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United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Fails to Uphold Women’s Human Rights

12:31 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Alex Garita 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 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meets every year for two weeks to review progress on implementation of the Fourth World Conference on Women’s Beijing Platform for Action adopted in 1995. The theme of this year’s review was “The Empowerment of Rural Women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.” Other resolutions debated by the Commission included “Eliminating Maternal Mortality and Morbidity through the Empowerment of Women” and “Women and Girls and HIV/AIDS”.

This year marked the first time in history that the CSW did not produced “Agreed Conclusions” (the closest they ever came was in 2006 on Violence against Women but an agreement was reached the following week). The most contentious issues, not surprisingly, were related to  women’s access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, including family planning, control over their sexuality and protection of their reproductive rights, comprehensive sexuality education, and eliminating harmful practices such as early and forced marriage, including child marriage.

At 1 am on Wednesday, March 14, negotiations among Member States of the United Nations broke down over the refusal by some countries to support actions that would urge governments to provide rural women with essential reproductive health care services and information. On one occasion, a representative even went so far as to state that “sexual and reproductive health has nothing to do with rural women” and that “what they need is economic opportunity and access to clean water.”

It’s truly shameful that this came from the government of a country where 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas, where women in those areas live on less than $1 a day, where complications during pregnancy and childbirth may likely leave them severely injured or even dead, and where women have one of the highest rates of HIV infection  in the world. Really, what they most need is sexual and reproductive health care. Maybe then we can start talking about what healthy women can actually do with their lives.

It is not uncommon that country diplomats based in the United Nations are completely disconnected from their countries’ realities, not to mention their health policies and programs which, at least on paper, are set to provide women with sexual and reproductive health services within primary health care. It is our responsibility- women’s and women’s organizations and all of our allies- to educate these diplomats as well as hold our governments accountable. A message to the world has been sent: the United Nations’ only political body which discusses women’s issues cannot agree on meeting their health needs and human rights. We must quickly act to make sure that this never happens again, and that the Member States of the United Nations are acting in accordance with its own principles: equality, non- discrimination, and human rights.

¡No Pasarán!

Mexico’s Anti-Abortion Backlash

11:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Mary Cuddehe 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 The Nation and was originally reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Daniela Castro, a 21-year-old administrator for a Mexican children’s charity, got to the hospital just before dark. It was a warm, cloudless July night in 2010, and Daniela grabbed the arm of her boyfriend of three years, a handsome architecture student named Carlos Bautista. The two walked through the entrance confidently. If anything, they looked more like a pair of teen models than a couple of criminals. But Daniela was at the hospital that night because she had taken abortion pills that made her sick. Abortion is banned throughout Mexico, and authorities in her native Guanajuato, a mid-sized state in the center of Mexico with an ultraconservative reputation, like to enforce the law.

The state has opened at least 130 investigations into illegal abortions over the past decade, according to research by women’s rights groups, and fourteen people, including three men, have been criminally convicted. Given Mexico’s 2 percent national conviction rate during its most violent period since the revolution, that’s a successful ratio.

But Daniela did not have such numbers in her head when she told the attending physician her story. A few days earlier, she and Carlos had turned to Carlos’s mother for help. Of their parents, Norma Angelica Rodriguez, 41, was the most likely to be sympathetic. She had been a young mother herself, and she knew of a pharmacy in town that would sell Misoprostol—an over-the-counter ulcer drug that women take to induce labor—without asking a lot of questions. Rodriguez knew this because, like the estimated 875,000 Mexican women who have abortions every year, she had once needed the drug herself.

The doctor listened to Daniela, then slipped out of the room and made a call. Guanajuato hospitals are expected to report suspicious miscarriages just as they would a gunshot wound. It wasn’t long before a couple of officers arrived, followed by a lawyer from the district attorney’s office, who took out a note pad. “So, Daniela, how many people have you had sex with?” he asked, jotting down the answers. “And who gave you those pills?” That night, the DA opened an official probe into Daniela’s case. If convicted, both she and Carlos’s mother—though not Carlos—faced up to three years in prison. Read the rest of this entry →

UN Special Rapporteur: Abortion Restrictions Don’t Work

1:02 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

In front of the United Nations, NY (Photo: Rob Young, flickr)

In front of the United Nations, NY (Photo: Rob Young, flickr)

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.


See all articles in this series here.
Restrictions on abortions just don’t work in that they don’t result in the desired outcome.  This is the predictable, yet bold, conclusion of a report to be presented at the United Nations on Monday, October 24th by Anand Grover, a UN-appointed independent expert on health.  The report, which is part of an annual report-back from various human rights experts to the United Nations’ General Assembly, consolidates years of legal analysis and empirical evidence from other experts and concludes that abortion restrictions are unworkable and damaging to women’s health. Instead, the report advocates access to full, accurate, and complete sex education and information about contraception, as well as to all forms of modern contraception, because these services and state support for women’s equality actually do work to reduce the need for abortions.

Abortion restrictions are generally justified by reference to a desire to lower the number of terminations, be it by limiting access to abortion for all women, as in Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, or just for the “undeserving,” as in most of the rest of the Americas including the United States. Some explicitly prefer pregnant women to die rather than having access to a life-saving abortion, but most refer to some sort of makeshift hierarchy of morals.

“Most people, of course, should have access free of charge,” a high school friend from Denmark told me the other day. “But women who just keep having abortions: there really should be some sort of punishment for them.” 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.

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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?

CARMEN:

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 →

Egg Freezing: Risks to Women and Children Unknown

9:48 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Originally published by the Center for Genetics & Society. Published here with permission of the author.

To its credit, the fertility industry’s professional organization – the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) – has said plainly that freezing women’s eggs remains an experimental procedure that should not be “marketed or offered as a means to defer reproductive aging.” To its discredit, ASRM does little to see that even its own members adhere to its conclusion. (If this sounds familiar, you may be thinking of the similar disregard in which fertility clinics hold ASRM guidelines on the number of embryos they should put in women’s wombs, and on the use of embryo screening for sex selection.)

In fact, hundreds of American fertility clinics now offer “social egg freezing,” and there are thousands of online ads promising women they can “extend their fertility” by putting their eggs on ice. This disjuncture is examined in an article in this week’s Nature titled “Growth of egg freezing blurs ‘experimental’ label” [registration required].

Science writer Alison Motluk points out that chemicals used in the freezing process are toxic to embryos, though no one knows how much the eggs absorb; that there have been no systematic follow-up studies either of children born from frozen eggs (fewer than 2000 worldwide) or of success rates, especially for women in their late thirties who are the primary users; and that the procedure is very expensive. She notes that several other widely used assisted reproduction techniques, including pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and injecting sperm directly into eggs, were also rushed from lab to patients with next to nothing in the way of animal studies or clinical trials.

Ironically, proponents of social egg freezing offer this record of untested techniques as an argument in favor of removing the procedure’s experimental label. Though the commercial throttle is already wide open, these promoters are probably right in thinking that ASRM’s designation dissuades some women, dampening the growth of what is clearly a lucrative new market for the fertility industry. In an April article in Vogue, fertility doctor Geoffrey Sher, an active and early proponent of egg freezing, says that there “is already the potential for eight times the demand for egg freezing as there is for IVF procedures, just based on population numbers.” Sher and others believe that women should be encouraged to undergo the procedure in their late 20s or early 30s, when their eggs are higher quality.

Though the tone of the recent Nature article is more sober than that of many media accounts, neither it nor the other media stories published over the past several months – the Vogue piececoverage by National Public Radio, and a first-person account on Huffington Post – even mention the non-trivial short-term risks (side effects ranging from mild to – rarely – life-threatening, with plenty of debilitating territory in between) and still uncertain long-term risks of egg retrieval for women.

In most of the media coverage, the take-away message is that egg freezing is an unproblematic boon. NPR’s article, for example, carries the conclusive title, “Egg Freezing Puts The Biological Clock On Hold” and reports that fertility doctors “envision a time when society considers freezing eggs an act not of desperation but of empowerment.” The Vogue piece declares, “Stopping the biological clock through egg freezing has long been the ultimate feminist fantasy.”

There have indeed been, and probably still are, some feminists who fantasize thus. The most notorious is Shulamith Firestone, who back in 1970 envisioned gender equality enabled by artificial wombs. Myself, I’ll forgo the fantasy techno-fixes. Give me the kind of feminism that assesses the real-world effects of a practice like egg freezing – as do, for example, Our Bodies Ourselves and the National Women’s Health Network.

Conservative Columnist Supports Family Planning as “Pro-Life”

11:08 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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.

It’s not often that I agree with Michael Gerson, the conservative former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush, advocate for abstinence-only policies in U.S. global AIDS programs, and columnist for the Washington Post. 

Today, however, I am in near-full agreement with him on a piece he published in today’s Post.

Gerson just returned from a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo sponsored by CARE during which he and others saw firsthand the struggles of women who live in societies in which they have little control of whether, when and whom they marry, and whether, when and how many children they bear.  In these settings, women bear more children than they want and can afford to raise, infant and child mortality rates are high, and complications of both pregnancy and unsafe abortion are the leading cause of deaths among women ages 15 to 49.  Medical care is largely inaccessible.

Reproductive and sexual health and rights advocates have always argued that ensuring that women have unfettered access to family planning information and counseling and consistent contraceptive supplies is a “pro-life” strategy, because voluntary family planning dramatically improves the quality of life and survival rates of both children and their mothers, and by extension, families and societies.

But the anti-choice movement in the United has moved from opposing abortion per se to opposing all forms of birth control, an agenda it was always suspected to have in the first place.  As such, this movement, led largely by male religious leaders, Congressmen or virulently anti-choice male activists opposes support for family planning services and birth control methods both at home and abroad.

Having a “card-carrying” conservative evangelical columnist support family planning as a “pro-life” intervention not only speaks to reality, it is what I hope to be a welcome first step in pushing back against anti-choice positions that cost far more lives–those of women and children–than they ever “save.”

Visiting the village of Bweremana, Gerson writes:

[T]he correlation between the number of children and the absence of some of their mothers becomes clear. Kanyere Sabasaba, 35, has had 10 children, eight of whom have survived. Her last delivery did not go well. “I delivered the baby without any problem, but I was bleeding much,” she told me. The case was too complex for the local health center, so Kanyere had to pay for her transport to another medical facility. After the surgery, the doctor performed a tubal ligation. “If I give birth again, I could die,” she said. “The last child is the one who could really kill me.”

As Gerson rightly notes, for women in this part of Congo, the complications of childbirth are as dangerous as the militias in the countryside.

One woman I met had given birth to 13 children, only six of whom survived. Women sometimes deliver in the fields while working. Medical help can be a few days’ journey away. Each birth raises the odds of a hemorrhage, infection or rupture. Those odds increase dramatically when births come early in life, or late in life, or in rapid succession. In Congo, almost one in five deaths of women during childbearing years is due to maternal causes.

And, he notes, “While both the pill and condoms are generally available in larger cities such as Goma, access is limited in rural districts. Determining the pace of reproduction is often a male prerogative instead of a shared decision. Sexual violence can be as close for a woman as gathering fuel in the woods.”

These are all absolutely true and I appreciate and admire Gerson for acknowledging these realities.

The women of Bweremana, continues Gerson “are attempting to diffuse and minimize their risk. In a program organized by Heal Africa, about 6,000 contribute the equivalent of 20 cents each Sunday to a common fund. When it is their time to give birth, the fund becomes a loan to pay transportation and hospital fees. The women tend a common vegetable garden to help with income and nutrition. And the group encourages family planning.”

But even this is not enough.  It is estimated that 215 million women worldwide want and need access to basic family planning and supplies but do not currently have it.  These women bear more children than they want or can support.  As a result, they also watch more infants and children die, suffer poor health themselves, and are far less likely to achieve their own educational and economic goals.  That is why investments by nations in their own health care systems, including basic reproductive and sexual health care, and international donors in those same systems, are so critical.

But, as Gerson notes:

The very words “family planning” light up the limbic centers of American politics. From a distance, it seems like a culture war showdown. Close up, in places such as Bweremana, family planning is undeniably pro-life. When births are spaced more than 24 months apart, both mothers and children are dramatically more likely to survive. Family planning results not only in fewer births, but in fewer at-risk births, including those early and late in a woman’s fertility. When contraceptive prevalence is low, about 70 percent of all births involve serious risk. When prevalence is high, the figure is 35 percent.

The United States was once the global leader in funding family planning worldwide.  But U.S. funding of international family planning programs has remained essentially flat for the last 10 years, and is hamstrung by an increasing number of medically-unnecessary and ideologically-driven restrictions that end up reducing, rather than expanding access to this urgently-needed health intervention.

Gerson argues that support for family planning and contraceptive supplies shouldn’t be the ideological lightening rod it has become because:

“[e]ven in the most stringent Catholic teaching, the prevention of conception is not the moral equivalent of ending a life. And conservative Protestants have little standing to object to contraception, given the fact that they make liberal use of it. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, more than 90 percent of American evangelicals believe that hormonal and barrier methods of contraception are morally acceptable for adults. Children are gifts from God, but this does not require the collection of as many gifts as biologically possible.

In fact, more than 80 percent of the U.S. public writ large strongly supports women’s rights to determine the number and spacing of children they have.

So far we strongly agree: It’s a strategy that saves lives, it makes economic sense, and because this is about public health, it should be free from ideology.  If you don’t like contraception, don’t use it. But don’t use religion or ideology to deny it to others, especially when the overwhelming majority of women of all religious persuasions in fact use birth control.

Where I diverge with from Gerson in regard to these issues is on abortion. 

Gerson points to “[s]ome liberal advocates” who think these are intrinsically related.  In regard to self-determination, human rights, and public health, the linkage between a woman’s ability to prevent pregnancy and her ability to safely and legally terminate an unintended and untenable pregnancy are intrinsically linked and women know this. It only becomes ideological when religion and politics intervenes in these basic rights and tries to undermine them.

It is true, as he notes, that “support for contraception does not imply or require support for abortion.”  You can, personally, be a supporter of contraception but decide you would not choose abortion were you to become pregnant, which obviously men can’t.  Where we’ve become lost, however is in politicizing abortion care in much the same way as family planning services and ignoring, for ideological convenience, the same public health and medical evidence on safe abortion services that supports access to family planning.  Safe abortion care makes sense because it saves women’s lives, and ultimately the lives of their current and future children borne through wanted pregnancies.

Notwithstanding religious and ideological beliefs, access to safe abortion is also a well-recognized critical public health intervention.  Moreover, without it, ultimately women can not truly be in charge of their reproductive destinies–and hence can not truly exercise self-determination. Access to safe abortion services is a necessary back up to any unintended and untenable pregnancy, from any cause, including contraceptive failure, interrupted access to contraceptives, and pregnancies resulting from intimate partner violence and rape, rape as a tool of war, stranger rape, or incest.  Access to contraception can dramatically reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and hence the need for abortion, but it can never completely eliminate abortion. So the need for access to safe abortion care is a fact-based medical and public health position, not an ideological one. And by suggesting it is an ideological position, we continue to miss the point.

What Gerson doesn’t clarify is that for the purpose of U.S. policy, contraception and abortion are already kept separate.  U.S. international family planning assistance goes solely to family planning information and supplies; it does not support access to safe abortion care.  Under the Helms Amendment, funding for abortion care is only allowable in cases of rape, incest or the health and life of the mother.  In reality, because of politics, U.S. funding is rarely if ever used even for these “allowable” conditions.  The issue of abortion would come into play if we were talking about repealing the Helms Amendment, an effort I wholeheartedly support, but which has nothing to do with current discussions around the scope of U.S. international funding for family planning, unless you are a Congressperson trying to deflect attention from the fact that you don’t want to support family planning and want to ignore the evidence that it saves the lives of women and their children.

So when we talk about ideological fights around family planning, it really comes down to a majority male GOP Congressional leadership that vociferously opposes access to basic services that would enable women to choose the number and spacing of children they want by using basic family planning services.  Abortion is a red herring here, because it is not in the equation.  Gerson himself would have been more forceful if he had clarified that, and he also would have been more honest if in this piece he had reversed his own earlier position supporting the prohibition of integration of family planning into U.S. global AIDS programs, a position adopted by the Bush Administration and, unfortunately, continued by the Obama Administration that dramatically diminishes access to contraceptive supplies to HIV-positive women who desire not to have any more children.

So I agree with Gerson that family planning is pro-life, as all people who are pro-choice and by definition therefore “pro-life” understand those concepts.  I also agree with Gerson that “women in Congo have enough home-grown problems without importing irrelevant, Western controversies.”  And finally, I completely agree that access to contraceptives do not solve every problem and that women in Bweremana want access to voluntary family planning for the same reasons as women elsewhere: to avoid high-risk pregnancies, to deliver healthy children and to better care for the children they have.”  They want the same happy, healthy families we all strive to have.

This is the best understanding of why the pro-choice movement, based as it is on public health and medical evidence is indeed “pro-life,” and why U.S. support for voluntary international family planning services is one of the single most effective investments we can make.  Let’s keep the funding politics separate from abortion right now, while recognizing that on the ground, in the hut, for the woman, these two things are rarely in neat little boxes.

Study Shows Telemedicine Abortion is Safe and Effective; Politics Intervenes Nonetheless

10:24 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Telemedicine Cart"

"Telemedicine Cart" by Kevin Souza on flickr

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

Big pharma and advances in medicine get a lot of attention for improving health, but several recently published studies show that communication technology may actually drive some of the changes that could have the biggest impact.  Telemedicine is being safely and effectively used to expand access to a wide range of health care services including adult and neonatal intensive care, cardiology, psychiatry, and emergency medicine.

Advances in telemedicine, for example, are a growing part of the solution to the shortage of health care providers in rural communities and as a new study shows, for women seeking abortion. Rural communities are home to 20 percent of the U.S. population but only 9 percent of physicians; 87 percent of all U.S. counties and 97 percent of rural counties have no abortion provider. In light of these daunting statistics, telemedicine holds unprecedented promise of improved access and higher quality of care for hard-to-reach communities.

Alongside the promise of telemedicine comes the concerns that any new technology brings.  Not long ago, it was only in science fiction that we imagined robots would helps us care for critically sick babies or that we could trust technology enough to use it to monitor high risk pregnancy from far away.  As with any technology or use, we must proceed soberly and ethically, and consider acceptability, safety and quality of care alongside the benefits new technologies bring. But we also have to allow for evidence-based advances in medicine irrespective of ideology.

The recent publication of a new study finds medication abortion to be a safe and effective use of telemedicine.  The study, conducted by a multi-disciplinary team led by Dr. Daniel Grossman at Ibis Reproductive Health evaluated a program run by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland/Iowa to provide medication abortion using telemedicine at clinic sites not staffed by a physician.

The team’s findings, published in the August 2011 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, show that telemedicine provision of abortion is effective, is safe with a low complication rate that is on par with in-person provision, and is highly acceptable to patients.  This is good news for women seeking abortion, and good news for telemedicine – our hopes for which continue to appear well founded. Read the rest of this entry →

Banners, Binoculars and Rosary Beads: Anti-Choice Misogyny, Naivete and Invasiveness On Display in Germantown

10:03 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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.

I want to say a huge personal thanks to the many people from more than 18 states who came to Germantown to help defend the Germantown clinic throughout the week, and to the organizers, whom I will not name, but who have individually spent upwards of 14 hours per day on site defending the clinic. They are there on behalf of all of us. Likewise, I think it is critically important to thank the Montgomery County, Maryland Police Department, which did an excellent job of assisting in clinic defense and in making sure that all stayed peaceful. Finally, thanks go to Dr. Carhart for his courage and determination in providing urgent care to women in need.

Yesterday and this morning, I spent several hours assisting with clinic defense in Germantown, Maryland, where Dr. LeRoy Carhart comes several times a month to see patients who need late abortion care.

Sunday (August 7th) was the last official day of “Summer of Mercy 2.0″ spearheaded by Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups. During the last week, anti-choice protesters remained at the far end of the office park from the clinic where Dr. Carhart practices, while pro-choice clinic defenders remained at the front of the driveway leading directly to the clinic and on both sides of the street near that driveway.  That changed today, because Dr. Carhart was seeing patients, and so anti-choice protesters stood immediately mixed in among the clinic defenders directly across the street from and right at the entrance to the office park.  A woman standing directly behind me was praying the rosary for much of the time I was there Monday morning, holding a portrait of the Virgin Mary and asking God to shed light on these “misguided women who know not what they do.”

Overall, the anti-choice movement’s showing in Germantown was paltry, though there were a large number of people on the last day, and Operation Rescue or some other group hired an airplane to do a fly-over photo op, for publicity purposes I am sure.  Nonetheless there were are are sufficient numbers to make their presence known to women and their families dealing with crises pregnancies and seeking care from Dr. Carhart.

Three things struck me about the anti-choice protestors who were there.  First, their misogyny was on full display. Second, they have apparently brainwashed untold numbers of “young crusaders” spouting unsupported ideology about all manner of issues, some of whom were present at the protest.  And third, there was a profound level of invasiveness in the tactics used by anti-choicers that might have been comical if not there were not such a violation of basic dignity.

Misogyny

Consider, for example, the white male anti-choice protester walking down the street, with his three young daughters in tow, who, as he moved among clinic defenders spoke disparagingly about “these defiant women” and “how can there be so many defiant women?…”.  Since I did not speak to him, I can not say precisely whom he felt women were defying, but it was pretty clear from the scene writ large that to him, women who were taking their reproductive lives into their own hands were defying [his] God and his notion of patriarchal order.

Across the street and down the block, both male and female anti-choicers held up signs declaring in no uncertain terms: “Women do regret their abortions.” [Emphasis in the original].  I have not spoken to every single woman who ever had an abortion so can not say some do not or have not regretted terminating a pregnancy, though many of us regret lots of choices later in life that we may have made earlier and there is no widespread data backing up the claim that women writ large regret their abortions.  But this was not a conditional or “perhaps” statement. It was a statement of indisputable “fact,” by anti-choice protesters about women, all women, who have ever had an abortion.  If you had an abortion, you regret it, whether you know it or not. So a person like me, a woman who has in fact had an abortion and never regretted it, is actually in denial, a misguided soul, unable to know my own feelings, unable to really know what I really think, unable to sense or live in or create my own reality, because that reality is not really true, according to anti-choicers. Only what they tell me to think and feel is really true.

If I am defying what they believe to be right and natural, I can not be a whole person. If I do not have independent thought and if what I believe to be independent thought diverges from their ideology, it isn’t independent thought at all.  This is misogynistic brainwashing at its most basic because it puts into question any sense that women know what they are doing or can think freely at any time. According to this view, only men and the patriarchal structures of religion and ideology can define what women should think or do, and those who don’t adhere are indeed deviants.

On the theme of patriarchy, another few men held up signs saying “Men Regret Their Lost Fatherhood.”  In other words, a woman who has an abortion is denying the right of a particular man to become a father. If you get pregnant and don’t give birth to this man’s child, whether or not you love him, whether or not you are ready, whether or not that man is going to support you and this child for the rest of your and its life if you do give birth to his child, you are denying his right to become a father.

If that is not control over women, I don’t know what is.

Brainwashing

Yesterday and again today, anti-choice protestors had used chalk to write “messages” on the sidewalk in front of the office park where Dr. Carhart sees patients.  Among these were “Condoms Kill,” and “Only Natural Family Planning Works.”

Apart from the obvious fact that neither one of these “messages” is true–when used correctly, condoms prevent both unintended pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, and NFP has a high user failure rate–it was clear that young people among the anti-choicers had bought these messages wholesale.

As I stood alongside two other clinic defenders at the entrance to the driveway, I heard two teen anti-choice protesters trying strenuously to convince two pro-choice defenders that condoms were actually harmful, evil devices that led to multiple sins; that birth control and condoms, especially “those sent to Africa,” were the cause of the spread of HIV and of abortions; and that “babies have souls from the moment of conception.”  I then listened further as both of these teens, a boy of perhaps 15 years of age and a girl perhaps 16, both then tried to tell a married mother of three children how easy and fulfilling marriage and childbearing were, and how women fit in the “proper” scheme of things.  There were points where I honestly thought these teens were quoting directly from any number of speeches given by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), the man perhaps most directly responsible for needless deaths among women denied care because of the Global Gag Rule.

All I can say is I marveled at the patience my fellow clinic defenders had to engage in this endless discussion that went nowhere.  The sight of a couple of privileged white suburban teens telling a mom how easy it “is” to work and raise children was like a scene out of Saturday Night Live only not so funny when you consider that their goal is to make things harder for all women.

After the young people left the scene, an older, 30- or 40-something woman, herself pregnant, stepped in to try to continue battling the demons of the pro-choice contingent.  She had previously been standing behind the curb where the teens were talking to my colleagues, listening in and discussing in whispered tones with a man who may have been her husband or a colleague what the teens were saying and “how” they were doing. It suddenly dawned on me that there was an orchestrated effort underway to try to convince the pro-choice mom, or perhaps someone else, to get “saved” on the spot and come to their “side.” They were coming in and reinforcing each other, but had clearly picked the wrong person to try to brainwash. 

Invasiveness

There’s not much about the anti-choice movement that isn’t invasive. Laws and policies that seek to intrude on women’s ability to exercise their rights to self-determination and to protect their own health and lives are invasive by definition.  Think of invasions of your time and personal business, such as waiting periods and legally-mandated but medically-incorrect lectures by faith-driven crisis pregnancy centers, invasions of your ability to make health decisions, such as denials by pharmacists to fill prescriptions, or literal invasions of your body, such as forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds mandated by law.

In Germantown, I found yet another form of invasion.  Right across the office-park street from where Dr. Carhart practices is a Crisis Pregnancy Center.  As I walked back there to see the clinic, I passed by the CPC.  Squatting in plain site in the bare window was a woman training a large pair of binoculars on the door of Dr. Carhart’s suite.  It reminded me of a scene out of a war zone, in which someone is watching from the trenches with binoculars for any sign of movement.  It might have been funny if it weren’t so ridiculous and potentially threatening. Who was she looking for?  First of all, you wouldn’t need binoculars to see who was coming and going because the pass-through is very narrow, more so than your average neighborhood street.  But to see someone there with binoculars is obviously intended to further invade any privacy that might be left to women entering the clinic, to further aggravate other people doing business in the office park, and perhaps to try to intimidate Dr. Carhart.

It’s part of the overall prurience of the anti-choice movement.  Imagine for a second this was in fact your street and your home was Dr. Carhart’s office.  If you had a neighbor directly across the street from you who stood at their window all day long with binoculars trained on your front door and/or windows, you might at least be forgiven for thinking the person to be some sort of pervert or a person with a mental illness. It would be and is a clear invastion of your privacy. This is no different.

And it doesn’t stop there.  A male anti-choice protester, in sunglasses, a button-down shirt and tie, stood outside the doorway to the office suite just steps away from the door to the one where Dr. Carhart practices, facing toward his door and talking loudly at anyone going in and out.  This would be a violation of the FACE Act if not for the fact that the landlord of that particular office suite is apparently also an anti-choice advocate who is allowing other antis to use his suite as harassment ground-zero. Next to the man was a teenage boy who had earlier been stopping cars going in and out of the office park to give them “some information,” which turned out to be a flier containing lies about Dr. Carhart and his practice, again meant to aggravate and intimidate other people coming in and out of the office park no matter their business.  Do this enough, I suppose the anti-choicers figure, and others in the office park will become tired enough of this form of harassment to turn against Dr. Carhart.

This invasion of women’s rights and women’s privacy, the invasion of a doctor practicing medicine, and of a community trying to go about its business will take place every time Dr. Carhart is in town.  The short time I spent there the past few days taught me firsthand just how critical is the work of those people who provide clinic escort services, week in and week out.  They need all of our help and support on an ongoing basis.

Surprise! Crisis Pregnancy Centers Don’t Separate Education, Religion

9:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andrea Grimes for RHRealityCheck.org. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The Texas Independent reports today on violations ranging from fire safety to client privacy in Texas’ many “alternatives to abortion” contractors. You know them as crisis pregnancy centers, and also as one of the few state-funded programs that saw their funding increase in this atrocious budget year–from $4 million to $4.15 million, despite the fact that they provide no medical care, no medical advice and are staffed by religious-motivated volunteers who undergo a minimum of training. Actual medical care that serves women and children in Texas been slashed, and Planned Parenthood has lost $47 million in funding.

The Texas Pregnancy Care Network conducted what amounts to an internal audit–with faith-based, religious-motivated inspectors looking into violations in clinics they have a vested interest in keeping afloat. There has not yet been an official third-party, or even Texas Department of Health and Human Services inspection into these CPC’s.

The Independent has the entire CPC inspection report available to read, but I’d just like to pluck out one totally not surprising finding: 15 percent of contractors did not, during supervised inspections, separate religious and educational material….

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For Latinas, The IOM Recommendations on Women’s Health Represent a Big Win

8:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Maria Elena Perez for RHRealityCheck.org. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Women are cheering this week’s recommendation by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to eliminate costly insurance co-pays for birth control. It’s a signal that there is a growing public recognition that preventive care is more than just the provision of services at the doctor’s office. For millions of Latinas, birth control, by definition, is prevention. But, while the media has focused extensively on the birth control recommendations, the full set of recommendations detailed by federal health officials paints an even brighter picture for our community: Latinas made major gains not only in controlling our fertility, but equally importantly in keeping ourselves and our children healthy.

The IOM is made up of a powerful group of scientists and public health leaders that has enormous sway in the government’s approach to health care. It’s no surprise then that health professionals looking at the country’s essential needs recognized what many have not: removing societal barriers to health care, such as those faced by many Latinas, are critical public health priorities.

Virtually every one of the IOM recommendations will greatly benefit Latina women.

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