Reproductive health-care advocates in Arizona have filed a lawsuit in state court challenging an Arizona law that restricts the use of abortion-inducing medications to only those allowed by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol.
It is the second lawsuit challenging Arizona’s restrictions on medication abortion. Advocates first filed suit in federal court, arguing the restrictions violated federal constitutional rights. Late last month a federal judge refused to block implementation of those restrictions while a trial on the constitutionality of the rules proceeds. Advocates appealed that decision to a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit who blocked the lower court and ordered the rules stayed until after it hears arguments, which the appeals court scheduled for May 13.
Unlike the first lawsuit, which involves questions of federal constitutional rights, this latest filing argues that because the regulation of doctors is a matter of state concern, by restricting medication abortions to FDA protocol the Arizona legislature violated Arizona law by unlawfully delegating to the FDA a matter of state concern. The complaint also claims that Arizona lawmakers violated their own rule-making procedures when passing the regulations because they failed to provide for enough time for the public to comment, as required under law.
The state court action was filed before the Ninth Circuit had issued a ruling on the federal action, but advocates were clear that the two cases are not dependent on one another. “We filed this state court action because we want to use all the tools at our disposal to protect the rights of Arizonans to access safe reproductive health care,” David Brown, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, explained to RH Reality Check. “Both cases will proceed independently as we fight back against these dangerous and unnecessary restrictions.”
The plaintiffs include Planned Parenthood Arizona, Dr. William Richardson, and the Tucson Women’s Center. They’ve asked the court for a declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional and an injunction stopping its enforcement.
Image: WikiMedia Commons
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In a 4-3 committee vote Thursday, lawmakers in Colorado passed legislation forbidding state and local government from interfering with reproductive health-care decisions or with access to reproductive health-care information based on “current evidence-based scientific data and medical consensus.”
At a pre-vote hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee Thursday, state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson (D-Gilpin) pointed to a growing list of local laws that restrict abortion or control abortion-related information and testified that her legislation, called the “Reproductive Health Freedom Act,” “is simply saying an individual has the right to make individual health care decisions.”
In response, Natalie Decker, an attorney representing the Alliance Defending Freedom, testified that the measure should actually be called the “Colorado Abortion on Demand Act.”
Decker told lawmakers that the “deceptive” legislation is so “vague” and “broad” that it could “prohibit any restriction to abortion whatsoever.” She particularly objected that terms such as “interfere,” “evidence-based scientific data,” and “policy” were not defined in the short bill.
“Reproductive health care” is defined in the proposed law to mean “treatment, services, procedures, supplies, products, devices, or information related to human sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, abortion, or assisted reproduction.”
The legislation states that “every individual possesses a fundamental right of privacy with respect to reproductive health care decisions.”
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), who voted against the bill, repeatedly asked why the term “individual” wasn’t defined in the legislation and argued that the measure is “meaningless” without such a definition.
The proposed law, which passed in a party-line vote, “presumes an unborn human being has no rights,” Lundberg said during the hearing.
“What individuals are we protecting and which individuals are we exposing to destruction,” Lundberg asked.
If passed, the legislation “would be one of the first and most comprehensive laws to establish state protections for women’s private decisions about reproductive health, and, as such, it could be a model for other states,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. It could stop municipalities, for example, in some states from enacting anti-choice policies.
“While many anti-choice bills passed in other states are in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, Colorado is taking the extra precaution to make sure that they don’t see the light of day,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. “This measure is an important protection for women so that their access to comprehensive health care is not limited because of their zip code.”
The bill, which is expected to clear the legislature and be signed by pro-choice Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, has been taking a beating by social conservatives on talk radio.
“This is a clear play by the state legislature to bypass and subvert the will of the people,” said local talk show host Dan Caplis, who runs a small Denver law firm, to his audience on April 9.
“This is a bill that would stop the state from ‘interfering’ with any woman’s decision to have an abortion,” Caplis said on air. “So that could be used potentially to knock out parental notification [or] all these restrictions that Coloradans and other people around the country are now placing on abortion. I hope this is part of the inevitable march of the people of this great nation to saying, ‘Wait a second. We can’t be killing our kids before they’re born. That’s goofy.’”
In fact, abortion rights are popular in Colorado. A 2013 Project New America poll found that “62 percent of voters surveyed agree that a woman should be allowed to have an abortion based on her personal values and her doctor’s advice.” Just 9 percent of voters want abortion banned completely, according to the same poll.
In 2008 and 2010, voters here overwhelmingly rejected “personhood” amendments, which would have banned all abortion.
Abortion is legal in Colorado, and the state constitution prohibits public funding of abortion and mandates parental notification.
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Jered Michael Ragon has strapped his GoPro camera to his body, just so, allowing its lens to peer over the four-foot tall cardboard poster he holds, showing a photograph of what looks to be a bloody, dismembered human fetus surrounded by medical instruments. He’s got his camera trained on the passenger side of a grey pick-up truck driven by a dark-haired woman who’s giving him what most Texas kids would swiftly recognize as an ass-chewing.
The woman doesn’t have a problem with what Ragon stands for—or rather, what he stands against: legal abortion. She also opposes abortion. But she doesn’t like his methods, which include 25-year-old Ragon taking up his regular post on a public sidewalk outside a multi-story Fort Worth high school, where he’s spending this particular March week bringing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to teenagers via oversized, graphic posters ostensibly meant to represent common, legal abortion procedures and their aftermath.
“I agree with what he’s saying,” the driver tells me as she pulls away. “But I don’t like how he’s doing it.”
Ragon, a white man, is a self-described “abolitionist.” He decries legal abortion as the modern-day equivalent of American chattel slavery.
He is also a convicted felon who, seven years ago, tried to set fire to a small-town church and who, according to sworn witness statements taken at the time, also aimed to burn down “evil” day-care centers for offering alternatives to “actual parenting.”
These days, any fire associated with Ragon appears to be metaphorical, as his Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth conducts their agitating—and deliberately gory—school protests in alliance with a growing nationwide “abolitionist” movement called “Project Frontlines.” Sometimes, they even bring their kids along.
“We show pictures of [abortion] to demonstrate the evil of it,” Ragon told me. “And to ignite a response that just generally comes out of our humanity. It’s troubling, it’s disturbing, and it should be.”
The Language of Abolitionism
It is no accident that Ragon both calls himself an “abolitionist” and that his group uses these so-called disturbing images. He sees himself as carrying on the tradition of 19th century anti-slavery activists, who he says similarly tried to shock their fellow Americans into action.
But to reproductive justice advocates who do anti-racist work, the deliberate conflation of abortion and slavery is a familiar—and facile—attempt to drive a “racial wedge” both in black communities and in pro-choice communities. Feminist activist and theorist Loretta Ross, the former national coordinator of SisterSong, a women of color-led reproductive justice collective, has been fighting this kind of rhetoric for decades.
“I’m not surprised that they’re adopting the language of the anti-slavery movement,” Ross told me. “It’s what they try to do, to co-opt the language of civil rights, anti-slavery, to assume that they can take the moral high ground while they’re trying to subsume the rights of women—particularly Black women.”
If abortion is slavery, what of the American slaves who had no control over their own reproductive choices, who were raped and forced to birth their own children into slavery? What of their decisions to end their pregnancies, prompted, as Ross writes when she paraphrases Angela Davis, by “the miserable social conditions that dissuaded them from bringing new lives into the world”? What of the Black American families torn apart at slave markets, of parents permanently separated from their children?
“One of the fundamental contradictions of [the anti-abortion 'abolitionist'] position is that they’re going to deny the human rights of Black women as a way to call themselves protecting the rights of fetuses,” said Ross. “You can’t save Black children by discriminating against Black women.”
But the anti-abortion “abolitionists” I spoke to seem hell-bent—or perhaps in their view, heaven-bent—on taking what Ragon calls an “uncompromising” stance on abortion: it should be illegal, without exception, and people who get abortions should be tried as first-degree murderers. These “abolitionists” believe the only way to achieve this, on a national scale, is not to advocate for comprehensive sex education or affordable contraception, or to even discuss the fact that Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, but to convert the entire country to their version of Christianity, thereby making the very concept of abortion “unthinkable” to the masses.
And they’re starting with America’s teenagers.
High Schools as Anti-Abortion “Front Lines”
People who oppose abortion—whether or not they self-identify as “abolitionists”—have been using graphic fetus images for decades. Many of the most common images were produced more than 20 years ago, using medical remains from later abortion procedures that anti-abortion groups say they stole from clinics. Yet those remains—if their origins are to be believed—represent only a small percentage of all abortions performed in the United States. Over 90 percent of abortions in the United States take place before 12 weeks’ gestation.
Whatever their provenance, or representative veracity, the images are certainly arresting. Deliberately so. Which is why Ragon and those who join him in the anti-abortion “abolitionist” movement generally prefer to display them not in front of abortion clinics—though they do do that, occasionally—but to teenagers going to and from school.
Teens haven’t yet decided how they feel about abortion, said Ragon, which makes them better targets than people already on their way to the abortion clinic.
“Strategically, a lot of times high schoolers maybe haven’t made up their mind,” he told me, when we met at a suburban Fort Worth coffee shop in March. “They’re in a place that is teaching them a lot of things that are anti-biblical.”
Why wait, then, until after the unintended pregnancy that brings a 16-year-old through clinic doors?
“When somebody is at an abortion clinic, their intent at that time is to actually go and kill their child, or as we put it, ‘have an abortion,’” said Ragon, intonating air quotes. “Their intent is not, ‘I’m going to come here and see my options.’ They’ve weighed their options and they’re pretty well made up in their mind about doing it.”
For “abolitionists,” that makes high schools the new “front lines” of an anti-abortion movement that situates itself well to the right of mainstream “pro-life” organizations. These new “abolitionists” have co-opted the language of 19th century anti-slavery groups, positioning themselves as “immediatists” who see any regulation of abortion as capitulating to the moral failings of a sin-soaked society that condones some, if not all, abortions.
Many parents and students, perhaps unsurprisingly, take exception to this grisly prosthelytizing, while school officials say there is little they can do if the “abolitionists” don’t trespass on to school property.
“They’ve always been on the public right of way,” a Fort Worth Independent School District spokesperson told me. “They are certainly entitled to express their opinions.”
But there is expressing an opinion, and then there is confronting a school bus full of teenagers at 8:00 in the morning with a four-foot dismembered fetus. That kind of deliberate agitation has recently found opposition among anti-choice leaders, one of whom told Slate in January that it’s time his movement changed tactics. The time for bloody fetuses has passed; enter the era of cuddly newborns, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Joe Carter told Slate:
“We don’t need to do this by showing bloody fetuses to get a gag reflex,” he says. “We need to do this by invoking our neighbors’ natural love for children. We do this by showing babies as natural parts of our lives.”
In a January New York Times piece, a reporter similarly softened the face of the anti-choice movement, choosing a “plump” grandmother as his central character in a piece on abortion clinic buffer zones, areas beyond which anti-abortion protesters cannot venture in their efforts to dissuade—and in some cases, harass and attack—people who seek abortions, to the extent that many abortion clinics use volunteer escorts to shield their patients from protesters who sometimes spit, yell, and throw ketchup.
Certainly anti-abortion “abolitionism” is not warm and cuddly, and neither is Jered Ragon. Seven years ago, he was called a “domestic terrorist” by law enforcement officials after he and three friends attempted to set fire to a church in Burleson, Texas, a Fort Worth suburb with a population of a little less than 40,000 people.
“I was a bad dude,” admits Ragon, who said that as a teenager, he “loved destruction” and was “violent” and “evil.” But, he adds: “There’s no justification for any wrong that I’ve ever done.”
A Burleson police report details what happened back in 2007, when Ragon was an 18-year-old Fight Club enthusiast leading Bible studies for his buddies at a local community center: He and three friends, seeing what they believed to be the impending moral demise of society, decided they wanted to “wake up” their apathetic Christian brethren by setting fire to a newly constructed church. The church has a racially diverse membership, and the guys told police they chose it because it was “secluded.”
According to witness statements, what transpired that July 4th was alternately frightening and comical. Sometime around 8 p.m., Ragon and his buddies built a Molotov cocktail, pouring gasoline and chlorine into a bottle and using a t-shirt as a wick. Ragon, along with Michael Plaisted, Dayton Calaway, and an unidentified fourth person, pulled up behind the new Victory Family Church building in Plaisted’s truck and tried to set the homemade bomb on fire, but all it did was smoke.
Bad timing, though: as the guys were futzing with the apparatus trying to light it, one of Victory’s deacons pulled up to the construction site with his wife and her sister and brother-in-law, hoping to show off the new building. Driving around the back of the church, the adults startled the teenagers mid-arson. Calaway and Plaisted took off running down a nearby road, while Ragon and the unidentified accomplice fled in the pickup to destroy their stash of bomb-building evidence.
Calaway and Plaisted didn’t get far: church deacon Marty Beeson trailed the pair on foot, watching as the two guys “were tripping and falling” in deep mud along the road, losing their shoes. Beeson managed to detain the pair until police arrived.
Meanwhile, as Calaway and Plaisted made their muddy escape attempt, Ragon arrived at the secluded area where they’d prepped the bomb, making a pile of chlorine tablets and glass and dousing everything in gasoline—including, he would soon discover, on his own sandals.
As Ragon lit their stash, he also lit his feet and shoes on fire. According to witnesses who saw Ragon running from the scene, but who initially mistook the goings-on for Independence Day fireworks, the fire shot flames as high as 20 feet.
Smelling of “burning flesh,” Ragon jumped in his own truck, parked at the bomb-making site, and made it to a friend named Jason Stevens’ house. The pair then headed for the local CVS to get bandages and burn ointment.
According the statement Stevens gave to police, Ragon sent him into the drugstore with his debit card and one instruction: “Spare no expense” on burn cream and bandages. Ragon also told Stevens to buy Axe body spray to cover up the stench of his burning feet.
Police later found a Fight Club DVD in Ragon’s truck, and interviewed the young men about their all-male group’s three-tiered belief system. All members were required to attend Bible study, but they could also choose to “cleanse themselves” through physically fighting each other, which Plaisted told police was a “way to get back to basic human instincts and therefore to cleanse themselves of the noise of society, like self-gratification and self-improvement.” At the third level, members could choose to participate in “destructive acts.”
Jason Stevens told police that Ragon often joked that “it would be better” if day care centers all “burned to the ground,” and that he also spoke to him about living “in a world without power plants.” According to Stevens, Ragon’s philosophy for the group was that “everything is vain in life except for God,” and he told police that Ragon had suggested a seemingly random assortment of other potential targets, including porta-potties, recycling bins, and warehouses.
Ultimately, Calaway, Plaisted, and Ragon were all sentenced to federal prison, with Ragon serving 15 months after pleading guilty to “possessing a destructive device.”
Seven years after their arson attempt, Plaisted and Ragon reunited for Project Frontlines, protesting together in front of Paschal High School, a top-rated Fort Worth school near Texas Christian University (TCU).
Paschal senior Iris Hayes told me she was initially “disgusted,” when she saw the posters that Ragon and Plaisted carried in front of her school, but also came to dislike their “indoctrination” message and fear their history of violence.
“At first I was talking to them like they were a normal person, and then I found out they’re terrorists,” she recalled. A Cleburne Times-Review article detailing the men’s church-bombing attempt made its way through Paschal’s virtual halls via Facebook, and Hayes, a media-savvy 17-year-old who aspires to someday be the editor of French Vogue, organized a counter-protest with friends from nearby TCU.
Arriving to school early in the morning carrying posters showing kittens, puppies, baby rabbits, and foxes, Hayes tried to shield her classmates from Ragon’s shocking imagery.
“Everyone loves baby animals,” said Hayes. “I just smiled and waved.”
While some of her peers thought it would be better not to draw any additional attention to the “abolitionist” group, Hayes saw an opportunity to open up a public conversation.
“I thought it was better to bring attention to it, because the media would definitely take the side of a student protest,” she said. And the media did take notice: the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran an article on Hayes’ counter-protest, and followed it up with an editorial later that week that called Hayes “sharp,” and the demonstrations a “civics-lesson-come-to-life.”
In the aftermath of the Paschal protest, and at the Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth’s subsequent appearances at other local high schools, residents and parents have expressed concerns about men with an established history of violence setting up these intentionally provocative and confrontational demonstrations, and started online petitions in an attempt to block the “abolitionists” from holding placards and handing out materials near schools.
Ragon denies that he is now, or ever was, a “terrorist,” calling the word a “slanderous accusation.”
“The terrorist thing would imply that I am at this time engaging in some sort of fear-mongering or violent action,” he told me. Instead, he said he tries to explain to anyone who would call him a terrorist “why I’m there and what I did in the past, and what God’s done in spite of my poor actions.”
A Gray Reality
I first met with Ragon on a windy March morning at an independent coffee shop—really, little more than a tiny house with an espresso machine and a panini press—in downtown Burleson, not knowing precisely what to expect. I’d watched some of his group’s YouTube videos—they frequently post clips of their attempts to convert skeptical teenagers, some of whom they refer to as “idolators”—and read up on Ragon’s criminal history. I was half-expecting to come face-to-face with a nihilistic, anti-abortion Tyler Durden; instead, I sat across a chilly patio table from an unfailingly polite—he repeatedly called me ma’am, though I’m just five years his senior—and thoughtfully spoken man with a Bible and GoPro camera in tow. The camera goes along with Ragon on all his Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth business, perpetually turned out to the world, recording his interactions with the public and, in this case, a reporter.
When I asked Ragon to tell me about his “abolitionist” philosophy, he held up his Bible: “It’s basically just this.”
“We believe that abortion is sin,” he told me, “and that if you were to try to, for instance, regulate sin, regulate evil, that you’re actually compromising with it.” This is the basis of his “abolitionist” view—that incremental regulation of abortion tacitly condones some abortion, which pits him against mainstream groups like Texas Right to Life, which recently fought, successfully, for a 20-week abortion ban in Texas.
“A 20-week fetal pain bill is actually teaching people that it’s OK to kill children under 20 weeks,” said Ragon. “The incrementalism actually even teaches people that that’s morality. Because some people, unfortunately, derive their morality from the legislation that goes on around them. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”
Instead of legislative change, Ragon wants to “change the culture.”
“You could make abortion illegal tomorrow, and what’s gonna happen? You know, like I do, it’s just going to keep happening,” he said. “We actually want to stop abortion. We want to make it unthinkable.”
As Ragon spoke, I could hear echoes of the teenager I myself used to be, infatuated by the easy, black-and-white promises of an uncomplicated, us-versus-them evangelical Christian mentality predicated on the idea of personal persecution and blind to the nuances of a much more gray reality.
Ragon and I grew up in neighboring Fort Worth suburbs, he in Burleson and me in nearby Mansfield. Fort Worth prides itself on being “where the West begins,” and unlike its politically blue Metroplex neighbor, Dallas, Fort Worth and its environs remain red with tinges of purple. The sprawling suburbs are filled with planned communities, casual dining restaurants, and sizeable Protestant and evangelical churches.
When I drove up from Austin to interview Ragon and shadow him at a high school protest, I stayed at my parents’ house and slept in my childhood bed. My mom has taken down the rows of torn-out Rolling Stone covers that once wallpapered my room, opting instead to paint it a soothing lilac-blue, but the closet shelves still hold bibles, yearbooks, and journals I haven’t yet boxed up.
Those journals contain some of the most overwrought, earnest teen angst poetry yet unearthed by (wo)man, a fair bit of it concerning abortion—or at least abortion as imagined by a teenage Republican punk-rock virgin who fancied herself the voice of a generation lost to the selfish whims of murderous baby-killers. I saw abortion as the “genocide” of my generation, never once considering the weight of the word or its deeply racist implications.
I channeled my passion into howling, Jewel-esque homemade recordings made on a failing karaoke machine and distributed to my friends at school and at local Christian heavy metal shows.
Today, I raise money to directly fund abortion care for low-income Texans who cannot otherwise afford safe, legal procedures, and my politics run distinctly to the free abortion—and free health care generally—on demand end of the spectrum.
My transformation from aspiring Christian radio slut-shamer to bona-fide abortion funder wasn’t particularly remarkable—it more or less amounted to my moving across the country for college and benefitting from the culture shock that came with living in New York City, far away from the comfort—and repression—of small-town Texas. Removed from the careful supervision of my parents and the judgmental gossip of my church youth group, I had sex with my college boyfriend. I liked it. I didn’t want to be pregnant, and I realized that I had no right to tell any other person when, whether, or how to carry a pregnancy. Today, at 30 years old, I have never had an abortion, and I have never been pregnant—if the vasectomy gods are good to my husband and I, I never will be.
But I do know what it’s like to be afraid of pregnancy, to spend days on end in a haze of fear and worry. I am thankful for the privilege of being able to imagine accessing a safe, legal abortion as a white, documented Texan living in a major metropolitan area, and am thankful that I—and these days, myself and my husband—have had the financial means to access reliable contraception.
I also watch with joy as my friends document their pregnancies through Instagram and hilariously honest Facebook updates, as they share the uncertainty and elation of the adoption process, and as they raise their sweet, rambunctious, curious kids. Less often, I will hear their abortion stories; these usually come in private, but can be no less fraught—or joyful—than the experience of pregnancy or parenting.
I want these things—the ability to choose not to be pregnant, the ability to raise healthy children—for all Texans, for all Americans, for all people. To that end, I consider myself part of a larger reproductive justice movement that focuses not only on “choice,” but on challenging the systemic factors that prevent people from being able to make agent, affirmative decisions toward having healthy families, whatever shape those families may take.
“Misogynoir Dressed Up in Baby Booties”
The reproductive justice framework, which acknowledges the fundamental need for widespread systemic change in order to empower people to combat inextricably interconnected forms of institutionalized oppression, couldn’t be more different from the anti-abortion “abolitionist” ideology. In order for their “abortion is slavery” claims to maintain their logic, “abolitionists” must situate American slavery as a personal moral failing of the slave owner, rather than an incarnation of the worst kind of systemic oppression, perpetrated on a variety of levels, and for a variety of reasons, by individuals, corporate bodies, and governments. Anti-abortion “abolitionists” fundamentally reject systemic solutions that would address many of the reasons people seek out abortion in the first place, instead arguing that it is an individual “godlessness” that lies at the heart of every abortion decision.
Witness: in this video of a confrontation filmed by the Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth in early April outside Western Hills High School, a bearded white man in a red truck—a man who self-identifies during the confrontation as a “Right-to-Lifer”—berates an “abolitionist” for their aggressive tactics and for distracting students from their tests.
“Their education is what will keep them from doing stuff like that,” says the man, rolling down his window and gesturing to the poster propped up in front of the “abolitionist.” Before the man in the truck can finish his thought, the “abolitionist” speaks over him:
“No it’s not, it’s godlessness!” he cries, continuing: “It’s not any kind of education or socio-economic class, it’s godlessness that’s the reason why people kill their children.”
I don’t know of any peer-reviewed studies that measure the individual “godliness” of people who have abortions. I do, however, know of a few which have identified the many and various lived experiences of people who seek abortions, for whom socio-economic status is a demonstrable factor in their decision either to have an abortion, or in their inability to access one.
The majority of people who have abortions are already parents; in a Guttmacher Institute study, three-quarters of abortion patients reported that “having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents.” A similar percentage of patients told researchers that they could not afford to have a baby at the time of their abortion, and nearly half said that they “did not want to be a single mother” or were having “relationship problems.”
And because Black women have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than do non-Hispanic white women, they also have higher rates of abortion. Black women are also more likely to be low-income and to be uninsured—which is no cosmic accident, nor any reflection of some kind of bizarre, widespread “godlessness” among Black women, but rather a reflection of the reality of being a person of color in a country where institutionalized racism still prevails, 150 years after the end of the Civil War. Black women make 64 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male makes. (For more context: Hispanic women also have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than white women, and make 54 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male makes.)
Black men are six times more likely than white men to be incarcerated, and Black women are the fastest growing population in the U.S. prison system.
To equate abortion with slavery in a country where Black women must fight against the double oppressions of both racism and misogyny—oppressions encompassed in the term misogynoir, coined by activist scholar Moya Bailey of Emory University and the Crunk Feminist Collective—ignores the continuing consequences of anti-Black racism in America, and the enduring ideological dominance of white supremacy, which promises people of color that if they play the game of respectability politics correctly and publicly perform the right kind of “whiteness,” they will be rewarded with some measure of acknowledgment of their basic humanity.
If Black women play the game wrongly, or not at all, they risk being—as in, they most certainly will be—derided as “ghetto,” welfare queens, and Jezebels. As Tamara Winfrey Harris wrote in 2012 for Bitch, “Respectability politics allow both the white and black communities to lay claim to black women’s bodies.”
While there are Black women in the anti-abortion “abolitionist” movement—Irin Carmon at MSNBC spoke to Sisleigh Harmon, a Black woman who home-schools her children with her white “abolitionist” husband Tony—the movement’s “servant leaders” are white American men who pattern themselves after white American anti-slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
But for a movement that so proudly drapes itself in appropriative, self-congratulatory anti-slavery terminology, outright discussions of race in anti-abortion “abolitionism”—at least, any discussions that go beyond a white savior complex that manifests in the form of simplified sloganeering—seem to be rare, perhaps because the most obvious question is the most illustrative of the movement’s inherent racism and its attendant dehumanization and erasure of Black women, and Black women’s agency: If abortion is slavery, and fetuses are slaves, are pregnant people—are pregnant Black women—slave owners?
My colleague Imani Gandy has previously written about white folks’ predilection for equating abortion and slavery for RH Reality Check, writing:
The comparisons are often tailored for the Black community and lobbed at Black women by the same forces who erect billboards in Black communities that scream “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb,” blissfully ignorant of the bitter irony of feigning concern for Black children even as they appropriate images of Black girls to spread their anti-choice propagandistic messages, and wage war against social programs—public assistance, food benefits, health care, sex education, fair pay—that would permit Black women to not only choose motherhood, but to raise healthy children.
Gandy calls the “abolitionist” logic “twisted and bizarre.”
“I would understand if they were like, ‘We want to reduce abortion, but we want to make it easier for Black women to raise children and have children,’” Gandy told me.
But “abolitionist” concerns appear to begin and end at a person’s womb. Jered Ragon never brought up concerns about Black maternal mortality or poverty rates, though he did tell me his group would happily help a pregnant person pay rent. He even seemed unsure about the mission of crisis pregnancy centers, saying they “help indigent mothers and stuff.” Ragon told me he was unable to contact any of the women he says his group has aided, though he said the Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth has “lot of families that want to adopt.”
But any putative “abolitionist” concern for the “unborn” that doesn’t also include a dedication to systematically empowering people who may become pregnant, and also to dismantling racism and racist institutions, is nothing more than misogynoir dressed up in baby booties.
Loretta Ross, whose African-American Women and Abortion presents a nuanced history of Black women’s reproductive experiences in the United States since the Civil War, told me that she sees the anti-abortion “abolitionist” movement as “self-congratulatory,” rather than ideologically persuasive. She laughed with pleasure when I told her of the Paschal High School student counter-protest involving giant posters of cute baby animals.
“['Abolitionists'] are radicalizing young people that they hadn’t planned on doing so,” she said, when they prompt pro-choice responses to their macabre protests. “That’s when you can become convinced that they’re not caring about young people or being particularly persuasive. They’re really concerned about getting their names in the newspaper and becoming self-congratulatory.”
The Philosophy of Anti-Abortion “Abolitionists”
The persecution narrative is strong in the “abolitionist” movement, and that thread runs throughout the great pride the Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth’s takes in “polarizing” schools and communities. In a Facebook post, the society writes that it is a “great encouragement” when “outraged” parents oppose their protests.
At the same time, anti-abortion “abolitionists” espouse a policy of nonviolence, while employing tactics that are not only visually aggressive and potentially highly triggering, but which specifically target people’s children, often in front of their very eyes, as they drop their kids off for school in the morning, or pick them up in the afternoons.
Following that narrative, “abolitionists” play fast and loose with history, lumping together a variety of unique, and uniquely horrific, human crimes. Ragon told me that his group’s use of bloody fetus pictures comes not only from their “abolitionist” roots, but ties in with opposition to the Holocaust—another favorite comparison frequently made by anti-choice groups.
“Just like with the Holocaust,” Ragon told me, “we’ve accumulated so many pictures of what was actually going on, the piles of bodies. We do that with any genocide, with any human rights violation.”
The casual manner with which Ragon equates the very different, and very real, atrocities of genocide, the Holocaust, and American slavery diminishes the experiences and traumas that are particular to the people, and peoples, who experienced those things. To compare abortion to any of these—and to all of these, as Ragon does—is to cast aside all context, is to render those who committed and benefitted from these acts into some blurry nether-ness, a random and non-specific evil that has no earthly origin.
And without an earthly origin—without examining the specific social, historical, and economic realities that converge to permit and perpetuate these atrocities—they have no earthly solution.
As a result, the anti-abortion “abolitionist” has absolved himself of any personal responsibility to address systemic oppression and inequality, instead pivoting to what appears to be—despite repeated, unprovoked protestations—a remarkably self-aggrandizing, single-minded ministerial stance centered on the aggressive delivery of a highly specific interpretation of the Bible that rejects the concept of evolution, calls non-procreative, non-marital sex immoral, and casts “Hebrew slavery,” as outlined in the Bible, as a “loving act” meant to protect debtors, according to one “abolitionist” I spoke to at a Fort Worth high school protest.
Instead of fighting for economic resources and policies that empower people to make affirmative family planning choices, the anti-abortion “abolitionist” leaves anti-abortion tracts in bars and restaurants. Instead of lobbying for sex education, the anti-abortion “abolitionist” hands teenagers colorful brochures.
The anti-abortion “abolitionist” pales at the thought of affordable contraception and would deny the students they preach to—the students they preach at—access to comprehensive sex education.
And the anti-abortion “abolitionist” would see people who obtain abortions tried in court as murderers, sending them into the increasingly for-profit U.S. prison system—a particularly gruesome irony considering that 30 percent of Americans who have abortions are Black women.
In her powerful lecture on the prison industrial complex and slavery, Angela Davis notes that “race matters when it comes to determining who gets to go to prison, and who doesn’t,” and that Black women have the fastest growing rate of imprisonment in the United States. Davis draws a clear line between slavery—under which Black Americans could be put to death for many, many more offenses than could free white persons—and the continuing existence of capital punishment, noting that “when slavery was abolished, capital punishment was not.”
“The continuation of the existence of capital punishment is itself a racist phenomenon,” argues Davis, “regardless of the race of those individuals upon whom the death penalty is visited.”
Ragon, who continues his tour of Fort Worth high schools when he’s not working nights as a waiter, told me that “if abortion becomes illegal, it would definitely necessitate that it be treated as murder.” Women, he told me, should be tried as if they had hired a contract killer to murder their child. “It would bear the same legal penalty as murder.”
It bears observing that in Texas, where Ragon lives, murder-for-hire is a capital offense.
This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Strong Families project.
Recently, Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg, Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez, and friends introduced a new campaign, called Ban Bossy, meant to encourage girls to lead by banning the use of the word when talking about girls. The campaign, announced in a Wall Street Journal article, is based on research conducted by social scientists on “how language affects society.” The research found “that even subtle messages can have a big impact on girls’ goals and aspirations. Calling a girl ‘bossy’ not only undermines her ability to see herself as a leader, but it also influences how others treat her,” explain Sandberg and Chávez.
Instead of just being swift in criticizing Ban Bossy, which I have been in personal conversations, I believe the introduction of this campaign presents us with the opportunity to find an intersectional approach to developing leadership skills in girls and women that could also address some of the most pressing problems facing Black women and girls, specifically issues of gender, as well as race, class, power, and privilege. Black women are often known for being or are called bossy. While it may be said in malice, we have to be bossy if it means taking charge of our lives, protecting our families, and holding down our communities.
While campaigns like Ban Bossy focus on whether or not girls and women are called bossy and how that affects their ability to lead, it’s also important to expand societal notions of leadership to include the ways that women lead outside the board room and classroom, and the ways Black women and girls are systematically inhibited or punished for doing so because our motivations are seen as misplaced anger and spitefulness.
Black women and girls are not just faced with the fear of how we might be perceived when we raise our hands in class or ask for a major promotion at work. We fear that being assertive will threaten our quality of life. While it may just sound like strong galvanizing rhetoric, Black women are under attack, so despite our fears we know we have to be assertive and aggressive just to have a chance at fighting back. Because the systems—political, judicial, and social—are constructed in such a way that is oppressive for some groups and not for others, when a particular group, such as Black women and girls, break away from being silent or passive to take the lead through expressing justified rage while aggressively fighting to defend ourselves, we can end up facing unreasonable consequences. We saw this in the recent events surrounding CeCe McDonald and Marissa Alexander.
CeCe McDonald, a transgender Black woman, spent 19 months in a men’s prison after fatally stabbing a man while defending herself during a racist and transphobic attack. For CeCe McDonald, being “bossy” meant implicitly saving her own life by standing up for herself against verbal harassment and a violent attack from her perpetrators. Though this seems like the perfect example of when claiming self-defense under the law should be justified, McDonald was not granted this projection. Her bodily autonomy was further assaulted when she was forced to spend time in a men’s prison despite identifying as a woman. In an interview with Melissa Harris-Perry following her release from prison, McDonald said, “I felt like they [the prison authorities] wanted me to hate myself as a trans woman. They wanted to force me to be someone that I wasn’t. They wanted me to delegitimize myself as a trans woman, and I was not taking that. As a trans woman, as a proud Black trans woman, I was not going to allow the system to delegitimize and hyper-sexualize and take my identity away from me.”
Then there is the case of Marissa Alexander, a Black woman in Florida who now faces 60 years in prison—triple her original, repealed sentence because “the judge in the case gave improper jury instructions”—for firing a warning shot at her abusive, estranged husband. (The shot did not harm or kill anyone.) This case is particularly interesting because Alexander is seeking immunity under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. This is the same law that allowed George Zimmerman to be acquitted for pursuing and then murdering an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. For Marissa Alexander, being “bossy” meant defending herself during an ongoing attack by only firing a warning shot in the direction of a man who has a history domestic violence toward her just to get the violence in that moment to stop. Additionally, Alexander had just given birth to a baby before the tumultuous altercation that may result in her being imprisoned for the rest of her life and the lives of her small children. In both cases, claiming self-defense/the right to stand your ground failed to be recognized as a valid defense, which is often how it is for Black women who must use force to defend their bodies against greater force.
These are two examples of what happens when Black women “lean in” to stand up for themselves but are ultimately punished for it. And they show that Black women will lead even despite highly unfavorable consequences.
In the examples above, these women had no other choice but to be bossy, protect themselves, and demand that their lives be valued. In order to take on transphobic violence, mass incarceration, and the prison industrial complex’s detrimental effects on the entire Black community regardless of gender or sexuality, we have to be bossy. In order to take on Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, who failed to secure murder convictions for the killers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis yet wants to lock away a domestic violence survivor for the rest of her life, we have to be bossy.
I am grateful for CeCe McDonald, Marissa Alexander, and countless other phenomenal Black women leaders and activists who are able to find their voices and strength to lead out of adverse situations. We make sacrifices to our personal lives, risk being viewed as unreasonably angry Black women, and some of us even risk our lives to fight for justice while paving the way for the girls who will follow behind us. I’d like to see the Ban Bossy campaign incorporate leadership development that meets the needs of the women and girls facing (or who will face) these issues.
Though Black women continue to be victims of patriarchy, as displayed by our criminal justice and political system’s inability to protect us, there is always hope and the possibility of actual progress. This is especially true when we take our liberation and the liberation of our communities into our own hands. While our situation is dire, we will proudly take on the bossy characteristics of being assertive and aggressive to forge ahead. Young Black women and young women of color need to be acknowledged and continuously developed as the leaders and experts in advocating on their own behalf without the fear of being seen as too emotional, violent, or angry in addition to this idea of being called “bossy.” This will help to combat the negative connotations Black women face when inserting themselves as leaders that will not undermine their goals, aspirations, or the reasons (often induced by enraging situations) for taking on leadership roles; which is overall what the Ban Bossy Campaign sets out to accomplish.
Developing girls and women to be leaders with this type of intersectional approach will give us the opportunity not only to be CEOs but also to be proactive in fighting to improve our overall quality of life in a system that has historically sought to keep us in a state of despair. We need a campaign that acknowledges that when we fight back or speak up for ourselves, even if it is out of anger, that our feelings and emotional responses are valid. Acknowledging our anger as just volatile instead of taking a moment to realize that our aggressiveness and anger is righteous and justified is silencing. Black girls and women deserve a voice especially in the decisions that impact our lives, because no one knows the issues that we, our families, and our communities face better than us.
I’m a Black woman and organizer who has turned my bossiness into a lifetime of organizing for progressive issues, developing community leaders, and writing to ensure that the voices of young people, people of color, and folks from communities of limited resources are heard. My passion for being “bossy” and being one out of countless people collectively fighting for justice comes from my lived experience as someone who holds the identities of those who often go unheard and victimized in our society. Our families and communities call on us every day to be leaders, whether we’re called bossy or not. Sure you can try to ban the word (thought I must admit, I will never give up having an occasional sing-a-long and private dance party to my favorite Kelis song). However, banning the word will do little if we aren’t also working to remove the systemic barriers in our political system, while doing the cultural work of understanding how Black girls and women exhibit leadership qualities beyond being just being accommodating and accepting.
For starters, women—specifically young women—should find every outlet possible to grow, develop, and execute our capability to lead with the ultimate goal of eradicating our social vulnerabilities. This can include applying to civic engagement leadership programs like the PolitiCorps, which focuses on training young leaders who are ready to commit themselves to working in public service full time; working with the 1 in 3 Campaign, which seeks to develop leaders and campus based student groups to destigmatize abortion by creating a new dialogue that puts people at the center of the conversation about abortion rights and access; or getting involved with Black Women For, which is a leadership development network for professional Black women ages 21 to 34 who are committed to changing the world.
There are countless organizations that are going beyond just addressing rhetoric to develop leadership skills in women and teach them how to make the change they want to see in the world through whatever medium is best for them, such as by showing them how to use their voice to express their frustration toward an oppressive system while also directing their passionate feelings to incite change and having the patience to see their work through to the end. While encouraging young women to apply to leadership development and activism programs, we must also remove the barriers of oppression that stand in their path to success.
Whether young women are bossy or have a less confrontational, more introverted approach to leadership, they are the future leaders we have been waiting for. We should tell them to harness their power, be a leader, and use their voice in order to create the type of change that will create options and equal access within our society for all people. And, we should say: Please be bossy!
Image: Shot Clinic / YouTube
The post Banning ‘Bossy’ Won’t Help Black Women and Girls Seeking Justice appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The recent Marlise Munoz case should be a call to action for anyone who believes that pregnant women and their families deserve respect. In this case, a Texas hospital forced Munoz’s family to look on as it literally appropriated her lifeless body to try to keep her 14-week fetus alive. Attorneys for the hospital argued that Texas’ advance directive law required this gruesome and costly experiment. While Texas may be especially aggressive in denying pregnant women access to abortion and other health services, it is not an outlier when it comes to discriminatory advance directive laws.
Today, more than 30 states have laws that require a pregnant woman to be kept on mechanical support no matter what her living will says, or what her health-care proxy decides if her wishes are unknown. In the 1980s and ’90s, most states passed “advance directive” laws giving people the right to create a living will and appoint a health-care proxy to ensure that their end-of-life wishes are respected. In return for supporting these laws, groups including the United Catholic Conference insisted that women who are pregnant be excluded from that important right. In several states, pregnant women are excluded from the beginning of their pregnancies. As we explained in an earlier commentary:
[These laws] establish that while men are free to determine what will happen to them if they become sick and unable to communicate their health-care wishes, women who may become pregnant are not free to plan the course of their health care, lives, and deaths.
These explicitly sex discriminatory laws finally gained widespread public attention when the Texas hospital invoked such a law not to sustain Munoz’s life over her objections, but to use her dead body for almost nine weeks as what the family’s attorney described as a “dysfunctional incubator.” Her husband challenged this in court. After nine weeks of “living hell” for the family, a judge found that the law did not apply because Munoz was dead. Her body was finally freed from its callous use by the hospital, but there would be no funeral or memorial service because the family feared it would be interrupted by protesters.
Marlise Munoz and the child she hoped to have did not survive. But the law that deprived Munoz and her family of respect and dignity remains. Munoz’s mother, Lynne Machado, has called for changing the law because “one size does not fit all” in cases like these.
She is right. It is time to take action.
2) Take action to repeal your state’s law. Write to, petition, call, meet with, email, and tweet your state legislator, and demand repeal of these discriminatory laws and support for ones that respect women’s right to make end-of-life decisions. Wisconsin activists and legislators are already fighting back with legislation that requires a pregnant woman’s advance directives to be respected.
Need a model law? New Jersey law explicitly allows a woman to include in her advance directive instructions as to what she would want if she were pregnant. The laws should also expressly empower the woman’s designated health-care proxy, such as a spouse, to make this decision if her wishes are not known. Finally, it is important that state laws clearly authorize a health-care surrogate, such as a spouse or other family member, to decide whether or not to keep a pregnant woman on mechanical support when she does not have an advance directive. This is critical because most women of childbearing age have not filled out a living will or signed papers appointing someone as their health-care proxy.
Changing laws does not happen overnight. While the discriminatory laws remain, it is important that you:
3) Take action to inform women and families in your state if they are subject to discriminatory advance directive laws. Any information given by your state to the public, like handbooks and living will forms, should inform women that their advance directive will not be honored if they are pregnant. If your state does not discriminate or is silent on the issue, make sure that public information encourages women to give specific instructions so those acting on her behalf know what she would want if she were pregnant.
4) Take the important steps of filling out a living will and appointing a health-care proxy to make the decisions you would want but might be unable to make—and, again, include instructions about your wishes if you were pregnant. (It is best if you have both documents, since your living will gives guidance to your proxy.)
If your state has a discriminatory advance directive law, do some living will “civil disobedience.” When filling out your living will form, acknowledge the existence of the law but still make your wishes known regarding what should happen if you are pregnant. In addition, when you designate your proxy you should explicitly authorize him or her to challenge any law and/or hospital practice that is being used to deny you the right to end mechanical support because of pregnancy.
It is time to end all laws that dehumanize pregnant women and disrespect families. Repealing discriminatory advance directive laws is one very good place to start.
Image: Lynne Machado
The post It’s Time to Repeal State Advance Directive Laws That Discriminate Against Women appeared first on RH Reality Check.
On Thursday, reproductive rights advocates—including the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America—filed a petition asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider the constitutionality of the portion of Texas’ HB 2 that requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
The filing represents the latest stage in a battle over Texas’ massive anti-abortion omnibus bill that has already made its way before the U.S. Supreme Court, albeit briefly. In October 2013, after a three-day trial, a federal district court struck down the requirement as unconstitutional. But following an emergency appeal by Attorney General Greg Abbott, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked that ruling and allowed the law to take effect. In March, the Fifth Circuit panel issued a final decision upholding the requirement. Thursday’s filing asks the full Fifth Circuit to reconsider that decision.
“We’re asking the court to acknowledge what is crystal clear—this law hurts women,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the ACLU in a statement. “Because of this law, women are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and traveling hundreds of miles to get the care they need. This law does absolutely nothing to further patient safety.”
Major medical organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose these kinds of targeted restrictions on abortion providers, because they do not improve patient safety but instead harm women by shutting down abortion providers throughout the state. Since the Fifth Circuit allowed the admitting privileges portion of HB 2 to go into effect, at least 19 abortion clinics in the state have closed, including the last abortion clinic between Houston and the Louisiana border. The economically depressed Rio Grande Valley also lost its last abortion clinic, leaving a 400-mile stretch of Texas without a reproductive health-care facility.
“Thousands of Texas women are teetering on the brink of a pre-Roe reality, when the options for women seeking to end a pregnancy were illegal at best and deadly at worst,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “We look to the full court to enforce the Constitution, follow Supreme Court precedent, recognize the real life harms to the women of Texas, and block this law from being enforced.”
Texas is not the only state to advance hospital admitting privileges requirements as a way to try and force abortion clinics to close. Similar provisions have been blocked by courts in Alabama, Mississippi, and Wisconsin before they took effect.
A trial on the Alabama admitting privileges requirement will take place later this spring, while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case challenging Mississippi’s admitting privileges requirement on April 28.
The post Advocates Ask Full Fifth Circuit to Hear Texas Admitting Privileges Case appeared first on RH Reality Check.
"Only four out of 10 [teenagers] said they had been given information both on how to say no to sex and about birth control. And 83 percent of the boys and girls who had sex said they had not received any sex education before their first time."
Woah. That's just scary. No wonder the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed nation.
This is what the anti-choice movement is all about: keeping people from getting the facts and from making the health-care decisions that are right for them. That means a lot of teens aren't learning what they need to know to stay healthy.
Take a look at four ways the anti-choice movement's agenda is playing out across the country:
In one Mississippi classroom, students of an "abstinence-only" program were made to pass around an unwrapped piece of chocolate to show that sexual activity is dirty and shameful. A school district in Texas compared sexually active teens to "chewed up gum" that should be thrown away. Another program taught students that if they have sex they're like a "rose without petals." Education is supposed to encourage and inspire students, not shame them and make them feel worthless. The problem is these programs just don't work. Teens will still have sex, but they have no idea of the risks or consequences.
The Tennessee state legislature gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that allows women to be charged with assault if they have a pregnancy complication after using illegal drugs. Advocates argue that the bill is so poorly written that it could subject any woman with a poor pregnancy outcome to criminal investigation.
SB 1391 passed the house Wednesday afternoon on a 64-30 vote, after passing the state senate on Monday on a 26-7 vote. Since the bill passed both chambers of the legislature, it now heads to the governor’s desk.
Farah Diaz-Tello, staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told RH Reality Check that some lawmakers mistakenly believe pregnant women prosecuted under the new law would only be charged with a misdemeanor and referred to drug court for treatment.
“The law itself, even though it permits women to be charged with misdemeanor assault, in no way limits the prosecution to misdemeanor assault, nor does it limit the prosecution to women who are illegally taking narcotics,” Diaz-Tello said.
In other words, any woman who gives birth to a baby with health problems, or who loses a pregnancy at any stage, could be subject to criminal investigation, “because criminal investigation is the only way to rule out an unlawful act,” Diaz-Tello said.
The original bill allowed prosecuting a woman for homicide if her fetus or baby died, but it was amended to only allow assault charges. The most severe crime a pregnant woman could theoretically be charged with under the new law is aggravated assault, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Tennessee is the first state in the nation to successfully pass a law like this, allowing for the criminal prosecution of pregnant women based on pregnancy outcome. Other states have tried, especially during the “crack baby” scare a few decades ago, but the proposals have always been defeated.
Last year Tennessee lawmakers battled over similar legislation, ultimately settling on the “Safe Harbor Act.” That act created incentives to get pregnant women who use drugs into treatment programs, and guaranteed that so long as the women continued their treatment, their newborns would not be taken away by the Department of Children’s Services solely because of their drug use. But prosecutors and law enforcement complained that the Safe Harbor Act did not go far enough, and insisted that criminal prosecution based on pregnancy outcome was necessary. Wally Kirby, executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, explained law enforcement’s position to reporters last year, when the Safe Harbor Act was being debated: “We don’t have any problem with these mothers trying to get treatment and trying to get help, but if we have a child that’s damaged because of this drug injection, or stillborn, we need the ability to prosecute these ladies.”
Medical experts are opposed to criminalizing pregnancy outcomes resulting from drug use, because it can discourage women who use drugs from seeking prenatal care, or even encourage them to abort a wanted pregnancy rather than risk prosecution. Even some anti-choice groups spoke against the bill, Diaz-Tello noted, because it could encourage more abortions.
“Quite honestly, any kind of punitive approach, from a health care perspective, drives women underground. It doesn’t encourage them to get treatment,” Gary Zelizer, director of government affairs for the Tennessee Medical Association, told The Tennessean.
Should the measure be enacted, the effects will be far-reaching. Felony convictions in Tennessee result in a revocation of voting rights, while criminal convictions generally make finding future employment difficult, if not impossible.
“If they wanted to pass a law saying it’s a crime to give birth to a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome [or born addicted to drugs], they could have done that,” Diaz-Tello said. “But instead they did this, which is broader and more devastating.”
The post Tennessee Legislature Passes Far-Reaching Bill That Could Make Pregnant Women Criminals appeared first on RH Reality Check.
President Obama signed two executive orders extending critical provisions of the Paycheck Fairness Act to federal contractors on Tuesday, National Equal Pay Day. One of the orders means federal contractors can’t get fired for discussing their salaries with one another.
As a women’s rights advocate who has at various points in my career worked closely on the Paycheck Fairness Act, I must in good conscience blow the kazoo on all the celebrations taking place within my community. The president addressed only some employment discrimination on Tuesday, and equality for some is not equality for women.
Today, federal contractors join everyone else in remaining free to fire, not hire, and otherwise discriminate against women, as well as men, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. So women working for federal contractors can’t get fired for trying to figure out if they’re getting paid fairly, but they can get fired for coming out. Got it.
Let’s back up: We’re discussing executive orders because it’s the only practical way to make progress in the foreseeable future. Congress isn’t acting nearly fast enough on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which addresses wage discrimination against women, nor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which addresses employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. On the House side, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t be bothered to bring them up between his efforts to cut food stamps and sneak in a glass of merlot.
On the Senate side, chicanery rules the day on both bills. Wednesday marked the third time the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to pass, falling to yet another Republican filibuster. (That the right is openly flailing and flopping in its efforts to show women they care about something other than restraining our libidos did not appear to influence the dynamic on the floor; even all the Republican women voted no.)
On ENDA, the Senate at last voted to pass it last November, but not without tacking on a dangerous cluster of religious exemptions that leave too many people behind. In particular, parochial schools can continue discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and raking in government dollars, all while receiving protections from being required to comply with ENDA in order to keep their funding.
The implication is not abstract. Archdioceses that operate Catholic schools are struggling for cash, and want it all ways. They want to be able to take in secular dollars, and they want to continue practicing various forms of employment discrimination that they claim are an expression of faith. They also want to protect themselves from lawsuits for firing people who did nothing wrong on the job but manage to have personal lives the all-male hierarchy disagrees with (that would be most people). In one instructive example, last year a Catholic teacher fired for using artificial insemination to become pregnant was awarded $171,000 in a discrimination lawsuit.
Could the religious exemptions baked within ENDA be dictating President Obama’s failure to sign the executive order version that would apply to federal contractors? It’s a wise question of radio host Michelangelo Signorile and others to raise. After all, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continue to appear very much committed to enforcing the most discriminatory aspects of its doctrine in the U.S. Capitol Dome, no matter what the Pope says. It’s a lobby the president may not wish to upset once again.
In any case, the president is continuing to upset many of us who would like him to succeed. Recently Andrew Tobias, the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, expressed frustration with the president for failing to make good on his promise to LGBTQ advocates to sign an ENDA executive order targeting federal contractors. Others are calling for him to make the announcement on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But let’s be honest, he wasted an opportunity on National Equal Pay Day, and I’m willing to be the feminist advocate to say it. What’s the excuse? Did President Obama run out of ink? We’ve got plenty of pens.
Image: White House (Pete Souza)
The post Why Paycheck Fairness But Not ENDA? Did Obama Run Out of Ink? appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Texas hospital patients who have been injured by their doctors already face a rugged legal landscape when they seek restitution in medical malpractice suits, but a new intervention by the state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, may limit their options even further.
Abbott has asked a federal court for permission to defend four civil lawsuits—none of which name the State of Texas—that have been filed against a hospital that plaintiffs say did nothing to stop a “sociopathic” neurosurgeon from practicing in its facility.
Dr. Christopher Duntsch, who was granted surgical privileges at Baylor Regional Medical Center of Plano in 2011, practiced medicine and performed “minimally invasive” procedures in North Texas hospitals for two years before his license was revoked in 2013, at which time he’d left two patients dead and four paralyzed.
According to court documents, the plaintiffs allege that Baylor knew that Duntsch had substantial substance abuse issues and was a dangerous doctor, but did nothing to stop him. Duntsch, who now lives in Colorado and has filed bankruptcy, is effectively judgment-proof: He has no money to go toward compensating his victims for their injuries.
That leaves the hospital, but the only way the hospital can or will contribute is if plaintiffs can prove their case, which under Texas law requires them to prove that Baylor acted with actual intent to harm patients by not properly supervising Duntsch or by keeping him a credentialed surgeon as long as it did.
Duntsch’s former patients argue that the hospital is being protected by a Texas law, HB 4, which they argue is unconstitutional. But unlike lawsuits involving abortion regulations, for example, the plaintiffs are not suing the state to block the law. That means the State of Texas is not a party to this dispute and could, if it wanted to, let this private lawsuit move forward without devoting a single state dollar to it.
Instead, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is coming to the law’s, and the hospital’s, defense—at the same time that he is defending HB 2, Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law that was enacted, conservatives say, because the hospital admitting privileges that the law requires of abortion-providing doctors will guarantee a higher standard of care.
In inserting his office into this case—one in which admitting privileges not only did not increase the standard of care, but created a situation wherein a hospital appears to have had a vested interest in protecting a negligent, and potentially deliberately harmful but money-making doctor to whom it had granted admitting privileges—Abbott is seeking to make it harder for patients who are victims of bad doctors at hospitals to obtain restitution for harm done.
If Abbott cares about Texans who would be harmed by bad doctors—bad doctors with hospital admitting privileges—it seems a strange move to go out of his way to ensure that patients have as little recourse as possible to address that harm.
As it turns out, Republicans in Texas have a long history of attacking health-care access in the state, and it’s a history not confined to only curbing abortion access and cutting off family planning services.
Back in 2003, Texas conservatives drastically re-shaped the state’s medical malpractice laws with HB 4, to the extent that, for most Texans, the possibility of holding negligent doctors and hospitals liable for bad medical care just simply isn’t an option. This is the law Abbott is defending.
Medical malpractice claims are often complex and expensive. To prove a claim of medical malpractice, a plaintiff typically must show that a provider violated the standard of care in their treatment and that the violation injured them. Medical malpractice claims are also typically claims of negligence, which means the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that the doctor or provider’s mistake was intentional, just that it deviated enough from what should have happened that it’s fair to have the doctor or provider help pay for the damages that the mistake caused. This is especially true in the context of medical negligence, because the costs related to an injury are often extreme. In the worst cases, a patient dies; but in other cases, the patient and their family can be left carrying the cost of their uninsured medical expenses and future care, which in cases of severe injury tops millions of dollars in a lifetime.
Like other tort reform measures, which seek to reform personal injury law, HB 4 did little to advance patient safety but did much to insulate negligent doctors and hospitals from malpractice damage awards. HB 4 restricts the rights of patients in several dangerous ways. First, it imposes a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in a malpractice suit. Non-economic damages are the only kind of compensation a jury can award for the injury itself, as opposed to compensation for things like lost wages, attorneys’ fees, and medical bills.
“This bill was passed despite there being no data to support that these kinds of damages caps keep costs down or help patients,” Alex Winslow, executive director of the consumer protection advocacy group Texas Watch, explained to RH Reality Check. “The data just isn’t there.”
Think of non-economic damages as awards for pain and suffering, as they can be tied to how at fault a jury believes the negligent party to be. When conservatives complain about “runaway jury verdicts” they’re usually talking about non-economic damages. Conservatives hate them because they can’t be specifically tallied and ordered up (and therefore limited) in a neat and tidy fashion the way economic damages can. Lost wages? Check. Hospital bills? Check.
But a non-economic damages cap means those who do not earn significant incomes (think the elderly, hourly-wage workers, and stay-at-home parents) are at a distinct disadvantage under Texas tort reform since their economic damages are usually much less. This acts as a significant deterrent to bringing a malpractice claim to begin with, because in order to prove their case, a plaintiff is usually going to need at least one medical expert to explain both what went wrong and what should have gone right. Those experts are expensive and non-economic damage awards help defray those costs. It’s entirely reasonable that in a medical malpractice claim involving a significant injury, expert fees alone would approach $250,000.
To make imatters even worse, this non-economic damages cap is not indexed to inflation, which means that it is effectively worth less and less each year. So even the most obvious cases of medical malpractice may not get pursued because the expense of bringing a lawsuit is simply too much.
HB 4 doesn’t just take away the economic means for many injured Texans to find justice, it takes away important legal means as well. Instead of keeping medical malpractice claims under a negligence standard for doctors and hospitals alike, HB 4 effectively immunizes hospitals by requiring plaintiffs to prove that the hospital acted with an intent to harm patients. That means the only way hospitals have to compensate victims harmed by their doctors and staff is if the injured person can show the hospital essentially wanted the injury to happen.
This impossible standard, the plaintiffs claim, deprives them of due process and their right to access the courts, since it effectively took away their well-recognized common law negligence claim against the hospital. That means there is no real way under Texas law to hold hospitals accountable when they make bad credentialing decisions.
But Greg Abbott disagrees that immunizing hospitals like this has taken away any patient rights, and he wants to defend the law in federal court—even though, legally speaking, he doesn’t have to.
“The state has no obligation to defend this law,” said James Girards, a Dallas lawyer who filed one of the lawsuits.
“State statutes get challenged all the time, and the attorney general has discretion which lawsuits to join and which to ignore,” he said. “But instead, Abbott is pandering to big money donors like Baylor and the insurance industry and protecting their interests.”
Image: Doctor via Shutterstock
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At a hearing titled “Women’s Education: Promoting Development, Countering Radicalism,” Rep. Randy K. Weber (R-TX) had a burning question about building peaceful societies in countries riven by sectarian violence and religious extremism.
Addressing Kathleen Kuehnast, director of the Gender and Peacebuilding Center of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), at an April 3 hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Weber seemed unimpressed by her account of the institute’s training for local community leaders. “Do you teach in that process a respect for the sanctity of life?” the congressman asked.
The term “sanctity of life” is commonly used by anti-choice activists as a rationale for opposing abortion.
As Kuehnast began explaining that she is personally not a trainer, Weber interrupted.
“I mean, if you’re gonna have peace, isn’t the ultimate goal not to kill somebody else?” he asked. “That’s not very peaceful.”
In the House of Representatives these days, the subject of abortion is introduced in the most unlikely contexts.
The hearing was called by committee chair Edward R. Royce (R-CA), just hours before the committee marked up HR 3583, the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act, named for the young woman and Nobel laureate who survived a devastating shooting in Pakistan by a Taliban gunman in retaliation for her activism on behalf of education for girls. The bill would increase the number of needs-based college-level scholarships for Pakistani students administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which currently average about 180 per year, and require that half of such aid go to women.
Though not specifically about the USAID scholarship program, the hearing seemed premised to provide a rationale for the bill that might placate Tea Party-allied members of Congress, who are typically unenthusiastic about foreign aid, by framing the education of women as critical to combating terrorism promulgated by Islamic extremists.
“[W]omen’s central role in families and communities makes them uniquely positioned to intervene and stop the radicalization of their children,” Royce said in his opening statement. “Mothers are most likely to spot the signs that something is off. Simply put, if angry young men are to be stopped before they strap on a suicide vest, women will be key.”
Joining Kuehnast on the witness panel were Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, and Humera Khan, executive director of Muflehun, an American Muslim think tank with a mission of preventing violent extremism.
Khan noted women’s low literacy rates in Pakistan (around 60 percent nationwide) and Afghanistan (estimated at 12.6 percent) as an impediment to their full participation in countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, but also asserted that men must be engaged in creating an environment that makes women’s education possible. She told of how, without her father’s approval, her own education would have been impossible, and highlighted the role of Malala Yousafzai’s father in the young woman’s education activism. “These are patriarchal societies,” she reminded committee members.
Mirahmadi emphasized what she saw as the crucial role of mainstream religious institutions and clerics in combating the influence of violent extremists. If religion was the problem, she said, it was also “the antidote.” The United States, however, she contended, was a bit hamstrung in addressing that need because, she said, “the U.S. doesn’t do religion” in its development programs.
Weber took exception to Mirahmadi’s comments.
“You said … that some of the extremists use religion, and if I’ve got it down correctly, you say that the anecdote [sic] is religion, and then you follow that with, the problem is that the United States doesn’t use religion,” Weber said. “Dear God, what are we doing?”
“If the anecdote [sic] is religion, what does that look like?” he continued. “You said that the United States doesn’t use religion. Expound on that. Would you prefer—expound on that.”
“No,” Mirahmadi replied, “I have no intention of changing the Constitution. England does religion, but the—”
Weber interrupted her. “Well, the Constitution doesn’t prevent us from using religion,” he said. “Let me just make sure we get that out there.”
(The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with two official religious bodies, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution forbids Congress from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”)
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) turned the conversation back to the realm of the practical, noting that many extremist groups provide needed services to poverty-stricken populations, a means of gathering support. He asked the panel if any had seen effective alternatives available to the people who needed the services.
The replies were not encouraging: Mirahmadi said she had seen none. Khan explained that there were legal problems for the United States and other Western non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in providing such services, because if it turned out that a single member of family receiving such aid were found to be involved in extremist activities, the NGO could be charged with “providing material support to terrorists.”
Instead of funding outside NGOs to create programs designed to counter the services provided by unsavory groups, Khan said, it was better to fund and empower local organizations. “If you ask communities how to solve their own problems,” she said, “they come up with answers.”
The congressman then asked how to empower women as leaders in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
By “making sure they’re on the guest list” when the United States and international bodies are convening conferences and events, Mirahmadi said. “[W]hen we help elevate their profile and other countries help elevate their profile, they become players,” she added.
Before the hearing closed, Khan reminded the committee of the primary reason for supporting women’s education around the world. “Education is a human right for all,” she said.
The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship bill was later passed by the committee. It has not yet been scheduled for a vote on the House floor. A Senate version, S. 120, was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in January, and has seen no further action. The bill-tracking website GovTrack.us rates its chances of enactment at 24 percent.
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04.10.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America have filed a petition (case number 13-51008) asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider the constitutionality of the provision of Texas’ HB2 which requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. This is a measure that has forced some health centers to close and others to stop providing abortions, making access to abortion services scarce in the state.
While the federal district court struck down the requirement as unconstitutional, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that ruling, allowing the law to take effect and forcing abortion providers across the state to stop providing abortions or close altogether, leaving thousands of women without access to care. Two weeks ago, the Fifth Circuit panel issued a final decision upholding the law.
Today’s filing asks the full Fifth Circuit to reconsider this decision.
“Thousands of Texas women are teetering on the brink of a pre-Roe reality, when the options for women seeking to end a pregnancy were illegal at best and deadly at worst,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We look to the full court to enforce the Constitution, follow Supreme Court precedent, recognize the real life harms to the women of Texas, and block this law from being enforced."
“We’re asking the court to acknowledge what is crystal clear—this law hurts women,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the ACLU. “Because of this law, women are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and traveling hundreds of miles to get the care they need. This law does absolutely nothing to further patient safety.”
“The politicians behind this law are the same politicians who slashed funding for cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic health care for Texas women. Make no mistake, the intent of this law is to eliminate access to safe, legal abortion, plain and simple. Planned Parenthood will do everything we can to stop politicians from imposing their agenda on Texas women. A woman’s rights and her ability to access medical care should not depend on her zip code,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The law at issue singles out abortion providers, requiring them to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where they provide abortion services. This requirement is extremely difficult for many to meet for reasons that have nothing to do with their medical qualifications. Major medical organizations like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose these types of laws because they do not improve patient safety but instead harm women by shutting down abortion providers throughout the state.
Courts have blocked similar provisions in other states across the country. Admitting privileges requirements aimed at shutting down all or most of the abortion providers in Alabama, Mississippi and Wisconsin have been halted before they took effect.
Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Texas from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.One-Third of Texas Women Will Soon Lack Access to Safe, Legal Abortion Following Appellate Court Ruling
04.09.14 - The May edition of Essence magazine takes a look at what’s at stake for African-American women in the battle over reproductive rights. With extremist politicians passing an inordinate number of laws that target providers of abortion services, according to the magazine, Black women are among those paying the consequences.
Safe and legal abortions are under attack, and Black women—who seek out family planning services at a rate four times higher than White women—may face greater limitations in getting the procedure.
“Whether a woman has a job, access to health care or the ability to take care of a family are all huge parts of her decision to have an abortion,” says Monica Simpson, the executive director of SisterSong, a reproductive justice organization in Atlanta. The barrage of recent antiabortion laws only compounds the difficulty in maintaining control of our bodies.
Essence points to the recent health crisis in Texas where a number of clinics have been forced to close down following the passage of a set of radical abortion restrictions, and dozens more are likely to meet the same fate in the coming months. By the fall, Texas may have fewer than 10 clinics providing abortion services for 13 million women across the state.
Last summer, the Texas state government passed legislation requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges to local hospitals—a requirement which serves no medical purpose, and gives hospitals, including those run by administrations with anti-choice leanings, the power to decide whether abortion is available at all in certain communities, and parts of the state.
In addition, the legislature passed a law that imposes unnecessary physical building requirements on abortion providers. Again, the requirements simply target reproductive health facilities with ridiculous renovations that have nothing to do with promoting health and safety. Instead they are so cost-prohibitive, a number of clinics will have to close entirely.Downton Abbey & Black History Month