The old second-wave feminist slogan goes: “Not the church; not the state; women must decide our fate.”
The horrifying case occurring in El Salvador today is an example of both church and state brutally interfering in the endangered life of a woman for the sake of misogynistic ideology.
Beatriz is a young mother in heavily Catholic El Salvador with a number of severe medical conditions and carrying a non-viable pregnancy. In her strictly anti-abortion country, doctors still advised a therapeutic termination — as did a number of international human rights agencies — but the procedure has been repeatedly denied.
A few months ago, a friend from college told me about her miscarriage, which happened between her first and second child.
“It’s so common,” she said. “I just think people should know that.”
After this friend’s disclosure, another friend told me she had had the same experience. And then another. Miscarriages are common, which was something I knew theoretically, but not in a way where I could attach the experience to a face. It made me wonder how many of my other friends had had miscarriages and just never said anything — because of the pain, the shock and the fear of sharing it with people. Suddenly, it felt like an avalanche: women telling stories of miscarriage so that people would know that it really did happened, so they would feel less alone, and so silence didn’t perpetuate stigma.
Legal abortion could become a thing of the past in a handful of states if anti-choice efforts are successful. Note that I don’t say abortion will become a thing of the past, because the need for abortion will persist, but safe and legal abortion will be outlawed as a spate of new state-level laws curtail the procedure and shut down clinics.
For several years, as we’ve documented here at the Sisterhood, the anti-choice movement in the U.S. has been trying a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” technique. This flurry of uterus-focused activity got its own nickname: “The War on Women.” In reality, these unnecessary and intrusive health rollbacks hurt more than just one gender, and the “war” part didn’t stop when the catchphrase fell out of fashion. Some measures passed, others were modified, and now the assault on rights has ratcheted up again.
If you think the 2012 election and the epic veto-by-voter of all the misogynist politicians confused about rape means that abortion rights are once again ascendant, this first week of 2013 is likely to be a sobering. A major survey and a big cover story released this week declare anti-abortion efforts successful when it comes to the reality of how easy it is for a typical American woman to obtain an abortion.
As a writer who frequently does roundups of what’s happening for reproductive rights in the states, this is merely the broadcasting of a cruel reality: bit by bit, law by law, abortion rights are fading away.
Early in the week, the Guttmacher Institute released an important study of all the state-level legislation that was passed on reproductive rights during the past year. And although it didn’t reach the levels of 2011, the year many pundits dubbed the “War on Women,” reproductive rights continued their rollback, particularly in states like Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and even Wisconsin:
Last week I was happily monitoring the news and reading all sorts of positive stories about how the FDA was poised to approve Plan B, one-step emergency contraception, for unrestricted over-the-counter use.
Imagine a system in which terrified young women who had experienced a condom breaking, a failed sexual negotiation, or any other contraceptive mishap could buy Plan B without hearing from a condescending pharmacist.
Finally, I thought, some good news that will lead to fewer pregnancies, fewer abortions and a saner culture. But a few hours later, came the announcement that even though the FDA sought this change and thought it was sound science, the Obama administration had shot it down.
News of the Obama administration’s anticipated adoption of a health panel’s recommendation that birth control be considered preventive care and therefore paid for by insurance companies is being widely welcomed by those concerned with women’s health.
It came to mind when I read this advice seeker on the fascinating website Unpious.com. A Haredi woman in her 20s (and already a mother of five) writes, plaintively, of her terror that she might be pregnant with a sixth child. She writes that she and her husband, though Hasidic, are comfortable using birth control whether or not they have the rabbinic permission known as a heter.
While the rest of the world, Jewish and otherwise, looks at Hasidic communities where six, eight or 10 kids are the typical progeny in each family and assumes that birth control is verboten, it is not.
When I was a young adult and ready to start on the birth control pill, I found that its cost was not covered by my health insurance. Paying the retail price was onerous. It didn’t seem right that insurance wouldn’t cover contraception, though it did cover the cost of giving birth and possibly even abortion. It just didn’t make any sense.
Now, finally, the federal government is ready to rectify the situation, and make contraception more economically accessible to women and men by requiring health insurance to cover its cost.
According to this news story, the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is recommending that health insurers be required to pay for contraception so that there is no cost to the consumer as part of “preventive health services.”
About a year ago, Washington Jewish Week reported on a new crisis pregnancy center (CPC) called In Shifra’s Arms. Unlike the vast majority of CPCs, which are typically funded and run by Christian organizations or churches, In Shifra’s Arms strives to serve women in the Jewish community.
I expressed my concerns about In Shifra’s Arms in a post last year. Crisis pregnancy centers target young women using the language of choice, and often deceptively present themselves as a comprehensive medical and psychological resource, when in reality they operate with a specifically anti-choice agenda. I was especially upset to learn that In Shifra’s Arms was advertising at University of Maryland and visiting Jewish day schools while also presenting false information about abortion on their website and in their literature.
In Shifra’s Arms is now in the news again, with a wire story picked up by Washington Post, Huffington Post, and others. Somewhat misleadingly titled “Crisis pregnancy group reflects Jewish divide on abortion” (84% percent of American Jews support legalized abortion in all or most cases, according to the 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, numbers that hardly reflect a deep divide), the article detailed the operation and evolution of the organization during its first year. Encouragingly, the organization’s website has taken down links to “resources” that falsely claim abortion causes breast cancer or suicide after receiving criticism from the blogosphere (that’s us!).
In the midst of the depressing morass known as Weinergate, there is some more heartening news about New York Jews and their love lives. Among the many members of the tribe joining the full-on advocacy efforts for gay marriage in New York are a couple called the Blumenthals, who have lent their story and family photos to this touching ad.
Via Chloe Angyal at Feministing, this set of Jewish parents made an ad about marriage equality asking legislators to grant them the simple pleasure of seeing their gay son walk down the aisle — just like their straight one has.
Here’s the transcript:
Iris Blumenthal: We’ve been married for 47 years and have two sons. Our older son is straight and has been married for 15 years. Our youngest son is gay and has been in a committed relationship for 11 years. A good marriage is thinking about and caring for the other person even more than you care about yourself and we’ve seen this in Jonathan and Eric’s relationship to each other. They’re a wonderful couple, they’re a caring couple. It would give us such great joy to walk them down the aisle and watch them get married.
The people awake at 7:15 a.m., when I left the house this past Saturday morning, were walking their dogs, washing off the streets in front of their stores and picking up a bite to eat. Usually, I’m never awake before 10 a.m. on Saturdays, so even if I pretend I’m going to make it to shul, it never works. On this day, though, I was on the train at 7:30 a.m.; an hour later, I was at a Planned Parenthood clinic, wearing a blue smock labeled “volunteer.”
The protestors showed up by 9 a.m., which apparently they do on the first Saturday of every month. There were probably 45 of them, with crosses and rosaries and a bullhorn — even a violin — chanting the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer over and over.
There were also some men from Bikers for Life, walking around with flyers. The whole point of an escort is to get people who need to get into the clinic into the clinic. Sometimes, that means going over to the person telling a woman she’s about to murder her baby and helping her extract herself from the lecture; other times, it just means making eye contact and opening the door.
For a brief while, it seemed like the unending cascade of legislation that together comprise what many of us have been calling the “GOP War on Women” had slowed down from a torrent to a trickle.
But then the House brought back and passed H.R. 3, the bill that was the opening salvo in this assault, with its “forcible rape” and “let women die” clauses and its essential guarantee that insurance of all kinds, public or private, will stop covering abortion. Some may remember the bill as the one vehemently opposed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the new (and Jewish) Democratic National Committee chair.
While the Senate is unlikely to pass the bill, and President Obama has even threatened a veto, the cumulative effect of these assaults and retreats is a gradual siphoning away of abortion rights, until they’re basically rights in name only. Washington, D.C. and South Dakota’s women have both suffered major blows in the last few months.
Without getting graphic about it, I remember the moment the condom broke.
It was my senior year of college. I felt eerily composed as I drove, later that same night, to campus health services to get the so-called morning-after pill. I can’t believe how calm I was; it’s completely contrary to my personality, but somehow, my brain managed to get quiet and I saw the solution.
The fact that I knew about emergency contraception (EC) was the result of having access to correct information about it — what it is, where I could get it, how it would work. I knew I needed to use it within 72 hours, and that it was safe, effective and readily available. I had no trouble getting it; there were no strange looks, derisive comments or accusations. No “conscience clause” was invoked. I also am white, was over the age of 18 and went to a large university in the Northeast. I was given two pills — one of which I took that night, the other the next day. I don’t remember any significant side effects, and a few weeks later, I got my period.
I was among some 6,000 reproductive-rights advocates who attended a rally for women’s health over the weekend to stand up for Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose in the face of the most dangerous political assault on women’s rights we’ve seen in years. The signs in the crowd were witty, the long and varied list of speakers and performers was impressive — with young women, reproductive justice advocates and women of color well-represented and kicking butt. Kathleen Hanna of the famed Riot Grrl musical movement even spoke about her own experiences going to Planned Parenthood in her early days as a struggling musician.
But one of the coolest things about the rally was the strong showing of male allies on stage and on the ground in Manhattan’s Foley Square. On stage, a group of Jewish male New York politicians made a series of completely impassioned, fiery speeches that shocked me with their urgent tone. Congressmen Eliot Engel, Jerrold Nadler, Anthony Weiner and Senator Charles Schumer were four of a number of wonderful speakers.
Dina Lamdany, the young Jewish feminist blogger behind From the Rib, is looking into abortion-rights organizations at the colleges she is considering. Citing the legacy of strong Jewish women in the abortion-rights movement, she hopes to join Students for Choice or the equivalent at whatever school she ends up at. She writes:
So that’s why I believe that it’s important for me to join a pro-choice group when I go to college: because reproductive rights are important, because I want to make sure that abortion stays legal and safe for women, but also because I want my peers to learn to appreciate and want to protect the rights that we have been lucky enough to have been born with.
She writes about the generation gap — about how young people born with the assumed right and ability to take control of their reproductive health whether it’s through birth control, abortion or the morning after pill, have a little understanding of how those rights are slipping away.
As fellow Sisterhood blogger Chanel Dubofsky wrote here, today marks the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave American women the right to vote. And we have a great Jewish woman, Rep. Bella Abzug, to thank for making this day a holiday. Back in 1971, at Abzug’s urging, Congress declared August 26 “Women’s Equality Day.” Read the text, and context, of the declaration here:
It’s also a day to express our admiration for our foremothers in the first and second waves of the women’s movement. And it’s a day to take pride at we’re accomplishing today: young feminists, activist groups at the intersection of gender, race, class and the environment, feminist writers, artists and musicians, and large women’s organizations alike. It’s also a time to take stock of where we need to go.
On my mind today is our struggle to maintain reproductive rights not just in name, but in reality — for all women, regardless of geography. With more restrictions becoming law and clinics being shuttered by aggressive politicians and protesters, the idea that it’s “easy” for women to access abortion care — not to mention other other kinds of crucial reproductive health care, including prenatal care — is becoming more absurd.
My inbox was flooded with emails from outraged readers this week from pro-choice and civil liberties groups demanding action on abortion coverage in health reform. It felt a little déjà-vu. After the healthcare reform process, which brought us Bart Stupak and months of controversy over whether abortion would be sidelined as a different kind of health procedure that shouldn’t be covered, I thought we’d reached an unpleasant, but complete compromise.
But this week the Obama administration, of its own accord, decided to honor the “spirit” of that compromise by banning abortion coverage in almost all cases (rape, incest, life-threatening situations excluded), from high-risk pools — that is, for people who probably need this coverage the most.
Last night’s congressional debate and votes on health care reform was riveting TV, from the shouts and hollers in the crowd to impassioned speeches on both sides to the final, triumphant arrival of Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, who had just achieved what no other speaker in decades of trying had done: passing a comprehensive health care reform bill.
Liberal-leaning Jewish and women’s groups cheered. “The National Jewish Democratic Council congratulates the U.S. House of Representatives on the passage of a historic health care reform package that represents a giant step forward in improving the welfare of the citizens of the United States,” NJDC Chair Marc Stanley said in a statement to Reuters. “This bill also reflects the clear groundswell of support in the American Jewish community — both among individuals and organizations — for the change in our health care system that’s so desperately needed today.”
Visually, the night couldn’t have been better for women. Between the pundits’ assertion that Pelosi’s will to get things done had been the driving force behind this accomplishment — over the hemming and hawing of various male politicians — and her declaration on the House floor that “being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition,” and the numerous female representatives who spoke passionately and loudly alongside their male colleagues, it was clear we were in a new era.
A family court in Israel has issued a decision that the sperm of a long-dead man may be used to inseminate a woman, who apparently never even met the father of her potential future baby.
According to this article in Yediot Achronot:
The sperm in question belonged to a 22-year-old soldier who died of cancer several years ago. About eight months after that, the woman contacted his parents and asked to use the sperm. They obliged.
The young man had apparently banked his sperm before treatment for the cancer, which these days is not uncommon.
The article continues:
The [Israel] Attorney General’s Office, which signs off on surrogacy agreements, denied the unprecedented request, saying the parents and a woman who was not the deceased spouse, have no legal standing in the matter.
Such an arrangement, said the AG’s office, could only be stuck between a married man, or one living with a partner, and only if he expressed explicit wishes to father children. The parents, added the brief, have no legal standing in whether their son fathers children, be him [sic] alive or dead.
The woman sought the legal counsel of Attorney Irit Rosenblum, head of the New Family organization, and filed suit against the Health Ministry and the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, both of which claimed she had no right to the sperm, “Since the deceased had never met her.”
For reasons of religion and history, Israel is a strongly pro-natalist country. National Health Insurance, which every Israeli citizen must have, covers all fertility treatments, including In Vitro Fertilization for all women, including single women and lesbians, and the costs of embryo transfers, for instance.
But is using sperm from a long-dead young man taking it too far, especially since the woman who wants to be impregnated with it was not only not his wife, but apparently a stranger?