues to play an leading role in U.S. contributions to UNFPA. Despite systematic attempts in past Administrations to link UNFPA’s promotion of voluntary family planning services to China’s one child policy, no such connection exists. In 2002, both a UK parliamentary delegation as well as an independent blue-ribbon delegation sent to China by the U.S. State Department found no evidence that UNFPA supported China’s coercive birth policies. Indeed, the delegation reported that UNFPA advocated against and was a force for changing those policies. Still, UNFPA received no contribution from the U.S. from 2001 to 2007.

To be clear, UNFPA does not support coercion in family planning, coercive abortions or forced sterilizations anywhere.  The rejection of these practices is a fundamental principle of UNFPA’s mandate from members of the United Nations members, and as part of the mandate of the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), the development of which the U.S. played a critical leadership role.

In reality, UNFPA promotes voluntary family planning and opposes all forms of coercion, targets or quotas. Americans support the work of UNFPA and recognize that the ability to make important decisions about childbearing is one of the most basic human rights. Supporting voluntary family planning and reproductive health care programs is a critical step toward improving the status of women and upholding these basic human rights around the world. And, as about one fifth of the world’s population, Chinese men and women have the same right as peoples elsewhere to learn about and gain from the voluntary approach family planning. And this is exactly what Americans want UNFPA to continue doing on the ground.

Claims attempting to link UNFPA with a gender imbalance resulting from son preference in China are equally unfounded. The UN and UNFPA in particular have made strong declarations against gender imbalance. In fact, UNFPA broke the taboo on this issue and became the first international agency to highlight the problem to Chinese authorities. Along with other UN agencies, UNFPA is coordinating an initiative on joint work to tackle the root causes of son preference. UNFPA’s 2008-2013 Strategic Plan calls for issues around sex preference and sex-selection to be included in analyses of efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals, in reproductive health-care studies, and in international forums. Today, UNFPA continues to promote gender equality in China and leads efforts to reduce discrimination and violence against women.

UNFPA’s core programs help mothers survive pregnancy and childbirth, and deliver healthy newborns. The programs also encourage and enable couples to determine the number and spacing of their children and reduce the incident of HIV/AIDS. When U.S. funding is withheld, UNFPA’s lifesaving work will unquestionably dwindle, making women the pawns in this dangerous game. We simply cannot allow this to happen in the spirit of ideological demagoguery and ultimatums.

Tea Party Family Values and the World’s Greatest Freak Show

12:51 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Michelle & JimBob Duggar via hoyden about town on flickr

Michelle & JimBob Duggar via hoyden about town on flickr

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

On fundamentalist counterculture & juvenile black market adoption fantasies …

Do you remember when it first dawned on you that your relatives are all a bunch of crackpots and weirdos?  Seems like I was around 8 or 9 — my mother worked all night in the casinos and slept most of the day, leaving me alone to protect my naïve older sister from the depraved advances of Mom’s alcoholic boyfriends and worry about my big brother’s drug addiction. I couldn’t count on my grandparents to help — they were too preoccupied with their own divorce, dating, and remarriage dramas.

“Holy sugar,” I thought to myself, “these people are seriously messed up!”

That’s about the time the fantasies began.  My home, I imagined, was a three-ring circus — and my relatives were the freaks and the clowns.  In my daydreams, I was not really one of them.  No — surely, I was of aristocratic origin.  My REAL family were royalty in a faraway Kingdom and I was born a beloved Princess in a fancy castle with many servants and my own Fairy Godmother.  Somehow, I’d been separated from my blood kin as an infant — I was captured by gypsies and sold in a black market adoption — that’s how I ended up being raised by this group of crazies!

ABC’s Primetime Nightline recently aired a segment featuring the Gil & Kelly Bates family — a conservative, Evangelical mega-family of twenty.  The Bates, who are close friends of JimBob & Michelle Duggar of TLC’s “19 and Counting” fame, hold to the extreme fundamentalist ideals of the growing “Quiverfull movement.”

During the one-hour special, Gil, Kelly, and their children explained the family’s lifestyle which, to all modern appearances, represents a throw back to the imaginary 60′s-style “Leave It to Beaver” family combined with strict, Victorian Era sexual mores and the atavistic gender roles of ancient goat-herders. Read the rest of this entry →

I Am the Population Problem

9:17 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lisa Hymas 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 fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check and with Laurie Mazur as guest editor, to examine the causes and consequences of population and environmental change from various perspectives and the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, Lisa Hymas explains how for population and personal reasons she has decided not to have kids. All of the articles in this series can be found here.

Both local and broad scale environmental problems often are linked to population growth, which in turn tends to get blamed on other people: folks in Africa and Asia who have “more kids than they can feed,” immigrants in our own country with their “excessively large families,” even single mothers in the “inner city.”

But actually the population problem is all about me: white, middle-class, American me.


Steer that blame right over here. Read the rest of this entry →

Right-wing Focus on the Family’s Chilling New Agenda on “Marriage Defense”

8:51 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

So ~ the “refocus” of FOTF is shifting away from opposing same-sex marriage and instead focusing on making it more difficult to obtain a divorce.

Does anyone else think this is scary? … and I was seriously pissed when I read Jim Daly’s remark, “… so it’s not just ‘we don’t like each other any more.’” WTF? What woman is ever so flippant about divorce?

Truthfully ~ filing for divorce for me did mean a major step down financially ~ my income and assets took a huge hit ~ and we actually were already living close to poverty level before the divorce. BUT ~ IT WAS SO TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!!!! I’ll take poverty over abuse any day.

If FOTF and similar “pro-family” organizations succeed in reducing the Christian divorce rate to 5% ~ that’s going to represent a huge increase in misery for a lot of Christian wives who are already seriously oppressed in their “traditional” marriages ~ with husband as patriarchal head of the home and wife as subservient “helpmeet.”

These women do not need divorce to be more difficult ~ it’s already almost impossible to leave an abusive marriage when it’s supposedly God’s will and the domineering man is simply fulfilling his biblical role as head of the home.

Daly’s thinking is that by reducing the divorce rate among Christians and holding up the ”Biblical family” as the key to marriage “success,” the secular world will have to admit that God’s way is truly the best way ~ and somehow, that’s supposed to convince gays to repent of their deviancy, I guess.  Ugh.  As though the only reason gay people are gay is because they’ve never seen a long-lasting heterosexual marriage. … Read more

War, Death and Mamas

7:06 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lisa Russ for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This commentary is part of a Mama’s Day series by Strong Families, published in partnership with RH Reality Check in our Mother’s Day 2011 series.  Follow Strong Families on Facebook and Twitter.

I just walked by the USA Today front-page headline about Osama bin Laden’s death: Huge Boost for America. This is probably the last big media event my son Zach will miss. He is almost six years old, reading cereal boxes, street signs and simple books. With luck and off-switch on the NPR, he’s missed it entirely. Like most six-year-olds, little bits of information about the world leave him asking, “Why? And why not??” This was one conversation I didn’t want to have: “why are people celebrating the fact that this man is dead?”

Six year olds love right and wrong, and clear winners and losers.  We live in Oakland, and when Zach got wind of Johannes Mehserle’s verdict in the trial for the killing of Oscar Grant, that led to a whole string of questions: “Why was he afraid of Oscar Grant? Why would he pull the trigger? Do you think it was an accident?  Why would he lie?”

I heard President Obama’s press conference, and all through his confident words and measured celebration, I was thinking about Barack Obama the dad.  While politically the President hasn’t been all I had hoped (to say it mildly) I have never lost my connection with Obama the candidate, the senator, the regular guy who is the first president I know of who is a hands-on dad.

You probably know like I do that he eats dinner with family most nights, and makes it to all of his kids school conferences: parenting stats that put him well ahead of our family and most people that I know.  And I believe he is engaged with his daughters as growing individuals who are learning at a young age how to navigate their strange and complex world.

I wish I could have been at the table to hear how he answered his daughters’ “Why?”

Read more

‘Motherhood Politics’ Hijacked Healthcare Debate

6:31 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Wendy Norris for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Wendy Norris of RH Reality Check conducted an interview with Marie Wilson, the founder and president of The White House Project and former president of the Ms. Foundation. will post the White House Project’s Denver panel discussion on leadership with women in business, academia, media and faith as soon as it becomes available.

Marie Wilson is calling a spade a spade. As she sees it, the overheated debate over abortion is being used as a convenient foil for healthcare reform in order to avoid a much more controversial cultural issue — the role of women in contemporary American society.

That unspoken and still radioactive debate 77 years after the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923 continues to fuel traditional notions of a woman’s place in the boardroom and the bedroom.

Wilson, the founder and president of nonpartisan The White House Project, was in Denver, Colo., recently to discuss the organization’s new comprehensive study, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership.

But to achieve the critical mass of women in positions of authority, we need to move beyond the artificial restrictions of gender stereotypes to a nation that fully benefits from the talents of its best and brightest in the executive suite, at the lectern and in the pulpit.

RH Reality Check sat down with Wilson to talk about the challenges of nurturing women’s leadership in the wake of the divisive Congressional healthcare reform debate.

RHRC:The concept of healthcare reform has been so mutilated by politicians, religious interests and the media that it’s not even recognizable to the American public. Essentially, it’s become a debate about abortion over any other issue. But what strikes me is that we really haven’t heard from women in leadership positions other than the pro-choice caucus. How can we bring in more women’s voices to broaden the dialogue around healthcare reform?

MW:Part of why we haven’t heard from more women is for years — and it’s not an accident — choice was chosen as the issue to unravel. It was chosen because of the concern that Americans don’t address [gender roles], which is what Kristin Luker wrote about years ago, in Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood.

Instead of looking at the areas of most importance to all of us on healthcare, the conversation is hijacked by this central concern about whether women are going to continue to choose to be mothers. In my experience, political men don’t understand this. They really think it is about unborn life. That is not the truth. This is really about the role of women in America. We’re not seen as important enough people to have had the right wing revolve around us. But we are.

I studied family therapy for awhile and the most important time you spend with a family if you want to change that system is in identifying the problem correctly.

Ninety percent of healthcare is provided by women in the home. So, perhaps, the experts on this issue should actually talk to the American public about pre-existing conditions and whether we should have a universal payer system because we’re the ones doing it. We need to tell [those hijacking the real issue] to step aside.

RHRC: Who do you think is an authentic voice to deliver that kind of message because Americans are not getting it?

MW:I don’t think it’s a "who" but a how many of us are willing to say this. Motherhood is sacred. How many of us are willing to get out and say this is not at all about abortion. This is about whether we’re going to be mothers. For men to understand this all of us need to join in on it. Too much of the rhetoric is about abortion and not enough about women and our roles in this country. And we better get off of it or we’re not going to have a country left.

RHRC: While the debate was completely diverted to abortion we’re not talking about equity in the workplace, academic opportunities, business leadership and all the other cultural expectations that are still crystallizing around the concept of motherhood. But we fail to recognize that women have juggled multiple roles all day, everyday.

MW:Most of the women in this country have never had an opportunity to do anything but juggle. They just don’t have good places to be mothers and fathers as long as we avert the real issue — the social-cultural ideal of women as wife and mother. Going back to Tocqueville’s visit to America where he said the American people owe their great strides to women but I’ve never seen women so confined to private life. And it still exists.

Let’s get this thing identified rightly so we can move on. Nobody calls that spade. It’s not an issue I think women are willing to deliver.

Show me a woman without guilt and I’ll show you a man. Guilt has never helped us in the area of race. Guilt has never helped us in the area of women and childbearing. We’ve got to get over our guilt so we can get the policies for our children and our nation right.

RHRC: What is the biggest take away from The White House Project’s Benchmarking Women’s Leadership report in terms of moving the nation forward from a policy and political perspective?

Marie Wilson: I think the biggest take away is how much we really need to focus on holding companies and communities accountable. And holding ourselves accountable for how we invest our money, how we buy things. The problem for me, at least, is we need to have enough women in. [The report found that a critical mass of women in leadership by achieving board/executive compositions of] 33 percent makes it normal and allows change to happen. But in order for us to get those women in we have to have support from men and we have to have women to join.

Those are not small issues. The take away is that we know what to do but it takes the political will to do it.

RHRC:Now that the report is complete, what’s the one industry or two that you really want to dig into a little further? Is there something that stood out that makes you say I want to know more about this?

MW: Because of the economic crisis, I continue to think getting more women into leadership in business and finance is crucial.

We have to get global companies that are leaders, even in their weakened state, to take this on. If we don’t get more women into these businesses to change what profit is and what bottom lines are we won’t change what happens in international security and all the other sectors.

I think politics, business and media are the three [sectors] where we have to keep digging in.

RHRC:American society — primarily politics, business and the media — have always considered "women’s issues" as a ghettoized topic. Now with the economy in tatters these issues are more important than ever. How do we turn those tables and get people to take healthcare, family leave, education and economic equity more seriously?

MW:Obama is being criticized around healthcare reform because he didn’t make it an economic issue. Frankly, women have always known it was an economic issue because we have borne the brunt of healthcare. So part of what happens when a sector becomes important — whether women have been the leaders in it or the people who have most cared about it, like education, health and the environment — the things that are now coming up are the things that have been "women’s issues" for years.

And now they are the economic issues. Women have to continue to say we’re the experts. You’re seeing it in these Pew Surveys that are coming out on how they trust women as much or more than men on some of these issues. Economic security is one that women have had to take on for years. We just have to own them.

RHRC:So why does the president appear to be retreating from the bold leadership many Americans expected of him?

MW:I really feel part of this issue is his attempts to bridge this really divisive partisan gap. That has been what’s both inspiring and his downfall.

What you want to do in any course of action is choose the action with the most promising outcomes. I think what action he committed to and chose was one of being hands off and not going in and muscling [legislation] through. And giving both parties the chance actually do this together. I’m afraid betting on the most interesting and positive outcomes cost him. I really do. But it was a good try.

When you have people on one side saying "Ah, this will kill our president. This will ruin our president" and people on the other side saying "Well, I’m not voting for this I won’t get elected" you have lost the whole meaning of what it means to be a public servant.