Tag Archives: women’s rights

Give. Thanks.

Black Friday is almost upon us, holiday shopping is set to begin in earnest and many of us are wondering how best to spend our dollars.

I have more than a few folk in my circles who have stated they are simply donating to organizations doing the work that needs to be done, and I applaud them. I can’t think of a better gift to give or receive than knowing a few more dollars went to the organizations standing up for people’s rights, providing needed services to underserved communities and helping more people gain access to all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges that should come standard with US citizenship.

So, I decided that this year for Thanksgiving I would ask you all to give. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about teaching kids fiscal responsibility by having them divide any money they get into three even jars – “spend,” “save,” and “charity” so why not do a similar thing with our gift giving. Sure, buy the kids in your life books and music and art supplies and science kits but balance that with gifts to charities in their name – that models the kind of thing we’re asking them to do and shows them that you care about leaving them with a better world. And as for adults, unless you have an adult in your life who really needs a thing – donating in their name might be the best gift you can give. I know I wish I could afford to give more to charities, so having someone give in my name feels great!!

And, since I’ve been talking non-stop about taking positive action in the face of a Trump election, what better way to do something good for the world than to donate to a righteous cause!?! Last, there is a national movement called #GivingTuesday, and many organizations can double your gift if you make your donation on that day!

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Since I love you all so much, I decided to make it easy for you! Below you’ll find a list of verified, top-notch groups and organizations to donate to, as well as ideas for local places to look into to make sure your dollars have the biggest effect possible.

First: let me ask you to donate to the people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. What is happening to them is NOT OKAY and they need all the help they can get!

Once you’ve done that, here are my recommendations for getting the most bang for your bucks.

givemoney

 

  1. Donate to your local public school. Seriously, just write them a check. Almost all of them have a registered non-profit parent organization so you can get your tax write-off and get your employer to make a matching donation, if they do that sort of thing. (And if they don’t – ask why not. They should if they have more than a hundred employees.) If I can make a further recommendation – request that your donation go to arts, music or the library those are consistently under-funded programs and grants are hard to come by for those areas. Also, donating your money there reminds schools that the public still values art, music and literacy regardless of the educational fad of the moment.
  2. Donate to reproductive/sexual health organizations including: Planned Parenthood, Lilith Fund, The National Abortion Fund – or use this to locate your local/state abortion fund, Draw the Line, NARAL, or your local women’s health clinic. (If you don’t have a friend or family member to gift this donation to, I nominate Mike Pence to be the recipient of this receipt. Let him know you stand for reproductive justice! Information on how to do this follows.)
  3. Donate to organizations working to secure full civil rights and human dignity for LGBTQ* folk. I recommend GLBT, the Lambda legal defense and education fund, The Transgender Law Center, and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network or GLSEN. Also check your local communities, see who is doing this work in your backyard and give them money. Also, look into the GSA at your local schools, I’m sure they could use a donation in order to help organize! And again, if you want to donate in someone’s name, but don’t have a specific someone in mind, I nominate Mike Pence to be the recipient of this piece of your mind!
  4. Donate to groups working to ensure civil rights for ALL people: The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Anti-Defamation League, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, The NAACP, The Native American Rights Fund, The National Congress of American Indians, The Innocence Project, The Justice Policy Institute, Black Lives Matter… There are more. If I didn’t find your personal brand of activism, check out this handy list of cool orgs… I highly recommend making your donation to these organizations in Donald Trump’s name. Info to take this step is below.
  5. Donate to your local food bank and/or homeless shelter.
  6. Donate to your local domestic violence shelter or organization working to end intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence.
  7. Donate to Flint, MI – those folk STILL need water and help mitigating the effects of drinking poisoned water for too long.
  8. Donate to an environmental group or organization. I am not linking to any specific groups because, I admit to being jaded here – the environment has been in dire danger my entire life, and I have given to many of these organizations over the years and I’m not sure what they are doing that is of tangible benefit to the environment. I feel like this issue is bigger than NGOs. I feel like this is an action we have to take to own smaller cars, drive less, consume less, and put pressure on our governments to invest in greener energy sources while also consuming less… BUT, if you have to spend money, I’d rather it went to an environmental organization than cheap plastic crap, so… (Also, if anyone wants to comment with a shout out to an environmental org they think is doing great work – do that! Post a link. Spread the word!)

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To donate in the name of Donald Trump or Mike Pence, use the info below:

Office of Governor Mike Pence/State House Room 206/Indianapolis, IN 46204-2797

and

Donald Trump/ The Trump Organization/ 725 Fifth Avenue/ New York, NY 10022

moregiving

I’m sure there are organizations and causes that I have missed or accidentally overlooked – please, if you know of an important and worthy org, post a link in the comments, I will do my very best to screen them in a timely fashion.

In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of the holiday season and I hope that you are all able to spend time with people you love.

thankyou

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Things that work

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.

 

(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)

 

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Symptoms of Success, Welcome to the Club

Trigger Warning – Gendered violence, sexual assault, rape, threats, harassment.

 

I’ve only ever gotten one death threat because of this blog.

For the most part, even on those few posts that have gone viral and have traveled around the world and picked up a few of you on the way, people have generally been civil here. Or at least non-threatening. I rarely have to take out The Mallet.

And that is a HUGE relief.

This threat happened a long time ago, I barely even remember what it was about – just that I annoyed someone and they felt that threatening me with death was an acceptable response.

I remember the first fellow blogger I told said something like, “Welcome to the club. You must be getting an audience.” Then she told me her stories.

That is the most common response when I talk to other women who are active online. Nearly every one of them has a story of violent threats, many of them have stories of people actually attempting to carry out those threats.

Almost every woman I know who is successful online must accept not just daily, but hourly, minutely, near constant threats of violence including rape threats, death threats and threats against their families depending on her level of success.

“Welcome to the club.”

This creates a reality where almost every woman I know who is present and successful online must pay a very specific price for that – the price of peace of mind. It is a reality that silences many voices, some of them before they even dare to speak.

Many successful women I know have gone so far as to hire someone to read their mentions and the comments on their posts and delete, report and block violent messages. It is a full-time job. One that if the woman herself were to do it would take away all the time she had to produce new work, not to mention the emotional and psychological toll it would take.

When they raise their voices about this they are often told to grow a thicker skin. Or they are told to ignore the trolls. Or they are told they are overreacting – it’s just the internet. No one is really going to hurt them… Or they are told that by talking about it they are “feeding the trolls” and encouraging more abuse.

Even after they are doxxed (Which means someone posts all of their personal information including home and work addresses, real names, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, passwords, etc.) and laid bare, even after someone is caught driving to their house with weapons and a stated intent to kill them – they are told to calm down, relax, it’s just the internet – grow a thicker skin. Even after the threats escalate enough to get the FBI and other law enforcement agencies involved. “Stop whining. You’re blowing it out of proportion. It’s just twitter…”

There is no winning.

There is no escape.

There is no acceptable, allowable response other than to ignore it and move on – or just quit. It’s amazing how often women are told to quit what they love if they can’t take the abuse.

As if violence is the price we must all pay for the freedom to work, to socialize, to succeed…

“Calm down, it happens to everyone.”

But it doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to very specific types of people – vocal women – especially vocal women of color, gay people, trans* people, in other words, it happens primarily to people who are not male and cisgendered and straight and white.

I haven’t waded into this for many reasons, but today I realized that there is a commonality between this and something I experienced as a teenager and young woman beginning to make my way in the world. Something super fucked up and totally not okay.

It’s the acceptance of the idea that violence is the price women (and gay people and trans* people who don’t want to live in closets) must pay for success, for inclusion, for the right to exist. Worse, there is an idea that perhaps beyond being a price to be paid violence might actually be a symbol of success, a sign that you have made it to the next level.

“Welcome to the club.”

I remember the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was in a foreign country as an exchange student and an older man who was supposed to be taking care of me while my host parent was on vacation groped me and kissed me – while his wife was one room away! He knew I was alone and isolated and had no one to call and he took advantage of that. Eventually his actions combined with other circumstances forced me to return home early. It screwed me up pretty bad, and set the stage for how I would deal with future assaults.

I remember telling my sister about what happened. I remember her hugging me and saying something along the lines of, “Welcome to the club. It sucks, but it happens to all of us.” Then she told me her story.

This was my introduction to being a teenager, this was how I crossed the line from kid to teen, from “innocent” to “worldly” and “experienced.”

I was no longer a little girl. I was part of a new group. This act of violence somehow made me mature in a way that having boyfriends, traveling to foreign countries, having a job and taking other steps toward adulthood had not.

At the same time, this new maturity came with its own code of silence. I was assured by everyone I spoke to in those first few days back that no one wanted to hear about what had happened, no one wanted to know the real reason I was home early, no one wanted to validate my feeling that I had been punished for this man’s crime – it made them uncomfortable, they couldn’t help, they couldn’t change it, so why not just focus on the good stuff that had happened – no matter that for me, focusing on the good things meant focusing on what I had lost, what this man had taken from me – the opportunity to live in a foreign country and build my independence and confidence – the chance to grow my new friendships and finish the new courses I was taking. The chance to pursue a dream.

What I heard time and time again was, “Welcome to the club, it happens, move on. Don’t talk about it, if you talk about it, then it defines you. If you acknowledge it, you are weak.”

And so I moved on – but I moved on thinking that this type of violence was normal, and while not exactly acceptable, it was to be expected and that there was nothing I or anyone else could, or would, do about it because it made people uncomfortable.

“Welcome to the club.”

When I type it out that way, it becomes somehow much less surprising that I was raped on my 18th birthday.

Not because I asked for it, or deserved it, or should have seen it coming, or because I wasn’t strong enough – though I have been told all of those things, and told myself all of those things a bajillion times – but because like so many women I had learned to accept a certain level of violence as the price I must pay for existing.

There were warning signs – those warning signs were the reason I went to break up with my boyfriend that night. I saw the violence in him and had experienced enough of it to know that it was escalating. To know that it was reaching a dangerous plateau, one that I did not want to reach. Unfortunately I hadn’t read the literature yet that discusses time and time and time again that THE MOST DANGEROUS moment in an abusive relationship is when the victim tries to leave.

A couple of years after I was raped, I wrote a poem about it, trying to process what had happened, and why I still hadn’t been able to get all the way over it. In the poem there’s a stanza,

I’ll never forget
the night I became an adult
was the night you made me a woman.

Think about that for a minute.

That was how I processed my rape – that that act of violence, of having my basic humanity denied and taken from me – THAT was what made me a woman!

“Welcome to the club.”

It wasn’t a badge of honor in any way. It was a badge of shame. But at the same time, it was a rite of passage – a common one, and I eventually came to accept it as such. (Looking back now as an adult and as a mother – there are simply no words for how fucked up that is. I cannot imagine my daughters accepting rape as the price of admission to womanhood – but we have a hard fight ahead of us if we’re going to change this culture in time for them.)

I remember telling my college roommate about it one night, after another terrifying phone call from my rapist turned stalker left me shaking.

“Welcome to the club,” she said, “at least it wasn’t as bad as what happened to me.” And then she told me her story.

Nearly every woman I have ever opened up to about any of my experiences has come back with one of her own.

“Welcome to the club.”

And while we all know that this violence isn’t acceptable, isn’t okay, isn’t deserved or asked for… We have also all on various levels come to terms with its existence. We have all in some way come to accept that it is inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it but pick up the pieces and move on. We have learned to see it as some sort of sick rite of passage that takes us to the next level of womanhood.

And that is truly distressing, because there are new generations of girls and boys being brought up into the culture we are creating – and we must, all of us, work to create a culture where violence is not the price anyone must pay for simply existing, where sexual violence and gendered violence aren’t the ways we “level up.”

And yet…

This same mentality, that violence is the cost of, perhaps even the measure of, success if you are female has taken over the internet. Being harassed and threatened until you feel so unsafe that you leave your home, or quit your job  (or are fired from your job because your harassers are causing a disturbance to the company), or go dark, or… This is the new rite of passage.

It’s not a badge of honor, it is not a status anyone covets – but at the same time… There is this idea that you must be making progress, you must be doing something right, you must be successful – or they wouldn’t try so hard to push you back down.

I see this mentality taking its toll – there are voices going dark, there are women disappearing from public life, there are people being chased out of their homes and jobs and careers and leaving their passions because daily, hourly, minutely threats of violence are simply more than they can carry – and quite frankly, that is more than we should be asking anyone to carry in order to do their job or exist in public spaces.

Violence, or the threat of violence is not an acceptable rite of passage. Not here, not anywhere.

And if you think that online threats are small potatoes, or there are bigger problems we should be dealing with first, or that this is a first world problem – let me be the one to tell you, you are wrong.

Violence does not exist in isolation, it exists on a continuum. If you wonder why so many women take online threats more seriously than many men think we should – it’s because most of us have been on the receiving end of actual violence, we have already lived through that, we know how it feels to have those threats carried out – and we’d like to not have to go through it again.

We’d like to not have to remember and relive and reprocess that violence every day.

These threats that people see as jokes, or banter, or a rebuttal to an opinion (really, a threat of rape is an acceptable rebuttal to, “that shirt is tacky.” Are you sure?) exist in a context of routine, physical violence against women. Street harassment that so many people see as “a compliment” exists inside the context of routine, physical assaults against women.

We cannot separate the words from the potential reality because all too many of us have LIVED the reality of violence. We do not have a sense of humor about this because we are still healing from the last physical assault. We are still recovering from the last threat that became reality in a flash too fast for us to run from.

We have to treat all threats as real threats – because enough of them have been.

You might know you’re just joking – we do not, and we cannot take that chance with our safety. No one should be asking us to.

I am so very appreciative of the many women right now who are taking a stand, from the victims of Gamer Gate to Ashley Judd and saying, enough, this is NOT acceptable, this is not okay, this is not a fair price to pay for being female with an opinion and the “audacity” to express it in public.

I am even more appreciative of the men who have come out to say, “Enough, this is not acceptable.” because the violence is largely coming from men, and it will take the courage of other men standing up and saying “enough” to make them listen.

Men who threaten and carry out violence against women tend not to be the type who listen when women ask them to stop! They tend to be the type of men who defer only to other men, which is why we need more men willing to take this seriously, willing to stand up and say, this is not what masculinity looks like, this is not what manhood looks like, violence is not an acceptable way to get what you want.

We must, all of us with the power to do so, move forward together on this. We must stop welcoming people to the club and start helping each other burn this club to the ground. It’s a terrible club and I don’t want the next generation to have to join us here. I don’t want the next generation to grow up believing violence is normal or to be expected – because once we learn to expect it, we come to accept it.

And violence is not an acceptable price to pay for existing.

If women must take responsibility for what they say and do in public, then shouldn’t people who attack them also be asked to take responsibility for those attacks?

Not everyone who is threatened with violence has the voice and the resources and the power to call it out, fight back and bring it to the attention of people with the power to shut it down. But for those of us who do – we should. We should be standing up for all of the victims of violence who are powerless against their abusers. We should not be tolerating threats online, or in person. We should not be tolerating violence directed toward ourselves or others.

We should not be brushing off violent threats as jokes, or banter or rebuttals. Threats of violence exist to silence opposition, not to brighten anyone’s day. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from dissent, but it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept violence in order to be heard.

I am taking my inspiration from the women and men who are using their voice and their power to say, “No more.” and joining them.

“Welcome to the club.”

And in one of those fortuitous moments of synchronicity, just as I was about to hit publish on this post, this video from Anita Sarkeesian popped up in my feed.

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

This might be the last post I ever have to write about abortion.

(Hahahaha… Just kidding. Did you see who won this last election!?!)

That said, if I could just get everyone to go out and buy, or borrow, and read a copy of Katha Pollitt’s new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights we might at least be able to all sit down and have a civil conversation and perhaps even make some progress on this issue.

pro abortion

Let’s change the conversation

This book says a lot of the same things I have been saying for years, BUT it says them better.

Katha comes to the table with history, research, facts, data, and many, many reality checks. She also comes to the table without the intense anger and rage that I often bring to my blog when I rant about this issue. She comes to the table congenially, hoping to calmly discuss, explain and possibly persuade. Not the hard-core anti-abortion, anti-choice crowd, but those of us who live in what she calls the “mushy middle.” The ones who think that when push comes to shove, abortion should be legal – in many circumstances, but maybe not all circumstances because really abortion is a tragedy and while it should be safe and legal, it should also be rare… Katha describes this group’s stance as, “permit but discourage” or, perhaps more accurately, “permit but deplore.”

That is her intended audience, and the conversation she wants to have with them, with you, with all of us, is why “safe, legal and rare” is a failing policy. Why that idea fails women, and families, and communities. What we need instead is, safe, legal and accessible abortion, “on demand and without apology”.

And more than that, we need to completely rethink our ideas about the abortion as tragedy storyline. Where did that come from? Why do we cling to it? Whose purpose does that narrative serve?

And if abortion is such a tragedy, why do we continue to claim that abortion is a “culture-war issue” rather than an actual matter of life and death for millions of women around the globe each year? Perhaps because by thinking of it as a culture-war issue we can dismiss it as unimportant, trivial – sort of the way we do with so many of women’s other concerns… But abortion is NOT a distraction from the “serious” issues like the economy. In fact, reproductive rights are an economic issue.

As you can see, this is another one of those books that looks like it got humped by the rainbow sticky note porcupine. I checked it out from the library and now I have my own copy on order because this is a book that I need to have available to lend out.

pro abortion rights

So much goodness in such a small book.

Katha Pollitt begins her book with a brief history lesson – she reminds us that historically two things have been true.

First, women’s bodies have never been completely their own. Throughout time, they have been owned by fathers, husbands, communities, nations even. She reminds us that when Roe v Wade was decided in 1973, marital rape was legal in every single state – because a wife did not have the right to refuse or reject her husband. Rape was a crime against the MAN who owned the woman, it was “property damage”, not interpersonal assault. (You can still see the effects of this history in the way rape is talked about and dealt with today.)

Given this history of women’s bodies never being wholly their own, it is not such a stretch to think that women’s bodies should, of course, belong to a zygote, embryo, fetus should a stray sperm happen to find a willing egg to partner up with. What else does she have to do with her body that is so important anyway?

When we talk about zygotes and embryos and fetuses as “people” or “babies” we reduce women to simply being places, a sort of “comfy survivalist bunker – food, climate control, some time.”

This idea has taken such hold over our society that in 2006 the CDC’s guidelines recommended that all women and girls of childbearing age practice “preconception care,” which is to say that all women and girls should take care of themselves in the way that women who are trying to get pregnant do – no alcohol, no smoking, no cats, no high risk sex, and take extra vitamins, etc. regardless of whether they actually plan to get pregnant anytime soon or not. Because, hey, you just never know when it’ll happen and you want to be ready. Katha Pollit reminds us that no comparable list was set out for men/potential fathers, “don’t expose a woman to cigarette smoke or sexually transmitted infections, keep the litter box squeaky clean…”

The fact that the CDC thought in terms of protecting accidental fertilized eggs from women, and not protecting women from accidental fertilized eggs shows how shallow still is the idea of women truly being in control of their fertility.

This brings us to the second important history reminder that Katha provides.

Throughout human history, abortion has always existed. There have always been unplanned, unwanted pregnancies and women have been ending them in various ways since they discovered the herbs and other tools for doing so. Throughout recorded history, women have performed abortions and throughout history, until very recently, their right to do so was unquestioned because it was believed that the living woman held primacy over the potential child inside her.

Katha uses this idea as a springboard for a point that I’ve been meaning to talk about for ages, the idea that abortion is an act of self-defense.

This is a radical notion, but a true one all the same. When that politician came out with the “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” campaign sticker (yes, really.) he invoked the idea that an embryo or fetus has a right to “stand its ground” but the woman in whom the fetus resides does not. Yet, if a fetus had a (metaphorical) gun (say triggering or aggravating a condition that put the mother’s life at risk), aborting it would be a true act of self-defense. The idea that women should not have that right confounds me, but it does confirm that there is still a large group of people who simply don’t consider women to be people with the right to defend themselves.

And what about the other losses that women face when they are pregnant – many women who are in school when they get pregnant end up dropping out or taking time off, reducing their future earning potential. Many women who are pregnant face job loss or a reduction in hours and/or wages. There are very real, very documented financial costs to even the best, most wanted pregnancy.

If someone comes into your home and tries to steal money from you, you have the right to defend yourself, with lethal force if necessary (and in some states, even if it’s not necessary.) But as a woman, if something enters our wombs and threatens to hurt us, kill us or cost us real money or our future goals – we are expected to accept those risks and losses. After all, that is what we’re here to do. Or, something.

When pressed people often say that this is because the woman in question let the zygote in, she had sex, this is the consequence, she needs to accept it. But… Is that really true? Should I only have sex with my husband if I am willing to accept pregnancy as the cost? I have a number of married friends who do not want to have children ever and have taken steps to ensure that a pregnancy will not occur. But short of a hysterectomy, those steps are not fail proof. Should they also not be having sex? Ever.

And this is why even some hardline anti-abortionists will concede exceptions for victims of rape and incest, because in those cases the woman in question did not willingly invite this embryo into her body, she is not a bad slut, she’s a poor victim, thus SHE has the right to self-defense.

One of the other things that Katha reminds us in her wonderful book is that while people who are anti-abortion, and even many of us in the mushy-middle, claim to hold our positions out of a deep respect for motherhood, what that position actually conveys is a disregard for the actual seriousness of motherhood and parenting, not to mention a complete disregard for the truth that there is more to being a woman than being a mother.

Saying that all, or even most, women who become pregnant should work to produce a live baby is close to saying that “women can have no needs, desires, purpose or calling so compelling and so important that she should not set it aside in an instant, because of a stray sperm.”

Similarly, when we say that a 16-year-old girl isn’t mature enough to choose abortion and that she is therefore mature enough to endure pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, we are denigrating the actual hard work of parenting by saying anyone can do it, even someone too irresponsible to choose not to…

This viewpoint reduces motherhood to birthing a baby, ignoring everything that comes after.

Motherhood is not a joke. Parenting is hard fucking work. It is 24-7 for a minimum of 18 years. And it is unpaid, largely unthanked and often derided by the very people who want to force all women to “choose” that path.

Katha writes (emphasis mine), We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child – indeed, sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say no one is “pro-abortion,” but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by? Why do we make young women feel guilty for wanting to feel ready for motherhood before they have a baby? Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this world – what, for example, it means to the children she already has?

Further on, Katha expands on this idea.

Motherhood is the last area in which the qualities we usually value – rationality, independent thinking, consulting our own best interests, planning for a better, more prosperous future, and dare I say it, pursuing happiness and dreams – are condemned as frivolity and selfishness.

Next Katha reminds us that we MUST stop talking about abortion out of context. Abortion does not happen in a vacuum. It is inexorably tied to issues of sex, sexuality, love, violence, privilege, class, race, school, work, men, families, power, reproductive coercion, sexual coercion, the scarcity of good reproductive health care and realistic accurate information and education about sex and reproduction.

We talk about women being pressured to have abortions, but what about women being bullied into having babies?

And of course, we cannot talk about abortion without talking about why there are so many unplanned pregnancies to begin with.

If anti-abortion leaders are really only opposed to abortion, not women having sex, women expressing independence, women having control over their own bodies and destinies, then why are they so keen to stretch its definition to include the most effective and popular methods of birth control? If they really want to stop abortion, without punishing women, wouldn’t they be backing the contraception mandate and handing out IUD vouchers in the streets?

Further, if what they really want to do is promote “pro-natalism” and increased birth rates, then they need to talk about, and support, what that really requires – robust social benefits and services to support mothers and parents and families. Things that would make it easier for women to return to school, to keep their careers, to hold onto their houses and lives and futures. They need to support free prenatal and post-partum care, paid parental leave, free quality childcare, subsidized housing, free quality education, increased nutritional and food assistance and perhaps even outright payments to parents. (Because parenting IS a job.) Yes, we’re talking about socialism.

We’re talking about actually valuing the hard work of mothering, of parenting.

We must also talk about leveling the playing field. We cannot biologically equalize men’s contribution to reproduction, but we can equalize the social and economic costs of parenting a child. We can equalize the burden of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting – and not just among individual couples, but across society.

Instead of seeing a low-income mother as a burden on society to whom government grudgingly doles out dribs and drabs of “services” that are never enough to lift her out of poverty or change her children’s prospects, we need to flip the equation: What does this woman, and the millions like her, require to raise her children to be decent, healthy, well-educated, productive, happy adults – and to be one herself?

Reproductive rights do not end at offering women the right not to mother, but MUST also include providing women the means and ability to mother, and mother well.

And even then, there will be times when pregnancy is still not a good idea for a person, when abortion is still the right answer.

As Katha Pollitt so succinctly put it, “We talk about respecting life. But what if we tried respecting women?”

respect women

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

What’s at Stake in the Midterm Elections? Or – VOTE DAMNIT.

I don’t want to tell you how to vote. (Well, that’s not really true, I desperately want to tell you how to vote – but I’m not going to. Because what’s best for me might not be what is best for you, and I respect that.) And I’m not going to tell you how I voted. Anyone who knows me can probably guess with at least 80% accuracy. (I say 80% because I surprised even myself on a couple of issues and people this year.)

What I want to do is remind you what is at stake, in your town, in your county, in your state, and in our country this mid-term election. Because, I keep hearing how close the polling is on a bunch of candidates and a bunch of issues this year.

The infamous They say it is because many people tune out during the mid-terms and don’t bother getting themselves to the polls, or in my state – filling out the ballot they send you in the mail using the information they send you weeks before hand to make sure you’re at least minimally informed and then sending the ballot back.

SERIOUSLY – it’s not hard.

THEY SEND YOU THE BALLOT.

IT COMES TO YOUR DOOR.

YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE A PEN AND TWO STAMPS.

If you are in one of these states – THERE ARE NO EXCUSES.

But hey, maybe you live in a state where you actually have to leave your house to vote, and where voting only takes place one day a year and there are HUGE lines and you have to miss work, which you can’t afford to do, and you have to have special ID that isn’t required in your regular life and costs money that you need for groceries or… Maybe you live in one of the states where they have made it so freaking hard to vote that it feels impossible to do, even if you wanted to, which you’re not sure you do because hey, your district has been so gerrymandered that your vote won’t count anyway…

I can *almost* sympathize with those folk. And I say almost because, if you don’t make that HUGE sacrifice to vote, it’s not going to get any better.

Vote for change

It’s up to us to be the change.

Or maybe none of the candidates really represents you, your wishes for your town/state/country. I get that. Sometimes, and I truly hate it when I have to do this, but sometimes I have to vote against someone rather than FOR someone. It happened this year and I’m super annoyed by it. I even wrote to the person and party that got my vote to let them know that it was NOT a vote for them, and why and what they needed to change/improve if they did want my vote for real. Personally I blame the two party system and the way that often forces us to vote for the lesser of two evils rather than the candidate we really want. This is something I hope we all get annoyed enough by that we work to change it.

Just remember, if you don’t vote – you are letting others vote for you.

Or maybe you’re one of those people who thinks that voting doesn’t matter – the game is rigged, all politicians are the same, government is owned by big business anyway, your vote doesn’t count, blah, blah, blah…

And look, I feel you. Sometimes it does feel like none of it matters.

The very first presidential election I got to vote in was Bush Jr. vs Gore. Remember that one? The one where I thought Gore won, and then I woke up to a Bush victory and then maybe it really was Gore and then we all waited, and waited, and waited and then the supreme court picked our president for us?

Yeah, after that it was a little harder to drag my ass to the ballot box. But even so, I voted. EVERY CHANCE I GOT.

Because if voting doesn’t matter, then why are some people trying to make it so hard to exercise that right?

If voting doesn’t matter what are they so scared of? Heck, let everyone vote if it doesn’t make a difference…

But voting DOES matter, it does make a difference, ESPECIALLY in the off years, the mid-terms, the non-presidential years.

Here in America we often make fun of the Brits for still having a royal family. And yet, every four years we all rush out to elect a president who doesn’t change our day to day life all that much, who is mostly a symbol, a person who has much less power than we all seem to think. And every other year we pass up the opportunity to vote on people and issues that REALLY matter, that really will affect our everyday lives.

So, this midterm, I’m asking, begging really, please – VOTE. And if you live in a state with a mail-in-ballot and you just don’t have the stamps, tell me. I’ll totally front you a couple. Seriously. I will send you stamps.

If you have to take time off work, and stand in line for 13 hours, and purchase a new ID – first, remember your boss CANNOT fire you for taking time off to vote. That is illegal. Second, bring snacks – and water. Last, I wish I could front everyone the money they need to get the proper ID and to pay for the time you have to take off work to get it since those offices are only open during regular working hours and… But I’m not that rich. If I ever win the lotto –  I pledge my winnings to the cause. In the meantime – maybe you can crowdfund it? Or ask on social media. You can certainly ask in the comments. Maybe we can all get together and help. But seriously – VOTE, because this shit isn’t going to get any better if you don’t.

So, now that YOU ARE GOING TO VOTE – let’s talk about some of the issues you’re likely going to be seeing on the ballot this year.

1. Voting Rights

I feel compelled to start here – if you want the right to vote – you better exercise that right. AND as you exercise it, you need to think about your candidate’s stand on this issue. Do they believe that all Americans should be able to access and exercise their right to vote, or do they believe that right should be curtailed for people who cannot jump through an increasingly complex, time-consuming and expensive series of hoops?

2. Women’s reproductive rights and health issues.

In light of recent Supreme Court rulings regarding buffer zones, birth control access and abortion access, lots of states have reproductive rights issues on the ballot. My state is voting yet again on a fetal-personhood bill and wishing that there was a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy on introducing legislation to voters so we could finally put this issue to rest for good.

Regardless of your personal stance on abortion, fetal personhood goes too far. It usurps FEMALE personhood and comes with a whole host of secondary problems, like criminalizing miscarriages and poor pregnancy outcomes if the mother’s behavior during the pregnancy was less than perfect. This is already happening in multiple states.

Even if women’s reproductive rights are not directly on the ballot in your state, there is a good chance that your candidates have strong positions on this issue. This is one of the many issues where I would argue that not all politicians are the same – and it matters!

I’ve been told for years now that this is a red-herring/straw-man/make-believe issue. But all you have to do is look around the country to see heinous abortion restrictions being implemented over and over again. And yes, some of them are being blocked in the courts, but many are not. Reproductive justice is no longer universal, our nation is covered in a patchwork of laws and barriers and hoops that must be jumped through for a woman to make a decision about her own health care.

Pay attention to the politicians you are electing. Not only do they have the power to enact legislation that can harm or liberate women and families on this issue, they also have the power to appoint the judges who  may one day be called in to determine just how many barriers present an “unreasonable burden” to reproductive health care access.

3. Social Services including Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Mental Health funding, SNAP, Section 8 Housing, education, libraries, roads, emergency services etc.

Yes, I know someone who knows someone who told someone about a family who was getting rich on welfare. Damn those lazy bastards gaming the system. BUT, I also know a much larger number of actual people who are working their asses off to make ends meet and need a little help to get there. And even more people who already worked their asses off for a few decades and have earned the right to stop working their asses off and still expect to have a roof over their head, food on their table, clothes on their back and access to competent medical care. All of that is at risk in this midterm election.

These issues are on the ballots not just in the candidates we vote for, but also in more direct ways. My state has a law that makes it so people get to vote on any/every proposed tax increase or extension. The problem is, people hate taxes, no matter what they are for. I have a friend who totally shot herself in the foot by voting no across the board on all tax proposals and then she was upset when some of her benefits got cut. DUDE – WHERE DID YOU THINK THAT MONEY WAS COMING FROM!?!

Services cost money. If we want services to exist, we have to vote yes on taxes from time to time. If the taxes say they are going to something you wish was funded better, or funded at all, vote yes and try to get your people to vote yes with you.

4. Prison reform and the militarization of the police

This is another issue that probably isn’t directly on the ballot, but which you should be paying close attention to – where do your candidates stand on these issues. What are they saying about military style SWAT raids, about police killing unarmed youth in the streets, racially biased mandatory drug sentencing laws, prison overcrowding (is their solution to build more prisons, reduce sentences, or change laws?), a for-profit prison system that rewards high incarceration rates and penalizes rehabilitation programs… etc. Remember, beyond creating policy and law, the people you vote for also have the power to appoint justices who will ultimately decide about the legality of some of these actions.

5. Gun regulations and gun rights

This is one of those touchy issues. In this country the right to bear arms is seen as more basic and protected than the right to vote, the right to access medical care, and even the right to life. You want to talk about sacred fucking cows – talk to someone who thinks that all people everywhere should have access to all the guns and all the ammo all the time. (Unless they are black and living in Ferguson…)

Personally, I think there is some room for nuance. I promised I wouldn’t tell you how to vote, so instead I will just ask you to look at the candidates on your local ballots and look at their voting records if they have them, listen to what they themselves have said on the issue (as opposed to any attack ads their opponent has funded) and think about the world you want to live in and who will best represent your vision for that world.

6. Campaign Finance Reform

I’ve heard that this is a lost cause, that Citizens United is the law of the land and we will never put the genie back in the bottle. Call me a naive idealist, but isn’t the whole point of a democracy of the people and for the people that we can change anything we don’t like if enough of us get together and raise hell, ahem, VOTE.

7. The Environment

From climate change to smaller, more immediate environmental issues – local droughts being exacerbated by certain water hungry/water killing businesses, extended wildfire seasons, water contamination from unregulated chemical storage facilities, exploding train cars that weren’t voluntarily upgraded to be safe to carry their contents without exploding, dying bees and colony collapse disorder which will affect our food security far into the future, pollutants in rivers, streams, lakes and the ocean which is killing fish – again putting our food security at risk…

I keep hearing that I should shut up about the environment because, JOBS! whatever the fuck that means. I’m pretty sure without air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat I’m not going to need a fucking job… Sorry, that came awfully close to telling you how to vote. But seriously, why would anyone vote for a candidate who thinks we can afford to trash our home, or who doesn’t believe that trashing our planet carries real consequences?

8. Immigration reform

Those are some loaded words – depending on who you are they either mean – “Send them all back and build a giant wall to keep them out!” Because, ya know, that worked so well for China. Or, they mean, “Hey, let’s create a process to help people who have come to America become contributing members of our society beyond doing all the shit jobs we don’t want to do.”

So, whichever side of that line you fall on – again, look at who your legislators are and what their position is on this issue. It’s not an issue that is likely to go away any time soon, and it’s an issue that really matters to real people. I’ve seen so many families torn in half because of our broken immigration system, not to mention all the unaccompanied minors who are stranded in legal no-man’s land.

9. WAR!

The war drums are beating again and we haven’t even started paying for the two longest wars in American history. So, unless you want deeper reductions in service programs, or seriously high tax increases, or most likely both – see where your candidates stand on increasing our use of the military in our efforts to police the world and maintain a constant flow of cheap goods to our borders.

10. Minimum wage and worker’s rights

A few decades ago people literally fought and died so that the average American could have weekends, bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, an 8 hour work day… We still don’t have a guaranteed living wage, parental leave, sick pay, vacation days… Unions are being busted and not all workers even have the right to unionize. Minimum wage employees are being asked to sign non-compete clauses and getting paid with fee-riddled debit cards, wages are being stolen in ridiculous (or ingenious depending on your political leanings) ways. CEOs are now earning about 300 times more than their lowest paid employee. That means every day a CEO brings home what it takes their employees an entire year to earn.

Look at what your candidates think and say about this issue, what does their voting record say? Do they think that all workers deserve a living wage, or do they think that only the workers who were privileged enough to graduate college and land a coveted job deserve the right to live?

11. Health Care

Beyond just ObamaCare and whether it gets repealed, revisited, rewritten, or possibly improved… Health care access is at stake in many ways from reproductive health care, covered above, to insurance law, to various states toying with their own levels of opting into or out of ObamaCare and medicaid expansion. There are also issues on some ballots that will directly affect access to mental health care vs imprisonment of mentally ill people. If you’re tired of prisons being used to house people who need rehabilitative mental health care, pay attention this year, and listen to what your candidates are saying about this issue.

12. Gay rights, trans* rights, civil rights and other social justice issues

Equal rights for all people are absolutely on the ballot this year, from gay marriage to protections for trans* people to equality under the law regardless of skin tone or gender – think long and hard as you vote for your candidates and listen to their definition of liberty and justice – are they talking about liberty for businesses, or for actual people?

13. Judicial Appointments

I touched on this a little above, but please keep in mind as you vote for your candidates that some of them have the power to appoint justices to state supreme courts, appellate courts, etc. AND others have the power to confirm or block those appointments. Who we vote for in the midterms matters – it matters WAY more than who we vote for for president.

Now that you’re all fired up to VOTE because you see how important it is – make sure you’re registered to vote – If you aren’t registered, check your state’s laws and see if you still have time. Check and see what the voting laws, regulations and restrictions are and make sure you’re all set to vote when you show up at the polls.

Get yourself educated on the candidates and issues that are on your ballot. If you live in a state that sends you a non-partisan information book, take the time to read it. Read the for and against arguments on the issues, read the full text of the measures and the summaries of what they will mean for your state or town.

It’s easier than ever to do the research into candidates and issues, we have The Google and there are non-partisan organizations trying to get past all the noise filling the airwaves and deliver real information to voters. Use them.

Ignore the attack ads, even the ones that confirm your biases. Attack ads are crap.

AND – If I missed an important issue that is on the ballots this year – drop it in the comments.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

Bring abortion services into the mainstream

Okay, before we get started on this one, I’m asking all of you to take @AndreaGrimes#TacoOrBeerChallengeIt’s super simple, eat a taco, or drink a beer, or do both, snap and share a picture or video of it, using the #TacoOrBeerChallenge tag and donate money directly to an abortion fund. If you don’t see one in your state or area (Utah, I’m looking at you.) try contacting your nearest abortion provider and donating directly to them!

#TacoOrBeerChallenge

Eat a taco, drink a beer, fund abortion.

I posed a question on twitter this morning –

“Why isn’t medical abortion available at EVERY sexual & reproductive health clinic and through every ob/gyn and family practitioner?”

But there’s a follow up question, one that really gets to the true heart of the matter – considering that 1 in 3 American women will access abortion services in her lifetime, some of them more than once, why is abortion segregated from standard, basic women’s reproductive health care at all?

I, and a lot of reproductive justice advocates, have long said that one of the biggest barriers to abortion access is the fact that it is segregated from other regular women’s health care. After all, I can get my annual exam, a pap smear and STD testing at any ob/gyn office or sexual/reproductive health clinic. Many family practitioners will also perform those services. Those same doctors and physician’s assistants will also prescribe birth control pills, fit me for a diaphragm, insert an IUD, give me a shot of depropravera, insert the Ring, etc.

They will, in essence, address all of my sexual and reproductive needs. Unless I fall into the category of being one of the 1 in 3 women who need an abortion. Then, suddenly, I have to go to a special clinic.

Granted, many, indeed most, of the clinics that offer abortion also offer the full range of other sexual and reproductive health services listed above. BUT… Why don’t all clinics and offices that offer sexual and reproductive health services offer abortion services as well. Either you care about the health of women and female bodied people, or…

Now, I know the history that plays into this “ghettoization” of abortion services, the history that led abortion to be singled out and separated from standard medical care.

I mean, first there’s the fact that it was illegal from 1880 (That’s right, abortion was a legal and fairly basic medical procedure when this nation began. It was performed primarily by midwives, until that profession came under attack along with other aspects of women’s empowerment.) until 1973. Combine that with the history of birth control being illegal, and then only being legal for married couples, and then finally becoming legal for women to access on their own without the consent of a husband (or father) and we see that reproductive care in this country has long been viewed as a separate entity, a medical outsider.

What I can’t understand is how, 40 years later, that care that so many people require and access has remained outside the umbrella of standard medical service.

There are very real consequences to this continued choice to view reproductive care as secondary care.

Recently a woman was arrested for accessing LEGAL abortion pills online and providing them to her daughter. This woman is not a doctor, and so though the medication is legal, she is not legally allowed to prescribe or administer it.

So, why did she?

Well, because this safe, legal medical service was not available in her area. The nearest place that her daughter could access it was 75 miles away. The laws in her state further required that her daughter consult with a doctor before hand, wait at least 24 hours and then return to get the pills.

This meant that the mother and daughter would have to take two days off from their life to access a safe, legal medical procedure. They would either have to make this drive twice, or get a hotel room and stay the night.

To many of us middle class and above folk, this might not seem like an insurmountable hardship – but as someone who has not always been middle class, I can assure you – it absolutely can be.

But… What if this type of abortion, a medical abortion, that does not require surgery, was simply available at every ob/gyn office, at every sexual and reproductive health office, and from any family practitioner who offered pap smears, STD testing and birth control services?

What if it was treated as the basic, common medical care that it actually is?

What if this girl had been able to access it the same way, and from the same medical office where she could access medicine for gonorrhea or HPV or herpes? From the same office she received birth control? From the same doctor who had administered her last pap smear, or who had helped her deal with menstrual problems, given her a breast exam or addressed her other sexual or reproductive concerns.

First, the cost of this drug and procedure would most likely go down, because it would be available in more places.

Second, insurance would most likely cover it because it would be seen and treated as standard, basic health care. (Though the girl in the above story did not have insurance, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if she had, many insurance plans both public and private do not cover abortion services for political reasons. See your local Hobby Lobby store manager or GOP representative for details!)

Last, and perhaps most important – this mother would not be in jail. Because she would not have been forced to make a bad choice in order to help her daughter access her legal right to safe, effective medical care.

The question of accessing medical abortion came up when I was researching abortion services in my state this morning. Accessing the list of providers and seeing what they provided, I suddenly became outraged that Planned Parenthood, which is touted as being the nation’s largest abortion factory by its opponents, doesn’t even offer medical abortion at all of its clinics.

I am outraged that medical abortion is unavailable in my town. I am further outraged that there is a HUGE chunk of my state with absolutely no abortion services at all.

We keep hearing about Texas and other “bad” states where women have to drive HOURS to access an abortion, but that already exists, right here in my state. Nothing has changed from my high school days. Abortion might be legal, but it still isn’t available to far too many people who might need that service. This seems ridiculous to me now that medical abortion exists and is safe up to 9 weeks into a pregnancy. We don’t even have to train new doctors to perform a medical procedure. They only have to know how to determine gestation to make sure that a patient is within the safe period for a medical abortion.

It has even been argued in front of both legislators and judges, this is something that doctors could do over the phone, or over skype to better serve rural patients. So why isn’t it at least available at every sexual and reproductive health clinic in the USA? Why doesn’t my town offer this type of abortion, despite having two such reproductive health clinics? Why doesn’t the town with the highest teen pregnancy rate in my state have this service? (Not that teens are the only people who need this service, but that seems like a pretty solid indicator of demand!)

And what about surgical abortions? Non-medical abortions are considered to be a surgery. A minor, outpatient surgery in the first and early second trimester, but a surgery none-the-less. That means that only certain types of doctors can perform them. Despite studies showing that trained nurses actually have improved safety records with first-trimester abortions, it remains a procedure that only doctors are legally allowed to administer. This limits access in additional ways, especially when you consider that ob/gyns are not required to learn how to perform an abortion as part of their required training!

Why aren’t more of us fighting to change this? I can understand not requiring family practitioners to learn this skill, after all they are not specializing in reproductive health. Yes, many of them will administer a basic pap smear or STD panel, but once a patient is pregnant, they recommend them to a specialist.

Part of caring for people of reproductive age and biological sexual maturity is helping them to manage the potential consequences. Whether that comes in the form of advising sexually active people to use barrier methods of STD and pregnancy prevention, prescribing other forms of birth control, administering STD tests, prescribing medicine to treat STDs, helping someone stay healthy through a pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby, or end an unplanned, unwanted or unsafe pregnancy.

Abortion care is part of sexual and reproductive care. It is not separate. It is not “other”. When 1 in 3 women require a service, that’s an indicator that that service is basic care and that the doctors who treat other issues related to that service, should be required to learn how to perform that service as part of their training and licensing.

And before anyone jumps into, “but FREEDOM!” ALL ob/gyns have to know how to do a pap smear, test for and treat STDs, give a manual breast exam, etc. etc. In order to call yourself a doctor, there is a list of things you must know how to do and when you specialize, additional items specific to your specialization are added. Abortion services are part of reproductive health services, thus doctors who choose (there’s your freedom, right there!) to go into reproductive health should be required to learn how to perform this incredibly common, safe, legal medical procedure, and medical offices which offer reproductive health care that include pregnancy services, should be required to offer and provide the entire range of pregnancy related care, which includes ending a pregnancy when keeping it is not in the best interest of the pregnant person. No ob/gyn gets to say, “But I object to looking inside vaginas” and keep their ob/gyn license. Likewise no doctor specializing in pregnancy care should be allowed to say they will not help a pregnant woman end an unhealthy pregnancy.

Back in the early days of this nation, abortion was legal. Midwives performed them as part of their standard arsenal of care. It was understood that not all pregnancies were viable. Not all pregnancies were safe. Not all pregnancies would end in the birth of a live child.

Abortion was understood to be a necessary service that kept women healthy, safe and alive – so that they could continue being mothers to any children they already had, or so that they might remain healthy and alive to bear children at another time in their life, or simply so that they could remain healthy and productive in some other capacity – because not all women want to or are able to bear children.

It’s time to get back to seeing abortion as standard medical care. It’s time to take it out of the shadows and bring it back into the mainstream. It’s time to treat reproductive health as essential health. We need to train our doctors, allow nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to join the pool of people allowed to perform early abortions and administer medical abortions. We need to ensure that anywhere that reproductive services are offered, those services include the full range of reproductive health, including abortion.

Women should not be going to jail because they could not access legal medical services. Women should not be showing up in clinics or doctor’s offices requiring care for botched self-induced abortions. Those days should be behind us, but they won’t be as long as we keep treating abortion care as a fringe medical service, as something rare and dangerous and separate from other standard, basic reproductive health care.

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Pregnancy is not risk free, stop treating it like it is.

If you are too young, too immature or not mentally or emotionally competent to choose an abortion – you are too young, too immature, and not mentally or emotionally competent to endure 9 months of pregnancy and childbirth.

38 states in this country have some level of parental notification laws for minors seeking an abortion. Some of those states require full dual-parent consent. Some only require that a parent or legal guardian be notified.

parental notification laws abortion

How many hoops must a pregnant teen jump through to NOT have a baby?

There are plenty of articles out there that talk about why this is a TERRIBLE policy and the many ways in which this harms youth and further sends the message to female bodied people that they do not own their bodies or have the right to make their own choices about what happens to it.

I’m not going to re-hash all of that. You are all intelligent people, you can follow the links or do your own research into those issues.

What I want to address is the idea presented in this whole parental notification, parental consent, judicial bypass discussion that abortion is inherently risky (thus the need for parental involvement) and pregnancy is a cake walk.

It turns out that, especially in the first trimester (when 89-92% of all abortions take place) abortion is SAFER as in LESS RISKY than pregnancy.

Pregnancy, even a completely normal, healthy, ideal pregnancy comes with lasting consequences.

I mean, first – it produces a child. A living child that needs things from the moment it takes its first breath. Infants are demanding, needy little creatures. And – not everyone is ready for that. I would argue that a person who is deemed incompetent to make their own reproductive choices is inherently incompetent to deal with a live child.

Now, I know, that person could put the infant up for adoption – problem solved, right?

Except… No.

Because before that moment, there were 9 months of pregnancy. 9 months where a zygote grew into an embryo, grew into a fetus and began to move, kick, squiggle and during which the pregnant person was asked to take extra good care of themselves “for the baby.” The zygote goes from being an idea, a possibility, to being an actual real fetus that is clearly alive. As this process happens, the pregnant person’s body is FLOODED with “attachment hormones” that encourage us to bond with, nurture and take care of the little purple alien that is feeding off our body. Even people who act as surrogates and deliberately and directly get pregnant for the sake of delivering someone else’s child report some feelings of loss when they relinquish the baby, imagine then if you were less sure of that choice, or if you felt you had been bullied into making it.

If you were deemed not competent to choose to end (or keep) a pregnancy, how can you possibly be competent to decide what to do with a live baby 9 months later?

If a pregnancy goes to term, and everything goes well physically, it ends in child birth.

Even in an ideal scenario, childbirth is not a joke. And it is not something that anyone should be forced to endure against their will.

To tell a young person that they are too immature to NOT HAVE A BABY and that therefore they must undergo 9 months of pregnancy and childbirth is ridiculous and cruel.

And that’s assuming that the pregnancy goes well, that the youth has parental support during their pregnancy (Which, if they can’t talk to their parents about it without being forced to by law they probably don’t and now we have an abused or homeless pregnant teen. Yatta?) and that the birth goes smoothly and they have insurance to cover the $4,000 – $45,000 that childbirth costs in this country and they were able to make an informed and supported choice about whether to put the child up for adoption or keep it and raise it themselves…

NONE of that is easy.

None of that is easy for an adult, who actively chose to get pregnant in order to parent a child and has the support of a partner and their own parents and their community – things that many pregnant teens do not have.

Even in perfect circumstances, pregnancy is hard. Childbirth is hard. Parenting is ridiculously hard.

Now imagine doing all of that against your will and without any sort of safety net.

Because for a teen, the chances of everything going well and being any sort of “cakewalk” are slim to none for many, many reasons.

First – you’re in high school, or junior high. (Yes, this happens.) And you’re pregnant.

How do you think your peers are going to treat you? Your teachers? Your community?

In some states/districts pregnant teens are forced out of school – leading to again, increased rates of homelessness, poverty, etc. Pregnant teens are often slut shamed (because only sluts get pregnant, right?) Even teens who are not forced out of school by district policy are often bullied out of school or drop out for other pregnancy related reasons. Being pregnant in school is really, really hard.

And… Since we’re talking about teens who don’t feel safe talking to their parents – well, you can only hide a pregnancy for so long and then, you sort of have to talk to your parents about it, because you become the elephant in the room.

In families where there is a history of abuse, an unplanned pregnancy will often provoke more violence. In some families a youth who becomes pregnant will not be supported and will be thrown out of the house to fend for themselves.

There are many possible negative consequences to requiring teens to discuss their pregnancy with their parents. Youth know their families. Yes, in a perfect world all youth would be safe talking to their parents about life, the universe and everything. But we don’t live in a perfect world, we live in this one. And large swaths of this world are fucked. In some houses it is not safe for youth to talk to their parents about these topics and forcing them to do so puts them at risk.

Now that just briefly touches on the social consequences of forcing a teen to keep a pregnancy.

But we aren’t done yet.

Because pregnancy comes with some serious physical risks as well.

Possible physical side effects of pregnancy include anemia, gestational diabetes, hyper tension, preeclampsia, placental abruption, miscarriage – which comes with its own set of additional possible complications and risks…

Some of these physical risks are mild, like nausea. Others carry a significant risk of death.

Only the pregnant person in consultation with their doctor can determine what risks are acceptable when deciding whether to proceed with a pregnancy or not.

So when someone says that a youth is too immature to decide to NOT HAVE A BABY and must thus face all of these potential risks in order to maintain and keep a pregnancy they did not plan for and do not want… I feel compelled to call bullshit.

Youth are not required to notify their parents or guardians of a decision to keep a pregnancy and try for a live birth (and I say “try for” because no pregnancy is guaranteed a positive outcome.) despite the much larger potential risks, including the risk of death. So why should they be required to notify their parents of their decision to not remain pregnant?

And… We’re still not done, because pregnancy also comes with some heavy emotional risks.

There is the very real, though not very talked about risk of post-partum depression. Something that is finally being studied more as people realize that it has real, lasting consequences.

There is an elevated risk of depression during pregnancy as well, and this risk is increased in teens – see the above social ramifications of teen pregnancy for a hint as to why that might be. Add in a heaping dose of body image confusion and raging hormones and you start to see why this might be problematic.

If the youth has a successful pregnancy and produces a live baby there is still the “raise it” or “give it up for adoption” choice to be made. Adoption is not an emotionally easy choice. Then again, neither is parenting.

If we really wanted to “save the children” from themselves, and looked honestly at the risks and rewards of having an abortion vs carrying an unplanned pregnancy to term, the math says teens would need parental notification or judicial bypass to try for a live birth. They would have to prove they had the necessary support in place to be successful and that they could handle the potential physical, social and emotional consequences of pregnancy and childbirth. (Or pregnancy and loss, because again, not all pregnancies end in birth – and that loss comes with its own physical, social and emotional risks.)

Pregnancy is far more dangerous than abortion.

So, when we talk about parental notification laws, let’s stop pretending it’s about protecting the pregnant youth and start acknowledging that these laws are designed to put up barriers to abortion access. Let’s admit that they are not about helping children make the best choice for themselves, but about forcing them to maintain a pregnancy and produce a live child.

Just like the many laws being passed that put up barriers to abortion access for adults in this country.

Last – for the record, I do not think that abortion is the correct choice for every pregnant teen (or adult). This piece probably sounds like I think all pregnant teens should be forced to have an abortion – I don’t. I simply think that teens who have made that choice should be respected. They know their life and their dreams and their options better than anyone, they know if it is safe to talk to a parent, they know how to find other safe adults to consult with, and they know what is in their own best interest when it comes to whether or not they are ready to face 9 months of pregnancy, child-birth and whatever comes after.

Some teens have the support they need to successfully face pregnancy and have a child. Some don’t. Just like some adults are ready/able to have a child and some are not.

It is not my place, your place, or anyone else’s place to make those choices for them.

This post was really just to say that keeping a pregnancy should not be the default expectation, it is not always in the best interest of the pregnant person and regardless of your views on the life, humanity and value of a fetus – the actual living, breathing person’s rights come first. Period.

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant