Tags: health care, mike pence, patriarchy, republicans, right wing, roger hollander, women, women's health
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Roger’s note: the astute observer will discover an interesting omission from an important meeting.
Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to the Freedom Caucus, a group of far-right Congressmen, to stir up support for President Trump’s new health care bill on Thursday.
The new bill would involve quite a few concessions, such as some basic health care services, drug and mental health treatment, wellness checkups, ambulances and maternity and newborn care.
Social media users noticed something off about the photo of the men who met to discuss these massive changes that could take place, mostly effecting women.
There is something wrong with this picture. If you look really hard, you might be able to detect it:
Momentum Builds for Reforming El Salvador’s Abortion Ban March 14, 2017Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Health, Hillary Clinton, Latin America, Uncategorized, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, arena party, catholic church, criminalization of abortion, decriminalization, decriminalize abortion, El Salvador, kathy bougher, marcela zamora, roger hollander, salvadoran legislature, women's health
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Roger’s note: El Salvador has what may be the most repressive abortion laws in the Western world. There are cases of young women jailed for years because of a miscarriage. It is barbaric. And no one is more responsible for such barbarism than the Catholic Church. When I read that abortion is a sin, that there are campaigns to totally eradicate abortion in the struggle for good over evil, it takes me back to the Dark Ages. Such attitudes and laws reflect inhuman religious ideology in the service of patriarchy. It has been said jokingly, but I believe it literally, if men could have babies then abortion would be a sacrament.
The movement to decriminalize abortion in El Salvador described in the article below, if successful, would only eliminate the most Draconian elements of the anti-abortion legislation (abortion in the case of rape, for example); but there still would be a long way to go to reach the ideal of abortion being solely a matter between a woman and her physician.
In 1997, the legislature in El Salvador was considering a vote to criminalize abortion under all circumstances. Morena Herrera, a feminist activist, “was facing the legislature, alone, trying to defend and justify why they should not change the law,” recalled Mariana Moisa, communications director at the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto.
“They were transmitting live, and they shut off her microphone,” Moisa recalled.
The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly went on to ban abortion in all circumstances. In addition to making abortion illegal no matter what, this unjust law has been misapplied in cases of obstetric emergencies or miscarriages—leading to the imprisonment of dozens of women in the country because of pregnancy complications.
Now, however, the legislature is considering a bill from Vice President of the Legislative Assembly Lorena Peña that would decriminalize abortion in cases of rape or human trafficking, fetal non-viability, or to preserve the pregnant person’s health or life. It would also legalize abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or statutory rape of a minor, with the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian. Although it would not necessarily shield women from prosecution when the law is misapplied, it effectively returns the law to its pre-1997 state.
On February 27, the legislature’s Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points, where the bill is being heard, convened a first-ever public hearing on abortion in response to the unexpected number of requests they received to present testimony. Twelve out of the seventeen organizations and individuals who testified spoke in support of decriminalization, including nationally and internationally recognized professionals in public health and law, representatives from two progressive Protestant churches, and a variety of activists.
Marcela Zamora, a well-known Salvadoran filmmaker, shared her recently published essay, “I Aborted,” a rare public statement in El Salvador. She recounted how more than ten years earlier, while living in a country that allowed abortion, she experienced a pregnancy with complications that threatened her life. Although she was able to obtain an abortion, she questioned what would have happened to her if she had been in El Salvador at that time.
Moisa said she was struck by the contrast with the tenor of the hearing in 1997. “This time, in 2017, they invited us to the legislature, and our voices were heard. They made clear that the discussion would be based on scientific and legal information. Morena was there again, [this time] with a whole panorama of diverse voices who stood up alongside her to express their support for a possible reform,” she remembered.
This change didn’t come out of nowhere. Activists on the ground have been working for two decades to engage allies and elected officials on this issue—and in the last few months, that momentum has ramped up on a number of fronts.
Abortion as a Health Issue
Those speaking out in favor of the bill are, for the most part, concentrating on the exceptions to the ban it enshrines into law.
At a January forum organized by the Alliance for the Life and Health of Women—a coalition in which the Agrupación is a key player—members of the medical profession provided the medical and scientific justifications for the proposed change to the law.
Gynecologist Guillermo Ortiz, currently a senior adviser for Ipas and formerly chief of obstetrics at the Women’s Hospital in El Salvador, said that physicians who support the proposal for reform “are in favor of saving lives. But there are conditions that make [abortion] necessary, and we are talking about those situations so that exceptions can exist within the law.”
As part of that convening of medical experts, seven nationally and internationally recognized OB-GYNs signed off on a memo to the Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points. The memo, viewed by Rewire, says the society must “generate legal instruments that guarantee protection for [patients’] lives,” in at least the four cases defined in the proposed reform.
The memo cited the Ethics Committee of the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians: “There exists a broad consensus … that abortion is ethically justifiable when it is carried out for medical reasons to protect the life and health” of the pregnant person.
“It is fundamental to remember that the global experience shows that the frequency of abortion does not depend on legislation and that the rates of abortion do not increase with more liberal legislation,” the memo continued. “To the contrary, they can diminish, if at the same time other measures are adopted,” such as information and free access to highly effective contraception.
As part of its scrutiny of the proposal, the legislature had requested an opinion from the El Salvador Health Ministry.
In a February 21 symposium on health and bioethics organized by the ministry, El Salvador Minister of Health Dr. Violeta Menjivar responded, “As the Ministry of Health, we consider it appropriate that the legislature and society together participate in a reflection and deliberation on the harm the absolute prohibition on abortion causes to the health of Salvadoran women.”
She supported the move to reform the law, noting that the United Nations had made a request in January 2015 that El Salvador repeal its broad criminalization of abortion under all circumstances.
At the February 27 hearing, Sofia Villalta, a nationally recognized gynecologist with more than 40 years of professional experience, testified on the causes of unwanted pregnancies and emphasized the underlying role of the “subordination of women to masculine power.” She cited a study within the Salvadoran society of gynecologists which showed that 80 percent of them want to return to the prior legislation allowing abortion.
The Consequences of Criminalization
At the February 21 forum organized by the Ministry of Health, Dr. Virginia Rodriguez of the National Committee on Bioethics in El Salvador posed the question, “If a woman has rights from conception, at what point does she lose her rights? When do the rights of the fetus in development take priority over her rights to life?”
Rodriguez was referencing a February 15 decision from the El Salvador Supreme Court, when it ruled on a 2007 case involving conflicting laws over when life begins and when the State must protect that life.
Although the Court agreed that the the El Salvador Constitution declares life as beginning at “conception,” it said “it is necessary to weigh each case.” It also stated that the idea of fetal rights does not “claim a duty of absolute and unconditional protection of life in gestation.”
Alberto Romero of the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Movement for Secular Culture wrote in a booklet published by the Salvadoran Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law, FESPAD, that the Court’s decision “permits a resolution of the vacuum that exists in the current legislation, which does not establish legal mechanisms to resolve the collision of rights that takes place between the [fetus] and the woman who is pregnant.”
On the day of the hearing, the nine-member National Committee on Bioethics in El Salvador—which also includes Morena Herrera and Margarita Rivas of the Agrupación—published a paid ad in La Prensa Gráfica, noting the ways in which existing law infringes on the rights of pregnant people and women in general.
The ad stated that the existing law promotes gender discrimination against women; prevents women with high-risk pregnancies or obstetric complications from accessing medical treatment in accordance with existing scientific knowledge; and has provoked cases of discrimination against women within the justice system based on economic conditions, effectively criminalizing poverty.
The law has also, the committee said, generated legal conflicts whereby physicians’ responsibilities to protect doctor-patient confidentiality conflict with their mandates under the anti-abortion laws. Overall, the ad said, the broad criminalization of abortion violates the rights of pregnant people by treating their constitutional rights as equal to or subordinate to those of the fetus.
Responding to Questions of Faith
The Alliance for the Life and Health of Women also organized a series of events from February 17 through 21 to address the realities and contradictions around religion in El Salvador.
“The Alliance knew it was important to address religious concerns in a society as deeply religious as El Salvador, where almost 99 percent of the population professes a belief in God and about 91 percent belong to a religion,” said Romero, who researches secularism and social issues in El Salvador.
“For many people, both legislators and citizens in general, it’s difficult to reconcile [many religions’] mandate against abortion with the rational arguments for permitting it. It’s important to present a variety of interpretations that do not condemn and criminalize abortion,” he said.
Advocates noted that different religions take varied stances on abortion. “The Anglican Church here in El Salvador talks about abortion not being a theological issue, but a pastoral one of accompaniment of women,” said Alejandra Burgos, a member of the Agrupación and a progressive feminist theologian.
Indeed, during the February 27 hearing, Martin Barahona of the Anglican Church in El Salvador explained that “in this case the Anglican bishops consider that the only people who have the right to decide are the women who are pregnant.”
“Even Pope Francis, who maintains that abortion is a sin, mandates priests to have compassion and accompany women,” Burgos pointed out.
“It’s necessary in this society to provide alternatives to people who are living with these contradictions; to show that a religious believer can also support the right [to] interrupt a pregnancy,” she concluded.
In one talk, María Lopez Vigil, a Cuban-Nicaraguan theologian, author, and editor of the progressive Nicaraguan magazine Envio, proposed looking at abortion in a broader perspective, considering the realities of the country.
“Consider the commandment ‘do not kill’ with situational ethics. There is nothing more abortive than poverty,” she said.
In arguing for a compassionate, merciful view of God, she asked the audience of more than 300—many of whom had not attended Alliance events in the past—if it was “the will of a compassionate God that women suffer and die for ‘not having enough faith’ when they experience obstetric emergencies? Is it the will of a compassionate God to mandate that young girls who have been raped carry to term resulting pregnancies?”
She challenged structural injustices and spoke of “abortive societies,” in which countries obligate pregnant girls and adolescents to give birth, but after the birth do nothing to help them support and raise their children. That, she said, is a “structural sin.”
Responses to the campaign for decriminalization are diverse.
After the various hearings and forums, Legislative Representative Juan Valiente of the right-wing ARENA party spoke on a TV talk show supporting debate on the reform, going against his party’s stance.
In addition, he tweeted, “I’m against abortion, but I recognize that there is a collision of rights and it’s important to investigate and debate. I’m not afraid.” And to another constituent opposed to decriminalization, he posted, “I prefer to lose your vote than my conscience.”
Even with these sea changes in some public opinions and attitudes, there is still strong religious opposition.
A group of Catholic churches initiated “40 days of prayer” leading up to Easter Sunday with the goal of “ending abortion in the world and in the country” in a war “between good and bad.” Regarding the Ministry of Health position, prayer campaign leader Karla de Lacayo told La Prensa Gráfica, “it’s a lie” that women’s lives are at risk.
“With [medical] advances now, there is no way the woman is going to die. And, if it’s true, if the child dies in the process, then that’s what God wanted,” de Lacayo said.
In the legislature itself, there remains the fact that supporters of the reform must form coalitions in order to get the majority vote necessary to first pass the measure out of committee, and then win a majority of votes in the full body. Neither the right-wing ARENA party nor the left-leaning FMLN has a numerical majority in the committee or the full legislature.
Supporters hope for a positive resolution in the next few weeks, before the next election cycle gets underway. At that point, they say, chances of any substantive vote on any matter disappear.
As Sara Garcia, coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire, “This is a historic moment. International organizations such as the UN are speaking out. More and more social movements are making pronouncements. Professional medical organizations and the universities declare their support.”
“The government can’t keep ignoring the realities of women in this country,” she said.
Stop the covert attempt to criminalize abortion September 20, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Health, Women.
Tags: abortion, anti-choice, Canada, pro choice, reproductive rights, Stephen Harper, women's health, women's rights
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I just signed on to this urgent campaign to defend women’s reproductive
rights in Canada. This is an important issue and I hope you’ll join me:
just 48 hours, our MPs will debate a Conservative motion that the Canadian
Medical Association, representing 70,000 doctors, is calling a backdoor attempt
to criminalize abortion.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of
Canada ruled that the abortion provision of the Criminal Code was
unconstitutional. But this week, Parliament will be debating a motion
that would threaten our reproductive rights – and the rights of our friends,
daughters, mothers, sisters, and partners.
Prime Minister Harper has
chosen to allow this motion to go forward to a free vote in Parliament, so every
MP must decide whether or not they will stand up for the rights that women and
our allies have been fighting to protect for decades.
We need a
huge public outcry to show our MPs that Canadians will not tolerate this attack
on women’s rights. Please click here to send an urgent message to your MP to
defeat Motion-312 now – then forward this to
Tags: abby zimet, birth control, Humor, political satire, reproductive rights, republicans, roger hollander, women's health
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Because women today are faced with so many choices, it’s safe to assume most of the decisions they make will be wrong. Coming to their rescue is a new program to sponsor a uterus in need. Act now, and you’ll get a kit including the uterus’ photo, biography and information about “the woman who happens to surround it.” Brought to you by some funny people.
From comments on the program: “I’d like to sponsor a uterus but I’m easily distracted by other things…Can I arrange to have the uterus put down if I lose interest?”
Tags: agnes gareb, caesarian, catherine porter, Criminal Justice, elizabeth davis, home birth, hungarian government, hungary, midwife, midwifery, midwives, pal schmitt, roger hollander, women's health, women's rights
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ROGER’S NOTE: PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE.
Bela Szandelszky/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In Hungary, it is legal for women to give birth at home. But any medical professional who helps those women — such as midwives — can be criminally charged.
So women there have two state-sanctioned options: go to the hospital, where Caesarian section rates are frighteningly high, or give birth alone at home like a dog.
Until recently, Gereb offered a third option.
She was an obstetrician-gynecologist who around two decades ago started attending births at women’s homes. She got licensed as a midwife. She opened her own birthing centre. She became famous.
But like spurned family members, the state’s obstetrician-gynecologists hate her. Despite mounting international studies documenting the contrary, they stubbornly maintain that homebirths attended by trained midwives are not safe.
The ob-gyns make good tips from hospital births, Gereb’s supporters point out. Understandably, they aren’t keen to forfeit that.
Most of them, unlike Gereb and her midwife colleagues, are men.
So they, and the police, hounded Gereb.
“We had to hide Agi away when the ambulance came,” Donal Kerry told me over Skype from Hungary, recounting his wife Mirtill’s first homebirth. The baby arrived healthy, the placenta did not follow. It was Gereb who made the call. “The ambulance drivers often call the police on her.”
Last year, she was found guilty of “endangering life in the conduct of her professional work” and sentenced to two years of prison. The court suspended her medical and midwifery licenses for five years. This year, the court of appeal doubled that suspension.
The judge, though, would admit the expert testimony of Hungarian doctors only. So international midwifery experts like Californian Elizabeth Davis were turned away.
“This is exactly what happened in California in the 1980s,” says Davis, a founding member of the Midwives Alliance of North America who had asked to appear in the Hungarian court as an international midwifery expert. “Midwives were arrested. The cost of defending them and the time kept us from professionally developing or doing any public outreach for years. It was not accidental — it’s a harassment strategy repeated over and over in many countries of the world.”
At the centre of Gereb’s case were two babies who had died — one soon after birth, the other months later. Had she delivered them in hospital as an obstetrician-gynecologist, she might have had to answer to the local Hungarian college of physicians. But in Hungary, there is no overseeing college for midwives.
Instead, they appear before the criminal courts and are thrown to the hounds.
Giving birth is when we women are at our most vulnerable. Our bodies cleave in half; we are often frightened.
We deserve to give birth wherever we feel safe — in a hospital, if we want, or at home, with a trained midwife. It’s a fundamental human right.
Last year, after being pushed by the European Court of Human Rights, the Hungarian government agreed to let midwives attend home births, but only if they were close to a hospital and had a special licence. So far, no licences have been issued, Gereb’s supporters tell me.
Meanwhile, last week the Ontario government announced it will open two birthing centres staffed by midwives — giving women here another option.
We are so lucky.
The women of Hungary are not.
I just signed the petition asking Hungarian Prime Minister Pal Schmitt to pardon Gereb.
Catherine Porter’s column usually appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”
The deep roots of the war on contraception February 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, History, Religion, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, Barry Goldwater, Bill Clinton, birth control, catholic bishops, catholic church, conservatism, contraception, ellen chesler, fdr, George W. Bush, history, lbj, margaret sanger, planned parenthood, pro choice, reagan, religion, reproductive freedom, roger hollander, women's health
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The uproar over Obama’s decision stems from tensions between Democrats and Catholics that date back to FDR and LBJ
(Credit: Library of Congress/The White House)
Republicans for Planned Parenthood last week issued a call for nominations for the 2012 Barry Goldwater award, an annual prize awarded to a Republican legislator who has acted to protect women’s health and rights. Past recipients include Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who this week endorsed President Obama’s solution for insuring full coverage of the cost of contraception without exceptions, even for employees of religiously affiliated institutions. And that may tell us all we need to know about why President Obama has the upper hand in a debate over insurance that congressional Tea Partiers have now widened to include anyone who seeks an exemption.
It’s a long time ago, but it is worth remembering that conservative avatar Goldwater was in his day an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive freedom — a freethinker who voted his conscience over the protests of Catholic bishops and all others who tried to claim these matters as questions of conscientious liberty and not sensible social policy. With Goldwater on his side, Obama sees a clear opening for skeptics wary of the extremism that has captured Republican hopefuls in thrall to the fundamentalist base that controls the GOP presidential primary today. Holding firm on family planning — even if it means taking on the Catholic hierarchy and other naysayers by offering a technical fix that would have insurers cover costs instead of the churches themselves — is a calculated political strategy by the Obama campaign, not a blunder as it has been characterized by many high powered pundits, including progressives like Mark Shields of PBS and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.
Recent public opinion polling on the subject is worth reconsidering. For years, it has been perfectly clear that a substantial majority of Americans see the value of expanding access to contraception and reliable sex education as essential tools to prevent unwanted pregnancy and abortion and to help women balance the competing demands of work and family. But unlike a zealous minority on the other side, these moderates have not necessarily privileged these social concerns over important questions of economics or national security that mattered more to them at election time.
That’s what seems to be changing. With his now-famous “nope, zero” response last spring, President Obama simply shut down Republicans in Congress who wanted to defund family planning as part of a deal to reduce the federal deficit. The action elicited a sudden surge in his popularity, especially in the highly contested demographic of women voters between the ages of 30 and 49 who voted for him in 2008 but wound up frustrated by failed promises and disappointing economic policies. Campaign polling has since uncovered a big opening for Obama with this group because they are furious over Republican social extremism. An astonishing 80 percent of them disapproved of congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood last spring. Polling among Catholics in response to last week’s controversy shows identical patterns, with 57 percent overall supporting the Obama “compromise” to ensure full coverage of contraception, according to reporting by Joe Conason in The National Memo, and cross-tabs demonstrating much higher margins of support from Catholic women, Latinos, and independent Catholic voters — all prime Obama election targets.
If the numbers are so persuasive, why then have Republican conservatives strayed so far from the greater tolerance of the Goldwater age? Why have they allowed the family planning issue to tie their candidates up in knots in 2012? The answer is in just how outsized the influence of a minority viewpoint can be on a political party, so long as it represents the base of that party’s support.
A bit of history going all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is instructive. Back then, birth control was still illegal in this country, still defined as obscene under federal statutes that remained as a legacy of the Victorian era, even though many states had reformed local laws and were allowing physicians to prescribe contraception to married women with broadly defined “medical” reasons to plan and space their childbearing.
The movement’s pioneer, Margaret Sanger, went to Washington during the Great Depression, anticipating that Franklin Roosevelt, whose wife Eleanor was her friend and neighbor in New York, would address the problem and incorporate a public subsidy of contraception for poor women into the safety net the New Deal was constructing. What Sanger failed to anticipate, however, was the force of the opposition this idea would continue to generate from the coalition of religious conservatives, including urban Catholics and rural fundamentalist Protestants who held Roosevelt Democrats captive, much as they have today captured the GOP. It was Catholic priests, and not the still slightly scandalous friend of the First Lady, who wound up having tea at the Roosevelt White House.
The U.S. government would not overcome moral and religious objections until the Supreme Court protected contraceptive use under the privacy doctrine created in 1965 under Griswold v. Connecticut. That freed President Lyndon Johnson to incorporate family planning programs into the country’s international development programs and into anti-poverty efforts at home. As a Democrat still especially dependent on Catholic votes, however, Johnson only agreed to act once he had the strong bipartisan support of his arch rival Barry Goldwater’s endorsement and also the intense loyalty and deft maneuvering of Republican moderates like Robert Packwood of Oregon in the Senate. Packwood, in turn, worked alongside Ohio’s Robert Taft, Jr. in the House and a newcomer from Texas by the name of George H. W. Bush. Bush would remain a staunch advocate of reproductive freedom for women until political considerations during the 1980 presidential elections, when he was on the ticket with Ronald Reagan, accounted for one of the most dramatic and cynical public policy reversals in modern American politics.
Reagan had supported California’s liberal policies on contraception and abortion as governor, and Bush as Richard Nixon’s Ambassador to the United Nations had helped shape the UN’s population programs. But Republican operatives in 1980 saw a potential fissure in the traditional New Deal coalition among Catholics uncomfortable with the new legitimacy given to abortion after Roe v. Wade and white southern Christians being lured away from the Democrats around the issue of affirmative action and other racial preferences. Opposition to abortion instantly became a GOP litmus test, and both presidential hopefuls officially changed stripes.
Fast forward to 1992 and the election of Bill Clinton as America’s first pro-choice president, coupled with the Supreme Court’s crafting of a compromise decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that put some limits on access to abortion but essentially preserved the core privacy doctrine of Roe v. Wade. The perceived double threat of these political and judicial developments unleashed a new and even more powerful conservative backlash that took aim not only at abortion, but at contraception and sex education as well.
Exploiting inevitable tensions in the wake of profound social and economic changes occurring across the country as the result of altered gender roles and expectations — changes symbolized and made all the more palpable by Hillary Clinton’s activist role as First Lady — conservatives, with the support of powerful right-wing foundations and think tanks, poured millions of dollars into research and propaganda promoting family values and demonizing reproductive freedom, including emotional television ads that ran for years on major media outlets. A relentless stigmatizing of abortion, along with campaigns of intimidation and outright violence against Planned Parenthood and other providers, had a chilling effect on politicians generally shy of social controversy. And Bill Clinton’s vulnerability to charges of sexual misconduct left his administration and his party all the more defensive.
Since the welfare reform legislation of 1996, aptly labeled a “Personal Responsibility Act,” not only has access to abortion been curtailed, but funds for family planning programs at home and abroad have been capped. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated to the teaching of sexual abstinence, rather than more comprehensive approaches to sex education. Just as tragically, U.S. programs addressing the crisis of HIV/AIDS — admirably expanded during the presidency of George W. Bush — were nonetheless made to counsel abstinence and oppose the use of condoms and other safe sex strategies, leaving women and young people all the more vulnerable to the ravages of the epidemic.
Empirically grounded studies over and over again undermined the efficacy of these approaches, which also flew in the face of mainstream American viewpoints and basic common sense. With Barack Obama’s election they have largely been revoked, enflaming the conservative base that put them in place and has lived off the salaries supported by government funding for faith-based social policy.
Even more disheartening to conservative true believers is the promise that the Affordable Care Act will vastly expand access to contraception by providing insurance coverage for oral contraceptives. This guarantee, endorsed by all mainstream health advocates, also includes emergency contraception, popularly known as the morning-after pill, that holds the promise of further reducing unwanted pregnancy and abortion and was meant to offer common ground in an abortion debate long defined by a clash of absolutes. The strong dose of ordinary hormones in emergency contraception act primarily by preventing fertilization, just like daily contraceptive pills, but in rare instances may also disable a fertilized egg from implanting by weakening the uterine lining that it needs for sustenance, causing opponents to vilify it as an abortifacient.
Supporting the Obama policy changes, on the other hand, is a new generation of progressive activists in reproductive health and rights organizations, energized by the intensity of the assaults against them, and now well-armed to educate and activate their own supporters by using traditional grassroots strategies and more sophisticated social networking. No institution has been more important in this effort than Planned Parenthood, with its vast networks of affiliates and supporters in every state, millions more supporters online, and a powerful national political and advocacy operation based in Washington D.C. that has been put to use to great effect in recent months.
The strength of the Planned Parenthood brand, coupled with the organization’s demonstrated ability to rally hundreds of thousands of supporters when it is attacked, has helped overcome traditional political reticence on reproductive justice issues. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is already out with a strong new appeal warning politicians that women are watching. “Enough is enough. Back off on birth control,” is the new advocacy mantra.
Mindful of the numbers — and with the added ballast of what now amounts to a daily drumbeat of progressive television talk and comedy that delights in pillorying Republican prudery — Democrats are intensifying their resolve to take on this fight. Two things we can be sure of: Whoever emerges from the bloodbath of the GOP contest will try and backtrack from the birth control extremism of the primary. And Obama supporters, backed up by the advocacy community, will in turn stand ready to pounce on this inevitable flip-flopping.
Both sides may well summon the spirit and words of Barry Goldwater, who cautioned against allowing faith-based extremism to gain control of the Republican Party. “Politics and governing demand compromise,” he told John Dean, who reports on the conversation in his 2006 book, “Conservatives Without Conscience.” “But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know. I’ve tried to deal with them.”
- Ellen Chesler is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and author of “Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.” More Ellen Chesler
The Cancerous Politics and Ideology of the Susan G. Komen Foundation February 1, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: anti-choice, anti-women, breast cancer, breast exams, cliff stearns, health education, jane abraham, jodi jacobson, komen foundation, minority women, nancy brinker, native american women, planned parenthood, poor women, right wing, roger hollander, women's health, women's rights
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This week it became clear there are things more important to the Susan G. Komen Foundation–the fundraising giant that each year during breast cancer awareness month virtually swathes the United States in pink, a la Christo–than ensuring women are able to access exams for early detection of breast cancer.
What could be more important to an organization ostensibly dedicated to the elimination of breast cancer? Answer: The politics and personal agendas of the organization’s senior staff and board, both of which have been infiltrated by right-wing ideologues and both of which were instrumental in a decision to deny further support from Komen affiliates to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide breast exams. In fact, it is now clear that some anti-choicers on Komen’s board and senior staff are actually willing to sacrifice poor women to breast cancer to satisfy their own agendas.
Nationwide, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses provide nearly 750,000 breast cancer screenings annually, offering risk assessments, breast exams, breast health information and education, and diagnostic and surgical referrals. Over the past five years, Planned Parenthood health centers have conducted nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams with funds from Komen, out of a total of more than four million clinical breast exams performed nationwide by Planned Parenthood clinics. Komen grants also supported more than 6,400 out of 70,000 mammogram referrals made by Planned Parenthood. These are affiliate-to-affiliate grants between Komen and Planned Parenthood sister organizations at the state level.
A large share of the clients served at Planned Parenthood clinics are low-income African-American and Latina women. The National Cancer Institute identifies lack of access to early and effective screening for breast cancer (and hence lack of early treatment) as a primary reason that African-American and Latina women die of breast cancer at higher rates than the general population. In fact, Komen itself recognized these links in a 2011 statement lauding its relationship with Planned Parenthood:
While Komen Affiliates provide funds to pay for screening, education and treatment programs in dozens of communities, in some areas, the only place that poor, uninsured or under-insured women can receive these services are through programs run by Planned Parenthood.
Komen further stated:
These facilities serve rural women, poor women, Native American women, women of color, and the un- and under-insured. As part of our financial arrangements, we monitor our grantees twice a year to be sure they are spending the money in line with our agreements, and we are assured that Planned Parenthood uses these funds only for breast health education, screening and treatment programs.
As long as there is a need for health care for these women, Komen Affiliates will continue to fund the facilities that meet that need.
But apparently those women no longer matter as Komen’s support has now been withdrawn. Last month, the national office of the Komen Foundation, which maintains tight control over its state affiliates, sent a memo barring those affiliates from using money they had raised at the local level to partner with Planned Parenthood clinics in improving access to breast exams.
Why? Not science, not evidence, not concern for women.
Politics and personal ambition, pure and simple.
It’s no secret that anti-choice legislators at the state and national level have made Planned Parenthood the central focus of their anti-woman agenda, spending well over half of entire legislative sessions in some states focused on cutting funding and limiting access to reproductive health services. At the national level, the ongoing witch hunt aimed at PPFA has taken many forms, one of which includes a “Congressional inquiry” launched by House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). Stearns sent a letter to PPFA in late September 2011 asking for an avalanche of documents to “investigate” whether PPFA has used federal funds to provide abortion services.
In a letter protesting the move, Democrats Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) called the inquiry a politically-motivated waste of time and taxpayer money, stating:
“Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of a Republican vendetta against an organization that provides family planning and other medical care to low-income women and men. … The HHS Inspector General and state Medicaid programs regularly audit Planned Parenthood … These audits have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation.”
Wasteful or not, any Congressperson can start such an inquiry, even for specious reasons. This is not equivalent to a legal “investigation” of an organization. What Stearns is doing is completely unfounded and politically motivated, but when you have power you can abuse it.
What does Stearns have to do with Komen? Anti-choice groups have long targeted Komen for its partnership with Planned Parenthood, in part by haranguing the organization and listing them as targets of various protests and boycotts, and in part by touting the medically-disproven and specious claims about non-existent links between abortion and breast cancer. A group known as Life Decisions International (LDI), the website of which is “fightpp.org,” has long had Komen on its boycott list.
These efforts hardly appear to have affected Komen’s bottom line since the foundation’s total gross revenue in 2010 was nearly $421 million, only several hundred thousand dollars of which were granted over the past five years by Komen’s state affiliates to local Planned Parenthood partners for education, screening, and referrals. Moreover, as a large and well-known organization (albeit one criticized for its work on many levels) Komen appeared until now to stay above the ideological mud-pit of the anti-choice movement.
Last fall, however, things began to change. LDI began quiety telling other anti-choice groups that it had “won” the battle with Komen and that they should await public announcement of a policy change.
And suddenly, Cliff Stearns’ inquiry became a reason for the Komen national office to change what state affiliates could do with their funds. Komen’s board recently approved a new policy stating that affiliates can only provide grant funds to other organizations if:
• The applicant is not currently debarred from the receipt of federal or state funding.
• No key personnel of applicant or any of its affiliates has been convicted of fraud or a crime involving any other financial or administrative impropriety within the last year.
• The applicant or any of its affiliates is not currently under a local, state or federal formal investigation for financial or administrative impropriety or fraud. (“Affiliate” means any entities that control, are controlled by, or are under the same control as applicant or independent entities operating under the same name or brand as applicant.)
While the policy ostensibly affects “any” organization to which Komen affiliates might grant money, the memo sent to state affiliates specifically targets Planned Parenthood.
“Currently, however, various authorities at both the state and federal levels are conducting investigations involving [Planned Parenthood] and some of its local chapters, and the organization is barred from receiving government funding in numerous states. Under these new criteria, Planned Parenthood will be ineligible to receive new funding from Komen until these investigations are complete and these issues are resolved.”
But these are lies and innuendo: There are no “authorities” investigating Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood is not barred from receiving federal government funding in any state. No mature organization concerned about the health and well-being of women at risk of breast cancer would have created a policy targeting another respected organization with a record of saving untold lives.
But Komen can no longer claim the mantle of a respected organization. First, Komen last year hired Karen Handel, a former Georgia anti-choice gubernatorial candidate and Sarah Palin acolyte who promised as part of her platform to defund Planned Parenthood and other vital health services. Handel, who lost her race but is said to have future political ambitions, is now Senior Vice President for Policy at Komen. She was originally endorsed in her race by and received money from current GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, with whom some sources suggest she remains closely allied. Romney, in turn, has suddenly become more anti-choice than thou and has promised a federal person-hood amendment as well as to defund Planned Parenthood.
Second, sitting on Komen’s Advocacy Alliance Board is Jane Abraham, the General Chairman of the virulently anti-choice and anti-science Susan B. Anthony List and of its Political Action Committee. Among other involvements, Abraham helps direct the Nurturing Network, a global network of crisis pregnancy centers, organizations widely known for spreading ideology, misinformation and lies to women facing unintended pregnancy and to use both intimidation and coercion in the course of doing so. Also on the board of Nurturing Network is Maureen Scalia, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, no hero to women’s rights and health.
That Komen–an organization ostensibly dedicated to scientific exploration of cures for breast cancer–has invited on its advocacy board women so closely allied with organizations that so blatantly ignore science and medicine and spread outright lies to other women about their health and welfare speaks volumes about Komen’s ethical principles as an organization.
While anti-choicers including those on Komen’s board are spreading lies, Komen’s steps will ensure that more women who might have been screened will now lack access to early detection and treatment and may die from breast cancer. This is in keeping with a general and patently insane approach of the anti-choice movement: Decry abortion, for example, but limit funding for contraceptive education and supplies which can prevent the unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion. Decry the plight of minority women, but make their access to care increasingly limited. Cry for the “babies,” but defund pre- and post-natal care, nutritional support, and other forms of life and health care for infants and mothers. It is a venal and disgusting strategy that until now I would have thought well beneath the Komen Foundation no matter other issues.
But Komen as an organization now appears so little able to stand the truth that it is deleting comments from its website protesting the policy change. And this is not the first time Komen has come under fire for misinformation or questionable affiliations. Some point to concerns about Komen’s influence on a recent Institute of Medicine report playing down environmental factors in breast cancer, and its close affiliation with many companies that manufacture products using cancer-causing agents.
Given these and other links, it may be no surprise that Komen’s own memo to its affiliates spreads lies about Planned Parenthood, nor that Komen’s actions belie its own claims to care about racial, ethnic and income disparities in access to breast cancer screenings.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control on disparities in access to care noted that women without insurance (38.2 percent) and women without a usual source of health care (36.2 percent) were least likely to be screened for cancer and that such disparities remained stark among Latina, African-American, and Native American women.
In response, Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Komen, said: “This gap in care for uninsured and low-income women is particularly troubling and one we have been working very hard to fill at Susan G. Komen. It’s clear that we have far more work to do for women who have no resources, no insurance, and no steady source of healthcare. They need our help the most.”
Jodi L. Jacobson is a long-time leader in the health and development community and an advocate with extensive experience in public health, gender equity, human rights, environment and demographic issues. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of RH Reality Check.
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.