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Poverty Causes Teen Parenting, Not the Other Way Around

11:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

A teen mother & child

Poverty is a leading factor in teen motherhood.

Like many RH Reality Check readers, I have been closely following New York City’s fear- and shame-based campaign against teen pregnancy. The print ads include pictures of crying babies with captions like “Honestly Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” The ads also tell teens that if they have a kid, they will grow up to be poor. But the ads get it all wrong. Teen parenting doesn’t cause poverty; poverty causes teen parenting.

Developed by the New York Human Resources Administration (HRA), the campaign has seen a significant backlash since it was introduced last month. A group of activists in the city created a counter-campaign and demanded the city take the ads down. As Miriam Pérez noted in an article for RH Reality Check, the backlash may have resulted in a few tweaks and improvements, but the ads are still up, and the HRA hasn’t changed the campaign’s underlying tone at all.

I finally saw the ads for myself last week. My subway car was plastered with crying babies telling their potential teen parents not to get pregnant. The ads I saw were focused on money. In one, a curly haired toddler in a bunny rabbit shirt said, “Dad, you’ll be paying to support me for the next 20 years.” Another featured a one-and-a-half-year-old African-American girl with a bow on top of her head and tears streaming down her cheeks, saying, “Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars a year.”

But the one that got me, the poster that I happened to be standing in front of for my ride on the C train, was one that might almost be seen as encouraging had it not been so completely meaningless. It read, “If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98 percent chance of not being in poverty.”

I don’t know whether this statistic is accurate, though it very well might be. Let’s face it: If you graduate from high school and get a job, you are two steps ahead when it comes to not living in poverty, whether or not you get married and have kids.

But these are big “ifs” that are affected by things way out of teenagers’ control, like where they’re born, the quality of the schools in their area, whether their parents are highly educated, whether their parents are employed, the employment rate in their neighborhood, and what the economy is like when they turn 18. And none of that has to do with whether or not they become parents before they get married.

Pérez points out that supporters of the campaign are missing the point — stigmatizing teen parents won’t prevent future teen parents, because that stigma already exists. I would add that the campaign misses another very important point: Teen parenting does not cause poverty. Poverty causes teen parenting.

Cause and Effect

The ads point out that economic outcomes for teen parents and their children tend to be poor. We know that teen mothers are less likely to graduate from high school, that the children of teen mothers are also less likely to graduate from high school (one ad in the campaign points to this statistics), that teen mothers are less likely to marry, and that they are more likely to live in poverty.  It would be easy to assume that these are natural consequences of teen parenting.

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Fearing God at the End of the World

1:49 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photo of this Day
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.

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” ― Oswald Chambers

Even though I’m 99.9 percent sure that December 21, 2012 is not the Last Day, I’m having an End of the World party at my house.

To tell the truth, I am a little afraid – not that the world will end, but that life goes on and I have relatively little control over whatever the future might hold for me and my family.

As most readers at No Longer Quivering know, I no longer count myself among the God-fearing faithful. When I was a Believer, I honestly thought that I was fearless — not that there was nothing to be afraid of — to the contrary, as a Christian, I had all the usual anxiety of living in an uncertain modern-world-gone-mad compounded by the added terrors particular to Evangelical culture; namely, the World, the Flesh, and the Devil — all of which, I believed, were aligned against God and doggedly determined to steal, kill, and destroy my eternal soul, and my precious children’s souls too!

BUT … I regularly consoled myself with inspiring and comforting words from scripture such as, “Perfect love casts out fear,” “God has not given us a spirit of fear,” “When I am afraid, I will trust in You,” and my personal favorite from Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

So every night, I said my prayers, trusted God … and slept peacefully, believing myself and my children were safe and secure in God’s protective love.

And what about now? What consolation is there in unbelief when things go horribly wrong as they did last week in Newtown, Connecticut? When I read about the cold-blooded, execution-style mass murder of the Sandy Hook elementary school children and their teachers and would-be protectors, I confess that I wanted to pray.

I wanted to pray for the victims; I wanted justice and I wanted all those little kids to have their lives back! I wanted innocence and trust restored to the survivors, I wanted all of us to feel safe again. I wanted to pray for Adam Lanza; that he would have another chance and this time, make life-affirming, rather than deadly choices. I wanted to pray for this crazy world we live in; there are way too many wrong-headed, corrupt, and failing societal influences predisposing and even compelling mankind to act against our own best interests. I wanted The Big Guy to break His silence, come down here and put the world back together!

I wanted to pray for my own children; for their safety and their sanity. And I wanted to pray for myself … because as the mother of seven children, I feel vulnerable and afraid.
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Supporting Mothers at Any Age: How Media and Society Need to Change

10:38 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

A mother & child.

All mothers need our support.

One thing is clear about our media conversations regarding parenting: you are never the right age to be a mother. Whether it’s alarmism about the high rates of teen pregnancy or the more recent alarmism about pregnancies and births to women who are too old, the message is clear.

The conversation on both ends frustrates me. Both rely on generalizations and assumptions about how age correlates to parenting ability and health of the pregnancy. Both conversations are tinged with a tone of judgment toward mothers regarding the decisions they make as parents. Both ignore the actual challenges that can result from pregnancy and parenting at a certain age, despite the fact that many of those challenges are ones we can actually address. Getting women to change when they decide to parent? Not likely. A more likely result is making everyone feel bad about when they choose to parent — something that does zero to improve children’s lives.

I’ve written before about what can be done to improve outcomes for teen parents — provide them the resources they need to succeed as parents, rather than putting all the resources into discouraging other teens from parenting. While there isn’t currently a government-funded campaign to discourage pregnancy and parenting over a certain age — say, 35 — it’s not out of the realm of possibility, particularly when you look at the kind of dialogue included in the recent conversations about older parents. From The New Republic, Judith Shulevitz’s piece, “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society,” you get a clear picture of the sort of dystopian future she believes we may be entering thanks to the aging of parents and the supposed rise in developmental disorders among their children.

Two things are refreshing thing about Shulevitz’s piece. One is that she also focuses on the impact the age of the father might have on the health of the child, an uncommon moment of sharing the burden of responsibility with women. The second was eloquently described by Dana Goldstein: “it’s refreshing to read about the potentially problematic breeding practices not of young, unwed single moms, but of some of the affluent, hyper-educated married couples who delay child rearing into their forties or even beyond, and who will be well into senior citizenship by the time their children are fully “launched” into the adult world.”

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Criminal Injustice: Arrested and Detained Parents Are Denied Opportunity to Contact and Make Arrangements for Their Children

10:10 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Melanie Tom & Laura Jiménez 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 is one in a series published in collaboration with our sister organization, Strong Families.

“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” – Nelson Mandela

Photobucket If you can, take a minute and imagine a situation where you are arrested or detained for some reason. Now imagine that you have children at home or in school awaiting your arrival but you never show. You are also not given the opportunity to make a phone call to ensure that your children are placed safely in the care of a trusted friend or family member so they are placed in Child Protective Services. This is happening right now to families all over America and it has to stop.

A part of keeping families safe and secure is making sure that in times of misfortune, children and their parents are able to communicate. Some families in America are not given that option. According to the Shattered Families report released late last year by the Applied Research Center (ARC), more than 5,000 children of undocumented people are currently in the foster care system throughout the states because their parent(s) are either in immigration detention or have been deported. Because of the difficulty of coordinating efforts between local law enforcement agencies, county child welfare departments and the Department of Homeland Security, many parents in this situation have not been able to make their own arrangements for their children so that a family member can care for them, and many have even had their parental rights terminated.

This situation is unacceptable and violates the basic human rights and dignities of families in this country. It is inhumane that governments at all levels have allowed this situation to continue without making some simple fixes -– fixes that would ensure that children know that their parents are safe and vice-versa.

AB 2015 – the Calls for Kids Act, sponsored by Forward Together and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, suggests some simple solutions to this problem. This bill will ask California law enforcement to take responsibility for our village of children and help parents to do their jobs by facilitating additional phone calls for them to arrange care for their children when arrested, as already permitted under the existing law. And it proposes a way for parents to notify their children’s caregiver when they are detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to prevent the loss of contact that has been experienced by so many families thus far.

This is an issue of importance to us because of the disproportionate rates of incarceration of people of color through the criminal (in)justice system and the rising rates of detentions and deportations by the Department of Homeland Security. Not only are people of color being targeted but now our children are being undeservedly taken away from us because of a lack of implementation of policy and an all-around lack of empathy from law enforcement.

Women and families of color have done our best to provide safety and security of our children. This is our resistance, our determination to raise whole, healthy families in spite of the oppressive circumstances of our lives. Let our collective vision be that all families matter – promote family unity, protect parental rights, prevent children from entering foster care unnecessarily.

Support Calls for Kids by taking action NOW!

Surrogacy and Baby-Selling in a Globalizing World: What’s Next?

7:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)" by Maurizio De Angelis. Wellcome Images, on flickr

"Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)" by Maurizio De Angelis. Wellcome Images, on flickr.

Written by Karen Smith Rotabi 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 FBI’s press release begins with the title “Baby-Selling Ring Busted.” When it comes to press relations, word choice is everything and there is nothing more loaded than “Baby-Selling!” Sadly child sales are not a particularly new phenomenon, but the mode of carrying out the crime is intriguing. The scenario includes the use of fertility technology in the Ukraine intersecting with unsuspecting American families with the resources to pay over $100,000 for a child. For me, someone interested in adoption ethics and emerging global surrogacy schemes, this particular case struck me as just one more manifestation of what is possible when people will spend unimaginable sums to secure a healthy infant.

The story goes something like this. A well-known surrogacy attorney in California used her networks and well-financed practice to dupe families into paying over $100,000 for a child based on a fraudulent scenario. Basically, those looking to secure a child were told that a surrogacy arrangement had fallen apart—the intended parents backing out of the arrangement. This was false and a story constructed for fraud. The unsuspecting customers (prospective parents) were given the opportunity to secure the unborn child without adoption procedures. The attorney then worked with surrogate mothers women who were impregnated with a donated egg and sperm and thus not a biological child of the surrogate mother. And yes, it appears that the egg and sperm donors were unaware of the child’s birth and entanglement into a child sales scheme. Read the rest of this entry →

What Does US Policy Have to Do With Child Brides and Drought in Kenya?

10:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Drought in Africa"

"Drought in Africa" by United Nations Photo on flickr

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

There’s a saying that if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. When it comes to news that Kenyan families, facing serious drought conditions and unable to feed their families, are now selling their young daughters off to buy food, the United States is a part of the problem.

A big part.


As we reported two weeks back, the GOP and Tea Party majorities in the United States House of Representative are hell-bent on re-imposing the Global Gag Rule on U.S. international family planning assistance in a back and forth on policy that rivals Wimbledon.  And, as we reported in December 2010, House Republicans banded together to kill the International Child Marriage Prevention Act for no apparent reason other than to be ornery and adhere to a baseless ideology. The act would have required the U.S. government to develop an integrated, strategic approach to combating child marriage by promoting the educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of women and girls, using existing resources. As in revenue-neutral, one of the terms du-jour.

To top all of this off, Republican Congressmen Chris Smith (NJ), Joe Pitts (PA), and Mike Pence (IN) succeeded during the Bush Administration in forbidding the integration of family planning information and supplies into HIV and AIDS programs, though unprotected sex is the leading cause of HIV transmission and of course the cause of unintended pregnancy. This of course undermined cost savings in addressing the related problems of HIV infection and unintended pregnancy and also denied HIV-positive women in particular the right to decide whether or not to have another child. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was particularly incensed at the idea these women would have such power and so lobbied very hard against integration. Read the rest of this entry →

When the Politics of Hate Comes Home: A Lesbian Couple Grapples with How Politics Affects Their Critically-Ill Child

6:36 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jaime Jenett 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.

As Mother’s Day approaches I have been thinking a lot about what life is like as a non-biological lesbian mother of a child with severe medical issues.   Before my wife Laura gave birth to our son Simon, gay marriage was mostly a political issue for me. On principal I wanted me and all other queer people to have the same rights and privileges as straight people.  However, when Simon was born in 2008, and especially when he got critically ill and spent 4 months in the hospital, policies designed to prevent same sex families from having legal protections took on a whole new meaning for me.

I realized that in another state, as his non-biological mother, I could very easily have been denied leave from my job when he got sick.  In another state, I wouldn’t be allowed to adopt him. I could have been denied access to visit him in the hospital by hospital staff.  When Laura was forced to quit her job to take care of him, they could both have been without health insurance because they wouldn’t be legally linked to me.  I realized, on a really visceral level, just how cruel and destructive these types of policies are and what they’re really about.

I’m not hung up on the issue of marriage versus domestic partnership versus civil union. What I am stuck on is this category of policy, that says same sex couples are inferior and do not deserve the same recognition under the eyes of the law.  I could totally survive if gay marriage doesn’t fully pass in California. It feels like a luxury.  We are very, very lucky to live in a state that offers quite a few legal benefits to same sex couples.  But the Prop 8 campaign reinforced for me how many people really do harbor animosity towards families like mine and that they’re trying (somewhat successfully) to shape policies that hurt us.

I walk past this house 3-4 times a week, and every time I see that sticker it hurts.  I can tell they have children by the toys in the yard and their huge passenger van. I can tell that they’re Christian by their Catholic radio sticker.  And I can tell that they have some feelings about queer people.  So I did the best think I could think of.  I wrote them a letter introducing myself and left it in their mailbox.

Here it is:


You don’t know me but I walk past your house 3-4 days a week on my break from work. Every time, I’m struck by your “Yes on Prop 8” sticker. I’m guessing this may not be your intention, but every time I see your sticker, it feels like someone is standing in my face, yelling “I hate you and I hate your family.” I wanted to let you know what kind of an impact it has.

Read more

A Pastor Speaks: More Than The Children We Wanted

6:57 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Daniel Schultz for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

The year Jennifer and I were first married I gave a sermon on God’s covenant with Abram:

He brought him outside and said, "Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Before church, I cut a mess of stars out of poster board, and gave them to the aging congregation during the sermon. Take a star for every descendant you think we will have in this church, I told them. Take one for every grandchild you think you’ll have. My wife brought two home and put them under a magnet on the refrigerator. "Are you planning on having grandchildren at Faith church?" I asked her. "Those are our children," she said. "Shut up."

Years later—after years of frustration from "pulling the goalie" without result, years of humiliation from her being the assumptive identified patient at the fertility clinic and humiliation from me having to, ah, contribute a sample in a converted broom closet while lab workers went around their business in the hallway, years of ambiguity from waiting for our lives to settle down and the path become clear—we decided, at long last, to adopt.

Like many couples, we became foster parents, hoping that eventually we would have the chance to make the arrangement permanent. One night, Jen gave me the paperwork describing an older sister and her younger brother awaiting placement out of a county foster system. "Read this tonight and let me know what you think," she said. "Okay, I will," I told her, setting the envelope aside to reach for a book. "No," she said. "Read it tonight. Those are our children." And they were. They have been our children for almost three years now.

We don’t pretend that it’s been easy. All children come with baggage. Foster children come with more. We’ve endured social workers, teachers, therapists, adoption agents, doctors, judges, temper tantrums, food hoarded and rotting in pillowcases, self-injury, anger, suicidality and consequent hospitalization. We’ve been lied to, raged at, punched, kicked, bitten and run away from. We keep things locked up and an alarm on at least one bedroom door.

Through it all we have not lost sight of two things. The first is that we chose this life. We went into it knowing what could happen, and how awful it could be. My wife actually ran a foster care program, and I worked for a time at the front desk. We’ve seen some stuff. So while we may need the occasional shoulder to cry on, deeper pity is not necessary. As one friend told us, there comes a time in every parent’s career when you want to give them back—even if you gave birth to them. We’ve had that moment. But we got ourselves into this mess, and we’ll get ourselves out of it. The path out might be less graceful than we want, but don’t worry. We’ll be fine.

The other thing that we have never lost is the sense that these are our children. I don’t want to say that these are the kids we wanted, because as the theologian Stanley Hauerwas puts it, to have to be a wanted child is a terrible burden. I don’t agree with all of Hauerwas’ conclusions about abortion, but he is right on one thing:

The crucial question for us as Christians is what kind of people we need to be to be capable of welcoming children into this world, some of whom may be born disabled and even die.

I might add: "…some of whom may be deeply disturbed in their emotions." The point remains the same. Our adoptive children are not the children we wanted. No child could ever measure up to that standard. But they are the children that we welcomed into our family, and to whom we continue to extend our deepest love, compassion, and hospitality. They are more than the children we wanted: they are the children we hoped and longed for just as Abraham and Sara hoped and longed for Isaac.

We persistently and eagerly expected them to come into our lives even before we knew them. Now that they are ours, our task is to open ourselves to their pain and stand beside them as they experience it. In that, our job is no different than any other parent’s. But here’s the thing.

All children should be hoped for and longed for. They should all find welcome in a family that was not complete before their arrival. They should all be the children not of our wants but of our dreams, and our deepest fulfillment. Hope and longing can only be given in freedom. Who can hope for what is mandatory? Who can long for what is inevitable? No one. If we are to expect parents to endure patiently the difficulty—and sometimes immense pain—of welcoming new life into the world and working to give it all the fullness it deserves, we cannot force it upon them. I love being a dad, particularly because my children had no proper father of their own. But it is precisely the freedom I have to choose my role that makes it possible for me to continue in it.

As a father, I would not, could not, force my wife into the corresponding role. It would break both of us. It would be short-sighted to limit the scope of our choice to the decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy (in our case, to adopt or not). The decision to become a parent is meaningless, particularly for women, without control over their reproductive future. All too often children come into the world without planning or foresight, much less hope or expectation. Their welcome becomes if not impossible, then attenuated, given with grudging or mixed emotions.

Along the same lines, there is a desperate need for adequate funding for substance abuse treatment and mental health programs. It is impossible to exercise free will fully while in the grip of addiction or mental illness. Last but certainly not least, women need the right to say "no."

I don’t want my daughter to become a teen mother because she was manipulated or cajoled or threatened by some loser boyfriend any more than I want her to become a teen mom because she wanted to have someone of her own to love. Neither of those are free choices in any meaningful sense. They probably wouldn’t be good reflections on my parenting, either.

As any mother or father eventually learns, children are never really "yours." You share them with family and friends and the community around them. When they become adults, you send them off into the world, relinquishing what little control you had. Yet by some kind of mystery they become yours by affinity and mutuality rather than duty or requirement. If you’re lucky, they will choose to stay with you in your old age and care for you just like you did for them.

It begins, though, by your giving yourself to them, often at significant cost. Even the best of children can be a burden. After three years in the saddle, I can testify that being a parent is not easy. There are no guarantees. We often wonder if one of our children will have anything to do with us after they turn 18. But we believe that we are where we were meant to be and doing what we were meant to do. As we often remind ourselves with a bit of gallows humor, we chose this life. As a citizen, a pastor and a father, I would have it no other way, for myself or anyone else.

The Oklahoma Law and My Ultrasound

7:16 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

On Tuesday, while the Oklahoma Legislature was voting to override a gubernatorial veto and reinstate a law requiring women to have ultrasounds before allowing them to have an abortion, I was, well, having an ultrasound. This is not the first state law that requires this procedure prior to abortion but this one takes it one step further and mandates that the doctor or technician set up a monitor so the woman can see it and that he or she describe the heart, limbs, and organs of the fetus. The law does not make an exception for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Perhaps, it was because I’d just gone through the procedure or perhaps it’s just the pregnancy hormones raging through my system but the thought of a woman being forced to go through this when all she wanted was to exercise her legal and moral right to terminate the pregnancy made me cry. That kind of manipulation is cruel.

My husband tried to console me by saying that I shouldn’t worry, at those very early ultrasounds the images are so murky and the fetus has so little resemblance to a human baby that it will not successfully convince any woman to change her mind. He may be right – at my first scan, the fetus was more alien than baby. Then again, I could see and hear a heartbeat, and despite the fact that the fetus was smaller than a grape, the magnified images let me see a tiny developing spine. We’ve all watched those stereotypical scenes in movies and sitcoms where a couple goes to the OB and are chatting, fighting, texting, or otherwise not paying attention until the sound of the heartbeat stops them cold and brings tears to their eyes. Clearly, changing the mind of women who are seeking abortions is exactly what the lawmakers are hoping to do but I’m not sure that whether they succeed matters. Just trying is degrading and damaging to women.

I wanted to be pregnant, so for me the goal of the 8-week scan was to hear a heartbeat and confirm that this was a viable pregnancy. After all, at that stage of pregnancy one doesn’t look pregnant or necessarily feel any different. It was heartening to learn that the home pregnancy test was right. I wouldn’t exactly say that it was an emotional experience for me but the thought “okay, there really is something in there” kept going through my head. In my opinion, this isn’t a thought that women seeking an abortion in early pregnancy should be forced to have.

Our society seems to have a romantic fantasy about the unplanned pregnancy that changes a woman’s life for the better. Think about the Judd Apatow movie, Knocked Up, or the new Jenna Elfman sitcom, Accidently On Purpose. We seem to enjoy the idea that an unexpected pregnancy can join two unlikely people together and created an instant loving family. One of the lawmakers who voted for this veto has clearly bought into such a vision saying that, “maybe someday these babies will grow up to be police officers and arrest bad people, or will find a cure for cancer.” In real life, though, it rarely works that way.

Most women who seek abortions know what they want; they have made a well-reasoned, intelligent decision that for whatever reason — be it relationship, money, job situation, or long-term goals– carrying this pregnancy to term would not be good for them, for their families, or for the resulting child. These women do not need somebody to say: “Really, are you sure? Before you say anything let me just show you a heartbeat, your baby’s heartbeat.” Such questions are manipulative, patronizing, and unfair.

Similarly, women who go to a clinic and are unsure of the option that is best for them should also not be exposed to such manipulations. These women need to sit down with an informed and impartial counselor who has no agenda of her own and is not required to promote the agenda of conservative lawmakers.

Unfortunately, the Oklahoma law has a second provision that is even more insidious. This provision prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb. According to the New York Times, “…the bill’s sponsors maintain that it merely prevents lawsuits by people who wish, in hindsight, that a doctor had counseled them to abort a disabled child.” That explanation seems suspect to me, and I agree with choice advocates who see this as designed to protect doctors who purposely mislead women to keep them from having abortions.

The ultrasound I had on Tuesday is referred to as an anatomy scan and typically takes place in the 20th week of pregnancy, the halfway point. The 45-minute procedure goes over every centimeter of the developing fetus and carefully measures the arms, legs, brain, and kidneys. It takes a detailed look at all four chambers of the heart, and checks blood flow through the umbilical cord. And, for expectant parents who want to know, it can determine the biological sex by carefully examining the genitals.

There was, in fact, a monitor set up directly in front of me. Half the time, my husband and I had no idea what we were looking at but certain things were obvious. The head looked like a head, possibly one of skeleton, but a head nonetheless. Each vertebrae of the spine was visible, and the hands and feet were unmistakable. Such tests answer the question “does it have ten fingers and ten toes?” long before birth. Of course, we all know that that age-old question is a bit of a stand-in for: “Is everything normal?” or “Is there anything wrong?”

If, the technician had found that there was no blood flow to one of the fetus’s kidney, that the heart was growing outside the its chest, or any other number of anomalies that can now be determined pre-birth, my husband and I would have had to make a decision about whether to continue the pregnancy. In this case, we would have turned to the doctors not to “counsel us to abort a disabled child,” but to give us the information we needed to make that decision for ourselves. To tell us based on the extent of the anomaly and the most up-to-date research what we could anticipate for this child. The thought that the sonographer or the physician on call could withhold information from us in order to influence our decision sends shivers down my spine.

In this pregnancy alone, I have had 6 sonograms, all performed by different technicians and physicians none of whom I have met more than once. I have no idea what their personal views are on abortion and I shouldn’t have to care. But this law, in essence, allows their opinions on abortion to be more important than my own.

In truth, I was a little disappointed with technician to whom I was assigned on Tuesday. While the other ones had smiled and said things like “oh that looks good” throughout the procedure, this one had a serious look on her face that bordered on a scowl and stayed quiet unless prompted. Not the reassurance I needed. At one point, confirming the amniocentesis’s finding that the fetus is a girl, she said, “yes, I don’t see a pee-pee.” I later joked to friends that the sex educator in me felt compelled to reply “ok, but do you see labia?”

For women in Oklahoma, the technician who they pick out of the phone book or to whom they are referred is no joking matter – it can now mean a lifetime of raising a disabled child because somebody else thought they should. Moreover, while I was able to trust my technician’s professional opinion despite our personality differences, until this law is struck down by a court, and I have to believe it will be, women in Oklahoma can no longer have such feelings of trust.

And that, even without a system full of pregnancy hormones, is enough to make me want to cry.

Helping “Invisible” Mothers and Their Families

6:52 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Malika Saada Saar for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

There are now more mothers behind bars than at any other point in US history. But these mothers are invisible to most of us. They exist mostly as caricatures of the ultimate bad mother. They are viewed as the mothers who violated the basic maternal commitment to care for their children and instead engaged in wrongful criminal activities. But, in truth, mothers’ pathways to incarceration are complex, and most often rooted in issues of sexual and physical violence.  Most mothers behind bars were first victims of violence. The shared narrative arc of mothers behind bars is that of repeated experiences of brutal sexual and physical victimization.

Most of these incarcerated mothers have been convicted of a non-violent crime, and most are entering prison for the first time. These heightened rates of incarceration have wreaked havoc on family stability and child well-being as most mothers behind bars were the primary caretakers of their minor children prior to incarceration. Maternal incarceration wrongly leaves children behind, without recognition of children’s fundamental need for their mothers. Unfortunately, incarcerated women and their children are subject to federal and state correctional policies that fail to honor family bonds or recognize the distinct needs of pregnant and parenting women behind bars.


Sentencing alternatives, however, allow mothers with minor children to be sentenced to community-based facilities. And what is especially needed is the option of alternative sentences to family-based treatment programs. These are programs that permit mothers and their children to live together while the entire family receives therapeutic treatment to recover from addiction. More than sixty percent of mothers achieve sobriety at the end of the treatment process, and they succeed at stabilizing their families.

It is also more cost-effective to support family treatment than to relegate a mother to the criminal justice system and her children to foster care. When family treatment costs are compared to the costs of incarcerating a substance-abusing mother and placing her children in foster-care, the savings to the state and nation are significant.

For example:

  • Family treatment costs average between $14,000 to $25,000 per family per year depending on the state (for example, in Utah it costs about $14,000 and in New York treatment is approximately 25,000).
  • The average cost of one child in the foster care system is $37,000 per year.
  • The average cost of state and federal incarceration of a mother is $30,000 per year.
  • The Department of Justice (2002) concluded that lifetime costs of caring for drug exposed children range from $750,000 to $1.4 million per child.


Alternative sentencing to family-based treatment programs promotes best evidence-based outcomes and cost-effective approaches for mothers behind bars–and honors the sacred ties between these mothers and their children.