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What Happens to Washington State Women if Title X Falls?

8:51 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

“It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition. I believe, therefore that we should establish as a national goal the provision of adequate family planning services within the next five years to all those who want them but cannot afford them. This we have the capacity to do.”

– President Richard Nixon, 1970

We need to make population and family planning household words. We need to take sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature of the program but, rather are using it as a political steppingstone. If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.”

– Congressman George H.W. Bush, 1969


“What is more fiscally responsible than denying any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America?” demanded Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the chief sponsor of a bill to bar the government from directing any money to any organization that provides abortion services.

You’d think Rep. Mike Pence’s (R-IN) bill to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization which provides preventive health care to millions of Americans around the country, would be enough of a blow. They are going for the deep, painful cuts leaving many millions of Americans who are already at their most vulnerable even more exposed with a House leadership budget proposal to completely eliminate Title X, one of the most successful federal safety net programs this country has ever seen. It’s not a political game, as much as Live Action hoax video-makers Lila Rose and James O’Keefe seem to think it is. As states grapple with similar budget cutting, our friends, family and community members will find themselves without basic healthcare and as tax-payers we’ll literally pay the price of the decimation of a crucial public health safety net. In Washington State, with a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, residents are already bracing for the impact of state cuts to family planning, maternity health services, health insurance for lower-income residents, prescription drug benefits for seniors and more. The elimination of the federal Title X program would be disastrous.

This may feel like a swipe out of nowhere but it’s been a long time in the making for the GOP. Read more

Washington State Moves to Allow Pharmacies to Refuse to Dispense EC

6:07 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In Washington State, a small group of pharmacists are putting on the pressure to allow pharmacies to refuse to dispense medication to which they object – and the State Board  of Pharmacy seems to be bending over backwards to do all they can to help them do so.

The Washington State Board of Pharmacy has voted 3-2, according to the News Tribune, to move ahead with a reversal of a 2007 rule that prevented pharmacies from refusing to dispense certain legal medication – including emergency contraception (EC) for the women of Washington State.

When the rule was first implemented (with the support of the state’s Governor Christine Gregoire) – to ensure that anyone who needed timely access to legal medication from a pharmacy could get it -  owners of a grocery store, Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, WA, responded with a lawsuit. The owners of the store refuse to carry Plan B (the brand name under which emergency contraception is sold) out of “moral opposition” to the drug. While the majority of pharmacists don’t have a problem with dispensing emergency contraception, there are some who seem to feel that that the medical community’s “evidence” that EC is actually contraception gets in the way of their personal opinion that it’s actually an abortifacient. Further, they feel that regardless of the safety, legality and FDA approval (PDF), women simply don’t deserve access to this medication.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

When Teenagers Seek Abortion Care the Myths Are Exposed

6:50 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

It was a seemingly small story, one of those reproductive rights-related stories that crops up in the news, attracts some amount of attention, and then fades away as other stories crowd it out. But I want to look a little more closely at this story about a Seattle mother who is furious that her 15-year-old daughter got a legal abortion with the school health center’s help without telling her mother. To be completely clear, this was 100 percent within the law. Washington state understands that parental notification laws are an assault on the well-being of teenagers and so far has no such laws. The school health center is run not by the school but by the public health department, and students who go to the health center — including this girl — have permission to receive care due to permission slips signed by their parents.

Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure, and there is no reason for school health centers not to refer patients to providers if those patients want it. That’s the simple fact of the matter, but unfortunately, that’s not where this story ends. What this story has revealed is that a number of pernicious anti-choice myths have taken hold in our society, and these myths are confusing people’s ability to see the plain truth of this story. Here’s some of the anti-choice myths touched on by the coverage of this story in both the conservative and mainstream news, and the reality behind these myths.

Myth #1: Abortion isn’t healthcare. Conservative bloggers and the mother in question trotted out this myth, saying that giving the health center permission to offer medical services should implicitly mean not abortion. The implication of this is that abortion is not a medical service, a myth that was also trotted out by supporters of the Stupak amendment to the healthcare reform bill, who tried to argue that abortion can’t be considered real healthcare. But this myth doesn’t reflect the basic reality of abortion, which fits all medical and cultural criteria for health care, if you look at without the burden of anti-woman ideology. Healthcare professionals offer it, others refer it, and it’s simply one out of many medical responses to pregnancies that are both healthy and not healthy. It’s also on a continuum from pregnancy prevention services, which are generally regarded by non-misogynists as healthcare. Strictly speaking, aborting or preventing pregnancy is regarded as safer by medical professionals than continuing to term, which is very stressful on the body, particularly for teenagers whose bodies may not be done growing and developing.

As Carole Joffe notes in her book Dispatches from the Abortion Wars, this myth that abortion isn’t healthcare is perhaps one of the most damaging anti-choice myths for women getting abortions and those providing them. It isolates providers from the larger medical community, and stigmatizes a choice that is usually the best one for the woman making it, causing unnecessary pain and suffering.

Myth #2: Abortion is a dirty, naughty sex act that should be stopped because it titillates anti-choicers to no end. If anti-choicers don’t think of abortion as medical care, what do they think of it as? The coverage from conservatives makes it clear — they use the model of “illicit sexual acts” when thinking about abortion. Jill Stanek used the word "clandestine" and Lifesite dwelled on the word "secret" to describe the abortion. It’s language that conjures up pictures of lovers sneaking around to engage in forbidden affairs. If the doctor had referred the young woman to an ears, nose, and throat specialist without calling her mother, anti-choicers wouldn’t be acting like this is some kind of sex scandal. I promise anti-choicers overreacting to this: as much as the idea of vacuuming someone’s uterus out sounds titillating to them, the rest of us without their heavy sexual hang-ups mainly think it sounds like an unpleasant medical procedure, chosen by a patient who was opposed to the alternatives.

Myth #3: Women seeking abortion are too stupid to know what they’re doing, and therefore the real decision-makers can’t be the women. Various news outlets described the girl who got the abortion as “pro-life,” implying that the girl didn’t want the abortion. But it’s all implication, and there isn’t one shred of evidence to suggest the girl didn’t want an abortion. Hot Air made this explicit, suggesting that the girl was bullied and perhaps even forced into an abortion, and that the only reason a woman would submit to the procedure is that she’s “confused” and “frightened.”

Even I was surprised how no anti-choice websites I read on this topic even considered the possibility that the health center referred the girl for abortion at her request. I can’t tell if they think young women are incapable of making that request, or if they think the only reason a 15-year-old might not want a baby is that she’s stupid. I’d argue in fact that if anti-choicers can’t think of any good reasons 15 year olds might not want babies, then it’s far from proof that 15 year olds are the stupid ones here.

Myth #4: Parents own their daughters’ sexuality, and this control can be managed solely through restricting access to reproductive health care. The mother in this case was quoted as saying, “Makes me feel like my rights were completely stripped away." But the right to what, exactly? Anti-choicers promote to parents this notion that they own their daughters’ sexuality, and they can make abstaining from sex a rule that can be enforced through restricting access to birth control and abortion. Stanek made this argument clear, implying that it was access to birth control and sex education that caused the girl’s pregnancy and only by taking away both will parents gain their rightful control over teenager girls’ bodies.

It’s a long-standing hope of the patriarchy, one that explains everything female genital mutilation to abstinence-only education. It’s also completely silly. Most parents disapprove of sex for teenagers. Abstinence-only was the law of the land for a long time. And yet half of teenagers obey their hormones and not their parents.

The worst part about this myth is that it’s a PR move from anti-choicers to appeal to parents’ desires not to have pregnant teenagers, but it doesn’t actually reflect their obviously warm and fuzzy feelings towards teenagers having more babies. Those feelings only come out after the pregnancy occurs — witness the adulation for the Palin family for embracing teen motherhood for a daughter instead of college, or even witness the anti-choicers suggesting that the only reason a 15-year-old might wish to avoid teen motherhood is she’s being bullied by the school. I wouldn’t trust people who are so enthusiastic about teens giving birth for advice on how to accomplish the opposite, myself. In fact, I’d take what they tell me to do and do the opposite.   

A Lack of Restraints: Washington’s Anti-Shackling Efforts

6:58 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Cassandra Brawley went into labor two and a half years ago at the Washington State Corrections Center for Women on a Friday the 13th. Though she was experiencing distress – her water broke and she was leaking bloody discharge – and she repeatedly expressed to prison officials that “something was wrong”, still her pleas went largely ignored. After three days of labor pain and obvious suffering, Cassandra was shackled for transport to the hospital where she would eventually undergo an emergency cesarean section.

“The belly chain was wrapped around me until they admitted me into the hospital. And then they shackled my foot to the bed while I was having labor contractions,” Brawley told me.

As a medium security prisoner, convicted of second-degree theft, Brawley was not considered a threat to herself or others. She had never been convicted of a violent crime and was an exemplary prisoner. Still, Brawley was kept chained and shackled to the bed for hours during painful labor contractions and while she was given an epidural.

According to a complaint filed in court by the women’s rights advocacy organization Legal Voice against the Washington State Department of Corrections, on Brawley’s behalf, “A physician attempted to induce labor by breaking the amniotic sac, but found the sac empty.” Brawley was immediately wheeled down to surgery to undergo an emergency c-section – still in ankle chains. It was only at the command of the physician performing the surgery that she was unshackled – and then only until the surgery was complete.

“They shackled my foot to the bed right after the c-section was over. It was awful. And 18 hours after I gave birth to my son, you know how you have to get up and walk around so you don’t get blood clots? The first time I stood up and tried to walk, they shackled my feet together,” said Brawley.

In fact, Brawley was kept shackled to the bed throughout her entire 3 days in the hospital.

Legal Voice claims that the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) violated Ms. Brawley’s constitutional rights when they shackled Brawley during labor, in opposition to its own policy and are bringing her case to court.

Currently, the Washington state DOC policy allows shackling of pregnant women in the third trimester only and not during labor and delivery but Sara Ainsworth, the lawyer spearheading Brawley’s case, is also involved in a legislative effort to ensure a complete prohibition on shackling of pregnant women in Washington state.

“It defies common sense to risk a pregnant woman’s health, safety and dignity by shackling her while she’s in the process of giving birth,” says Ainsworth.

The Senate version of HB 2747 dropped on Monday, January 18th, 2010 and prohibits Washington state correctional facilities of any kind from shackling pregnant incarcerated women or youth except in “extraordinary circumstances, where a corrections officer makes an individualized determination that restraints are necessary” to prevent escape or the woman from injuring herself or others. In this scenario, however, the least restrictive restraints must be used and if a medical professional or youth requests that the restraints not be used, the corrections officer must immediately remove them. Shackles may never be used on pregnant prisoners, as outlined in the bill, during labor, delivery and the post-partum recovery period with no exceptions and pertains to all institutions from juvenile detention centers and municipal jails to state prisons.

“We’re lobbying for the broadest protection possible. One reason that it is important to limit restraints throughout pregnancy is to avoid the situation where a corrections official is deciding whether or not someone is in labor and using their own judgment to decide whether or not someone should be shackled,” Ainsworth told me.

If the legislation passes, Washington will become the seventh state in the country to ban the use of restraints on pregnant and laboring incarcerated women. Most recently, New York, New Mexico and Texas have all passed laws prohibiting the use of shackles on pregnant women in nearly all circumstances. Thanks in large part to the Rebecca Project the Federal Bureau of Prisons has a policy against shackling pregnant women as well.

Malika Saada Saar, Executive Director of the Rebecca Project, writes on RH Reality Check that, “The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in September 2008 ended shackling mothers as a matter of routine course in all federal correctional facilities.”

State governments have found the practice to be cruel and unusual punishment, inhumane, degrading and a violation of human rights standards. And medical organizations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association to the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) have forcefully condemned the practice as wholly unsafe for both mother and baby.

Tina Johnson, Certified Nurse-Midwife and the Director of Professional Practice and Health Policy at ACNM told me, “Under no circumstances should a woman be confined in a way that inhibits her ability to safely delivery her baby. Labor and birth are active, physical processes that require the fetus to work with the mother’s body in maneuvering through the birth canal. A woman should not lie on her back during labor, as this can severely restrict blood flow to the placenta. In addition, there are certain complications, such as hemorrhage…in which the ability to reposition quickly is critical to facilitating a safe outcome.”

Johnson is clear: “Shackling a woman during pregnancy is cruel, inhumane and unsafe.”

Just ask Kimberly Mays.

“I felt like an animal giving birth in front of its human masters,” Mays told me over the phone.

On August 2, 2000, Mays went into labor at the Washington State Corrections Center for Women.

“Before being transported by ambulance, I was shackled – both hands and feet. I was pretty scared, even though this was not my first time giving birth to a child. I was shackled to the ambulance bed all the way to St. Joseph’s Hospital [in Tacoma, WA], in excruciating pain…

When I got to the labor room, I thought some reprieve from the shackles would occur. On the contrary, only the leg shackles were removed so I could be examined and one wrist was shackled to the bed.”

Mays remained shackled during labor and delivery, screaming in pain. According to Mays, the attending nurse “forcefully covered” her mouth to get her to stop screaming.

“Instead of a mother who was about to give birth, I lost all sense of dignity and self-respect,” she wrote in her birth story, sent to me via email.

After giving birth, Mays remained shackled to the bed, either by one arm or one leg – only unlocked to go to the bathroom or to shower.

Simply, Kimberly writes, “That experience was the most demoralizing event in my entire life.”

Mays, like Brawley, was incarcerated for a non-violent offense and held as a minimum-security prisoner. Brawley told me, “I was a model prisoner and had not one single infraction while in prison. I took every self-help course. I was in college in prison and going to church three times a week.”

Today Kimberly Mays is two-quarters shy of earning a Masters in Public Administration at the Evergreen State College in Washington State. She serves on several boards for organizations “that serve our most marginalized citizens” and is a mother to ten children.

Mays recently testified at the hearing for the Senate bill in the Washington state legislature and says that she hopes her story “will help to alleviate the disgraceful practice of shackling women during labor, which in turn will help alleviate the negative behaviors of prison guards and hospital staff toward women who give birth while incarcerated.”

But hopefully both Mays and Brawley’s stories will do even more than that. The power to change these policies lies not only in the obvious pain and suffering of these two women but in what their stories can excavate about why exactly this practice is needed at all.

When asked if there has ever been a case recorded of an incarcerated woman in labor ever attempting to escape or posing a threat to herself or others in the United States, Sara Ainsworth told me, “We have heard no stories of any incidents in our state – ever.”

The Seattle-based website Publicola reported on the lack of any real opposition to the Washington state bill at the hearing this month:

“Some law enforcement lobbyists, like Jo Arlow of the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs raised concerns about the language of the bill. She said there are rare circumstances where restraint might be necessary for safety’s sake (though she couldn’t actually produce an example of such a case when asked), but overall her group supports the bill.”

The Women in Prison Project in New York City calls shackling “unnecessary” as women cannot run with any significant level of speed during labor or after delivery and therefore are not a flight risk. An informational document from the project states:

“New York City jail policies restricting restraints have been in effect for 20 years without incidents of escape or harm to staff.”

One significant reason for this beyond a woman’s absolute inability to do much more than push, groan and focus on the birthing process during labor is that the majority of incarcerated women in the U.S. are in prison for non-violent crimes.

According to the Women’s Prison Association’s Institute on Women & Criminal Justice, two-thirds of women in prison are there for non-violent offenses. Both drug-related crimes and property offenses make up this 2/3 number. A report put out by the National Institute of Corrections in 2003, written by Barbara Owen & Stephanie Covington, notes that “the majority of incarcerated women are in for first-time, non violent offenses.”

The number of women in prison is only increasing. Over the last thirty years, the female prison population has grown more than 800% while the number of men in prison has grown by only half that.

With 5 percent of incarcerated women in the U.S. pregnant, and the number of women in prison increasing, it’s critical that as a country we make some clear decisions about the ways in which we treat pregnant women and their newborn babies. If our goals are to protect the health and safety of pregnant women and their babies rather than endanger, and ensure the best possible health outcome for mother and child regardless of whether a woman is incarcerated at the time of her labor or not, then we are failing, overall, as a nation.

Let’s review then:

Pregnant and laboring women are proven not to be safety or flight risks. Medical and health professionals from obstetricians to nurse-midwives consider the practice of shackling pregnant and laboring women harmful to womens’ and newborns’ health. Keeping women in ankle, arm and belly restraints while pregnant and/or laboring a federal court has now ruled unconstitutional, while six states have banned the practice. Finally, women themselves are speaking up and letting the world know that being shackled during pregnancy and birth is nothing short of inhumane, robbing them of their self-dignity and human rights.

A sea change is on the horizon in the ways in which we think about this issue. It is likely that Washington State will pass a bill for the Governor to sign. The Rebecca Project continues its campaign, on a national level, against shackling with the work of its unlikely yet powerful collection of anti-shackling allies. Cassandra’s trial is set for June of this year where a judge will hear her case against the Washington State Department of Corrections. Through all of this, both Cassandra and Kim continue their work as mothers like any and all of us, tending to the children who came into this world unaware of the struggle and injustice that surrounded them. But for these two women and so many others in this country, their stories of giving birth in chains will never leave them.

“I am not a worthless piece of trash, but rather a valuable asset to people, families, and the community at large, “ says Kimberly Mays.