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‘Personhood’ Leader: Localize the Fight Against Abortion Rights

RH Reality Check - 50 min 47 sec ago

A leading advocate for “personhood” laws—a backdoor approach to outlawing abortion—lamented in a recent op-ed that “the statewide personhood ballot measure is dead for now,” after voters rejected “personhood” measures in Colorado and North Dakota.

But in his LifeSiteNews opinion piece, Gualberto Garcia Jones, who authored Colorado’s failed 2014 personhood initiative, didn’t advise his fellow anti-choice activists to give up the cause of pushing ballot initiatives aimed at banning abortion by granting legal rights to zygotes (fertilized eggs).

Garcia Jones made the case that his allies should forgo statewide votes and place personhood proposals on municipal ballots, chipping away at abortion rights on a much smaller scale. This comes after the third rejection of personhood measures in Colorado.

In a news release last month, the Personhood Alliance, an anti-choice organization run by ardent anti-abortion activists from around the country, announced plans to do just that.

Launched this year and claiming member organizations in Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin, the Personhood Alliance aims to insert anti-choice language in local “ordinances and codes,” according to the news release, which points to local efforts in Alabama, New Hampshire, and Mississippi as examples of what its future activism might look like.

“Local laws deal with many powers that touch upon the personhood of the preborn, from local health and building codes to local law enforcement such as child abuse prevention,” Garcia Jones, policy director for the Personhood Alliance, wrote in his opinion piece. “It is time to establish the recognition of universal human personhood into these laws.”

“Even at the local level, where anti-abortion groups tried to ban abortion at 20 weeks in Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters upheld the value that women should be making their own health-care decisions in consultation with their doctor and their family and without government interference,” Cathy Alderman, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told RH Reality Check. “The fact that the proponents of personhood measures claim that they will continue to push their extreme political agenda on voters despite being defeated time and time again demonstrates a true failure to respect that voters have spoken, time and time again to protect a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortion services.”

Voters defeated a municipal ballot measure last November in Albuquerque that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. Twenty-week abortion bans are considered some of the most extreme anti-choice measures, and one the U.S. Senate could consider in 2015.

In his opinion piece, Garcia Jones, who did not return an email seeking comment, acknowledged his repeated defeats. “As it is, the crushing defeat of the North Dakota amendment and the lackluster improvement in Colorado should make Personhood supporters stop to think about the strategy going forward,” he wrote. “Right now, fighting the abortion industry at the state level is akin to having lined up a battalion of colonists against the well-trained and well-armed redcoats.”

He conceded that voters in metropolitan areas roundly reject the radical right-wing views of personhood supporters, leaving personhood activists no choice but to engage “the enemy in municipalities and counties that we know we control.”

“The personhood movement has fought honorably and maintained the standard of the sanctity of life, but it is time to switch up the strategy,” Garcia Jones wrote.

Pro-choice activists said they are preparing for the ultra-local fight about to be waged by personhood extremists, and they’re confident that voters will strike down ballot initiatives in municipalities as readily as they did on the state level.

“Because of the overwhelming and repeated defeats of so called ‘Personhood’ measures at the state level, we believe they will be defeated at the municipal level as well,” Cristina Aguilar, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, told RH Reality Check via email. “We’ve already seen municipal defeats in Albuquerque where our Latino community came out powerfully against the measure. In any event, we welcome the opportunity to use these municipal efforts to expose the fact that what these measures are really about is creating the basis for punishing pregnant women, new mothers and taking away their ability to make personal and private decisions.”

Image: PersonhoodUSA/Youtube

The post ‘Personhood’ Leader: Localize the Fight Against Abortion Rights appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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Ending Child Marriage

Center for Reproductive Rights - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 23:00
Ending Child Marriage A first-ever international appeal aims to end child marriage in South Asia

11.22.14 - “I was turned into someone’s wife before I knew what it meant to me,” remembers Rahar Maya Biswokarma, a Nepalese woman who was married off by her family at age 10. “All my joy was gone at once.”

Forced to leave her parents and her childhood home, to bear children while still a child herself, and to suffer through a lifetime of profound isolation as well the enduring physical trauma of a uterine prolapse that likely occurred as the result of giving birth at a young age, Maya looks back at her 40-year marriage with sorrow: “Perhaps I’ll regret getting married early throughout my life, until my death.”

Deprived of her dignity, her health, and a sense of personal fulfillment, Rahar Maya’s story is a disturbing but familiar tale. The centuries-old practice of child marriage in South Asia continues to plague generations of young girls and women in the modern world. Although there have been laws against child marriage in place throughout the region since 1929, estimates suggest that as many as 130 million South Asian girls will be forced into child marriage between 2010 and 2030—unless governments stop this practice immediately. Lax enforcement, entrenched regional customs, and a sense that marriage falls into the personal realm have allowed this harmful practice to perpetuate.

For the first time in history, key stakeholders in South Asia have come together to urge their governments to clarify, strengthen, and enforce their laws to end child marriage. Earlier this month, officials from member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the region’s collaborative political body, and members of civil society endorsed an innovative call for action that implores governments to utilize legal mechanisms to address this human rights crisis.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC)—which has led the development of a regional action plan to end child marriage to be implemented in January 2015—were the lead organizers in this effort. The Center has deployed its extensive legal expertise to promote the use of international and national norms and mechanisms for catalyzing change.

“We have been frustrated that despite clear international legal obligations to eliminate child marriage, South Asian governments have continued to show a lack of accountability in establishing proper legal frameworks and implementing and enforcing their laws to end this egregious practice,” says Melissa Upreti, the Center’s regional director for Asia. “This call for action demands that governments in the region urgently take concrete steps to protect the rights and well-being of millions of their most disenfranchised citizens.”

The document outlines a set of specific recommendations, such as codifying minimum age requirements for marriage, establishing legal remedies for girls whose rights are violated through child marriage which involves sexual violence and marital rape, providing counseling as well as sexual and reproductive health information and services, and improving national accountability measures for human rights violations.

“With the support of a number of high-ranking government officials, the call for action is an exciting culmination of years of advocacy, research, and intervention,” notes Upreti. Last year, as part of the launch of our current strategy in the region, the Center published an in-depth human rights analysis (Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity) detailing the disturbing range of human rights violations associated with the practice.

The repercussions of child marriage are often disastrous—setting into motion a continuum of harm both for the young girls and for their communities. Early marriage leaves girls vulnerable to sexually contracted diseases as well as domestic violence and marital rape as a result of the power imbalance in the relationship. It also exposes them to life-threatening complications like the uterine prolapse that Rahar Maya experienced. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth compared to women over 20, and the risk is far greater for those under 15.

Ahead of SAARC’s 18th summit in Kathmandu next week, representatives from civil society will gather for an event where the historic call for action will be formally read aloud, ensuring that ending child marriage is central to the conversation of South Asia’s future.


Kathmandu Call for Action to End Child Marriage in South Asia

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A Global Partnership

Center for Reproductive Rights - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:10
A Global Partnership Our new Geneva office is making reproductive rights a reality at the UN and worldwide.

11.21.14 - The Center for Reproductive Rights works with the UN and civil society organizations at the forefront of key global advances in women’s reproductive autonomy. On November 13, 2014, we opened our newest office, in Geneva. 

To celebrate, we held an event featuring Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan; Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, World YWCA General Secretary and African Union Goodwill Ambassador for Ending Child Marriage; and Center President and CEO Nancy Northup. The following is an excerpt from Northup’s remarks.

The world contains a welcome diversity of language, landscape, culture and religion. But for women, wherever they live in this rich diversity, some biological facts remain constant.

One such fact is that every single woman faces life-threatening complications with every pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, 800 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications every day.

The probability that a woman will eventually die from a maternal cause varies dramatically across the globe.  From as low as 1 woman in 15,000 in some countries, to as high as 1 in 15 in others.

The centrality of a woman's reproductive capacity to her very life and life's path is why we at the Center for Reproductive Rights work on issues ranging from access to contraception, essential obstetric care, and safe abortion, as well as preventing abuses such as child marriage and forced sterilization.

Around the globe, we work alongside local NGOs to document abuses, promote legislative and policy reform, publish legal resources, and litigate cases in national courts, as well as regional and international human rights bodies.

We have seen significant progress since 1990. Progress that all of us—NGOs, supportive governments, and UN agencies—have achieved together.

There has been a 45 percent decline in maternal deaths worldwide since 1990. In that time, 35 countries have amended their laws to expand access to safe and legal abortion, and in so doing saved women's lives.

The UN has ensured that violations of reproductive rights--such as criminalization of abortion, discrimination and coercion in the health care settings, and lack of access to reproductive information and services--have been recognized as violations of fundamental human rights.

We are pleased to have played a part in those advancements.

But there is so much more to do.

And that is why we are here: to expand our reach at the United Nations—from UN missions to civil society organizations—and amplify the voices of women seeking reproductive health care worldwide, and to secure their rights in law.

We are excited to be here, and look forward to continuing and deepening our work here in Geneva at the UN.

Center For Reproductive Rights Opens Geneva Office

New Research on How to Support Abortion Storytellers

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:02

Sharing stories has long been a method of communication and culture change for social justice movements. It allows our movements’ oppressed and vulnerable to speak their truth, often when they have no capital or power. It can be difficult to do, in particular when the story they’re sharing is one deeply entrenched in stigma, and is often met with hate, harassment, and isolation. All too often, people become fed up with the narratives told about them, and the weight of keeping that secret is far heavier and outweighs that of speaking out. Sharing an abortion story publicly is no different.

In our recent research of people who share their abortion stories publicly, this was one of the main reasons many chose to speak out: to change the narrative, fight for their political power, and make their voices heard. But all too often, the storytellers were nervous to speak out publicly. They found themselves asking questions like: Who will have my back? How can I get the support I need from organizations in the movement? What can advocates do to ensure that I have a safe and supported experience?

This week, we released Saying Abortion Aloud, a report and set of recommendations for those sharing their personal abortion stories publicly and the advocates who support them. The recommendations are based on both qualitative and quantitative data from 39 survey respondents and 13 in-depth interviews—eight with experienced public abortion storytellers and five with storytellers and advocates in the HIV, LGBT, sexual assault, and teen pregnancy and parenting fields.

We limited the survey to public abortion storytellers, which we defined as “sharing in an outlet or event that is accessible to the general public for attendance and comment. This includes public workshops or events, articles and videos in the media, political office visits and testimony, and public education campaigns about abortion experiences.” The reason we focused on public abortion story-sharing is because it’s a type of sharing where the storyteller isn’t always in control where the story goes, who hears it, or how it gets used. It can be used against them at work or in certain communities, so there’s a big risk in sharing.

We sent out an open call on social media and listservs for people to fill out the survey, and the results were amazing. We were pleasantly surprised that 33 percent of our respondents were from the South, often an underrepresented area in abortion story discussions; another 21 percent were from the Midwest. We even had three people respond from outside the United States. Of our 39 respondents, 22 (56 percent) identified as white, four as Black, six as Latina, one as Middle Eastern, one as Asian, and four as mixed race; one declined to answer. While we know this isn’t representative of those who have abortions, or even those who share their stories publicly, this is the first survey we know of that collected data about public abortion storytellers. We also know that there’s an inherent privilege in being able to be public about abortion, thus our lack of racial diversity was somewhat expected. A total of 38 survey respondents identified as cisgender women, while one person identified as non-binary.

We also asked about respondents’ experiences with sharing their abortion stories publicly, working with organizations, responses from family and friends, support and self-care, and harassment. These findings were critical in shaping our recommendations in Saying Abortion Aloud.

Our survey respondents experienced both positive and negative feedback after sharing. Surprisingly, the positive had more of an impact on them than the negative. Almost 70 percent noted that when they received positive responses, it helped them feel better about their story-sharing experience. They reported feeling good about positive anonymous responses, in particular from those who had also had abortions, as well as family and friends.

The respondents also noted they were worried about negative reactions from family and friends, and harassment—both on- and offline. This became crucial when deciding whether to share again, because they weren’t sure if they would have support from the organization with which they were sharing. One respondent noted, “Organizations want me to speak up [about my abortion], but they don’t have any mechanisms for protecting people who do speak up.”

Over 40 percent of respondents said that they received little or no support from the organization with which they partnered; a few respondents said they didn’t know they could ask for it. One respondent noted that she felt nervous to admit she didn’t know how to do what the organization was asking of her, and she was afraid to ask because she didn’t want anyone to laugh at her. To deal with harassment, anxiety and self-doubt about sharing, and community reactions, respondents noted that they employed coping mechanisms like finding friendly support, talking to a counselor or therapist, and meditation or prayer. Even though respondents faced challenges when sharing their stories, 92 percent said they would continue talking about their abortions in public.

Almost 60 percent of respondents said that they were not sure of the kind of support they would want from an organization, but did note that media training, support in writing their story, support groups, and ongoing engagement would be a great start. To help facilitate this conversation between storytellers and organizations interested in working with abortion storytellers, we developed a set of recommendations based on our findings.

Storytellers must know that they can ask organizations for help writing their testimony, as well as for more information on how an event will be run and who their main point of contact is. This ensures that the process is clear and transparent. Storytellers can also ask organizations for media support, and that includes fielding media requests, monitoring anti-choice sites for vitriol, and helping in reporting harassment. This helps to reduce challenges when sharing an abortion story.

Based on our findings, storytellers believe that everyone should know that their story is simply that: theirs. They are in control of how, when, and where it’s told. We also heard from storytellers that they would like some sort of compensation for the work they do for an organization. Storytellers should not be paying out of pocket to support the organization’s mission, if they don’t want to. Organizations should offer an honorarium, or travel stipend, to cover the storyteller’s time. Storytelling is work and it should be valued as such. Additionally, just because a storyteller shared their story once, doesn’t mean they have to share again. They can take breaks and say no at any point.

When we asked storytellers what support they wanted from organizations, they said that they wanted their full stories to be honored. Abortion stories can be complex—storytellers must be allowed to share as much or as little of their story as they like. Stories should not be manipulated for mission-sake. They also noted that they wanted organizations to recognize the intersectionality of their identities and how they all impact their abortion experience. Identities might include, but are not limited to: their race, ethnicity, or nationality; their sexuality, gender identity or expression; their religion; their class background, family, citizenship status, mental illness, disabilities, intimate partner violence, sexual assault or abuse, substance use; and their other pregnancy experiences. If a storyteller wants to talk about these identities as part of their story, they should not be censored. It’s part of who they are.

When preparing storytellers, advocates should offer to help storytellers hone their stories, speak in front of audiences or the media, or even assist in composing a tweet about the speak-out. Storytellers also wanted organizations to help them manage their privacy. Advocates should also ask what types of support the storyteller would like: security at events, monitoring their name on the Internet, using a pseudonym, handling media, or reporting incidents to authorities. Storytellers must know they are not alone, and that we have their backs. After sharing, storytellers often want additional information on ways to get involved. Advocates should continue engagement to harness their power for social change; storytellers are true assets to our community.

Abortion storytellers are crucial to culture change. Their work isn’t easy, yet it creates beautiful change. We believe that they deserve to have their stories honored and their work protected. We asked them what they needed—and they have spoken. It is our hope that the Saying Abortion Aloud data and set of recommendations will help facilitate the beginning of an ongoing conversation between advocates and storytellers.

Image: Shutterstock

The post New Research on How to Support Abortion Storytellers appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Ohio’s Extremist Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Ban Headed to House Floor

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 15:29

An Ohio legislative committee on Thursday passed a bill that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. HB 248 was approved by the the House Health and Aging Committee with an 11-6 vote, and will now move to the house floor.

So-called heartbeat bans, which restrict abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, are some of the most extreme anti-abortion policies in the country. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant and several months before a fetus is considered viable—the cut-off set by Roe v. Wade in protecting access to abortion. So heartbeat bans essentially make the vast majority of abortions illegal.

Legal precedent for a similar ban shows that Ohio’s far-reaching abortion regulation—pushed by the most radical elements of the state’s GOP—likely won’t pass constitutional muster.

HB 248, which represents at least the second time Ohio has tried to pass a heartbeat ban, was pushed hastily to a vote in the house committee. The bill was added at the very last minute to the committee’s Thursday calendar and was scheduled for a quick vote. Republican state leaders also altered the committee members to make the committee more friendly to the extremist bill, replacing moderate Republicans expected to vote against HB 248 with those in favor of the legislation.

Ohio in 2011 became the first state to try and pass a fetal heartbeat ban when it introduced HB 125, but the bills have since gained popularity in state legislatures. Bills like HB 125 have been introduced in Michigan, Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Even some anti-choice activists oppose heartbeat bans, which they consider extreme versions of the more popular 20-week abortion bans. The only state to successfully enact such a ban is North Dakota, but a federal judge in April permanently struck down the law, calling it “invalid and unconstitutional.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Ohio’s Extremist Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Ban Headed to House Floor appeared first on RH Reality Check.

For Immigrants After Obama’s Executive Order, Mix of Joy, Sorrow, Determination

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 14:58

Read more of our coverage about the Obama administration and immigration reform here.

Dozens of immigrants and activists gathered at the Washington, D.C., offices of United We Dream on Thursday to hear what President Obama would say to the nation about their families and their community.

They already had some sense of what they would hear; the details of the plan had been released to advocates ahead of time.

They knew that Obama’s new executive order will give nearly five million immigrants a three-year reprieve from the daily fear of being deported and torn from their families.

They knew that those five million people would be able to apply for work permits and even get driver’s licenses, although they still wouldn’t qualify for the affordable health-care access that would lift more of them out of poverty and help their mothers care for their families.

They also knew that only some of their mothers, sisters, neighbors, and friends would be safe.

They had already made some emotional phone calls to people they knew: Good news, the president is going to announce something today that will change your life. Or, too often, I’m so sorry. We hoped for better, but your father won’t qualify after all.

Most of the newly protected immigrants, about four million, are the parents of U.S. citizens or green card holders.

Another 270,000 are so-called DREAMers who came to this country as children. The president will expand his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to people who are now over 30 and who came to the country between 2007 and 2010, but the cutoff age for having first crossed the border is still 16.

Those technical changes mean everything for Juan Carlos Ramos. He crossed the border with his brother in 2008, too late to qualify for DACA when it first came out in 2012.

He still volunteered to help sign people up as soon as he heard that the program existed, six days after his high school graduation. His activism meant constant painful small talk about whether he had applied for the program himself yet, but he was determined to help others achieve what he couldn’t.

Ramos, who was 15 when he came to the United States, now can finally sign up for the program himself. But his brother can’t; he was already 16 on the day they crossed the border.

Their parents can’t get relief either. Advocates had pushed hard for the parents of DREAMers to be included in the president’s action, but they didn’t make the cut.

The speech itself was more powerful and empathetic than some had expected. There was the usual boilerplate about people who break the laws needing to pay their taxes and get to the back of the line—a frustrating line of argument for many taxpaying undocumented immigrants who have had years-long bureaucratic headaches trying to apply for citizenship.

But Obama also made a strong moral case for doing what he can to help immigrants as long as Congress won’t. He appealed to scripture in saying, “My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once too.” He challenged America to be a nation that values families, not one that “accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms.” He called for deporting “felons, not families; criminals, not children.”

It was a deeply affecting speech, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez told RH Reality Check. The part that really touched him, he said, was “when the president acknowledged that we exist. When the president acknowledged that we contribute. When the president said that our families should not be ripped apart, that we deserve dignity, that we deserve to stay in this country.”

After the speech concluded, the United We Dream watch party attendees put their arms around each other’s shoulders and erupted into a familiar chant from their days protesting in the streets or holding sit-ins in congressional offices.

I am! Somebody! And I deserve! Full equality! Right here! Right now!

But more of the aftermath was near-silence, punctuated by sniffles around the room as people wept, comforted each other, and listened to people tell their stories.

They talked about the fears they could now be free of, the fears they were still burdened by, the dreams they may never realize or the dreams they could finally pursue.

Ramos collapsed into tears talking about his parents, and the room filled with supportive snaps while he tried to regain his composure and a friend came up to comfort him.

“They have always been there for me,” he said finally. “And I know that I will continue fighting for them and for my brother, whoever needs it, no matter who we have to talk to, if I have to stay up late doing whatever work we need to do, but we’re going to do it.”

He also dreams of becoming an architect one day and building his parents’ house, he told RH Reality Check.

Beatriz Perez, a mother of four, told the crowd in Spanish how much she celebrated in 2012 when her two undocumented children qualified for deportation relief under DACA.

Now she has even more reason to celebrate; her other children are citizens, so now she can come out of the shadows.

“Thank God that it affects me, because I’ve been here for 21 years without being able to get a driver’s license or being able to walk down the street without being afraid,” she said.

It didn’t dawn on Elena Calderon at first that the new order meant her undocumented father was safe. She’s a DACA recipient and the youngest of five, and she actually forgot that her older brother had managed to become a citizen.

One of Calderon’s earliest memories is of her father carrying her across the border as a 3-year-old because she was too small to run, of crouching to hide from the border patrol while her mother held rosary beads and prayed.

Her father was the only member of her immediate family not to qualify for protection through legal status or DACA; now, finally, all his risk and sacrifice would mean something for him too.

Still, Calderon can’t stop thinking about the families who aren’t as fortunate as hers. “You want to celebrate, but at the same time you can’t stop thinking about everyone else who is being left out,” she said.

Emotions were both high and profoundly mixed in the room for this reason. Everyone had worked hard, everyone had struggled, everyone had seen the harms that the country’s broken immigration system had visited on their community. Only some of them would benefit personally.

But those who grieved for themselves or their families refused to let that grief overtake the joy of those who would finally be protected. They couldn’t. They had worked too hard, for the entire community and not just for themselves, and they knew there was still plenty of fight ahead.

Ray Jose, a 24-year-old undocumented immigrant and DACA recipient from the Philippines, has spent a lot of time away from his family over the last year or two because of his work with United We Dream. He told RH Reality Check that the executive order is a bittersweet victory for him since his parents still won’t qualify.

But the whole reason Jose’s family came to the United States, he said, was to help him and his sister pursue their dreams. He thought his dream would come through a college education, but campus activism with other undocumented youth set him on an unexpected path.

“My dad told me, ‘God has plans.’ And although he’s not included in this one right now, that he’s proud of me. He’s happy that I’m doing this work, because it’s what I’m meant to do,” Jose said.

Image: Dante Atkins

The post For Immigrants After Obama’s Executive Order, Mix of Joy, Sorrow, Determination appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Abortion Speak-Outs Can Combat Our Own Stigma Too

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 14:41

On Thursday, I spent six hours listening to individuals talk about their abortions via the 1 in 3 Campaign’s abortion speak-out. During the event, more than 100 people spoke about their experiences of obtaining an abortion, and the impact those decisions had on their lives. By hosting the first-ever live-streamed abortion speak-out, the campaign organizers had hoped to reach as wide of an audience as possible, and to disrupt the public shaming that, too often, surrounds the pursuit of what should be viewed as a standard medical procedure. For me, though, the speak-out had an additional consequence: It made me realize that even as a staunch reproductive rights advocate, a clinic escort, and a feminist, I still have to battle my own internalized abortion stigma.

Before last spring, I had never been to an abortion speak-out. In the past, when I’d had the opportunity to attend them at conferences or other events, I’d create excuses: I needed to save my energy, I had other plans, or I was just tired. Plus, I reasoned, there was no reason to go to an abortion speak-out, because I’d never had an abortion. I’d had few scares from late periods in college, but I knew that I would have an abortion without question if I turned out to be pregnant. Even in my late teens, I knew I didn’t want kids.

Finally, at last April’s Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference, I spoke with another attendee about why she was going to attend the abortion speak-out the first evening. She told me that as a volunteer at an abortion fund, she thought it was important to understand what the people who called the hotline were experiencing. Though I agreed to go with her, I still felt strange about it. My past pregnancy scares, while extremely frightening, were obviously not the same thing as actually having an abortion. I feared that I might be invading someone else’s safe space. Even worse, I was secretly afraid that, as I sat and listened, I would start judging people—that all the abortion stigma I’ve been fighting to resist throughout my adulthood would somehow bloom to the surface. What if I found myself thinking, She’s had how many abortions? Or, Why didn’t they use birth control? Seriously, how can you get accidentally pregnant twice? Why aren’t they being more careful?           

What I realized that night in the auditorium at CLPP was reaffirmed during Thursday’s speak-out: Those lingering questions—the examples of abortion stigma that so often contaminate our ability to relate to each other—are exactly why I, and everyone else who has not had an abortion, should be listening to people tell their abortion stories.

“The conversation around abortion is not nuanced,” said Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health Executive Director Yamani Hernandez during the speak-out. We’re told abortions are either “good” (white, college-educated, wealthy married woman who desperately wants a baby, only to find out that her pregnancy is rife with horrible fetal anomalies that will make the life of the child untenable) or “bad” (someone didn’t use birth control, or it failed and they just don’t want to be pregnant, or basically any other situation that doesn’t involve the situation I described above). Speak-outs make it clear that just like the decision to get an abortion, the circumstances behind obtaining one—faulty birth control methods, forgetting contraception, rape, reproductive coercion, bad relationships, non-ideal parenting situations, or just plain accidents—are neither an indicator of or a reflection on someone’s morality.

Therefore, although it is vitally important for women to have the opportunities to take control of their own first-person narratives around abortion, and for others to hear those stories, abortion speak-outs can also be about recognizing the common pressures put on all of us about our reproductive rights decisions and about our bodily autonomy, period. Of her abortion, artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez said, “It taught me I hadn’t developed the tools to really assess who I was sleeping with or how to negotiate what I wanted, and I didn’t have the lens to make those decisions.” Abortion stigma relies on shame. But for those of us who identify as women, there is also often shame around saying no to anything at all, as Rodriguez pointed out—about keeping space for oneself and making one’s own choices.

These moments when we recognize familiar elements of coercion or fear in each other’s stories is when stigma-busting happens. We know that society can exert these pressures on us in a variety of ways. Yet abortion stigma has jammed our listening frequencies.

Abortion speak-outs challenge us to stay in our seats, even when it’s hard, when we’re feeling disturbed or conflicted. Having a speak-out online, by the way, is genius: You can hide out in the privacy of your own home, or put in your headphones in the coffee shop with no one being the wiser. Or you can choose to watch it with friends, family, or your whole dorm, like students at Harvard and the University of Minnesota did on Thursday.

For some people, abortion storytelling can make us nervous, because we may have to confront the prejudices that we may still have despite our best intentions. But it’s highly necessary to have them—so we can remember how impossibly hard it can be to inhabit a body that others are intent on controlling, and so we can use the ensuing fury to advocate for everyone’s right to control themselves.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Abortion Speak-Outs Can Combat Our Own Stigma Too appeared first on RH Reality Check.

House GOP Sues Obama, Could Make Health Care Pricier For Low-Income Americans

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 14:21

The morning after President Obama announced he was taking executive action to reform immigration policy after years of Congressional inaction, House Republicans made good on months of threats and lawyer-shopping and sued the president, arguing he abused his office’s executive authority in taking some unilateral actions related to health insurance reform.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., names the secretaries of the Health and Human Services and Treasury departments as defendants and accuses the administration of overstepping its constitutional authority concerning two important aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

First, House Republicans accuse the Obama administration in their complaint of unlawfully postponing until 2016 a requirement that larger employers offer health coverage to their full-time employees or pay penalties.

The second focus of the lawsuit is a provision in health insurance reform law known as cost-sharing reductions, which are designed to alleviate out-of-pocket medical costs for people with lower incomes. That provision authorizes the Obama administration to pay health insurance companies to reduce the cost of deductibles and co-pays for people whose incomes range from the poverty threshold to 2.5 times that threshold. That works out to $11,670 to $29,175 in annual income for an individual.

The payments to health insurance companies are unlawful because no funds for the subsidies have been appropriated by Congress, according to the Republicans’ complaint.

Should House Republicans succeed in their challenge to the cost-sharing reductions, low-income Americans would not directly lose access to health care, because the Affordable Care Act still requires insurance companies to provide coverage.

But without the subsidy, insurers would likely raise costs elsewhere, making that coverage more expensive for low-income families. This is similar to the right-wing legal strategy at work in the lawsuit currently before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging subsidies on the federal insurance exchanges.

The Constitution does not directly authorize the kind of lawsuit filed by House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP-dominated House of Representatives. Instead, a lawsuit must be approved via the legislative process, which House Republicans did in July.

According to the complaint, the legal authority for the lawsuit comes from that July 30th vote by the House of Representatives authorizing Boehner to do sue the administration.

The House vote in July only authorized the Speaker to sue the administration over alleged abuses of executive authority related to the Affordable Care Act, but according to reports, Boehner’s office said an additional vote for legal action related to Obama’s executive action on immigration is under consideration.

“Time after time, the president has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and rewrite federal law on his own without a vote of Congress,” Boehner said in a statement. “If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) slammed the lawsuit as more political theater from the House GOP.

“The fact is, this lawsuit is a bald-faced attempt to achieve what Republicans have been unable to achieve through the political process,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The legislative branch cannot sue simply because they disagree with the way a law passed by a different Congress has been implemented.”

“While the American people want Congress to get serious about creating good-paying jobs and strengthening the middle class, House Republicans are paying $500-an-hour in taxpayer money to sue the President of the United States,” Pelosi said.

Republicans first threatened to sue the administration over its implementation of the ACA last summer but had difficulty finding lawyers to take their case. Two law firms withdrew from the case, and it wasn’t until this week that Republicans were able to secure representation by Georgetown Law Professor and political pundit Jonathan Turley.

The administration has at least 60 days to file a response to the lawsuit.

Image: Shutterstock

The post House GOP Sues Obama, Could Make Health Care Pricier For Low-Income Americans appeared first on RH Reality Check.

This is the third year in a row that the Ohio General Assembly has tried to push...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 14:00
This is the third year in a row that the Ohio General Assembly has tried to push through this extreme law that would ban abortion as early as six weeks.
Cc: Naral Pro-Choice Ohio

Circumventing the Constitution
This bill is a blatant and unconstitutional attempt to outlaw abortions. Members of the General Assembly should reject it.

Fourteen Months and One Lawsuit Later, Cincinnati’s Last Abortion Clinic Will Stay Open

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 13:57

Cincinnati’s last abortion clinic will remain open for now after state health inspectors granted an exemption to an anti-choice state law that requires all abortion clinics to have a transfer agreement with local hospitals, but also bans public hospitals from entering into those agreements with providers.

The Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center, operated by Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio (PPSWO), had a long-standing transfer agreement with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC). But after lawmakers enacted the public hospital transfer ban, UCMC rescinded that agreement.

PPSWO spent the next 14 months trying to secure a transfer agreement with area private hospitals and pursued a “variance” from the state requirement. (Under Ohio law, the director of the state health department has the authority to accept a clinic’s emergency plan for caring for patients in the event of an abortion-related complication in lieu of a private transfer agreement with a hospital, called granting a variance.)

Efforts to secure a private transfer agreement failed as area hospitals, many of them Catholic institutions with a stated opposition to cooperating in the delivery of abortion services, either rejected or ignored its requests.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Board of Health, the agency in charge of implementing the regulations, also ignored PPSWO’s request for a variance. Then in October, the Ohio Department of Health cited PPSWO for its lack of compliance and threatened to revoke the clinic’s license.

Facing threatened closure, attorneys representing the clinic sued to block enforcement of the law, arguing it unconstitutionally targets abortion clinics for closure. The law has closed one clinic in the state, in Sharonville, when it was unable to secure a private transfer agreement and its request for a variance was denied.

PPSWO’s closure would have made Cincinnati, with a population of more than two million people, the largest metro area without a single abortion clinic.

On Thursday, Richard Hodges, director of the Ohio Department of Health, granted Planned Parenthood’s request for a variance. Instead of a transfer agreement with a private hospital, Planned Parenthood has agreements in place with four area doctors who have agreed to accept and care for patients at local hospitals in the event of an emergency.

“This ruling will ensure that women in Southwest Ohio continue to have access to safe and legal abortion,” said Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio.

Attorneys for the clinic will dismiss its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the public hospital transfer ban since its clinic license is no longer at risk.

“It is unfortunate that Planned Parenthood had to wait over 14 months and then file suit before receiving this decision but it is good to have this problem behind us,” attorney Al Gerhardstein said in a statement following the decision.

Under Ohio law, Hodges’ decision to grant the variance could be revoked at any time and for any reason.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Fourteen Months and One Lawsuit Later, Cincinnati’s Last Abortion Clinic Will Stay Open appeared first on RH Reality Check.

No Health Care for New Class of Immigrants

Center for Reproductive Rights - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 13:38
No Health Care for New Class of Immigrants

11.21.14 - A recent piece in the New York Times takes a look at the scope of President Obama’s bold Executive Order on immigration, which promises to shield up to five million people from the threat of deportation.

Notably absent from the president’s plan is mention of health care coverage for the immigrants who qualify for this new program. The new class of immigrants will not be eligible for Medicaid or access to insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. According to the Times:

“The White House decision to deny health benefits also underscores how far the president’s expected actions will fall short of providing the kind of full membership in American society that activists have spent decades fighting for. The immigrants covered by Mr. Obama’s actions are also unlikely to receive public benefits like food stamps, Medicaid coverage or other need-based federal programs offered to citizens and some legal residents.”

The Executive Order, announced last night, offers temporary protection to certain undocumented immigrants who have been in this country for more than five years and who have children who are American citizens or legal U.S. residents. Those who wish to be granted this new status must register, pass a criminal background test, and pay taxes.

“You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” Obama said during his speech announcing the new order.

The Times article points out the troubling paradox of a plan that seeks to legally integrate undocumented immigrants into society while at the same time denying essential benefits that ensure their well-being and their ability to function as productive members of society.

The piece quotes Angel Padilla, a health policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center, “We would all benefit if more people had access to health care services.”

Health benefits for immigrants have been a central question in the debate over immigration reform. A new report from the Guttmacher Institute highlights the pressing need for health coverage for immigrants, particularly for women of reproductive age.

Among women aged 15-44, 40% of the 6.6 million noncitizen immigrants are uninsured. This number is significantly higher for the large percentage of noncitizen immigrant women living below the poverty line.

Lack of health insurance is linked to adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes, including unintended pregnancy, STIs, and cervical and other cancers that could be easily reduced through proper screening. 

Administrative Action on Immigration Provides Relief to Millions

Thank you, President Barack Obama, for taking action on immigration. No person s...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 13:05
Thank you, President Barack Obama, for taking action on immigration. No person should be stigmatized by unreasonable anti-immigration laws. Our policy on immigration:


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