The Return Of The Back-Alley Abortion April 6, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Right Wing, Texas, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion clinics, abortion providers, anti-abortion, back-alley abortion, laura bassett, mexican abortions, misoprostol, morning after, pro-life, reproductive health, reproductive rights, right to life, roe v. wade, roger hollander, texas abortion, women's rights
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Roger’s note: some years ago I attended an event designed to discuss the issue of choice with young people who were born after the Roe v. Wade decision. A retired physician, a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, spoke of his “conversion” to pro life while at the same time not abandoning his faith. As a young Resident at LA County Hospital he worked on a ward with hundreds of beds for women with septic infections, 99% a result of botched back alley abortions. That ward disappeared entirely once therapeutic abortion was decriminalized. He said that from time to time nowadays he is called in to consult on a rare case of septic infection because today’s medical students and physicians almost never see them. That will soon change in Texas and elsewhere in the United States. Thanks to the misogynist Catholic Church hierarchy and the right to death bigots and their scumbag allies in state governments.
In 1969, when abortion was completely illegal in Texas except to save a woman’s life, Karen Hulsey became pregnant.
She was 20 years old and living in Dallas at the time, and the diaphragm she was using for birth control had failed her. Her boyfriend, she discovered, was married, and refused to help raise or pay for a child.
“It was just at a time in my life where I knew I couldn’t take care of a child, and he wanted no responsibility,” Hulsey recalled in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Instead, the man offered to pay for her to travel to Mexico, where he knew of a clandestine abortion provider. She wrestled with the decision and was three months pregnant by the time she agreed to go.
“I was not only very afraid of the ramifications with God, but very ashamed and embarrassed,” said Hulsey, who was raised Catholic. “I struggled with the decision for a long time.”
Hulsey left Dallas at midnight on a chartered plane, with no idea where she was going, and landed in a field south of the border in the middle of the night. A woman Hulsey had never met before was waiting for her when she stepped off the aircraft.
“I was scared to death,” Hulsey said. “Of course, he did not go with me — I went alone,” she said of her boyfriend at the time. “That was the stipulation.”
From there, things only got worse.
“A car came and picked us up and took us to what was considered a clinic in a little bitty building with dirt floors,” Hulsey recalled. “Even at that age, I knew this was not a good thing. I had worked as a nurse’s aide at that point in my life, and I knew about sterilization and everything else, so this just mounted my anxiety and fears.”
Hulsey said the doctor put her feet in stirrups and performed a “very rough,” painful gynecological exam. He then sedated her for the abortion procedure.
When Hulsey began to wake up, she realized that the doctor was raping her.
“I was of course very drowsy, and the doctor was on top of me having sex with me,” she recalled. “I had just barely opened my eyes, and he was all involved in what he was doing, and I immediately closed my eyes, because I knew if I acted like I knew what was going on I’d probably get killed, never to be seen or heard of again.”
After the man finished assaulting her, Hulsey said she cautiously opened her eyes.
“I went ahead after a little bit of time and acted like I was coming out from under the anesthetic, and he told me I’d had a little boy,” Hulsey said, choking back tears. “I was given a Kotex and taken back to Texas with no further care.”
Hulsey discovered upon returning to Texas that she had not completely expelled the placenta — a possible complication of surgical abortion. She was rushed to the emergency room, hemorrhaging from the botched procedure.
Years down the road, when she was ready to have children, she had three miscarriages due to the damage the illegal abortion provider had caused to her cervix. She underwent surgery to make it possible for her to hold a baby inside her body, and even then, her daughter was born two months premature and weighed less than three pounds.
“I thought that I had sinned and was being punished for having gone to Mexico and done that, and that’s why I had a baby that was so sick,” said Hulsey. “I think that’s baloney now, and that’s why I’m willing to talk about it.”
Four years after Hulsey’s ordeal, Texas became the original battleground state in the fight for legal and safe abortion. The 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade arose out of a challenge to the Texas law that criminalized the procedure except to save a woman’s life. Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade defended the abortion ban against a 21-year-old pregnant woman using the pseudonym “Jane Roe.” Roe had tried to obtain an illegal abortion near Dallas, where she lived at at the time, but found that authorities had already raided and shut down the clandestine providers nearby.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that states must make abortion legal at least until the fetus is viable, around 22 to 24 weeks into pregnancy. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization, estimates that before Roe, as many as 1.2 million women a year in the U.S. resorted to primitive, self-induced abortions or sought out illegal, amateur providers. Thousands of women ended up in hospitals each year with severe complications related to illegal abortions, and in 1965 alone, nearly 200 women died from those procedures.
The proliferation of well-trained, regulated, legal abortion doctors in the last 40 years has led to “dramatic decreases in pregnancy-related injury and death,” according to the National Abortion Federation.
Now, however, Texas and other states are reversing course. State lawmakers enacted more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than they had in the previous decade, a trend that appears likely to continue in 2014. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that nearly 300 anti-abortion bills are currently pending in state legislatures.
The new restrictions have had a significant impact on women’s access to abortion. A Huffington Post survey last year found that since 2010, at least 54 abortion providers across 27 states had either closed or stopped performing the procedure. Sixteen more shut their doors after Texas lawmakers passed some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country last summer. A federal appeals court upheld two of the new restrictions in a ruling last week.
As a result, researchers and women’s health advocates say, women today are resorting to many of the same dangerous methods they relied on in the pre-Roe era: seeking out illegal abortion providers, as Karen Hulsey did, or attempting risky self-abortion procedures.
In 2014, four decades after the Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to choose, pregnant women once again find themselves crossing the border to Mexico and haunting back-alleys in search of medical care.
The situation is particularly dire in Texas. In 2011, the state had 44 abortion clinics, but more than half of them have since shuttered due to new anti-abortion laws. In September, when a state law requiring all abortions to take place in ambulatory surgical centers goes into effect, reproductive rights advocates expect 14 more clinics will have to close, leaving only six facilities to serve the nearly 75,000 women who seek abortions in Texas each year.
The poorest area of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley near the Mexican border, has no remaining abortion clinics. Women who live there have to drive roughly 240 miles to San Antonio for the nearest clinic, but many of them are Mexican immigrants with restrictions on their work visas that prevent them from traveling that far.
In addition, the state has slashed funding for family planning, forcing 76 clinics that offer birth control and other reproductive health services but do not perform abortions to shut down.
“It’s a horrible natural experiment that is taking place in Texas, where we are going to see what happens in 2014 when U.S. women don’t have access to legal, safe abortion,” said Dan Grossman, vice president of research for Ibis Reproductive Health, an international nonprofit.
Anti-abortion advocates say the idea of back-alley abortions returning is just a scare tactic their opponents use to try to keep abortion legal.
“That is a statement that’s been purported by those who are anti-life, but in actuality, we haven’t seen any evidence of that taking place here,” said Melissa Conway, a spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life.
But Grossman, who is part of a research team that is currently studying the effects of the new abortion laws and family planning cuts in Texas, said he is already witnessing the consequences of the new restrictions.
“It seems like [women] are becoming more desperate to find an option,” he said. “We’ve heard reports of women taking herbs or other substances, or intentionally getting punched in the stomach or beaten up — the same kinds of things they did before abortion was legal.”
Ironically, in the years following Roe v. Wade, Texas had been a beacon of hope for Mexican women seeking abortions, since the procedure is illegal in most of Mexico.
“Texas has always been a place where people in Mexico came to get safe abortions,” said Lindsay Rodriguez, president of the Lilith Fund, which helps women in need pay for abortions in Texas. Now, she said, “traffic’s going to start going the other way.”
Indeed, the lack of abortion access in Texas is already pushing pregnant women back across the border. At Mexican pharmacies, they can purchase misoprostol, a drug with the labeled use of preventing gastric ulcers — but which can also induce abortions.
In the U.S., misoprostol is available only by prescription from a licensed abortion provider. The drug, first manufactured by Pfizer under the name Cytotec, is prescribed in combination with another medication, mifepristone (labeled RU-486), for abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy. The FDA has approved this combination of drugs for medically induced abortions in the first trimester, which account for almost a quarter of all non-hospital abortions in the U.S. each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The medications are extremely safe and more than 90 percent effective when taken together.
American women are learning that if they don’t have access to an abortion provider, they can obtain misoprostol illegally and take a high dose of it on its own to end a pregnancy. The drug is 75 to 85 percent effective in completing an abortion when taken properly up to nine weeks into a pregnancy, according to Ibis Reproductive Health, but it is relatively complicated to self-administer. A woman has to put 12 pills under her tongue in specific time-intervals, and she needs to have access to follow-up care in case she has complications or the pills don’t work.
“I’ve seen women who have used 50 pills all at one time,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of Whole Women’s Health, a network of abortion clinics in Texas. “They put them in every orifice of their body, because they had no idea how to use it. That’s the scary part — using any means necessary to self-induce.”
Taking misoprostol under the wrong circumstances and without medical supervision, doctors and women’s health advocates warn, can lead to life-threatening complications. A woman who takes the pill with an ectopic pregnancy, for instance, risks heavy internal bleeding due to rupturing of the fallopian tube. If a pregnancy does not pass completely, meanwhile, women run the risk of infection, fever and sepsis.
“Those are the major complications we’re going to be seeing in these communities without clinics,” Miller warned. Hemorrhaging and infection, if not properly treated, can lead to death.
Still, misoprostol is generally considered a safer and more palatable alternative to more primitive methods of self-abortions, and demand is quickly increasing among women living in areas where abortion is illegal or impossible to access. Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch physician and founder of Women on Web, a digital community of abortion rights supporters, has published instructions on her website teaching women to take misoprostol properly on their own. She told HuffPost that her team regularly receives calls from women all over the U.S. seeking information about where to find the drug.
“In the United States there are import restrictions on abortion medications, so we just need to help women get access to them,” she said in a phone interview. “Sometimes that means we refer them over the border to Mexico.”
The trip across the border is often risky for women because of heavy drug cartel activity on the highways. And Mexican pharmacies have capitalized on the growing demand for misoprostol by marking up the cost to $200 or $300 per box.
Women in the U.S. can also obtain the pills illegally at flea markets in South Texas, or for about $100 a box over the internet, but Gomperts said the black market is awash in dubious drugs masquerading as misoprostol.
“There are a lot of fake websites out there, and there are a lot of people who take advantage of women’s desperate need,” she said.
Women who try to obtain the pills illegally, either online or on the black market, also run the risk of getting arrested. What’s more, women in the Rio Grande Valley who have obtained the pills are too afraid to share their stories, even anonymously, because they don’t want the police to crack down on the places that sell them.
“When the media first covered the flea market, it got raided by police and people got arrested,” Miller said. “When people start to cover this stuff, then the women can’t even get black market abortions. The culture in [South Texas] is one of extreme fear and caution — the women are so afraid of being put in jail.”
Women outside of Texas face the same obstacles. Jennifer Whalen, a 38-year-old Pennsylvania mother, was charged with a felony in December after she ordered a package of misoprostol and mifeprestone online from an overseas pharmacy for her pregnant 16-year-old daughter. Abortion is difficult to access in Pennsylvania due to severe restrictions on clinics there, and the closest clinic to Whalen’s town was across state lines in New York.
Whalen was charged with one count of medical consultation and judgment after her daughter had to go to the emergency room to be treated for an incomplete abortion and a urinary tract infection.
“We know that prohibition and criminalization will never stop women from having abortions,” said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “Illegal, self-abortions are a form of civil disobedience. Women will violate unjust laws and bear the health risks and the legal consequences, without causing harm to the people or institutions that make their decisions criminal.”
In addition to pushing women across the border into Mexico in search of misoprostol or other abortion solutions, the dwindling number of clinics in Texas and elsewhere has also revived the concept of “miscarriage management” — an idea that similarly harkens back to pre-Roe days, when doctors would quietly tell women to figure out a way to induce their own miscarriages so that they could legally intervene to treat the bleeding.
The New Republic reported that one of the last remaining abortion providers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Lester Minto, resorted to the idea of “miscarriage management” when a law went into effect in November that prohibited him from providing abortions. Minto offered treatment to women who had already started their own miscarriages for $400, lab work and ultrasound included. The visit would last two to three hours at most.
“Nothing here is back alley,” Minto told the magazine. “We do follow-ups with everybody. We still treat them just like we always did.”
But even Minto’s practice is now closed, leaving women few options for follow-up care when they try to self-abort in the Rio Grande Valley. The treatment Minto was providing would cost $2,000 to $3,000 in a hospital, require a general anesthetic and take up an entire day, Miller told HuffPost, which is out of reach for many poor and uninsured women.
With so many doors closed to them, back-alley remedies may soon be all that are left for many women.
“The situation politicians have put women in right now is untenable,” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “Making abortion out of reach only pushes women into the shadows.”
Karen Hulsey is particularly concerned about the situation facing women today. For five years in the 1990s, she worked as a physician’s assistant at an abortion clinic in Brownwood, Texas. There, she helped treat Mexican immigrants who had had traumatizing experiences similar to what she herself went through in 1969.
“I saw the effects of abortions on girls in Mexico who were raped, and the results of those abortions, as far as the shape of their vagina and their cervix,” she said. “It was just abhorrent, the scarring from the methods that were being used. I would not be surprised if the same thing were going on today.”
Hulsey, now 65, retired in 2000 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which doctors said she developed after her abortion and rape in Mexico. Although she has two children now, she said she has had trouble holding down a healthy romantic relationship because of what she went through.
Now that Texas lawmakers are spending so much time trying to limit access to abortion, she said, she is reminded of her trauma constantly.
“There are very few weeks that I don’t think about the severity of what I went through, especially with it being so up front in the news right now,” she said. “Every time anything like that comes up, I think, ‘Oh you people just don’t have any idea what you’re doing. No clue what you’d be sending girls back to.’”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Henry Wade’s position at the time of the suit as Texas attorney general; he was district attorney for Dallas County.
The Politics of Abortion in Latin America July 20, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Latin America, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion criminalization, Abortion restrictions, abortion rights, Access to abortion, catholic church, central america, cora fernandez anderson, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Faith and Ideology, Health Systems, illegal abortion, Latin America, Law and Policy, life of the mother, Life of the Woman, Medical abortion, patriarchy, Pregnancy complications, reproductive health, reproductive rights, roger hollander, south america, Surgical abortion, women's rights
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by Cora Fernandez Anderson, Five College Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Comparative Reproductive Politics
July 17, 2013 – 2:01 pm, http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/07/17/the-politics-of-abortion-in-latin-america/
In light of the recent case of Beatriz, a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman and mother of a toddler, who, while suffering from lupus and kidney failure and carrying an anencephalic fetus, was denied the right to an abortion, it is relevant to discuss the restrictive abortion laws in Latin America and some of the reasons behind them.
Latin America is home to five of the seven countries in the world in which abortion is banned in all instances, even when the life of the woman is at risk: Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, with the Vatican City and Malta outside the region. Legal abortion upon request during the first trimester is only available in Cuba (as of 1965), Mexico City (as of 2007), and Uruguay (as of 2012). In the rest of the continent, abortion is criminalized in most circumstances, with few exceptions, the most common of which are when the life or health of the woman is at risk, rape, incest and/or fetus malformations. However, even in these cases the legal and practical hurdles a woman has to face to have an abortion are such that many times these exceptions are not available, or by the time they are authorized it is too late. The consequences of such criminalization are well known: high maternal mortality and morbidity rates due to unsafe back alley abortions that affect poor and young women disproportionately.
The current laws ruling abortion in the region have been inherited from colonial powers. They are a legacy of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. While European women have already gotten rid of these laws many decades ago, Latin American women still have to deal with them. Why is this so?
As both scholars and activists know by now, women’s rights, like other human rights, are only respected if a movement organizes around them and puts pressure on the state to change unfair laws and policies. While feminist movements swept Europe and North America during the 1960s and 70s, Latin American countries were busy fighting dictatorships and civil wars. It is not that women did not organize, but rather they did so to oppose the brutal regimes and to address the needs of poor populations hit by the recurrent economic crises. Reproductive rights just had to wait. When democracy finally arrived in the region—in the 1980s in South American and the 1990s in Central America—feminist movements gradually began to push for reproductive rights. For example, the September 28th Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion was launched in 1990 in the context of the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist meeting held in San Bernardo, Argentina. Since then, most countries in the region have seen mobilizations and protests around this date. However, by the time the movements began to focus on reproductive rights, the global context had changed and the conservative right had also set up a strong opposition to any change to the status quo.
The strongholds of the opposition to decriminalization lie in two places: first, the Catholic Church, and second, the ascendance of the religious right in the United States. The Catholic Church has historically been a strong political actor in Latin America, ever since its large role in the conquest and colonization of the continent by the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the 16th and 17th centuries. The church’s influence among both political and economic elites is still a reality in the whole region with only a variation of degree among the different countries. However, the church’s strong opposition to abortion has not been constant. While the church has always condemned abortion, it used to be considered a misdemeanor and not a murder of an innocent human life, as in the current discourse. In addition, it was not until the late 1800s that the church considered that life started at conception. Until 1869, a fetus was thought to receive its soul from 40 to 80 days after conception, abortion being a sin only after the ensoulment had taken place.
Even in the beginning of the 20th century, when many Latin American countries passed their current legislation that allowed legal abortion under certain circumstances, the Catholic Church did not pose a strong opposition to these reforms. As Mala Htun explains in her research on South American abortion laws, at the time abortion reforms were passed by a nucleus of male politicians, doctors, and jurists. In addition, these reforms legalized abortion only in very limited circumstances and required the authorization of a doctor and/or a judge, and therefore represented no real threat to the dominant discourse of abortion being morally wrong. The church only began organizing against abortion decriminalization when feminist movements came together to claim the autonomy of women’s bodies threatening this consensus.
When John Paul II became Pope in 1978, moral issues such as abortion were given a priority in the church’s mission as never before. Having lived through the Soviet conquest of his home country, Poland, and experienced the repression of Catholicism and the legalization of abortion there, the Pope felt very strongly about these issues. Once many of the European Catholic countries achieved the legalization of abortion in the 1970s and 80s, Latin America, being the largest Catholic region in the world, became the battleground in which abortion policy would be fought and decided.
Together with this shift within the Catholic Church, a second stronghold of the opposition has come from the United States. Long past the days of Roe v. Wade, since the 1980s the increasing influence of the religious right within the Republican Party has implied that U.S. reproductive rights policies have been increasingly anti-abortion when this party was in office. How has this affected Latin America? Both directly, by banning federal funding for international NGOs involved with providing, advising, or even advocating for abortion decriminalization (known as the Mexico City Policy or the Global Gag Rule), and also indirectly, through the legitimacy and strength given to anti-abortion discourses, particularly during the George W. Bush administration.
Latin American politicians have not been indifferent to these trends and have thus sought the support of the Catholic Church and/or U.S. Republicans and anti-abortion groups to strengthen their chances of winning office. Unfortunately, in this context the future of Beatriz and many other poor and young women in the region remains politically uncertain.
Not Up For Debate: Morally Opposed to Antibiotics April 27, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: abby zimet, birth control, contraception, health, pharmacists, reproductive health, roger hollander, women's rights
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VISIT WWW.NOTUPFORDEBATE.ORG, sign the petition. Video and a fact sheet on “Pharmacy Refusals.”
by Abby Zimet
Tags: abby zimet, abortion, anti-abortion, Arizona, conception, health, jan brewer, personhood, reproductive health, reproductive rights, roger hollander, women, women's rights
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Proving definitively that Arizona is the worst place in the country to be a woman, or even a biped, Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law three extreme anti-abortion measures including a so-called “egg drop” bill that effectively bans abortion after 18 weeks, except in cases of medical emergency, by redefining pregnancy as beginning two weeks before conception. Also under the richly named Women’s Health and Safety Act, schools and the state must promote adoption and birth as the best outcome for an unwanted pregnancy, in part by displaying images of fetuses. And clinics must have signs warning against abortion “coercion” – all this, in the name of “protecting women from the serious health and safety risks of abortion.” We’re speechless.
GOP Wants To Be Sure Women/Idiot Children Understand What Rape Is and Get Permission Slips For Pretty Much Everything March 25, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abby zimet, abortion, abortion rights, alan, Arizona, birth control, dick, gop, idaho, pro choice, reproductive health, reproductive rights, republicans, right wing, roger hollander, women, women's health, women's rights
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by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org
The surreally awful news in the war on lady parts just keeps coming. An Idaho legislator wants women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and “counselling;” if she was raped, her doctor should make sure she was really raped and not just a participant in “normal relations in a marriage.” Alaska’s State Rep. Alan Dick (really) wants women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound and a written permission slip from the guy who, you know. Arizona wants to make it nigh on impossible to get an abortion, but if you make it through all the legislative hurdles you should have to watch an abortion. Then again, the author of the Arizona bill requiring women to prove to their bosses they are using birth control pills for non-slutty reasons, or get fired, is rewriting the bill because apparently, bewilderingly, some people got upset. Funny: Why don’t we feel better?
Tags: abby zimet, anti-choice, health, misogyny, pro choice, reproductive health, republicans, right wing, roger hollander, ryan mcdougle, west virginia, women, women's health
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03.20.12 – 11:13 AM
by Abby Zimet
With Virginia Republican – and avid supporter of the state’s personhood and ultrasound bills – Ryan McDougle so psyched to get all up into the lady parts of his constituents, they generously obliged him by taking to his Facebook page with to offer detailed reports on their menstrual cycles, cramping and vaginal discharge. His office tried to delete them; too late.
“Senator McDougle, I am almost 49 and STILL menstruating with no sign of slowing down! Frankly, I’ve had enough of this inconvenience – the cost of pads and pain reliever and all the mess – well YOU know how it is. You’re an expert on this lady stuff.”
Pro-Choice ‘Doonesbury’ Too Much for Many US Papers March 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Health, Media, Women.
Tags: abortion, doonesbury, garry trudeau, hb 15, Media, political satire, pro choice, rape, reproductive health, reproductive rights, roger hollander, wiomen's rights, women
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Fans of Garry Trudeau’s ‘Doonesbury’ may have to adjust their reading habits this week as many US newspapers have decided to move the popular comic strip from its place on the comics page to the editorial section. Some papers, in fact, have decide to drop the strip entirely after they saw that this week’s arch would be grappling with a rash of new state laws across the country that will require women seeking abortions to submit to state-run ultrasounds and other invasive procedures.
The Los Angeles Times is one of the papers that has decided to run the series, but will move it from the comic pages, where it normally appears, to their Op-Ed page. Explaining the decision, Sue Horton, the Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, said, “We carry both op-eds and cartoons about controversial subjects, and this is a controversial subject.”
And The Guardian in the UK, which also runs the strip, reported today:
Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau has defended his cartoon strip about abortion, which several US newspapers are refusing to run, saying he felt compelled to respond to the way Republicans across America are undermining women’s healthcare rights.
The strip, published on Monday and scheduled to run all week, has been rejected by several papers, while others said they were switching it from the comic section to the editorial page.
In an email exchange with the Guardian, Trudeau expressed dismay over the papers’ decision but was unrepentant, describing as “appalling” and “insane” Republican state moves on women’s healthcare.
About 1,400 newspapers, including the Guardian, take the Doonesbury cartoon. The Guardian newspaper is running the cartoon as normal on Monday.
The strip deals specifically with a law introduced in Texas and other states requiring a woman who wants to have an abortion to have an ultrasound scan, or sonogram, which will show an image of the foetus and other details, in an attempt to make her reconsider.
It portrays a woman who turns up at an abortion clinic in Texas and is told to take a seat in “the shaming room”. A state legislator asks if she has been at the clinic before and, when she says she had been to get contraceptives, he replies: “Do your parents know you’re a slut?”
Later, she says she does not want an intrusive vaginal examination but is told by a nurse: “The male Republicans who run Texas require that all abortion seekers be examined with a 10-inch shaming wand.” The nurse adds: “By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape.”
The Kansas City Star is among the papers not running the cartoon in its normal slot. “We felt the content was too much for many of the readers of our family-friendly comic page,” an editor told Associated Press. The Star will use a replacement strip offered by the organisation that syndicates Doonesbury, Universal Uclick, and move the abortion one to its editorial pages.
The cartoonist was not surprised about the controversary surrounding the new series, and defended it in several interviews by saying that the new spate of laws was shocking, deplorable, and rife with comic opportunity. “To ignore it,” Trudeau told The Washington Post, “would have been comedy malpractice.” Trudeau’s complete interview with the Posts follows:
Q: In 1985, you decided to pull a week of abortion-related strips satirizing the film “The Silent Scream,” which purported to show the reactions of a fetus. So what’s different now? What spurred you to create an abortion narrative in the current political climate?
A: In my 42 years with UPS, the “Silent Scream” week was the only series that the syndicate ever strongly objected to. [Syndicate president Lee Salem] felt that it would be deeply harmful to the feature and that we would lose clients permanently. They had supported me through so much for so long, I felt obliged to go with their call.
Such was not the case this week. There was no dispute over contents, just some discussion over whether to prepare a substitute week for editors who requested one [which we did].
I chose the topic of compulsory sonograms because it was in the news and because of its relevance to the broader battle over women’s health currently being waged in several states. For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago. Why [Rick] Santorum, [Rush] Limbaugh et al. thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate, I cannot say. But to ignore it would have been comedy malpractice.
Q: After four decades, you’re an expert at knowing the hot-button satiric words and phrases — such as, in the case [this] week, terms such as “10-inch shaming wand.” Can you speak to how you approached writing these strips?
A: Oddly, for such a sensitive topic, I found it easy to write. The story is very straightforward — it’s not high-concept like [the satiric] Little Timmy in “Silent Scream” — and the only creative problem I had to work through was the physician’s perspective. I settled on resigned outrage.
Texas’s HB-15 [bill] isn’t hard to explain: The bill says that in order for a woman to obtain a perfectly legal medical procedure, she is first compelled by law to endure a vaginal probe with a hard, plastic 10-inch wand. The World Health Organization defines rape as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration — even if slight — of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.” You tell me the difference.
Q: Going back through the history of the strip, I’m surprised not to see a previous abortion strip in “Doonesbury’s” dossier. Have you tackled abortion before?
A: No. Roe v. Wade was decided while I was still in school. Planned Parenthood was embraced by both parties. Contraception was on its way to being used by 99 percent of American women. I thought reproductive rights was a settled issue. Who knew we had turned into a nation of sluts?
Q: Over the past 40 years, “Doonesbury” helped change the comics game for many newspapers and comics creators themselves. Do you think newspaper editors have “loosened up” over time regarding comics? Or have they grown more reluctant or skittish — or, even worse, dispassionate?
A: It’s a mix, but in general I spend much less time playing defense, presumably because of the ubiquity of topical satire these days. “South Park” and “The Daily Show” have stretched the envelope so much, most editors no longer see “Doonesbury” as the rolling provocation they once did.
Plus, I think I get a bit of a pass simply because I’ve been around so long. After all this time, editors know pretty much what they’re going to get with the strip.
Trust the Experts On Women’s Health, Because Middle-Aged Men Know the Most About Everyting March 2, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: abby zimet, birth control, blunt amendment, contraception, funny or die, health, healthcare, Humor, humour, judd nelson, religion, religious bigotry, reproductive health, right wing, roger hollander, womens heath
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by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org, March 1, 2012
The Senate killed the Blunt amendment today that would have allowed employers to opt out of healthcare coverage that violates their “moral beliefs” – though not without rhetoric like Orrin Hatch’s, “This is tyranny (and) discrimination masquerading as compassion” – but that’s hardly the end of the GOP war against women. Funny Or Die‘s health experts speak out on the complex subject of lady parts.
Obama/Catholic Contraception Controversy Boils Down to Workers’ Rights February 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Labor, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, birth control, catholic biships, catholic church, catholics, Civil Rights, contraception, contraceptive services, family planning, health, health insurance, labor, labor law, labour, religion, reproductive health, republicans, right wing, roger bybee, roger hollander, santorum, wedge issues, women, women's heatlh, worker rights, workers rights
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The great new religious battle over the proposed new federal rule requiring contraception coverage for women actually boils down to the basic precept that worker rights apply across all of society, including within religious institutions. But it also reveals the political machinations of the right, the suspect motives of the Catholic bishops and another crucial weakness in the much heralded Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act passed by the Democrats and signed by President Obama two years ago.
First, it is striking how America’s all-male Catholic hierarchy has seemingly colluded with Republicans in miraculously conceiving this issue as a potential “wedge” issue to mobilize blue-collar Catholics against President Obama and the Democrats.
Second, it is almost amusing to see bishops, now pretending to launch a last-ditch effort to prevent a sudden and unique incursion by the Obama administration against the freedom to practice their religion. The Catholic hierarchy has decisively “lost the war at home “ already, as Gail Collins notes, but is choosing to pick a political fight. The majority of Catholic women use birth control. Federal rules required contraception’s inclusion for more than a decade, as Daily Kos reports:
In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. That opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to alter or withdraw when it took office the next month, is still in effect today.
With more than half the states also requiring insurers to include contraception in women’s health care packages, Catholic universities, schools and hospitals are obligated to provide birth-control services to their employees. (Most states have an exemption for churches.)
Further, Catholic doctrine is trumped by the Constitutional principle that members of all faiths must obey the law. Noted attorney David Boise explains that freedom of religion as outlined in the Constitution is quite different from the bishops’ version:
Everybody is free to exercise the religion that they choose. [But] there isn`t anything in the Constitution that says an employer, regardless of whether you are a church employer or not, isn`t subject to the same rules as any other employer.
The fundamental point is underscored in this exchange between Boise and his MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell:
O`DONNELL: So, this is just simple labor law. …Labor [law] requires certain conditions in the work place and so forth. This is one of those.
BOIES: And tax law and workman’s comp law. I mean, there are all sorts of laws that apply to every employer in this country, and you don`t exempt religious employers just because their religion. You are not asking anybody in the Catholic Church or any other church to do anything other than simply comply with a normal law that every employer has to comply with.
Employers who provide health insurance are currently required in 28 states to provide contraceptive services and other reproductive care as part of a strategy of preventive care, which coincides with the conclusions reached by the medical experts consulted in writing the Affordable Care Act.
But the contrived issue of contraception is being perceived by the Republicans as a chance to split working-class Catholics voters from Barack Obama.
It appears to be a textbook case of the Right developing what Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, diagnosed astutely as an “election-season” issue. The Republicans have been immensely creative in inflating issues like gay marriage and gun rights to immense proportions to attract the votes of working-class and low-income voters, facilitated by the frequent Democratic failure to tenaciously push economic justice with the same level of conviction shown by the Right.
For the Republicans and the Right, the notion of including contraception as a standard part of women’s health insurance offers yet another chance to demonize Obama for “overt hostility to faith,” according to Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum. Pulling out all the stops, Santorum even raised the specter of Obama unleashing savage anti-religious forces that would literally re-introduce the “guillotine” of the French Revolution for the faithful and patriotic.
For the Catholic bishops, this conflict re-ignites their hope of rolling back contraceptive rights, established in a 1965 Supreme Court decision, and also trying to further shrink abortion rights. While the strongly-held sentiment of Americans for contraceptive rights is obvious, the Catholic leaders are trying to regain lost ground by lining up with a retrograde movement. As journalist Barbara Miner observed five years ago:
The movement against birth control has moved beyond the fringe. Across the country, many pharmacists won’t fill birth control prescriptions, some hospital emergency rooms refuse to dispense emergency contraception and some state legislatures are cutting funds for family planning.
The Catholic bishops hope somehow to add fuel to this movement and thus turn the clock back a century or two, with this anti-contraception push being wrapped up with anti-abortion rules in the name of protecting “religious freedom.” Feminists like Barbara Miner and Katha Pollitt are appalled by this campaign. As Miner told In These Times,
The medical community accepts that contraception is an integral part of medical care for women. If the Catholic Church and its institutions are serious about promoting healthcare, they should follow the best practices and give their employees the best quality care, and that includes contraception.
For the Republicans, it also provides another chance to castigate Obama’s healthcare plan, which they previously stigmatized with preposterous lies about creating “death panels” and staging “a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy.”
But we must recognize that the Republicans would have had no opportunity to raise the issue if America had a single-payer healthcasre system instead of the current employer-based structure.
Workers would thereby have a standard package of benefits that would not be tied to their employers’ beliefs and they could choose their own doctors and hospitals.
Instead, the Affordable Care Act retains citizens’ dependence on their employers choices, opening the door for the Catholic bishops to seek to dictate women’s options. The ACA also enshrines and subsidizes the insurance corporations that maximize profits by minimizing care, as well as still leaving out 30 million Americans from health coverage, as O’Donnell drove home emphatically.
Reflecting on the ACA’s flaw that allows the Right and the Catholic bishops to attack women’s right to contraceptive care, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) points out
We`d be better off if we had a single-payer health care system where you didn`t have employers involved.
A more recent struggle offers hope of the public rallying behind women’s reproductive rights, “I think we can learn from the way that people rallied behind Planned Parenthood when the Susan G. Komen Foundation tried to cut off their funding,” Miner says.
Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Common Dreams, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus.
Obama’s woman problem December 8, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Women.
Tags: adolescents, birth control, contraception, family planning, fda, kathleen sebelius, obama's daughters, patriarchy, plan b pills, rebecca traister, reproductive freedom, reproductive health, women, women's health, women's rights
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The president shamefully uses his daughters to justify limiting the healthcare options of America’s young women
(Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster/Salon)
When will Barack Obama learn how to talk thoughtfully about women, women’s health and women’s rights?
Apparently, not today.
On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unexpectedly overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation that emergency contraception be sold on drugstore shelves and made available without a prescription to women under the age of 17. The move came as a surprise blow to healthcare and women’s rights activists, the kinds of people regularly counted as supporters of the Obama administration.
Today, Obama doubled down on his disregard for the concerns of these groups, claiming that while Sebelius made her decision without his counsel, he agreed with it. Obama pooh-poohed the findings of the FDA, which had concluded that Plan B pills posed no medical hazard and supported Sebelius’ official argument, citing a lack of confidence that “a 10-year-old or 11-year-old going to a drugstore would be able to, alongside bubble gum or batteries, be able to buy a medication that potentially if not used properly can have an adverse effect.” The logic expressed today by the president, and yesterday by Sebelius, is ludicrous: Medicines like Tylenol – which have been proven to have adverse effects in high doses – are available by the truckload on drugstore shelves, at prices far cheaper than the $30 to $50 it would cost a preteen to purchase just one dose of Plan B, let alone go wild with it.
But part of what was most disturbing about Obama’s statement was his reliance on language that reveals his paternalistic approach to women and their health.
“As the father of two daughters,” Obama told reporters, “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”
First of all, the president was not talking about “various rules.” He was supporting a very specific rule, one that prevents young women from easily obtaining a drug that can help them control their reproductive lives, at an age when their economic, educational, familial and professional futures are perhaps most at risk of being derailed by an unplanned pregnancy. “As the father of two daughters,” Obama might want to reconsider his position on preventing young women from being able to exercise this form of responsibility over their own bodies and lives.
But as an American, I think it is important for my president not to turn to paternalistic claptrap and enfeebling references to the imagined ineptitude and irresponsibility of his daughters – and young women around the country – to justify a curtailment of access to medically safe contraceptives. The notion that in aggressively conscribing women’s abilities to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancy Obama is just laying down some Olde Fashioned Dad Sense diminishes an issue of gender equality, sexual health and medical access. Recasting this debate as an episode of “Father Knows Best” reaffirms hoary attitudes about young women and sex that had their repressive heyday in the era whence that program sprang.
A question of who should be allowed access to a safe form of contraception is at its root a question of how badly we want to, or believe that we can, police young women’s sexuality. When Obama is talking about his daughters, we know he’s not really basing his opinion on an anxiety that they might suffer the adverse effects of drinking a whole jug of Pepto-Bismol or swallowing 50 Advil, things that any 11-year-old who walks into a CVS with a wad of cash could theoretically do. When he says that he wants to “apply common sense” to questions of young women’s access to emergency contraception, he is telegraphing his discomfort with the idea of young women’s sexual agency, or more simply, with the idea of them having sex lives at all. This discomfort might be comprehensible from an emotional, parental point of view. But these are not familial discussions; this is a public-health policy debate, and at a time when “16 and Pregnant” airs on MTV, the fact that a daddy feels funny about his little girls becoming grown-ups has no place in a discussion of healthcare options for America’s young women. It is also nearly impossible to imagine a similar use of language or logic to justify a ban of condom sales.
Moreover, Obama’s invocation of his role as a father is an insult to the commitments and priorities of those on the other side of this issue. Are we to believe that those who support the increased availability of emergency contraception do not have daughters? That if they do, they care less about those daughters than Barack Obama does about his? And that if they do not, they cannot possibly know better than a father of daughters what is best for young women? Why should we be asked to believe that Obama’s paternity imbues him with more moral authority on the subject of women’s health and reproductive lives than the investments of doctors, researchers and advocates who – regardless of their parental status – have dedicated their lives to working on behalf of increased reproductive health options. This line of argument is no better than the Mama Grizzly argument developed by Sarah Palin during 2010′s midterm elections, in which she asserted that her band of super-conservative mothers were qualified for office because “moms just know when there’s something wrong.”
Barack Obama has long had a tin ear for language that has anything to do with women and even more specifically with women’s rights. While on the campaign trail for president in 2008, he waved off a female reporter who asked a question about the future of the auto industry, referring to her diminutively as “sweetie.” The same year, attempting to play both sides on the issue of reproductive freedom, he gave an interview with a religious magazine in which he asserted his support for states’ restrictions on late-term abortions as long as there was an exception for the health of the mother, but added that he didn’t “think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother.” Attempting to recover from that line and reassert his pro-choice bona fides, Obama later clarified that of course he believed in a medical exemption for “serious clinical mental health diseases,” just not when seeking a late-term abortion is “a matter of feeling blue,” perpetuating a wildly irresponsible vision of the rare and difficult late-term abortion as a moody impulse-buy.
Today also isn’t the first time he’s used references to members of his family to make a larger offensive point about women. Back in 2009, when charges that his officially female-friendly administration included some boys’ club tendencies hit the front of the New York Times, Obama dismissed the claims as “bunk.” Reporter Mark Leibovich noted at the time that the president “often points out that he is surrounded by strong females at home,” an argument that not only mimics an old saw about how being henpecked by women is equivalent to respecting them, but reflects a dynamic as old as patriarchal power itself and sidesteps the question of how strong females are treated at work. In 2010, while appearing on “The View,” Obama made a creaky Take-My-Wife-Please joke about how he wanted to appear on “a show that Michelle actually watched” as opposed to the news shows she usually flips past. The joke being that his missus, the one he met when she mentored him at a high-powered law firm, just doesn’t have a head for news delivered by anyone other than Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
It should no longer come as a surprise that the president of the United States is, on perhaps an unconscious level, an old-school patriarch. What’s startling is the degree to which Obama seems not to have learned from any of his past gaffes, how no one seems to have told him – or told him in a way that he’s absorbed – that the best way to address a question of women’s health and rights is probably not by making it about his role as a father.
This might be an especially valuable chat to have with the president as he moves into 2012 and toward an election in which he is going to be relying on the support of people he has just managed to anger, offend and speak down to — women. The least he could do is learn to address them with respect.