Good News: Indian activists have been organizing their own version of SlutWalk, and the SlutWalk event scheduled for July 31 in New Delhi has had its name updated to: SlutWalk Delhi arthaat Besharmi Morcha, a name that reflects the unique issues Indian women face as they struggle to achieve equality. “Arthaat Besharmi Morcha” translates approximately to “march of unashamed (or shameless) women.” To find out more about these issues, visit their website: SlutWalk Besharmi Morcha. If women are ever to achieve true global equality, women in all countries must be able tomove about public spaces freely and comfortably, without harassment.
Monthly Archives: July 2011
The slightly faded white and blue sign outside the CareNet Pregnancy Center’s offices on Colchester Ave. in Burlington, VT is the best publicity they have. So I’m told by the woman who takes my piss and drips it onto one of those hormonal pregnancy strips. The kind you buy in the drugstore. “It’s negative,” she says, and shows it to me.
I mime surprise. I’m actually pretty certain I’m not pregnant. But I’m here to see what it’s like in a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC), a Christian center that advertises free pregnancy tests and “options counseling” for women with unwanted pregnancies. Their website makes it clear that their affiliation is religious, but the office itself doesn’t. It looks like a small, casual medical office at first glance. But the woman who takes me back to the office with the ultrasound machine and the table full of rubber gloves, trays, and plastic cups is the only medical professional in the office. When she’s not there, women have to administer their own pregnancy exams, and the office can’t do ultrasounds. Those are the only two medical services the Center provides. I told her that I missed my pill for a few days last month and I’m worried. It may be too early to tell, but I still want a test. To accomplish this, she sends me into the bathroom to pee on a cup. She then takes the piss and drips it onto one of those disposable pregnancy test sticks you buy in drugstores.
Throughout our exchange, she’s asked me many very personal questions. Questions about my medical history, including about any previous pregnancies, which I expected. But I was surprised when, upon hearing that I’d had a miscarriage at age 23, she asks whether I looked at the “flow.” She wants to know whether I’d seen anything in it, because at 12 weeks the fetus has all the parts an adult human being has, and it’s “just wiggling and dancing around in there.” She shows me one of these dolls from the “Touch of Life” doll set to illustrate her point about how complete a 12-week-old fetus is. It’s kind of curious, when you think about it. Misinforming women into thinking that the work of making a new human being is mostly done by only 12 weeks into the process doesn’t make much sense. If it’s that complete, why does the pregnancy continue for the rest of the 28 weeks? If women could give birth at 12 weeks, it’d save us a lot of trouble, not to mention epesiotomies. It’s actually not true, unless you don’t count a skeleton as an essential part of a human being. But 12 weeks is the first week when the fetus is actually called a fetus and has a human-looking profile. What’s the point of getting women to believe that a fetus is mostly developed by 12 weeks, when that isn’t the case? What the point of lying about this insignificant piece of medical trivia? It works on two levels: first, it promotes the myth of pregnancy as a happy, flower-scented time full of puppies, rainbows, and soft-focus picnics in the park with your adoring husband. It helps, if you’re trying to convince someone to remain pregnant, to gloss over the health risks and unpleasantness of pregnancy. But, second and more importantly, it also means that a woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy because she just doesn’t want to be pregnant is being irrationally selfish. And that’s a great way to make a woman feel ashamed of choosing to terminate.
That is, I think, the core of CareNet’s strategy. From slight misinformation to outright lies, they subtly tilt the information in a certain direction so as to make you feel worried and anxious about making the “wrong” choice according to them, and warm, fuzzy, and even noble about making the “right” choice. Natural, I suppose, if that’s your mission, talking people into doing what you think they should, but still a bit jarring for me. I’ve been going to Planned Parenthood on and off, since I was a teenager (more than a decade ago now), and I’ve never experienced any sort of opinion pushing at all. Excepting, I suppose the push for contraception whenever I was sexually active. In any case, CareNet’s approach is very emotionally manipulative. My nurse kept emphasizing how anxious I looked, how I looked like I hadn’t slept the night before (I got plenty of sleep that night). When asking about my family, she asked if I didn’t think my parents would love being grandparents. When I said that my sister had recently had a baby (also true), she asked whether my parents had been happy about this. Well, of course. I’m not a teenager after all. But, you know, this is about my life, not my parents’ or anyone else’s. That’s the basic fact that CPCs are straining to obscure.
The other really jarring part was when she asked me so many questions about my religious beliefs. I lied and told her that I believed that there’s “something bigger than us” out there. I’m actually an atheist, but I didn’t want to get into that with her right then. She asked me whether I thought there was a purpose to life and whether that affected my opinions about abortion. I said I hadn’t really thought about it. She asked me about my relationship with the baby’s father, many probing personal questions, like whether I thought he would help raise the baby and how long we’d been together. She also didn’t stop shy of discouraging abortion. She also told me that she gets women in “all the time” who were using both the pill and condoms, and got pregnant anyways. I should think about whether it’s all worth it, she told me, this heartache and worry about being pregnant, and birth control is so unreliable anyway…
“Are you asking me if I think it’s worth it to have sex, even knowing that I might have pregnancy scares?” I asked.
“Well, uh, yes,” she said.
I thought about it for about five seconds. “It’s definitely worth it,” I said. “Sex is awesome.”
“Oh! Well, I guess you answered that question,” she said. I like to think she was a bit flustered to hear a woman so firm in her endorsement of sex. But who knows.
Then I asked her about getting an IUD, and she told me that she couldn’t actually prescribe one for me, even though she is a nurse. It was only then that she revealed that this was not actually a medical center. But she referred me to the Community Health Center, which, as a patient, I can personally endorse. They are lovely hard-working people there and it makes sense to send someone without insurance (like myself) to their currently-under-construction doors. I left on that note, and came into the lobby to discover that my friend had gathered up all the brochures they have in their office and was perusing them on the chair. We left with polite farewells and assurances that if I had any more questions, I wouldn’t hesitate to stop by.
- Brochures from CareNet Pregnancy Center
- Note that the second from the right, on the bottom, reads, “Post-Abortion Stress in Men.” Apparently abortion is responsible for anything in men, from feeling distant from their “mates” and children to “uncontrollable rage.” Hear that ladies? If your man abuses you after you get an abortion, clearly it’s your own fault for getting an abortion. Next time, just have the baby! I’m sure he won’t be abusive then.
- In a little while, we’ll have a new post up that documents, in a more academic fashion, the misinformation spread by Crisis Pregnancy Centers like CareNet. This report represents my experience in the CareNet Center, and alone, it would not constitute much of an indictment of CPCs. However, in my next post, I will detail exactly what practices are representative of CPC tactics, and why they represent a failure to trust women and treat them as adult human beings. An adult is a person who can be trusted to make their own decisions, when given all the information. Clearly CareNet does not regard women as adult human beings.
Saturday’s Rally for Reproductive Rights was a success! About 70 people attended in total, standing in the hot sun to listen to several local activists speak, and a sizable contingent broke off to march the length of Church Street, chanting radical slogans.
Photo courtesy of Lorin Duckman
We would like to thank everyone who came to the rally and who helped make it possible!
First of all, probably the most important message from the speakers at the Rally was about the troubles being created for Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire. Three Republican members of New Hampshire’s five-member executive council voted not to renew the State’s contract with Planned Parenthood. $1.8 million dollars will not be given to PP to provide contraceptive services, cancer screenings, and basic pelvic exams, including pap smears (and no, you really can’t get pap smears at Walgreen’s). So far, over 500 people have been denied access to subsidized prescriptions, including birth control prescriptions, since the vote took effect on July 1. We, and Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom (VARF) are calling for anyone who knows someone in New Hampshire to give that person a call, tell them about the situation, and ask them to call their legislator to voice their opposition to this irrational attack on women’s health. New Hampshire is on the verge of losing over $1 million in federal funding for women and children’s health care. One executive councilor, Raymond Wieczorek of Manchester, indicated that he did not support funding access to contraception at all. In another episode revealing the essential “pro-life” stance as being more anti-sex and anti-woman than pro-anyone’s actual life, he explained his reasoning by saying, “If they want to have a good time, why not let them pay for it?”
Actions to take:
CALL A FRIEND IN NH! Tell them to call their legislator and say that they’re unhappy with access to health care for poor women and men being held hostage to the GOP’s anti-sex politics.
Also, consider writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper in New Hampshire.
Consider donating to Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom! Their mission is to help women who can’t afford it get access to reproductive health care, and they are aiding in the fight to help get needed medications to women who are currently cut off. They have basically no overhead, and ALL donations go to helping women in need.
And of COURSE! Donate to Planned Parenthood!
So, what happened at the rally? Well, after we sorted a few difficulties getting power for the sound system, we kicked off a late but fiery start with speeches from a couple of FEDUPVermont members. It would be great to do a more in-depth summary of everything that was said. A few key themes that emerged: first, it’s time to agitate for full equality. Just like any other marginalized group, women have only gained tangible rights when they stood up and made a ruckus. It’s time to start raising a ruckus again. Many women still face difficulties accessing abortion in Vermont. Even though there are no legal restrictions on abortion in Vermont, there are no medical professionals in Vermont who will perform abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, so those who need later-term abortions must travel to other states to get them, which can be prohibitively expensive. It should be emphasized, of course, that VARF does excellent work in trying to raise funds to help women in such situations. Another important theme that emerged is that the pro-choice movement is, in fact, sitting on the alleged “common ground” that politicians like to talk about: empirical evidence shows that the countries with the lowest abortion rates are also the ones with the fewest restrictions on abortion and, of course, universal health care. The anti-choice movement could easily achieve a near-zero abortion rate, we already know how to do that. But doing so would require them to give up trying to punish women for what they deem “immoral” sexual behavior — and the label “immoral” is of course based on a narrow interpretation of a Christian faith that is not shared by all Americans. Kesha Ram put out the call for citizens to hold politicians’ feet to the fire, and for more women to get involved in politics.
Here are the speakers, in order of appearance:
Hayley Mason- local community activist, member of Fed Up Vermont and the Vermont Worker’s Center.
Peggy Luhrs- longtime community activist, campaigned for legal abortion in Vermont in the 70s. Member of Fed Up Vermont andWILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom)
Val Vass- Director of Marketing and Communications for Planned Parenthood Northeast Region
April Howard- Board member of VARF (Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom)
Solvei Blue- brand new community activist & outspoken atheist
Dr. Tina D’Amato- A family medicine practitioner whose residency at UMass Boston gave her experience in all aspects of reproductive health.
Kesha Ram- Vermont State Legislator from Burlington who also works at Women Helping Battered Women
Tristin Adie- longtime women’s rights activist, a socialist, and a member of Fed Up Vermont.
If you know of other news coverage, do please leave us a link in the comments! Thanks again to everyone who came, and to those who couldn’t make it but supported the effort in other ways. We couldn’t have done it without you, and if you want to help make these sorts of events continue to happen, please join us at our weekly meetings, Sundays at 5 pm at Cafe Maglianero at 47 Maple St. in Burlington.
We will soon have a post up giving a more detailed description of the Reproductive Rights Rally we held on Saturday past. It was quite successful, given that it was our first rally ever! In the meantime, this new article from the Guttmacher Institute details the explosive growth in anti-abortion laws and regulations currently swamping the nation’s state capitols. When we started setting up this group, the number of abortion-restricting laws was at around 500; now it’s over 900. This is in 2011 alone, if you can believe it. So far, the most popular measures among those wishing to make it more difficult for pregnant people to end an unwanted pregnancy are:
- Insurance coverage of abortion
Legislators in 11 states… have introduced 18 measures that would restrict abortion coverage under all private health insurance plans. So far this year, one measure has been adopted by a legislative chamber in South Carolina and one has been enacted in Utah. This new law limits coverage to cases of life endangerment, “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” fetal defect, rape and incest; the law does not specifically require that individuals be allowed to purchase coverage through a rider. Including the new Utah law, six states restrict private abortion coverage
Moving past the old tired concern about taxpayer being made to pay for abortions, which they may or may not agree with (would that we could all be such special snowflakes as to dictate that government spending correspond exactly to our personal moralities!), anti-choicers have taken up trying to dictate what private individuals may or may not spend their hard-earned cash on. Note, of course, that women who have not had sex voluntarily are exempt from these restrictions, once again demonstrating that the anti-choicers do no actually believe that abortion is murder. In addition, legislators in 23 states have proposed similar restrictions on insurance packages bought through state-administered health insurance exchanges.
- Gestational limits on abortion
This year, legislator in 17 states have introduced 35 measures patterned after Nebraska’s 2010 law that bans all abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, based on the scientifically unsupported proposition that fetuses feel pain at that point. The health exception for this one is quite narrow: only if a woman’s life is in danger or she faces “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” can she obtain an abortion after 20 weeks. Since 98% of abortions take place before 20 weeks’ gestation has passed, one must wonder about the efficacy of bills like these. Once again, anti-choicers reveal that actually reducing the abortion rate is simply not their priority. Forcing women to perform their particular stripe of patriarchal morality, however, is high on their list of important goals.
- Forced Ultrasounds
So far this year, legislators in 13 states have introduced 22 bills seeking to mandate that a woman obtain an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion. Bills in seven states (AL, IN, KY, MT, OH, RI and TX) are very similar to a law enacted last year in Oklahoma that requires a woman to undergo an ultrasound procedure, view the image and receive a verbal description of the fetus… Of these, proposals in Kentucky and Texas have been approved by a chamber of the legislature.
Bills in four other states (AZ, FL, MI, VA) as well as an additional measure in Texas would require the woman to have an ultrasound but then be given the option to view the image or hear the description. The bill in Texas has been approved by one house.
Again, the priority is not on actually reducing the abortion rate – liberal abortion policies, universal health care, and widespread sex education will do that – but on shaming and pressuring women who are on the verge of making what the government has decided is the “wrong” choice.
Well, there it is. Abortion is technically legal in this country, but in reality it is becoming harder and harder to get one. What good is a right if you can’t exercise it? One in three American women will get an abortion before she’s 45 years old. We need to stop pretending that this isn’t the case, and that fully 1/3 of women are moral lepers, baby-killers, or irresponsible twits wishing to fit into their prom dresses, or whatever the sexist stereotype du jour is. We’re FED UP.
We held our first rally today!
Peggy Luhrs, member of FED UP Vermont, spoke about the hypocrisy of pro-life politicians supporting war and cutting funding for food stamps, child care programs, and other types of welfare that make it easier for women to care for their born children.
Kesha Ram also spoke.
More photos of the rally to follow! The turnout was about 50 people, give or take a few passers-by and hecklers.
We’ve been meeting weekly or more to pull things together for the upcoming Rally for Reproductive Rights, this Saturday on July 9, at noon at the Burlington City Hall Steps. We’ve met at member’s houses so far, and we’re trying to set up a meeting place at a local coffee house so that the meetings are more accessible. We pool money for the cost of printing out flyers and posters and go out after work and on the weekend to hand them out and paste them up. It’s loose and disorganized right now, and it’s bound to become more formal as we move forward, but it certainly is exciting to finally be meeting people who have the passion and the drive to make things happen. Getting permits for rallying, securing access to a table (there’s a reason they call it “tabling”), reaching out to local women’s groups, to people who work at Planned Parenthood… Organizing a simple rally takes a lot of resources. This is my first time getting involved in an effort like this, and I’m very grateful for the patience and wisdom of the women who’ve been organizing for equality for a long time.
I hope you can join us for this Saturday! If not, we’re planning another event for the end of August: a picket of the CareNet Pregnancy Center, which is on Colchester Ave., right around the corner from Planned Parenthood on Mansfield Ave. See, the CareNet Pregnancy Center masquerades as a legitimate medical center geared towards meeting the needs of pregnant women. In reality, they often proselytize and disseminate false information about fetal development, STDs, contraception, and abortion, create the illusion of medical authority where there is none, and of course refuse to provide abortion services or referrals for abortions. Some of these centers even receive federal funding, thanks to the Bush-era push for faith-based initiatives and funding for abstinence-only education programs. We want to draw attention to the lies they propagate and their deliberate effort to target vulnerable women with billboards and ads asking, “Pregnant? Scared? We can help!” We want an end to all federal funding for these centers, and we want laws to ensure that if a clinic does not have licensed medical professionals on staff, they should not be allowed to advertise themselves as a medical clinic. Pregnancy CareNet and other faith-based crisis pregnancy centers violate the “Trust Women” maxim by obscuring the truth and attempting to shame and pressure them into making the “right” decision, regardless of what the impacts on that young woman’s life will be. We are FED UP with people trying to tell us that women can’t be trusted with all the information, that the only way to ensure women make the right decisions is to lie to them. Join us at noon on July 30 at 58 Colchester Ave., for a protest of CareNet Pregnancy. Bring noisemakers and signs! If you want to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org!