Tag Archives: Reproductive justice

Tedious Tastelessness in Texas

© David Thomas Photography

© David Thomas Photography

I’ve had my ear to the ground regarding these pieces of anti-choice legislation since the legislative session started, since this is the biggest attack on my personal human rights and bodily integrity I have ever faced, and the last gem of the previous post (ASC requirements) is one that could put me out of work. The dates and days and nights in orange at the Capitol became a blur, and I am still physically and emotionally trying to recover from these “Special” Sessions. I’ve gotta rest up so I can get back out there again for the THIRD! Thank science for time stamps so I can tell you that my journey into this fray started with a simple sidewalk protest on Monday June 17th, around 5pm, just as I was becoming aware that orange is now the color of Reproductive Justice. I made a sign that read: 

Perry, Perry you’re so scary
You’ve hit an all-time low
You took our voice, we have no choice
And you forgot all about Roe!

Total hours at the Capitol: 2

One of the overflow rooms teeming with Texans for Reproductive Justice

One of the overflow rooms teeming with Texans for Reproductive Justice

Thursday June 20th me and my co-workers from both of my jobs, as well as another 700+ pro-woman Austinites, spent our afternoons and evenings at the Reagan building, testifying against the First Special Session omnibus bills in the House. That night supporters from all over the nation bought pizza and coffee and donuts for us so we could carry on into the wee hours of the morning.  Since anyone in the testimony room had to respect all 175 pages of the rules of “decorum” jazz hands were initiated there. After waiting from 6pm to testify, when the Chair shut the whole thing down sometime after midnight for being “repetitive,” I just walked up and gave them the punchline to my testimony. And shortly after I left some vagilante male allies shone the bat signal for all the world to see. “Let her speak!” became our rallying cry and the #CitizensFilibuster was officially underway.

Total hours at the Capitol: ±6

Come when you can, wear orange, stay 'till the end!

Come when you can, wear orange, stay ’till the end!

Sunday June 23rd I waited in line with many other eager Texans in orange to bear witness to the Texas House of Representatives debate the Senate omnibus bill. I arrived around 1:30pm.  The House recessed for a long while, during which lots of us in orange, the #TangerineVagilantes and #FeministArmy gathered in the rotunda to chant, clap, stomp and hold up our ever-witty signage. 

Orange Line

The line to get in to the Capitol on June 23, 2013

The discussion had started with House Dems debating whether they were dealing with calendar days or legislative days, to which Austin’s own RH Reality Check Reporter Andrea Grimes tweeted, “We can laugh about counting calendar days, but when #txlege outlaws birth control, that’s a skill we’ll all need to bone up on. #hb60.” The House didn’t reconvene until around 6:30pm, I think. So I gathered with the raucous bunch in the auditorium overflow room, which was just as well, since we didn’t have to abide by decorum. 

She understands. She was alive pre-Roe.

She understands. She was alive pre-Roe.

I had to go to work from 4:45 to midnight but my co-workers and I (at a domestic violence non-profit) were watching the Texas Tribune live feed and guffawing at the risk of arrest for jazz hands and the ridiculousness that is ALEC’s newest It Girl pawn, “Representative” Jodie Laubenberg and #OtherThingsRapeKitsDo, and cheering for Representative Thompson hanging a hanger from her mic to punctuate her speech. By that time #TXlege #StandWithTXWomen (and variants) and #HB60 were also trending worldwide on Twitter.

Woo Wu!!!

Woo Wu!!!

I returned to the Capitol just after midnight and was in the gallery to see Representative Wu kicking ass. Kudos to Farrar, Dukes, Wu, Menendez, Lee, Mary Gonzalez, Dutton, Eddie Rodriguez, Howard, Burnam, Naishtat, Turner, Thompson and others for killing it on the floor and battling for women’s reproductive justice. Intersectionality at its finest. And kudos to the thousands of people who donated water, food, coffee and good vibes to keep us all going!

20130623_150911The reason we needed to prolong this process as much as possible, why hundreds of us came to add our voices at the Committee hearing and why our tireless Dems threw question after question around, was that the first special session was scheduled to end at midnight on Tuesday. If we could delay the vote on the bill so much that the legislature literally ran out of time, we would win, at least for a little while….

As predicted the bill did get through this second reading around 3:30am, so my activist friends and I from Get Equal Texas encouraged everyone leaving the gallery to stop on the 2nd floor outside where the representatives normally enter/exit so we could shame them to their faces. I led the charge with a classic borrowed from the LGBTQAI movement: I am somebody! And I deserve full equality! From there a huge contingent of people stood chanting pro-choice slogans like My Body, My Choice and We Won’t Go Back! The kicker was everyone getting fired up and chanting “Shame!” until some of the Reps who spoke up for us came out to thank us. That was the night I learned to use Twitter for real. 

Stairwells flooded with hope

Stairwells flooded with hope

Total hours at the Capitol: ±7.5

Stay tuned for the next exciting post on Texas’ woman problem: Wendy Davis’ filibuster.


Terrible Tragedy in Texas

The past month has been a whirlwind here in Texas, with severe, unnecessary and unconstitutional abortion restrictions being shoved down the people’s throat in the SECOND special session of the Texas legislature, to the tune of $800,000, called by our brainless leader Rick Perry. This post is the first in what will be a series describing my personal experiences in fighting for Reproductive Justice in Texas. 

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HB-1 and SB-2 have been signed into law already. They have four parts that combined make abortion almost completely inaccessible for the women who need them most. The first three parts, barring judicial action, will go into effect 90 days after Perry signed them. The fourth will go into effect in September 2014.

The 20-week “fetal pain” ban has been touted as “reasonable” by some but the current science does not show that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, rather it does show that with very few exceptions, a fetus is not viable outside the womb until roughly 24 weeks. And in a disgusting play of politics Texas legislators refused to consider exceptions for victims of rape or incest or women dealing with “severe mental health issues.” The only exceptions legislators conceded were if the woman’s life was in immediate physical danger (and to be clear, the author of AB-1 doesn’t believe a woman threatening to kill herself qualifies as immediate physical danger,) or if the fetus had such a severe abnormality that it would die within hours or days of being born. This language excludes parents from terminating a pregnancy where the baby would die within a week of being born, of course with the guise of the “health and safety of women” as their house-of-mirrors reasoning.  

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This new law also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility where they would be practicing. This portion of the law is a blatant attempt to restrict how doctors practice medicine with regard to abortion. To earn admitting privileges a doctor must perform a requisite number of surgeries every year which result in a patient being admitted to the hospital for care afterwards. For abortion providers this requirement means they must be working outside the abortion spectrum because abortion has one of the lowest complication rates of any surgery. And the decision of whether to grant admitting privileges to a doctor or not lies solely with the hospital. The doctor has no recourse if s/he is being discriminated against for the type of medicine s/he practices.

Additionally, doctors must now follow the outdated FDA protocol for administering the medications Mifeprex and Misoprostol to induce a medical abortion. As it stood many providers followed protocol approved by the National Abortion Federation, which calls for the patient to receive one pill of Mifeprex in the doctor’s office and then be sent home with four pills of Misoprostol which she would insert buccally (between the lip and gums) 24-48 hours after the Mifeprex. FDA protocol requires a patient to take three Mifeprex in the office and return two days later to insert two Misoprostol vaginally (a practice with higher incidences of infection) before going home to pass the pregnancy. Both protocols require the doctor to urge the patient to return for a follow up exam in roughly two weeks. The differences may not sound severe but FDA protocol would make this process nearly three times more expensive, and with Texas’ mandatory 24 hour waiting period after an ultrasound, would make for four separate days a woman would need to find childcare, take time off work, and drive or be driven to the Ambulatory Surgical Center.

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That’s right, the fourth prong of this law would require that even the administration of medications that induce abortions be performed in an Ambulatory Surgical Center. Don’t look for a logical reason behind that one, it absolutely doesn’t exist. In fact, there’s nothing logical or reasonable about anything in this legislation. The physical requirements for an office to be considered an Ambulatory Surgical Center include things like, having both men’s and women’s locker rooms, sterile ventilation systems, back-up generators, painted cement floors and hallways wide enough to spin a gurney. All of which are completely unnecessary to providing safe abortion care. Abortion is already at minimum 10 times safer than childbirth, and women are “allowed” to do that in their own living rooms. This provision alone is likely to cause 37 of the state’s 42 abortion providers to close their doors. And, combined with requiring admitting privileges, has the possibility of shutting down nearly all of Texas’ abortion providers, leaving our vast state with one destination for women who need to terminate, much like Mississippi or North Dakota. The glaring difference, obviously, is the huge size of the state and the overwhelming population of women of reproductive age in Texas.

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Here are some basic facts on abortion in the United States, just in case you were wondering what about this procedure that more than one-third of all American women experience by age 45 is so scary.

  • Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended
  • 42% of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level
  • 27% have incomes between 100-199% of the federal poverty level
  • 1/3 of all women seeking abortions travel more than 25 miles to access services
  • 54% of women who have abortions were using contraception when they became pregnant
  • 61% of women who have abortions are already mothers with at least one child at home
  • 88% of abortions occur before 12 weeks in the pregnancy
  • Nearly 60% of women who experienced a delay in obtaining an abortion cite the time it took to make arrangements and raise money
  • Fewer than 0.3% of abortions result in the patient being hospitalized for complications  
  • In 2006, publicly funded family planning services helped women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions.  

In my next post I’ll get into my experiences at the Capitol. Be good to yourselves, dear readers, and love one another. 

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My Right to Bodily Autonomy

SA Awareness & Prevention Month

*Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence* Take care of yourself. If you need to talk to someone, contact RAINN.

Meet Us On The StreetThis week, April 7-13, is International Anti-Street Harassment Week and April is both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Abortion Wellbeing Month, an overlap that is very personal to me. I have been harassed on the street more times than I can count. I am a survivor of sexual assault, rape and childhood sexual abuse. I am also an abortion provider. Though these might not seem to have anything to do with each other, since my assaults thankfully did not result in pregnancy, they are intrinsically linked. Each assault I have endured and the violence I face as an abortion provider are affronts to my right to bodily autonomy. My tragedies, however, have shaped who I am as an individual: I am a warrior for equality.

Not Public SpaceThe restricting of access to abortion and sexual assault both serve one purpose–to control women by controlling their bodies. For women in the United States and around the world to be well, to be whole, equal and productive citizens women must first have the right to control their own bodies. The right to say no to unwanted physical contact and the right to make informed decisions about what medical procedures we choose to undergo are basic human rights. If I have sex and get pregnant and do not want to continue to be pregnant, I have the right to terminate the pregnancy because my body is mine alone and the responsibility for caring for the pregnancy would be mine alone. If I am a stranger, if I say no, if I stay silent, if I am crying, you have no right to my body. Consent is sexy and only an emphatic YES! means yes.

If rape were audible

While hapless pundits wonder if violence against women is something that women really worry about, from Stubenville, Ohio to Delhi, India rape and sexual assault happen every moment of every day all around the world.

Laugh:Kill- M Atwood

And each attack transforms its victim and its perpetrator. The healing process for survivors can be long and painful but so many initiatives now exist to put an end to sexual violence that the tides may be turning. Women in Kenya have filed a lawsuit against their government for failing to protect them from rape! From tackling street harassment with Meet Us On The Street and Hollaback! to a mom taking on Facebook‘s “controversial humor” pages glorifying sexual violence to Denim Day to the No More, Who Are You? and Where is Your Line? campaigns to comics and cell phone apps, more and more people are realizing that the strength of our numbers will ultimately win.

Not in Kansas

Unfortunately in the US abortion rights are backsliding.

If men could get pregnant

While France has made contraception and abortion free for all women, here in the US we are still fighting for the right to buy prescriptions for birth control at our local pharmacies. North Dakota has banned abortion after 6 weeks, has only one abortion provider AND has a 72 hour waiting period. Ohio is working to make abortion illegal, as is Alabama. Iowa is trying to restrict abortion access for female inmates. Texas is seriously thinking about making it that much harder to get an abortion.  Kansas lawmakers have been granted the right to lie to their patients and disrespect rape victims while making all abortion basically illegal. And Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina are in on this racket too. Sadly, recent news has shown us, as has history time and again, that without access to abortion women die. The United Nations has recently declared that denying abortions is tantamount to torture.

ResponsibilitySome states are defending Reproductive Justice; Oregon is considering a bill that would require Crisis Pregnancy Centers (non-medically licensed religiously affiliated centers that lie to women to prevent them from having abortions) to disclose what services they actually offer and comply with federal medical regulations regarding patient confidentiality. Also, Washington is trying to mandate insurance coverage for abortion care, and New York is attempting to broaden the availability of abortion. One recent victory for women in the US is the ruling that Emergency Contraception, also known as Plan B or The Morning After Pill, must be made available over-the-counter for all women. Health professionals and activists have been fighting for this for years and even though some states still oppose regular daily oral contraceptives, making EC more available will reduce abortion rates, which ultimately is everyone’s goal. And though Christian and Republican arguments against birth control and EC defy logic, it is a reasonable assumption that if everyone had access to comprehensive sex education and contraception that the rates of unintended pregnancy, and by default abortion, would be lower. The voice of reason now, our voices, must be heard if we want to see any change in this War on Women.

Fierce FloresOne courageous lawmaker this week, Assemblymember Lucy Flores (D-Nevada), disclosed to the public that she has had an abortion. Her compelling personal story of abortion being a positive life-changing experience for her comes at a time when most women would never dream of telling anyone they had an abortion. Though more than 1/3 of all American women will have an abortion at least once by age 45, a good 80% of my patients believe they don’t know anyone else who has had an abortion. The trepidation that women feel at disclosing this is both maddening and understandable: Flores has received death threats since admitting she does not regret having an abortion. This stifling of choice, and backlash against women who exercise their legal right to abortion, is one more spark igniting violence against women in the United States.

North Dakota

If we want equality, and I know some people don’t, we must respect women. We must respect women’s right to bodily autonomy. If women’s bodily autonomy were respected the rates of sexual assault would plummet, and women who have abortions would not be demonized for their choices. For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, share resources with your friends, be supportive of those who have been assaulted, speak out against rape jokes, and volunteer with or donate to your local rape crisis center. For Abortion Wellbeing Month, share your stories with your friends, be supportive of women or couples facing unwanted pregnancies, speak out against politicians interfering in medicine, and volunteer as an escort at your local clinic, or donate to your local abortion fund. Below are some tips on respecting bodily autonomy: what constitutes consent and how male allies can get in on the good fight and stop rape and street harassment. As always any comments, links, ideas and critiques are welcome as long as they are respectful and constructive. Carry on, dear reader, the fight for human rights needs you!

Only Yes Means Yes

Teach Men Not to Rape

6 Things Men Can Do To Stop Street Harassment


Pro-Choice is the Real Pro-Life

Why am I pro-choice? I thought you’d never ask.

bfcd-2013Today is NARAL Pro-Choice America‘s 8th Annual Blog for Choice Day! And since they asked so nicely I thought I’d throw in my two cents on this year’s topic: Why are you pro-choice?

I am an abortion counselor. I talk to women who have made (and some who are in the process of making) one of the hardest decisions they will ever face. My job is to make sure they understand the procedure and what to expect, that all the consent forms are signed and in compliance with (ridiculous) Texas laws, that all of the patients’ questions are answered, but most importantly, it’s my job to ensure that each patient I talk to is confident that she is making the right choice for herself.

For some women the decision is easy, or they feel like it’s the only option they have. Indeed many, many women couldn’t pay for their abortion if not for some kind of private charity. They have two (or three or six) kids at home and know that there is no way they can afford another child and feel that they would be taking away (both financially and emotionally) from their “living” or “existing” children, as they often say. In reality, according to Guttmacher Institute statistics, at least 60% of women seeking abortion already have one or more children at home. They are already mothers and know how much hard work, sacrifice and dedication it takes to do the toughest and most important job in the world.

birth control angel

In all fairness to my patients I’d say around 75% were using contraception when they got pregnant.

For some women the decision is excruciating and causes them a terrible amount of stress and heartache because they genuinely want a child but feel that they could not give it the life it deserves right now. These women’s feelings of guilt, selfishness and grief are exacerbated by “sidewalk counselors,” protesters who shout horrible, demeaning things at perfect strangers and who think their religious beliefs should dictate the morals of the lives of women they have never met. Ricky Perry and the legislators who decided Texas women need 24 hours to think over the mandatory vaginal ultrasound they are required to have before being legally eligible for an abortion take shaming women to a whole new level. What these zealots don’t understand is that abortion is very often a decision made out of love.

What most women feel after an abortion is relief. I’ve been thanked on countless occasions for helping provide this lifesaving service by women, both heartbroken and happy, who are grateful they still have a choice.

Sometimes abortion is a life changing decision, it allows a teen to graduate high school and go to the Olympics for pole vaulting, or it wakes a married woman up to the fact that she does not want to stay in her abusive relationship any longer. And sometimes abortion is mundane. For women who come in for their third or seventh, their familiarity with the process causes them more guilt than the choice itself. They have been able to shake off the stigma that women coming in for their first (and usually only) abortion may never overcome. The reality though is that no one wants to have an abortion: what every woman who comes to me wants is to not have gotten pregnant in the first place.

No one knows you, dear reader, and your life better than you do. So why, especially with something as intimate and private as procreation, would anyone else think they know what’s best for me?

That is the reason I am pro-choice.

2013 Roe v. Wade Rally Austin

I am pro-choice for all of the patients I have ever encountered, from the woman whose husband was battling cancer to the teenager I sent away twice because she didn’t want an abortion even though her parents thought it was best for her. I am pro-choice for the patient who needs an abortion but because of her medical condition has to have it done in a hospital and thus literally needs an act of Congress to have it done because the hospitals in her town are religious. I am pro-choice for Savita Halappanavar, and because I never again want to mourn a woman’s life lost because she did not have access to a safe abortion.

I am pro-choice because it’s my body and I have the human right to choose if, when, and how to procreate or not. Why are you pro-choice?

 


40 Days of Hate and Hypocrisy

 

My recent move back to the United States has brought me full circle and I’m working again for the same abortion provider I was when I left the US three years ago. Counseling women in a time of need, helping women navigate the personal and political ramifications of abortion, and standing up for reproductive health and human rights is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. Abortion rights are under vicious attack now in the United States and anyone who cares about personal liberty has a responsibility to vote out the conservative radicals this November. Al Jazeera takes an interesting look into the world of abortion protesters here.

Conservative, religious radicals are out in force across the nation and even liberal cities like Austin, Texas aren’t immune to the invasion of privacy and emotional blackmail of anti-choice protesters. At least in Austin Crisis Pregnancy Centers or CPCs are required by law to clearly state that they are not medically licensed and will not provide abortion care. Unfortunately their offers of free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling still lure in patients seeking abortion… and their lies and manipulation do a lot of harm in delaying or even preventing women from exercising their choices. This past Wednesday, September 26th, a group called Austin Coalition for Life began their 40 Days for Life “prayer vigil” outside Austin abortion clinics, getting good-hearted church-goers to sign up for one-hour shifts to stand outside our office and intimidate our patients.

This action, by this group, though peaceful, has already and will cause even more unnecessary stress, fear and heartache for women making one of the most difficult decisions of their lives. The hypocrisy is overwhelming. Even some patients who identify as being religious tell us “I don’t believe in abortion,” and yet there they sit. A few protesters a few times a week is normal for us but multiple protesters everyday for 40 days (until November 4th!) is exhausting. Having to warn patients that their decisions, their bodily autonomy and their health are going to be disrespected by people who feel entirely justified in forcefeeding their faith to others makes me wince. Hearing angry fathers threaten violence against protesters for upsetting their daughters makes me nervous. Seeing posters that try to coerce vulnerable young women into becoming ill-prepared parents makes me nauseated. Reading about the “And Then There Were None” project to syphon abortion clinic employees into religious CPCs makes me dizzy. Imagine the additional trauma these “people of god” are causing to already scared, hormonally volatile women–women who are confident in their choice that this is not the right time for them to bring life into this world through their own bodies.

Some patients get angry and do verbal battle with protesters, asking if they’ll come to their home at 2 AM to feed and change the new baby. Others come into the office crying after being harassed by a protester yelling, “Mommy don’t kill me! Your baby loves you!” Sometimes patients talk to them, listen to their gospel, accept their literature and still have abortions. A few laugh them off and ask us who has the time. Most patients just ignore them, which is what all of us who work there must do. But for me, as an atheist, someone telling me they are praying for me to have a change of heart just makes me shake my head. Who are you to judge my patients and tell anyone what to believe?

What this group in particular and all other “religious and peaceful” anti-choice protesters do not understand is that their silent prayers, sidewalk counseling and general anti-choice stance lead the way for and justify the beliefs and actions of those anti-choice activists who feel that violence is the answer. In the same way that telling (or not speaking out against) a rape joke perpetuates rape culture and allows any rapist who might overhear it to feel that his actions are normal and acceptable, a violent anti-choice activist is bolstered in his beliefs when he sees dozens of protesters outside an abortion clinic who he feels are on his side. Dr. George Tiller of Kansas was murdered by one such extremist who felt that god wanted him to kill this doctor to prevent abortions.

According to the Guttmacher Institute in 2008 there were only 1,793 abortion providers in the entire United States, a drastic drop from 2,908 in 1982, largely due to threats of violence and absurd political restrictions. A bomb was planted at the office where I work a year before I started there. Everyone who worked there at the time returned the next day. Because of extremist anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue I fear for my life everyday when I go to work. Yet every day I go to work I am confident that I am doing the right thing by helping my patients access safe abortions. Roe v. Wade wasn’t the start of women in the US having abortions, it was the end of women dying from them.

I’m helping provide a medical service to women, one that is unremarkable in some places but is demonized and dehumanized in the US. The political climate in America now is so disgustingly misogynistic that a medical procedure that a full third of all women undergo by age 45 is barely ever discussed openly between friends, let alone honestly and on a personal level in public. The secrecy surrounding abortion and the fear many women live in is directly related to the guilt and shame being piled on by the religious right–the same people who want to restrict access to birth control, discontinue Welfare and Medicaid, and teach abstinence only! Protesters both peaceful and violent alike are given confidence when they hear prominent Republican politicians spewing phrases like “legitimate rape” and threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade and “get rid of” Planned Parenthood.

Infuriatingly, the politicians who are trying their damnedest to eliminate access to abortion “have never thought about” why a woman might consider it. In the same vein, most Americans who claim to want abortion to be illegal have no answer when asked how women who obtain abortions illegally should be punished. These people are playing politics with people’s lives and shaming them for making the best choices for themselves AND THEY’VE NEVER EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES!!!

My co-workers and I have 37 more days of “life” to get through but networking events like this week’s Jane’s Due Process appreciation mixer, and the upcoming NARAL Pro-Choice Texas 26th Annual Celebration of Choice event definitely make it easier on us. Want to help change the reality of abortion politics in the US? Donate to NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned ParenthoodClick here to tell your representatives that women won’t go back to back alley abortions! Register to vote and then VOTE like your lady parts depend on it… because they do!

 


What I Learned From DFA

 

I recently finished Democracy for America‘s online activist training “The War For Women” in the hopes of combatting current Republican efforts to undermine women’s rights in the United States. To see the series of events that set off the need for this training watch this depressing video and refer back to this blog. Even Al Jazeera is exploring America’s feverishly religious abortion debates. The training was entirely virtual (and entirely FREE–thanks DFA!) and took place once a week for an hour; because of the time difference this meant I tuned in from 3-4AM to participate but, as any good student will tell you, sleep deprivation is a small price to pay for knowledge. This highly interactive War For Women training consisted of six topics, each featuring experts in their respective fields and downloadable action kits full of ideas, links and practical information for activists wanting to get their hands dirty in the fight for justice. What follows is my take on each session.

1) Heath and Reproductive Rights
Inhabiting the same (albeit virtual) space as Cecile Richards (President of Planned Parenthood) was a little overwhelming. Her fervor and success in fighting for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is inspiring. The furor with which the religious right-wing is attacking women’s sexuality and bodily autonomy is terrifying, maddening and outrageous. Check out this timeline of reproductive justice that takes us up to October 2011 before the onslaught of War on Women legislation this year. Because of my extensive background in SRHR much of the factual information presented I was already familiar with, but the action ideas for fundraising house parties and creating more community dialogue and support for Reproductive Justice will be useful for even the most seasoned activist. Check out this session’s action kit here. Its 14 pages are full of useful ways to make sure women’s reproductive health and rights are not diminished by the government. Other downloadable tools for this topic include a Planned Parenthood Action Fund Toolkit, a WAW Volunteer Sign-up Sheet, an Obama/Romney Contrast graphic, and a WAW Pledge Card.

2) Victory Over Violence
Violence against women was one of the first topics as a young woman that enraged me, and consequently pushed me into feminism and activism. The highly successful and extremely established presenters of this session (Debbie Tucker, the Executive Director of The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence and  Susan Celia Swan, the Executive Director of V-Day) likewise have devoted their lives to combating gender based violence in the US and around the world. A considerable portion of the presentation is devoted to getting trainees up to speed on the sickening recent delays in passing the Violence Against Women Act. The hands-on training is facilitated by Ruby Reid, DFA’s spectacular Online Training Organizer who also emcees the other five sessions. Reid takes activists, step-by-step, through the proper etiquette for successful lobbying of elected officials. Lobbying should always be the first action those wanting to make change take; when lobbying fails, however, there are a host of strategic nonviolent actions to fall back on. Reid and Tucker share best practices for contacting supportive/undecided/non-supportive legislators, a great To Do/Not To Do list for lobbying, and tips on organizing a successful (and media flooded) rally. There are useful tips in the training for men who want to take action against violence against women too! The Victory Over Violence action kit can be found here.

3) The Economic Gender Gap
The feminization of poverty happens all around the world and in the United States the issue of equal work for equal pay is somehow still contentious. Host of The War Room, former Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm ties the whole War For Women together in a four-and-a-half minute video explaining how the underrepresentation of women in politics and science, and how injustice in reproductive health all affect women’s earning power and thus the economy of the United States. Shockingly, if all women in the US were paid equally it would add $523,900,000,000 to the consumer economy!  This session gives lots of other surprising and outrageous information about how unequal pay affects women’s lives, but the focus of the action-training is on branding. The “friendraiser” Jennifer Daniels, an expert in messaging, takes us through how to craft an effective narrative that addresses issues that affect you. The detailed and useful information here builds on the lobbying training from the second session and comes into play again in the fourth session. Here is the 13-page action kit for the Economic Gender Gap which includes an extremely useful tool for any strategic nonviolent activist: Creating a message that resonates.

4) Women and the Media
Used in conjunction with previous subjects like how to craft an effective narrative and how to be successful in lobbying (and because of the overwhelming importance of media coverage and access and how few women are represented in the decision-making processes of media,) this training may be the most important. The trailer for the 2011 documentary Miss Representation opens this session and a short analysis of how representations of women in the media affect everyone’s ideas of what women can and should be follows. MSNBC Analyst Karen Finney leads a discussion of how women can be seen as authority figures and effective leaders in the media across the spectrum of topics. She also addresses the fact that a woman has not anchored a presidential debate in the past 20 years. Since the training took place it was announced that CNN anchor Candy Crowley will moderate a town hall-style debate. Kimberly “Dr. Goddess” Ellis addresses what she learned from  the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the unequal and sexist coverage of the Olympics in the US. Her major point is that we must support women in media by watching women, supporting/funding women who are trying to make their way into the media and not tokenizing women or people of color. John Brougher, Founder of the blog Male Feminists, addresses how women’s allies can use their personal and political power to work for women’s progress. DFA’s Communications Director, Linsey Pecikonis, leads the training in earned media, explaining the differences between (and how to use) press releases and news advisories and how to make pitch calls to media outlets. The action kit for Women and the Media, including templates for news advisories and media kits, is available for download here.

5) Women as Voters
Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners and prominent strategist and pollster, uses research to oust incumbent Republicans from office. Her video highlights what issues have historically been important for women voters, how disparities in voting affect women and how to get women back to the polls. The NAACP National Training Director, Jessica Pierce, tackles the intersectionality of oppression and how voting affects issues that are critical to women, people of color, the working class, etc. She also addresses recent voter suppression efforts and how the NAACP is using all kinds of media and outreach to get more people to vote all over the country. The activist training portion of this session, lead by Ruby Reid, covers tried-and-true get out the vote “GOTV” tactics that work for women. Women as Voters action kit includes great tips on how to register voters and how to identify supporters and contact voters. The National Mail Voter Registration Form (which can be used in every state except New Hampshire and Wyoming) is also there for download.

6) Women as Candidates
With women representing an abysmal 17% of Congress, the importance of women running for office could not be clearer. Check out Emily’s List‘s Impact Project to see how important it is to have women in office. Jennifer Granholm is back in this session to share her experience as a candidate and encourage us to build bridges between women in office and those women who are considering running. The 2012 Project, with its tagline “Don’t get mad. Get elected.” is working “to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of the once-in-a-decade opportunities of 2012.” Debra Shore, of the Illinois Water Reclamation District, takes us through practical aspects of running for office for the first time including crafting your narrative, the importance of fundraising, the impact of running on personal relationships and finding support in unlikely places. Angela Zimmann, a candidate for Ohio’s 5th Congressional District, shares her experiences as a candidate and how to overcome dismissive detractors and feelings of inadequacy. Erin Molchany, Candidate for State Representative in Pennsylvania’s 22nd District, explains what made her campaign successful: hard work, inclusivity and accessibility to voters.  Regina Schwartz, Deputy Director of the Analyst Institute, shares her very interesting work in understanding how voter outreach affects elections, how to make campaigns as effective as possible and more successful GOTV tactics.

Overall these six sessions were very enlightening and worthwhile. Take six hours of your life and watch each webinar video, then take another three and go through each of the action kits to make yourself the most effective activist possible in the War For Women. If you’d like to participate in any of the upcoming virtual or local DFA trainings, contact them here. To contribute to their very important work and make trainings like these more accessible for everyone, go here. Thanks for reading, now go out and change the world!

 


The War FOR Women

Soon I start a six-week online training course designed to teach Americans more about how to defend women’s human rights against the egregious attacks against women’s health, sexuality and autonomy coming from right-wing politicians. Democracy For America has organized the War FOR Women training sessions which will all take place virtually, once a week, at 8pm Eastern (5pm Pacific). Topics include practical rebuffs to the attack on reproductive justice, lobbying techniques to stop violence against women, how to address pay inequality in your community, how to get the media to cover your story (VERY important for the success of strategic nonviolent action!), how to register voters and encourage women to exercise their hard-earned right to vote, how you can be a successful political candidate and how to get out the vote.

The schedule is as follows:

July 10 – Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights with Cecile Richards (President of Planned Parenthood)
July 18 – Victory Over Violence with Debby Tucker (Executive Director of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence)
July 25 – Economic Gender Gap with award–winning educator and communicator, Jenifer Daniels (“the friendraiser”)
August 1 – Women in the Media with Karen Finney (MSNBC Political Analyst) and Kimberly “Dr. Goddess” Ellis (California Director, EMILY’s List)
August 8 – Women as Voters with Celinda Lake (Pollster and Democratic Strategist, Lake Research Partners)
August 15 – Women as Candidates featuring DFA’s slate of progressive women candidates

I am thrilled to be inhabiting the same virtual space as Cecile Richards, one of my personal heroes, as she explains “what’s at stake for women’s health nationally and in particular states where dangerous legislation is being considered. Deirdre Schifeling, Planned Parenthood’s National Director for Organizing & Electoral Campaigns, will provide a practical training on how you can join the fight.”

I will blog about the trainings and what I am learning over the next six weeks. If you’d like to join Democracy For America will “show you how you can challenge the GOP’s attack on women and build a movement for equality.” Register here for seminars that will “provide practical tools and create a community of people of all genders committed to fighting for women’s rights. Each session will feature leading experts on each issue, a practical training on how you can take action, and a chance to connect with like-minded people who refuse to be silent in the face of injustice.” What more can you ask for?


The Republican War on Women

The War on Women being waged in the United States is culminating in the likely closure of the only abortion clinic in the nation’s poorest state, Mississippi. Measures specifically introduced by the state’s legislature to shut down its last remaining abortion provider have been successful so far, with a new law passed requiring abortion providers to have privileges at local hospitals. While the office’s three doctors have all applied for hospital privileges, as of yet they do not have them. It is unknown what will happen to the clinic after the new law takes effect. In Virginia similar measures are being protested that would make it extremely difficult for abortion providers to remain open. This piece explores the painful reality these abortion restrictions inflict on women, an important voice in the conversation when women are not even “sources” for women’s rights issues. It’s high time women were not ashamed to say that they’ve had abortions, and while men’s opinions on everything from menstruation to menopause seem to hold more weight, we in the pro-choice movement would like to hear from more pro-choice men.

The legislative tactics used by Mississippi and Virginia to effectively make abortion illegal, or at least unobtainable, are nothing new. Across the country a terrifying 1,100 pieces of anti-women legislation have been proposed since 2011! You really should check that link out. Add to this the very real violence faced by clinic workers on a daily basis, like death threats, arson and bombings, and it’s no wonder abortion is becoming impossible to obtain safely and legally in the wealthiest country in the world. Republicans are even trying to sneak language about life beginning at conception into completely unrelated bills, like this one extending FEMA’s national flood insurance plan. But disaster-stricken Americans are not the only ones the GOP is alienating. Not only should women have no control over their own sexual and reproductive health, argue elected Republican officials, their work is worth less than men’s. Extending the war on women to their ability to feed themselves, Republican Senators refused to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

From the absurdity of women being excluded from a panel discussing birth control (and the attacks women who wanted to speak endured) to the extremely anti-choice Michigan legislature banning two female representatives for “inappropriate language” i.e.. vagina and vasectomy, during debates about anti-choice legislation, legislators and laws in the US are becoming more and more misogynistic. Beautifully, thousands of protesters took to the… steps with a performance of the timeless Vagina Monologues to demand that freedom of speech extend to female legislators discussing body politics. If you want to send your own message to Michigan legislators sign this petition asking Facebook to allow users to change their middle name to Vagina, then change yours. You might also mention that the double standard– Medicare covers Viagra and penile implants, yet Republicans think birth control should be an out-of-pocket expense– is unacceptable. Thankfully, while the majority of the anti-woman rhetoric in the US is coming from the Christian Rightwing, it’s good to see other religious figures supporting women’s bodily autonomy.

As you can see from the graphic at the top Michigan isn’t the only state waging war on women’s reproductive freedoms. In Ohio alone a staggering 16 pieces of anti-choice legislation were introduced since 2010. North Carolina Republicans are trying to defund Planned Parenthood, again. Texas Republicans are promoting proven-ineffective abstinence-only sexual education courses. Kansas Republicans have introduced a host of Christian-based anti-woman legislation and a doctor there may permanently lose her medical license for refusing to force a ten-year-old to give birth. South Dakota has proposed a 72 hour waiting period between ultrasound and abortion for women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. And in Arizona now it is perfectly legal for doctors to lie to their patients if they think the information they give will influence them to have an abortion. Also in Hell Arizona, “reasonably suspicious” women and men are being asked for Papers, please, despite a mixed Supreme Court ruling on the legality of SB 1070. This article takes on an excellent exploration of what this means for immigrant women, and what the situation of immigrant women means for equality for all people in the US. Check out the pictures supplied by Planned Parenthood at the end of the post for other evidence of the war on women.

And then there’s the Violence Against Women Act…. The Senate passed a beautiful, sparkling reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that extended protections to undocumented women, Native American women and lesbians. The House promptly stripped those additions, leaving millions of women in traditionally under-served populations even more vulnerable, all the while claiming that women would use these new provisions to scam the system with false accusations. The President has vowed to veto the House version if it crosses his desk. LGBT lobbies and Native American women’s lobbies are still pushing for passage of the Senate version at Capitol Hill and even Christian websites think Congress should pass the Senate version! At least New York understands.

With a staggering 1 in 3 Native American women raped in her lifetime one would hope Republicans could at least show compassion in the wake of such terrible violence. But no. A sickening story of a Tampa rape victim who was arrested on charges of outstanding warrants after she reported her rape has outraged women across the country. The worst is yet to come. After being booked, a guard where she was being held confiscated the second pill of her emergency contraception because it went against her beliefs. A federal court has ruled that the victim will be allowed to sue the guard for violating her right to privacy. In other news of the State violating individuals human rights, this (potentially triggering) piece explores the unnecessary police practice of forced catheterization in Utah. Even liberal San Francisco is being accused of victim blaming people who come to the police as victims of rape and domestic violence.

Rape in the US military is a hot-button issue too, yet House Republicans showed little compassion when blocking abortion access for soldiers who have been raped. The award-winning documentary The Invisible War explores the issue of rape that is poisoning the US military. One service member interviewed explained victims’ options as “suicide, AWOL, or deal with it.” The film explores why many rape victims don’t report the incident: for 25% of women who didn’t report the rape to their commander, their commander was their rapist. The documentary’s website, in addition to the trailer and information on the movement, offers ways to take action and help demand accountability and justice for service members who have been raped.

Pillamina on the campaign trail!

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, I want to give you the good news. In addition to the beauty of an estimated 3-5,000 people filling Michigan’s capital steps to respect the word vagina, across the blogosphere people are overcoming the shame of using the word vagina. Like the personal story of abortion linked in the beginning of this post, it is extremely important women are speaking out so that their voices are heard. Public performances, like The Vagina Monologues, have long been an effective tactic in the strategic nonviolent activists’ arsenal, and with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney wanting to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, a giant pack of birth control pills, Pillamina, is now following him along the campaign trail. If that doesn’t make you smile, how about this: since 1990 abortion rates have decreased 18% for women in their 20s due to increased contraception access. Also, many big city mayors (a lot of whom are men) have added their names in support of women’s reproductive rights. Rock on Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hartford and New York!

And not all news from individual states is bad. The Governor of New Hampshire vetoed a “partial birth” abortion ban since a similar ban (for a procedure which doesn’t actually exist) is already in place at the federal level. Also in New England Connecticut has included abortion as an essential health benefit in the state’s insurance plan. And even quiet Midwesterners in North Dakota are fighting back against this war on women, deciding they don’t want to expand religious liberty to discriminate against anyone. At the federal level Congress actually did something right, by failing to pass a ban on “sex-selective abortions,” a problem which deserves national attention in India and China but is almost non-existent in the US.

Though the comments on this video are repulsive, the White House 1 is 2 Many campaign to encourage men to speak up if they witness violence against women is a good reminder that bystanders have power too. As we saw with the contentious issue of undocumented women being covered by VAWA, immigrant women are the often-forgotten victims of violence against women. Thankfully the newly opened Tahirih Justice Center in Baltimore is a haven for immigrant victims of domestic violence throughout New England. If you want to get involved and fight back against the misogynistic legislative attacks, including the VAWA embarrassment, check out A is For, a group seeking to reclaim the scarlet letter A. Or join the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in their Week of Action for Reproductive Justice because you, like Mary Gonzalez, the openly lesbian Latina doctoral student recently elected to the Texas House, are poderosa.

Finally, the best news of all. In addition to this long, well-cited list of Obama’s accomplishments as President he can now definitively add “bringing American healthcare into the 21st Century: The Supreme Court has upheld Obamacare!!! This landmark decision ensures that women and men will be treated equally by insurance companies, and preventative services like birth control (with no co-pay), mammograms, and pap smear cancer screenings, will all be covered by insurance! If you’re so inclined you can write a letter of thanks to the five Supreme Court Justices who voted in favor of universal health care. Thank you for reading, be well, and as always, if you have ideas, suggestions or comments as to how we can fight back against the patriarchy, please share them below.

In Peace~

 


Equal Pay Day

April 17th is Equal Pay Day in the United States. Equal Pay Day marks how far into 2012 women have to work to earn what men did in 2011. See this graph by the Atlantic for an exploration of the pay gap by area of expertise, and the National Women’s Law Center’s and the American Association of University Women’s state-by-state fact sheets and rankings about the wage gap.

 

Women on average only earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. It’s even more grim if you are a women who happens to not have white skin: African-American women earn only 62 cents and Hispanic women only 54 cents for every dollar that a white, non-Hispanic man earns. The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and it’s Trabajadoras Campaign can help if you feel you have experienced wage discrimination. Their informative report on the status of Latina workers in the US is available for download on their site.

In case you were wondering what the extra cost of being a vagina’d-American is, here’s a rough estimate compiled by Jezebel. It doesn’t include the cost of treating vagina-specific sexual health issues like bacterial vaginosis or PID which can be quite costly, but hey, nobody’s perfect. Also chech out this chart explaining how much more women pay for health insurance by state, unfair right? Especially when you figure out that the average tax cut per millionaire in 2012 could support 551 people receiving family planning services. And just think, with the extra $431,360 you would earn over your lifetime if you were a penis’d-American, you could pay for SEVEN four-year college degrees, or 921 abortions.

Now, you might not need all those abortions if you had birth control. And if you had birth control you might be richer! Not only does birth control increase women’s wages it also saves employers 15% to 17% more than they would have paid to “exclude birth-control coverage, both because other medical costs rise and because of lost productivity.” If you can’t afford birth control, just Google it.

Besides abortion and birth control issues, one important battlefront in the War on Women is the Republican Party’s denial that the wage gap exists. In Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in a stunning display of inhumanity, repealed that state’s equal pay law because, as Senator Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) explained, “Money is more important for men.”

Senator Grothman asserts that women are too busy caring for children to fret their pretty little heads over financial woes. His archaic assumption leaves most American women out of the equation, including single women, women without children, and all women-headed-households, including the 34% of women-headed-households that live below the poverty line. For many of these families there is no help coming from the government since they do not meet the strict criteria for Welfare.

At least one TV figure has asked the GOP why they don’t pay women for mothering since being a mother is work. Being a mother is arguably the worst financial decision a woman can make in the US but many women like Selma James have worked for decades, fighting for women to be paid for the work they do in the home.

One of the best things you can do to put an end to wage discrimination, besides demanding a wage equal to what your male peers are making, is to demand your lawmakers enact the Equal Rights Amendment. As always your questions, comments, links or other addicting info are more than welcome and very much appreciated in the comments.

Go forth and equalize!


Day 31- Connecting the Dots

As Women’s History Month wraps up today I want to express my deep gratitude for all of the support I have felt from readers over the past 31 days. I hope that you have enjoyed the discussions and have learned something. I also hope that you can see how interconnected every individual’s struggle for justice is with everyone else’s. I welcomed you all to Feminist Activism with this quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As I conclude my personal goal of writing everyday, I want to focus on the overarching ideas of justice and equality.

In the web of humanity everyone’s fate is intertwined with everyone else’s, so even if we personally are not facing injustice or persecution, we must stand up for those who are. Fighting to secure basic rights and freedoms for everyone will someday protect you, or someone you love. This statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller comes to mind.

Human rights covers a huge range of things, from women’s rights to access to education to the rights of the disabled to access to health care, etc. Merely fighting for each individual human being to have equal access and opportunity will not fix what is wrong with our world though. Environmental issues and the rights of other species to not only exist but to thrive need to be priorities as well, for even the most equal of societies will fall if the planet cannot sustain it.

A look into one individual’s life will clearly illustrate how dependent all living beings are on each other. Let’s look at an average white American woman: 30s-40s, two teenagers and a shelter rescue dog, one expensive abortion, Christian with no time for church, divorced because her alcoholic ex-husband broke too many of her ribs, high school graduate, working class–living paycheck to paycheck, no retirement fund to speak of, paying a mortgage, lives in the suburbs downwind from her job, tries to help take care of her disabled mother who lives in a run-down nursing home, health insurance only covers cervical cancer screenings every two years instead of the recommended annual screenings, her gay brother lives with her because he was forced out of his home when his partner passed away and their home was automatically given to the legal “next of kin,” her mid-90s car has tons of miles on it and is just as hard on her wallet as it is on the environment, and her best friend is the Mexican woman with whom she can barely communicate who is charged with her mother’s care. This story of “middle America” could go on and on.

Every aspect of an individual’s life–sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, education, class, religion, ability, language, environment, legal status, criminal record, and age–affects her/his reality. Each of these factors individually can be cause for discrimination but when more than one factor is “abnormal” the individual can feel hopeless. The norm for American society is male, white, straight, man, some college, middle-upper class, Christian, nondisabled, English-speaking, suburban, US citizen, non-convict, 30s-40s. Imagine how harsh someone’s reality is if these are the facts: female, Latino, bisexual, transgender FTM, some high school, working class, atheist, disabled, Spanish-speaking, urban, undocumented, ex-convict, 60s. Obviously this is an extreme case of being at the bottom of the food chain but this man does exist, many times over!

Let’s go back to our “average” American woman. Her Christian upbringing lead her to get married at age 20 and have children by age 22. After her youngest child went to school she tried to get back into receptionist work but found she had been out of the game too long and no one would hire her. The family couldn’t survive on her husband’s paycheck alone so she took an entry-level job at a manufacturing plant where she was often sexually harassed for being a woman and doing a “man’s job.” Despite missing work for three weeks because her husband put her in the hospital, she worked her way up in the union and, since she left her husband, luckily makes enough money to get by every month. Her brother helps with some of the bills but his employers give him just enough hours to qualify for health insurance, out of pity, because they know if he ever lost his health insurance his HIV status would make him “uninsurable.” Her children, whom she would sacrifice anything for, are in high school, sexually active, average students, mildly involved in extra-curricular activities. She’s straight but sometimes wonders what it would be like to be with a woman. Her mother’s illnesses are taking a toll on her and the Mexican caretaker at the nursing home is the only person she feels comfortable being honest with, partly because she believes the caretaker can’t understand her. She’s been having some pains in her stomach lately which could be attributed to cervical cancer or could be a result of years of inhaling pollution, but she can’t afford to take the time off work to see a doctor during normal business hours, and couldn’t afford her co-payment anyway.

We must all fight each other’s battles. My only word of caution is not to fight for what we think someone else wants, but to fight for what she says she wants, otherwise we’re repeating colonialism all over again. If you are interested in fighting injustice in any (or all) of its many forms, get involved in your community. The old feminist adage to “think globally and act locally” is still true. Always consider what effect your actions will have on the global community and start to make changes in your life and at the local level. This explanation may help.

Some organizations with whom you can explore the birdcage of oppression include The Connect the Dots Movement focused on human, animal and environmental well-being, The Connect the Dots Network which teaches green/sustainable environmental practices to social justice non-profits, 100% Renewable Energy that explains the folly in ageist discrimination in relation to the environmental movement, Counter Quo which examines how a multitude of factors compound oppression and sexual violence, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights that is a legal service that understands how race and security issues affect environmental issues, and L.O.V.E. Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation which explores the necessary links between veganism and feminism, and on combating speciesism, racism, sexism and rape culture.

Tomorrow is April 1st and the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I will not be writing everyday but hope to be able to post at least 2-3 times per week, so check back often for new discussions, or subscribe so you’ll automatically be notified when I post something new. As always, any ideas, links, information, etc. is more than welcome. Thanks y’all. Keep fighting the good fight!


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