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An Abortion Story Both Radical and Ordinary

1:52 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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.

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Despite The Evidence, Anti-Choicers Persist in Lying About Emergency Contraception

11:56 am 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.

It’s an article of faith for the anti-choice movement that emergency contraception is an “abortifacient,” though it has never once been in dispute that it works by preventing pregnancy instead of terminating it. It was clear that anti-choicers were deliberately blurring the difference, because if they could soften up the public to the idea that one could abort a pregnancy before it begins, that opens the door to all sorts of restrictions on contraception. The excuse for this was anti-choice claims that emergency contraception works by killing fertilized eggs before they implant, even though a basic understanding of human biology and the actual scientific evidence made it clear that it works by suppressing ovulation. The excuse anti-choicers would hide behind when pressed on this point — the reason they always gave for why they “get to” lie about this issue — was that the FDA and other medical authorities allowed for the minor possibility that the pill could work this way if the primary mechanism failed, even though there was no evidence it did work that way.

The entire anti-choice case for conflating abortion and contraception was based on those incredibly shaky grounds. It will be interesting to see what new excuse they come up with now that those authorities are revising their guidelines in response to a New York Times article outlining research that makes it clear that emergency contraception does not work after fertilization. Labeling and information from these sources that suggested that the medication might prevent fertilization was never meant to be taken as definitive proof the way anti-choicers eagerly take it, but more as part of a larger tendency of drug labels to include every possible side effect that hasn’t been eliminated, no matter how unlikely. Now the FDA has removed claims that emergency contraception works on fertilized eggs from their website. A.D.A.M. has changed its entry on emergency contraception at Medline Plus, the NIH consumer information website, to make it clear that the only way that emergency contraception works is by suppressing ovulation.

In an ideal world, these kind of distinctions wouldn’t matter that much. A fertilized egg is a single cell, and a woman is an actual person whose needs trump those of an organism whose only function is replicating DNA. In our world, however, conservatives have successfully created a situation where invoking the word “abortion” creates all sorts of anxieties and causes legislators to fall all over themselves creating loopholes in policy so that abortion isn’t treated the same as other forms of health care. Anti-choicers haven’t been nearly as successful in demonizing contraception, though they clearly wish to do so. That’s why they’re so intent on blurring the distinction between abortion and contraception, starting with emergency contraception. It’s all about making contraception as taboo as abortion, laying the groundwork to restrict access to contraception as they have done with abortion.

Redefining contraception — especially female-controlled kinds and even more especially ones that can be used by women after they’ve “sinned” by having sex — as abortion is far too important to the anti-choice movement to expect that they’ll allow this relabeling effort to stop them. Most likely, they’ll do what they’ve done with inconvenient statistics that show that abortion doesn’t cause breast cancer or depression; they’ll just ignore the science and lie like they were getting paid per fib.

Indeed, initial responses to the New York Times article indicate that lying is the anti-choice back-up plan now that there’s no “maybe” to cling to when asserting that emergency contraception kills fertilized eggs. When confronted with the facts by the New York Times reporter, Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “So far what I see is an unresolved debate and some studies on both sides,” after disingenuously claiming that he’d be relieved if he had to admit that emergency contraception only works by preventing conception, as his church’s stance against contraception hasn’t changed in the past week.

The problem with that statement is that it’s nonsense. As the Times article reported, there aren’t studies on “both sides,” and scientific consensus can safely be said to have been achieved. If Doerflinger really wanted to be relieved, he’d have been relieved five years ago, when researchers found that whether or not Plan B worked depended entirely on whether you took it before or after you ovulated. Women who took it before didn’t get pregnant. Women who took it after they ovulated got pregnant at the same rates as women who didn’t take it at all. The “maybe” that anti-choicers are hinging their anti-emergency contraception argument has basically vanished. Instead of the relief that we were promised that we’d get should we prove that fertilized eggs would survive emergency contraception, denial of the facts has hardened. 

Since contraception is a major issue in this campaign season, we’ll soon learn how married the anti-choice movement and conservatives are to the lie that emergency contraception is “abortion.” So far, conservatives have been trying to strengthen their claim that insurance coverage of contraception violates an employer’s “religious freedom” to try to control his employee’s sex life by tossing the word “abortion” around promiscuously. After all, without that emotion-raising word, it’s a lot easier to see that in fact, they’re attacking a women’s freedom not to have their employers discriminate against them in pay and benefits because of a difference in religious belief. I can’t imagine they’ll give it up, therefore, despite this rather headline-grabbing demonstration of how dishonest they’re being when they try to reclassify contraception as “abortion.” 

The Real Reason Anti-Choice Activists Are Pushing Fetal Pain Laws

9:36 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Robin Marty for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

The anti-abortion activists and politicians in the states have made passing 20-week abortion bans based on the idea of “fetal pain” a cause-du-jour for this year’s legislative sessions.  It’s become obvious, as Kate Sheppard reported in Mother Jones, that “fetal pain” is their number one priority this year, with four new states enacting bans and a dozen others at least proposing the legislation.

Emily Bazelon writes in the New York Times that the Center for Reproductive Rights is considering their own eventual lawsuit over the bans, which are unconstitutional due to the Roe V. Wade ruling stating that abortion cannot be banned before a fetus is viable, usually at around 23 weeks.  These state-based bans are only carving off a small section of new abortions, and as Bazelon notes these bans are in many cases “symbolic.”  Some of the states involved don’t even have providers that perform second trimester abortions, and the number of women seeking them out are only a tiny percentage of the overall number of women wanting the procedure.

It’s that statistic that is so dangerous, and why the push for legal action over the ban is exactly what anti-choice activists are both hoping for and counting on.

Just as anti-abortion activists won a victory in ending “partial-birth abortion,” a made-up term that helped change the face of abortion challenges by placing a government duty to “protect” a fetus over the needs of a mother, even though very few abortions would ever be affected by the ban, “fetal pain” bans seek to do the same: allow the Supreme Court to place a new standard for which the rights of a fetus outweigh the rights of the woman carrying it.  

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The Budget Stalemate and the Major Media Fail on Riders

8:06 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jodi Jacobson for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

As the uncertainty of the very real-life drama about the budget stalemate and threatened shutdown of the federal government drags on, there is one thing you can count on.

Every single major media outlet has gotten the story about riders wrong.

Here is a fact: The GOP and Tea Party want to defund Planned Parenthood. It’s one of the primary targets and sticking points remaining in the ongoing budget talks.

Another fact: Despite GOP talking points, this is not about abortion. The GOP/Tea Party proposal would bar Planned Parenthood from being reimbursed by any federal health program like Medicaid for providing primary and preventive health services including birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment, including HIV testing.

This is not a hard concept and, again, it is verifiable fact.

But you might not know this because virtually every single major media outlet continues like synchronized broken records that this is about abortion and funding for abortion.

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