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Reproductive Rights News

If it feels like there’s a vast right-wing conspiracy behind all the attacks on...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sun, 11/16/2014 - 18:05
If it feels like there’s a vast right-wing conspiracy behind all the attacks on abortion access, that’s because there is. Our friends at RH Reality Check have put out this awesome report to expose who’s behind it.

False Witnesses - RH Reality Check
False Witnesses debunks common anti-choice falsehoods and exposes the people who peddle them.

HUGE news! TIME magazine heard us and apologized for including “feminist” on the...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sun, 11/16/2014 - 13:09
HUGE news! TIME magazine heard us and apologized for including “feminist” on their poll of words to ban --> When we all raise our voices, we can make a difference!

We had a big win for birth control coverage in the courts! This isn't the last h...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sun, 11/16/2014 - 12:35
We had a big win for birth control coverage in the courts! This isn't the last hurdle we face, but it's great news for now.

New win for birth control access in the courts
A "radical feminist" judge rules for an appeals court that an opt-out form for contraception doesn't violate religious liberty.

“Feminist” isn’t a word we should get rid of. Tell TIME to take it off their lis...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 18:20
“Feminist” isn’t a word we should get rid of. Tell TIME to take it off their list of words we should ban in 2015!

TIME suggests banning the word “feminist”
TIME just came out with their annual word banishment poll, which asks their readers to vote for the word they think should be banned in 2015. And guess what word is currently in the lead. “Feminist.” That’s right, TIME thinks the word “feminist” is so overused that people are becoming sick of it.…

Which of these lies have you heard most recently?

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 15:45
Which of these lies have you heard most recently?

6 Myths About Abortion
The anti-abortion side of the debate has created fiction from fact

With a few more races called, we’ve updated our guide with the latest numbers of...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 13:45
With a few more races called, we’ve updated our guide with the latest numbers of what the 2014 election results mean for the Senate. Read the full election results guide:

Open enrollment in the health care marketplace starts today! #GetCovered --> htt...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 10:05
Open enrollment in the health care marketplace starts today! #GetCovered -->

If you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry, join the club.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 18:45
If you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry, join the club.

Watch Famous Feminists Read Mean Tweets About Themselves
Ever wonder what it's really like to be the target of constant, horrible abuse online?

Anti-choice extremists try to make reproductive health care sound scary or shame...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 16:50
Anti-choice extremists try to make reproductive health care sound scary or shameful. But these professionals break down how it’s just basic medical care that everyone needs.

Here's What Really Goes On At Planned Parenthood, Every Single Day
For many, Planned Parenthood is synonymous with one thing: legal abortion. But nationally, abortion makes up only 3 percent of the services the health care provider performs -- and clinical services represent only a portion of the organization's over...

Georgia City Votes to Ban Abortion Clinics, Cites ‘Drama’ of Anti-Choice Protesters

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 16:25

A small town on the Georgia-Tennessee border voted to ban abortion clinics Monday because the city’s mayor wants to avoid “drama” caused by anti-choice protesters who gather outside the clinics.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free-Press, Teddy Harris, the mayor of Rossville, Georgia, said that the new ordinance, which will need to pass a second city council hearing to make it official, was about avoiding protests that often accompany clinics that provide abortion services. “We want to be a peaceful city,” Harris said. “We don’t want to have any protesters.”

Harris, elected as mayor in November 2011, is a conservative Republican who often posts anti-Obamacare messages on his Facebook page.

The city council voted to approve two new ordinances. Ordinance #481 bans abortion services and Ordinance #482 bans so-called pill mills. The council will vote to make both ordinances official when it meets again on December 8.

The abortion ban makes exceptions for abortions if they are performed at a hospital by a licensed physician and are deemed by that doctor to be necessary to save the woman’s life. The doctor must also certify that the fetus is not viable. There is not a hospital within the Rossville city limits.

The pill mill ban targets clinics that claim to be health care facilities, but illegally dispense pain medications to those who do not have a prescription.

Harris again cited similar reasons for the pill mill ban. “We don’t want one for the drama,” Harris said during a meeting with the council, reported the Times Free-Press. “Law enforcement (here) can’t handle it.”

Pill mills are already illegal under both Georgia state law and federal law, and in 2012 state lawmakers passed legislation to crack down on pill mills. Harris says the ordinance is just another “tool” for law enforcement.

Georgia lawmakers have also introduced and passed several pieces of legislation over the last several years to restrict access to abortion in the state.

As of 2011, there were 19 clinics that provide abortion services in the state. Ninety-six percent of the state’s counties have no clinic, and 58 percent of Georgia women live in these counties, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Georgia City Votes to Ban Abortion Clinics, Cites ‘Drama’ of Anti-Choice Protesters appeared first on RH Reality Check.

A Few Suggestions for Some Incoming Freshman Members of Congress

Blog for Choice - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 16:00

Remember being a freshman? It was a time that you desperately wanted advice on what you should do and how you should act. Well, we have a few suggestions for these brand new members of Congress for how they can live up to the promises they made on the campaign trail. 

Cory Gardner (R - CO)

Cory Gardner has a dark past when it comes to women's reproductive health. 

  • As a member of the House, he cosponsored a federal "personhood" bill that would ban almost all abortion and many common forms of birth control. 
  • Gardner has voted against giving emergency contraception to rape survivors.  
  • And, of course, he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and thinks that the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling was "the right decision." 
Gardner's campaign promises made it sound like he's turned over a new leaf on women's health. If that's truly the case, here are a few ideas for Cory to implement when he is sworn in as the next senator from Colorado in January 2015:

  • Refuse to cosponsor federal "personhood" bills. You missed the deadline in October to take your name off the bill for this Congress, but we know, you were super busy running for office. This is your chance. 
  • Work with members of Congress to make affordable birth control a reality. This means NOT voting to defund family-planning programs, and working to guarantee insurance coverage of birth control--from the pill to IUDs--or everyone.
Thom Thillis (R - NC)

Thom Tillis, known in his home state of North Carolina as "Mr. Motorcycle Abortion Bill." Voted in favor of an anti-choice bill disguised as a motorcycle safety bill. (uh, NOT RELATED, Thom Tillis.) 

Here are a few ideas to make sure you uphold your campaign promises, Thom: 
  • Work with members of Congress (Cory Gardner made the same promise you guys did--perhaps you two could work together!) to make easy-to-access, affordable birth control a reality. 
  • Prove that you trust women by cosponsoring the Women's Health Protection Act--it would make sure women can get access to abortion care regardless of their zip code. 
Joni Ernst (R - IA) 
  • Joni Ernst has also supported a "personhood" resolution which could have paved the way for a ban on abortion in almost all circumstances. 
  • She was also endorsed by anti-choice extremists the Susan B. Anthony List, and has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. 
On the campaign trail, however, Joni Ernst said that her support for "personhood" was just a "statement of life" and wouldn't do any actual harm to women or families.   
Well, Joni, if you really believe that, we have a few ideas for you: 
  • Make a statement of supporting women. Show you support servicewomen by cosponsoring bipartisan legislation to improve their access to family-planning services. 
  • Don't vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It's already helped millions of women access the birth control they need. 
Barbara Comstock (R - VA 10)

  • Barbara Comstock voted to force women seeking abortion to undergo forced ultrasounds and has voted for "personhood." 
  • She also thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned, but that nobody should worry about that because it won't come into play in Congress. She said, "I'm not running for the Supreme Court," as though anti-choice members of Congress have never interfered with women's health care decisions.
Well, Barbara, if you really believe that your personal feelings on abortion and birth control shouldn't come into play in Congress, we have some ideas about how you can help make that a reality.
  • When anti-choice members of the House reintroduce a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks, vote against it. This is exactly the kind of interference in personal medical decisions you said wouldn't come up, so hold up on your end of the bargain and oppose it. 
  • Don't support anti-choice bill H.R. 7, which would effectively ban abortion coverage in the new health-care system and permanently codify existing abortion-coverage bans (on D.C. residents, women in the military, Medicaid, etc.). 

New Congressional Leadership: Status Quo For GOP, More Progressive Democrats

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 15:58

The status quo won for the most part in congressional leadership elections Thursday, but some signs point to a Democratic minority party that will push more aggressively for progressive policies in the face of hard-right Republican lawmaking.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was unanimously elevated from Senate minority leader to majority leader, which will allow him to bring up controversial bills like a 20-week abortion ban or partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) also won re-election as House speaker, and will lead a massive Republican majority that may push for more anti-abortion bills or a government shutdown over immigration.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-MD) is expected to continue as House minority leader, though the House Democrats’ election is next week.

And although he faced vocal opposition from several moderate or right-leaning members of his party like Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) stayed on as the leader of the Senate Democrats.

Reid signaled that his reign won’t necessarily be business as usual when he created a new leadership position for progressive favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congress’ foremost critic of right-wing economic policies and the lending industry.

Warren will serve as strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. She will help to craft the party’s policy priorities, and will ensure that the concerns of progressive and liberal Democrats are heard. The Democratic leadership team will now include four women, with the addition of Warren and with Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar filling the position formerly held by Alaska’s Mark Begich.

Warren pushed back at the media-popularized notion that her role will be that of “liberal liaison,” because her discussions with Reid focused around policy. And as David Firestone noted in The New York Times, that framing “sounds a bit like an ambassador to a distant country.”

But it’s hard to ignore Warren’s status as a hero to many progressives, some of whom want her to challenge Hillary Clinton from the left in the Democratic primary election.

Reid’s office has made no secret of his intentions to advocate for progressive policies that are popular with voters, like raising the minimum wage, instating paid leave, and protecting reproductive rights.

“If the ballot measure results are any indication, actual progressive policies remain popular with voters in red and blue states,” a senior advisor to Reid told the Huffington Post. “I believe you’ll see a Senate Democratic caucus fight on behalf of those policies and provide the votes if and when Republicans are ready to act.”

As if to underline the point about popular support for progressive policies, while the leadership elections were going on inside the Capitol, federal contract employees went on strike for the ninth time, walking off their food service jobs inside the Capitol Visitor Center to gather outside the building.

The strikes, sponsored by the labor-backed organization Good Jobs Nation, also attracted support from labor advocates and several members of Congress.

The workers already won a major policy victory when President Obama signed executive orders mandating a $10.10 minimum wage for employees of federal contractors and getting tougher on labor law violations.

Employees are now pushing harder, calling for a $15 an hour living wage and the right to form a union, much like the demands of fast-food and Walmart workers in the “Fight for 15” campaign. 

“President Obama took bold steps by increasing the minimum wage for federal contract workers and stepping up compliance for law-breaking contractors,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who spoke at the rally, said in a statement. “The president knows when the federal government leads the private sector follows. We hope he will take more bold action to reward federal contractors who treat their employees fairly and give workers a seat at the table to negotiate wages and benefits.”

Executive orders on issues like jobs policy and immigration are still likely to be the best route for progressive policymaking in the next two years of a Republican Congress.

Image: Shutterstock

The post New Congressional Leadership: Status Quo For GOP, More Progressive Democrats appeared first on RH Reality Check.

New York City Commits $35 Million to Test Rape Kits Nationwide

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 15:08

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that it has committed up to $35 million to fund the clearance of rape kit backlogs across the country. The initiative, which was launched in partnership with the Joyful Heart Foundation’s End the Backlog program, is the largest-ever financial contribution toward ending the rape kit backlog.

Though they can be essential to solving crimes, rape kits—the collection of evidence taken from a person’s body after they are sexually assaulted—are often left indefinitely untested in law enforcement evidence lockers or crime lab storage rooms.

Experts guess that there are 100,000 untested rape kits at public crime labs; some advocates estimate that there are another 300,000 that never made it out of the police station. These numbers are only rough approximations, however, because there has never been a coordinated effort to track and document rape kits in the United States.

The Obama administration, in its 2015 budget plan, proposed an allocation of $35 million in federal funds to grants for community rape kit initiatives that would include testing the kits and investigating the cases that emerge. The House in May passed a version of the 2015 budget bill that included $41 million for the rape kit initiative, only to see that version of the budget stall in the Senate.

“Sadly no one knows exactly how many [rape kits] there are, because no has ever been able to have the resources to go jurisdiction by jurisdiction and find out how many of them there are,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. “And what stands in the way of identifying the scope of untested rape kits around the country, as well as testing them for DNA, is simply money.”

New York is one of the few cities that has successfully decreased its rape kit backlog. In 2000, after discovering 17,000 untested rape kits, the city made a push to to clear the backlog. Forty-nine indictments were made four years later in connection to unsolved cases in Manhattan.

In 2009, the federal government awarded the city of Detroit several grants to test the 11,000 kits found abandoned in a police warehouse. After testing the first 2,000 kits, more than 100 potential serial rapists were identified, and as many as 14 people have been convicted.

Federal funding for rape kit testing has proven to have significant problems. And though these issues are well known, efforts to increase federal support have fallen victim to political squabbling and congressional stalemates, leaving cities to shoulder the bulk of the work and cough up resources that they often don’t have.

The New York City initiative announced on Wednesday is meant to support cities’ efforts to reduce backlogs in light of this lack of resources. The initiative will help cities audit the scope of their backlog, analyze the untested kits, and share knowledge and best practices with other jurisdictions.

“The rape kit backlog sends two terrible messages,” said Mariska Hargitay, star of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation. “To victims, it says: You don’t matter. What happened to you doesn’t matter. And to criminals, it says: What you did doesn’t matter. Testing the kits reverses those messages.”

The Manhattan initiative is not the only project of End the Backlog, which has led the effort to test kits across the country. Their Accountability Project, for example, uses public records requests to bring to light the number of untested kits in more than a dozen cities, and has already uncovered thousands of tests waiting in Milwaukee, Seattle, and Las Vegas.

Image: Shutterstock

The post New York City Commits $35 Million to Test Rape Kits Nationwide appeared first on RH Reality Check.

TIME's taking heat for putting "feminist" on its word-to-ban poll, and rightly s...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 14:45
TIME's taking heat for putting "feminist" on its word-to-ban poll, and rightly so. It's already having negative consequences.

Poll draws fire for suggesting that 'feminist' be banned
Should the word “feminist” be banned? That’s what a controversial new TIME magazine poll is asking.

These four lies show why we have to keep fighting back against anti-choice polit...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 12:25
These four lies show why we have to keep fighting back against anti-choice politicians.

4 Major Lies About Abortion That Have Made Their Way Into Our Laws
The anti-choice community has relied on a tight network of biased sources who peddle false information about the medical procedure.

Alabama Attorney General Tries to Delay Lawsuit Challenging Abortion Restrictions for Minors

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 12:04

Attorneys for the State of Alabama told a federal judge they need more information from the plaintiffs before they could respond to allegations that a state law designed to restrict abortions for minors is unconstitutional.

Alabama is one of 38 states that requires minors seeking abortions to either obtain their parents’ consent or go through “judicial bypass,” a process through which a minor must get a court order granting an abortion. Alabama anti-choice lawmakers in July radically amended this judicial bypass process to authorize the court in these proceedings to appoint a guardian for a minor’s fetus, and to allow the district attorney, and in some situations, the minor’s parents, to both cross-examine the minor and to oppose her request for an abortion.

Alabama lawmakers also amended the bypass process to allow any of these parties to disclose the minor’s pregnancy to other people in the minor’s life, including her teachers, her employers, and her friends, and to call them to testify in court.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the Alabama law in October on behalf of a Montgomery abortion clinic, arguing it is unconstitutional. Attorneys from Attorney General Luther Strange’s office this month filed a motion with the court claiming the plaintiffs’ 15-page complaint did not provide enough specifics as to how they planned to challenge the Alabama judicial bypass law.

Attorneys for the state characterized the complaint as a “shot-gun pleading,” and have asked the court to order the plaintiffs to provide even more information before the state should be required to formally respond to the lawsuit. Rather than respond to the merits of plaintiffs’ allegations within the time allotted under federal court rules, attorneys for the Alabama filed a “Motion for More Definite Statement,” a procedural motion used by defendants when the factual and legal allegations in a lawsuit are “so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.”

The State of Alabama’s motion is “meritless” and  “unnecessarily delay getting to the legal issues that are squarely laid out in the complaint” and with the purpose of further delaying the court considering the plaintiffs’ pending motion to block the law, according to attorneys for the ACLU.

“Were there any real doubts about the nature of any claim—and Defendants have identified none beyond their disingenuous speculation that Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim might incorporate legal conclusions from other claims—the nature of Plaintiffs’ claims are spelled out in detail in the motion for preliminary injunctive relief,” the ACLU attorneys told their court in their response to the state’s request.

The federal court has not yet ruled on the state’s motion, and in the meantime, the judicial bypass law remains in effect.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Alabama Attorney General Tries to Delay Lawsuit Challenging Abortion Restrictions for Minors appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Bosses at Hobby Lobby have got to read #6.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:30
Bosses at Hobby Lobby have got to read #6.

12 Things Every Woman Should Know About IUDs
They're highly effective forms of birth control, but are they right for you?

Study: States With Low HPV Vaccination Rates See Higher Cervical Cancer Rates

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 09:50

More proof that vaccinating young people against human papillomavirus (HPV) can prevent cervical cancer was presented this week at a health disparities conference, as a national study found that there are fewer cases of cervical cancer in states in which HPV vaccines are more common.

Distrust of vaccines—based largely on dubious information—and fear that the vaccine might encourage promiscuous sexual behavior among teenage girls could be factors in states with the lowest HPV vaccination rates and the highest cervical cancer occurrences. Numerous studies have shown that the vaccine does not encourage promiscuity.

The study, presented at a conference organized by the American Cancer Research Association, pointed to a number of states on opposite ends of the spectrum. In Massachusetts, for example, 69 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 receive at least one dose of the vaccine, which is given as a series of three shots six months apart, and only six out of 100,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.

Sixty-six percent of young women in Vermont have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 5.4 women out of 100,000 are diagnosed each year.

In contrast, 41 percent of girls in Arkansas have received one dose of the vaccine and 10.2 out of 100,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. In Mississippi, only 40 percent of girls received one dose of the vaccine and the cervical cancer rate is 9.2 per 100,000 women.

Fifty-seven percent of girls nationally have received one does of the vaccine and the national cervical cancer rate is 8.2 per 100,000 women.

This new study confirms research showing that vaccine rates are much lower in the South than in other parts of the country.  A 2013 study of older women, ages 18 to 26, found that between 2008 and 2010, 37.2 percent of young women in the Northeast had received at least one shot compared to 28.7 percent the Midwest and West, and just 14 percent in the South.

The newest study shows that cervical cancer rates and HPV vaccination rates tend to move up and down together. Though the authors could not prove causality, their finding suggest that increasing the uptake of the vaccine in a state could have a direct impact on cervical cancer rates and could help even out existing disparities between states.

Cervical cancer affects about 12,000 women each year in the United States, and about 4,000 women die from the disease.

Worldwide, the numbers are much higher. The clear majority of cervical cancers (91 percent) are caused by HPV, a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is spread from infected skin to uninfected skin. Around 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people become infected each year.

Though the HPV vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective, it has been a tough sell since it came onto the market in 2006. Low vaccination rates reflect a general distrust of vaccines that stems from disproven data released in the late 1990s linking vaccines to the rise in autism.

This explains only part of the problem, because other vaccines are more readily accepted. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in August that if 13-year-old girls had been given the vaccine at the same time they were given the other vaccines recommended for that age, 91.3 percent of them would have received at least one dose.

Some parents seem worried that vaccinating against as sexually transmitted disease would encourage sexual behavior in young girls. Others have said that the recommended age of 11 is too young to even discuss sexual behavior, despite lack of evidence that the vaccine changes a teen’s sexual behavior.

There is a lack of understanding among parents about the HPV vaccine and many parents don’t realize that it can actually prevent cancer.

Perhaps the most important research on the vaccine thus far are studies that show it is working. Despite the low vaccination rates, the proportion of teen girls infected with the strains of HPV that the vaccine addresses has dropped by 56 percent.

This applies to all teens, whether or not they were vaccinated. This may be a result of what public health experts refer to as “herd immunity”—if enough of the population is protected by a vaccine, that protection extends to the un-vaccinated as well. Among girls who had gotten the vaccine, however, the drop in HPV infections was even higher, at 88 percent.

Jennifer Moss, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health and the author of the new study, told TIME, “These states could really use some interventions to increase the rates of HPV vaccination now, and hopefully there will be big dividends in the coming decades in terms of cancer mortality.”

Moss added that pediatricians play a critically important role.

“The factor that’s most strongly associated with HPV vaccination is whether a child’s health care provider recommends it,” she said. “We really need strong recommendations from health care providers to adolescent patients and their parents to get the vaccine.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Study: States With Low HPV Vaccination Rates See Higher Cervical Cancer Rates appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Defending Free Speech Does Not Mean Tolerating Harassment

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 09:07

Andrew Sullivan is concerned about free speech.

No, it’s not because TIME asked its readers if the word “feminist” should be banned, with misogynists unsurprisingly agreeing that the idea of equality needs to be stifled post-haste. On the contrary, as Sullivan warned his readers this week, there’s a real threat out there to free speech, one so grave that it may put the Soviet gulags to shame: Twitter might make it a little harder to scream rape threats all day at women. After all, who has time to worry about the silencing of actual ideas and political discourse when some meatheads’ obsessive hobby of harassing women for speaking out against sexism is at stake? Especially when that hobby, in itself, works to censor the speech of others?

Sullivan’s hyperventilating response to the announcement that Women, Action, and the Media! (WAM!) is starting a program to make it easier for women to report Twitter harassment is a wonderland of bad arguments. As Tom Scocca wrote at Gawker, “It’s testimony to the atavism of the GamerGaters, or to the monotony of Sullivan’s thought, that he can simply plug his ’90s-era subroutines into the program and execute them.”  Let us examine some of the more pernicious of these subroutines, shall we?

First, Sullivan decides to investigate WAM!’s seedy underbelly. He is horrified by what he finds: “They want gender quotas for all media businesses, equal representation for women in, say, video-games, gender parity in employment in journalism and in the stories themselves.”

For those wondering what the problem is with believing that half the human race should have half the representation in media environments, he follows up by complaining that WAM! has objected to the fact that only 1 percent of compositions performed in classical concerts in 2009-2010 were composed by women. “Less Beethoven—more, er, women!” he simply writes, apparently assuming that it’s self-evidently ridiculous to believe that women have anything more to contribute to this genre of music. Why, asking orchestras to play songs by women is like asking them to have dancing dogs perform! It’s so undignified and silly it requires italics.

He goes on to argue that because WAM! thinks harassment is terrible, its leaders must be convinced that “women are not strong or capable enough of forging their own brands, voices, websites and fighting back against ideas they abhor with wit and energy and passion and freedom.” (He could have used a couple more words there. I personally fight for my brand with not just energy and wit and passion and freedom but also vim and a grace reminiscent of cat falling into a toilet. Don’t hold back, Sully!) He also wonders whether “WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech.”

Oh, this argument, perhaps the favorite of the harassment defenders. It’s wrong in so many ways that it’s hard to count them all. First of all, it assumes that women must not just be equal to men to “earn” our right to speak, but that we must, to the last one of us, be better than men. Men are not expected to crawl across a sea of abuse and threats in order to simply express themselves, but if women want in on the conversation, the price they must pay is higher.

It’s also an argument that’s comical in its narcissism. Men who scold women about how we must stoically endure harassment seem to assume that they, personally, would be able to withstand the abuse should the roles be reversed. No doubt they could also do a triple back flip should the occasion for it come about, as well.

But as someone who is personally harassed constantly online and who has been told she has a fairly strong constitution for the “rough-and-tumble,” I can safely say the latter has little to do with the former. Getting dozens of abusive tweets a second is less like having an intense debate and more like having a crowd of people standing on your lawn yelling at you. Or perhaps like having your phone ring off the hook, every two seconds. The suggestion that one should be able to tolerate such behavior as a bare minimum to participate in social discourse is an easy one to make—for someone who will never have to do it.

Plus, no one’s free speech is actually stripped from them if a private service like Twitter decides you can’t use their servers to aim targeted harassment at a woman simply because you want to silence her. (“Free speech” proponents sure do like silencing, don’t they?) In a follow-up post, Sullivan back-tracked a bit, saying, “I actively support suspending abusive, stalking tweeters or those threatening violence.”

Of course, that’s everyone whom WAM! is monitoring. So to salvage his ridiculous attack on the organization, he insisted that the people getting suspended are not abusive, but “non-harassing tweeters” merely saying “politically incorrect things”. As examples of such upstanding conservative citizens, he cited Breitbart Associate Editor Milo Yiannopoulos, A Voice for Men Social Media Director Janet Bloomfield, and a man that goes by the handle “Thunderf00t.”

If that’s the best that Sullivan can do, then this conversation really is over. Even within his post, he admitted that Yiannopoulos harasses people by calling them “spineless, hypocritical queers”; at one woman, he yelled, “You get your tits out for a living.” Sullivan excuses this by pointing out that Yiannopoulos apologized to one of them, but ignoring the pattern of behavior Yiannopoulos has displayed shows that Sullivan is very much not supporting the suspension of “abusive, stalking tweeters.”

His other examples of supposedly unfairly punished people are even more ridiculous. Janet Bloomfield has a habit of making up fake quotes from feminists and tweeting them like they’re real, mostly to encourage her followers to overwhelm feminist Twitter feeds with abuse. Anyone who has encountered the man who calls himself Thunderf00t online can strongly attest that his obsession with certain feminists goes well over the “stalking” line and that he has a history of doing things like doxxing confidential information. These are the people that Sullivan is defending, which says a lot about his argument.

Most feminists are not afraid of people who make sexist arguments straightforwardly and without harassment. (I did not hesitate, for instance, to read and respond to Sullivan’s posts, which are silly but definitely not harassment.) In fact, most are confident that feminist ideas will eventually win on a level playing field. The only people here trying to silence dissent are anti-feminists, who are so afraid of our arguments that they try to abuse women online into silence. The anti-feminist GamerGaters Sullivan loves so much are so dismayed by opposing arguments that they have started email campaigns to get income pulled from sites that publish feminist opinions. That’s what censorship looks like.

Telling people to lay off harassing individuals all day long on Twitter is not stopping them from sharing their opinions. It’s just stopping them from silencing others’.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Defending Free Speech Does Not Mean Tolerating Harassment appeared first on RH Reality Check.

How America’s Obsession With ‘Bad Birth Control’ Harms Women

RH Reality Check - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 08:56

For busy women, making good health decisions and actually taking care of ourselves can be a challenge, especially when practical factors such as complicated schedules, finances, and competing demands are taken into consideration. Well-balanced, well-presented information can empower women to make smart decisions about reproductive health care. Unfortunately, thanks in part to how the American legal system works, many women know more about the risks and side effects of birth control than about how the right contraceptive might improve their health and well-being.

In general, pharmaceutical companies tailor drug inserts to limit liability. Consequently, they list health issues reported by participants in clinical research whether they were caused by the drug or not, which may not be known. Pharmacists tick off possible side effects to customers based on these lists; personal injury attorneys use them to ply network television and social media with scary “bad medication” advertisements. Meanwhile, doctors or other care providers, anxious about being sued, echo similarly lengthy warnings to patients. When harms do happen, even if the cause is in question, investigative journalists often weave together tragic stories—as the saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

It is important for consumers to be aware of the potential consequences of their medications. When it comes to birth control, however, what can get lost in all the alarm-sounding is the fact that—with important known exceptions—the benefits of contraceptives vastly outweigh any risks for most women. Women who get overwhelmed by fear or faulty information forfeit these advantages, sometimes with costly ramifications.

Modern Contraceptives Keep Women Safe

To be sure, no one method works for every woman; even the most effective options have potential side effects or inconveniences that individuals must weigh. That said, in addition to preventing pregnancy, the positive consequences of modern contraceptives abound:

  • Estrogen-Containing Contraceptives, which include most common forms of “The Pill,” along with “The Ring(Nuvaring) and “The Patch,” improve acne, reduce benign breast disease, reduce premenstrual syndrome, and regulate or eliminate periods. Some also protect against ovarian or endometrial cancer.
  • Condoms, as most of us know, prevent a wide variety of sexually transmitted infections. Some of these are surprisingly common among young people, such as chlamydia, which can cause infertility, and HPV, which causes cervical cancer.

Fourteen percent of American women taking birth control pills use them exclusively for non-contraceptive reasons like those stated above; another 58 percent use them for mixed reasons. Similarly, many women use hormonal IUDs to control problem periods. But the biggest health benefits of contraceptives come from the fact—pure and simple—that birth control allows women to manage their fertility.

Most pregnancies turn out well; in fact, a wanted pregnancy and childbirth can be a peak life experience. Even so, pregnancy is often inherently dangerous. According to the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, half of pregnancies trigger some kind of medical problem such as a serious cut or tear, the need for a C-section, infection, excessive bleeding, a blood clot, high blood pressure, or gestational diabetes. This doesn’t include mental health issues, such as postpartum depression, which can be triggered by hormonal changes and physical stress. And although maternal mortality is admittedly rare, approximately 650 American women die each year from pregnancy.

A woman who wants a child may take her chances willingly, even gladly. Given that half of all U.S. pregnancies are unintended, however, we can infer that women are being put in danger by pregnancies they never sought.

Last year, former congressional candidate Darcy Burner went public with her near-death story to explain why abortion access can be a lifesaver. But birth control saves lives, too, by preventing unwanted pregnancies and making it easier for women to space out childbearing in ways that are healthiest for them and their families. That’s why it’s so important that we advocate for everyone’s ability to access contraception—and for accurate information about it to be made widely available.

Increased Risk Doesn’t Mean High Risk

Unfortunately, there exists a media, legal, and social climate of alarmism around reproductive health care that can make it difficult for women to make fact-based, potentially life-improving choices about contraceptives.

For example, in recent years, several dramatic news stories have broken about some kinds of birth control increasing a woman’s risk of blood clots, inspiring terror in many users of Yaz, Yasmin, and the Nuvaring, among others. But before you panic, keep reading.

All women have some risk of blood clots, but that risk is quite low: The chances of developing a clot are around 5 in 10,000 per year. And while clots can be dangerous—even deadly—most heal without long-term effects. Without any other risk factors at play, doubling this low number means the annual risk of a clot while on an estrogen-containing contraceptive is still extremely low. To quote a common refrain, Two times a very small number is still a very small number.

To put this danger in perspective, let’s compare the risk of a clot from contraception with the risk of a clot from pregnancy. During pregnancy, the risk of a clot reaches approximately 30 in 10,000. In the six weeks after giving birth, clotting skyrockets to as high as 300 in 10,000, or 60 times the normal rate.

Here is another way of saying it: Women who got worried and discontinued their birth control in response to the media frenzy about Yaz, Yasmin, or Nuvaring—especially those who did not use other contraceptives instead, or chose less effective ones—may have put themselves in danger of the very thing they wanted to avoid.

Making Good Decisions Easier

For a woman to make the best possible decisions, she needs accurate and balanced information about the available options. What are the pros and cons of different options? How do they compare to each other? How common are the best and worst scenarios? After making a choice, what would be reasonable to expect? What might signal that something could be going wrong?

Simple changes in how doctors, journalists, and advocates talk about birth control could help women answer these questions.

  1. Warnings about birth control method should be based on what is likely and what is important, not simply what is new or statistically significant. Well-intended messengers must recognize that by triggering unwarranted or disproportionate fears they can actually cause harm.
  1. Information about any single birth control method should be paired with information about other methods and none at all, including the odds of becoming pregnant, and related health impacts for each. The most relevant and important information should stand out, such as in this excellent poster by and this interactive graphic from Healthline. Furthermore, the “Paling Palette” can be a valuable tool for comparing risks quickly and simply.
  1. Discussion of risks should include what researchers call absolute risk (how likely is it?) and relative risk (how does it compare to other options?) so that women can put the possibilities in perspective and weigh different courses of action against each other. Comparisons with other everyday risks can also help to put things in perspective. For example, a short airline flight of one to two hours more than doubles blood clot risk during the following eight weeks; a minor injury like a sprain or pulled muscle increases the risk even longer. Yet we choose to travel and play sports—among other activities—because that’s part of what makes life rich.

Fortunately, most of the time, both birth control and well-managed pregnancies turn out fine. But in order to help keep women safe and healthy, we must push back against hyperbole and continue to publicize all the risks and benefits of contraceptives—so that every decision individuals make about their bodies can be a well-informed one, and women can live the lives of their choosing.

Image: Shutterstock

The post How America’s Obsession With ‘Bad Birth Control’ Harms Women appeared first on RH Reality Check.


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