Thursday, September 27, 2007

Donate to Equal Access Abortion Fund, Get Autographed Book!

The Equal Access Fund of East Tennessee believes that the right to choose abortion is meaningless without access to abortion services. Restrictions to access and funding are discriminatory because they especially burden poor women, young women and women of color.

EAF of Tennessee was created for the following purposes:

* to provide direct financial assistance to low income women & girls who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, but can't raise the funds to obtain a safe and legal abortion, and to dispense these funds in an equitable manner

* to raise public awareness of the devastating impact of denying access to safe and legal abortion services

* to support ongoing efforts to restore public funding of abortion in conjunction with The National Network of Abortion Funds

* * * * * * * * *

Katha Pollitt, award winning progressive author and dedicated feminist/activist, has shown her dedication to the EAF cause once more.

She has not only sent in a donation, but also agreed to send an autographed copy of her new book, Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories, to anyone who donates $100 or more to EAF this week.

Read yesterday's case below.


To my dependable group of pro-choice activists,

I thank you for all your help in the past. Unfortunately, our work is never done and I have a case this morning that is very timely. Please contact me back by email if you can help the case featured below. - Heather of Equal Access Fund

From my mailbox this morning:

"I had to turn away a very nice, very desperate couple this morning who are going to Atlanta this Friday for a 2 day procedure because she is almost in her 20th week. We didn't charge her for the ultrasound because money is an issue; the money they are putting together is for their living expenses and will wind up with their being evicted I'm afraid. I've given her several numbers to call or emails to send and made several calls on her behalf and am hoping for the best. She is doing a lot of footwork on her own, and bless her heart is trying everything she can to keep her spirits up. I thought the two of them were going to pass out when they learned how far along she was and they tried so hard to be so brave and adult. (edited to remove personal info) ... and they are going to be staying with her mom, who has her own set of problems apparently. She's a good kid and seems to be trying to do her best not to repeat the mistakes of the generation before her if you get my drift. Anyhow, I just wanted you to know who was contacting you and why if you do hear from her. Thanks for all you do for our patients and I hope this finds both of you doing well. Rena, KCRH "

and from the patient:

"my name is xxxxx, and i went to the knoxville center for reproductive health today in the hopes to have an abortion there, but i am too far along and have to go to atlanta this friday and saturday to have the procedure done. i am 21 and not ready in any way shape or form to be a mother. i am a hostess at a restaurant and enrolled at pellissippi state and i am in dire desperate need of any monetary help i can get. my boyfriend and i are working as hard as we can and are doing everything in our power to get through this point in our lives. knoxville center gave me a list of options for some possible help. my phone number is xxxxxxx if you could contact me as soon as possible given i am pressed for time. i appreciate anything you all can do for me, and greatly respect what you are doing for women like me. god bless. "

I wrote the patient to see how much it will take to solve her current woes and here is the response:

"i have an appointment at summit medical center in atlanta on friday the 28th continuing through saturday being that it will be a two day procedure. the total cost will be $1325. i have gotten $100 from the south mountain women's alliance, and with that i have about $400-500 between cash and a discover card. a woman affiliated with the south mountain women's alliance is offering $50 to help pay for my hotel room friday night. in case you'd like to contact me, my number is xxxxxx. thank you for your help and concern, it is greatly appreciated ."

My question to my email list of activists is this:

Could you donate today?


Heather Robinson
Equal Access Fund

Verizon Reverses Itself on Abortion Rights Messages

September 27, 2007
Verizon Reverses Itself on Abortion Rights Messages
New York Times

Saying it had the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, Verizon Wireless last week rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program.

But the company reversed course this morning, saying it had made a mistake.

“The decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect, and we have fixed the process that led to this isolated incident,” Jeffrey Nelson, a company spokesman, said in a statement.

“It was an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy,” Mr. Nelson said. “That policy, developed before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages, was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children.”

Mr. Nelson noted that text messaging is “harnessed by organizations and individuals communicating their diverse opinions about issues and topics” and said Verizon has “great respect for this free flow of ideas.”

The other leading wireless carriers had accepted the Naral program, which allows people to sign up for text messages from Naral by sending a message to a five-digit number known as a short code.

Text messaging is a growing political tool in the United States and a dominant one abroad, and such sign-up programs are used by many political candidates and advocacy groups to send updates to supporters.

But legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.

In reversing course today, Verizon did not disclaim the power to block messages it deemed inappropriate.

The dispute over the Naral messages was a skirmish in the larger battle over the question of “net neutrality” — whether carriers or Internet service providers should have a voice in the content they provide to customers.

“This is right at the heart of the problem,” said Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan law school, referring to the treatment of text messages. “The fact that wireless companies can choose to discriminate is very troubling.”

In initially turning down the program, Verizon, one of the nation’s two largest wireless carriers, had told Naral that it does not accept programs from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.” Naral provided copies of its communications with Verizon to The New York Times.

Nancy Keenan, Naral’s president, said Verizon’s initial decision interfered with political speech and activism.

“No company should be allowed to censor the message we want to send to people who have asked us to send it to them,” Ms. Keenan said. “Regardless of people’s political views, Verizon customers should decide what action to take on their phones. Why does Verizon get to make that choice for them?”

On Wednesday, Mr. Nelson, the Verizon spokesman, said the initial decision had turned on the subject matter of the messages and not on Naral’s position on abortion. “Our internal policy is in fact neutral on the position,” Mr. Nelson said. “It is the topic itself” — abortion — “that has been on our list.”

Naral provided an example of a recent text message that it has sent to supporters: “End Bush’s global gag rule against birth control for world’s poorest women! Call Congress. (202) 224-3121. Thnx! Naral Text4Choice.”

Messages urging political action are generally thought to be at the heart of what the First Amendment protects. But the First Amendment limits government power, not that of private companies like Verizon.

In rejecting the Naral program, Verizon appeared to be acting against its economic interests. It would have received a small fee to set up the program and additional fees for messages sent and received.

Text messaging programs based on five- and six-digit short codes are a popular way to receive updates on news, sports, weather and entertainment. Several of the leading Democratic presidential candidates have used them, as have the Republican National Committee, Save Darfur and Amnesty International.

Most of the candidates and advocacy groups that use text message programs are liberal, which may reflect the demographics of the technology’s users and developers. A spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee, which is in some ways Naral’s anti-abortion counterpart, said, for instance, that it has not dabbled in text messaging.

Texting has proved to be an extraordinarily effective political tool. According to a study released this month by researchers at Princeton and the University of Michigan, young people who received text messages reminding them to vote in November 2006 were more likely to go to the polls. The cost per vote generated, the study said, was much smaller than other sorts of get-out-the-vote efforts.

Around the world, the phenomenon is even bigger.

“Even as dramatic as the adoption of text messaging for political communication has been in the United States, we’ve been quite slow compared to the rest of the world,” said James E. Katz, the director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University. “It’s important in political campaigns and political protests, and it has affected the outcomes of elections.”

Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia, said it was possible to find analogies to Verizon’s decision abroad. “Another entity that controls mass text messages is the Chinese government,” Professor Wu said.

Jed Alpert, the chief executive officer of Mobile Commons, which says it is the largest provider of mobile services to political and advocacy groups, including Naral, said he had never seen a decision like Verizon’s.

“This is something we haven’t encountered before, that is very surprising and that we’re concerned about,” Mr. Alpert said.

Professor Wu pointed to a historical analogy. In the 19th century, he said, Western Union, the telegraph company, engaged in discrimination, based on the political views of people who sought to send telegrams. “One of the eventual reactions was the common carrier rule,” Professor Wu said, which required telegraph and then phone companies to accept communications from all speakers on all topics.

Some scholars said such a rule was not needed for text messages because market competition was sufficient to ensure robust political debate.

“Instead of having the government get in the game of regulating who can carry what, I would get in the game of promoting as many options as possible,” said Christopher S. Yoo, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “You might find text-messaging companies competing on their openness policies.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Across the Deep South, religion, culture and politics collide to make ‘abortion’ a dirty word

Pro-choice demonstration at the Alabama State House in April 2006

In These Times
Features > September 26, 2007
An Unholy Alliance
By Carrie Kilman
Click here for article link

Every Wednesday and Friday morning, two or three volunteers wearing bright green shirts that read “Pro-Choice, Y’all” assemble in front of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, Ala., to escort patients from the parking lot to the front door, past a small sea of anti-abortion protesters.

The protesters carry handmade signs and pictures of fetuses sucking their thumbs. They play violins and blow loudly into horns. They thrust graphic pamphlets at the patients, form prayer circles on the sidewalk, and teach their children to plead with women to not murder their babies. The protesters are mostly women. They look like Sunday school teachers, housewives and hip grandmas. And, during the past few months, they have grown more vocal and more organized, emboldened by the recent closure of the only clinic in Mobile.

Every state in the Deep South—Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina—restricts low-income women’s access to abortion. Most ban abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. None explicitly protect heath care facilities from harassment or violence. All have mandatory delay laws that unfairly burden women who have limited access to transportation and time off work, and Louisiana and South Carolina both passed unconstitutional laws requiring a husband’s consent for a married woman’s abortion. In the past 16 months, two abortion clinics in Alabama have closed, and new regulations are making it difficult for other clinics to stay open. Now, anti-abortion groups are strategizing ways to outlaw birth control and eliminate sex education.

Michelle Colon, president of the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) Mid-South region (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee) calls it a “war on women”—the gravity of which citizens in more progressive parts of the country don’t appreciate. “The rest of the country kind of writes off the South—people feel the battle has been lost here,” Colon says.

Colon is part of a vocal, scrappy cadre of grassroots activists challenging the well-funded, entrenched anti-abortion movement that has long dominated state legislatures and local pulpits across the region. One Southern feminist put it this way: “Women here are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

“It’s not legal, is it?”

Every morning when June Ayers arrives for work, she scans the parking lot for suspicious people and packages before getting out of her car. Ayers owns Reproductive Health Services, one of seven clinics that provide abortions in Alabama. She’s been followed home, trailed at the mall and harassed on her front porch.

Ayers was close friends with David Gunn, a doctor who performed abortions at clinics throughout Alabama and Florida. Anti-abortion protesters plastered Gunn’s face and home phone number to “Wanted” posters and distributed them at rallies. He answered their harassment by blasting Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”, singing along, and wagging his finger in their direction. In March 1993, Gunn died when a protester shot him three times in the back outside of his clinic in Pensacola, Fla. The doctor on Ayers’ staff now wears a bulletproof vest.

Ayers recently invested in a sprinkler system to keep the protesters at bay. She has also installed concrete stepping-stones across the lawn so patients and escorts can avoid the protesters crowding the sidewalk. She bought orange vests for the escorts, so startled patients can distinguish between protesters and volunteers.

“At least once a month, I have women who call me and ask whether abortion is legal. That type of misinformation is rampant,” says Ayers. “We’re in the middle of the Bible Belt. It’s not just religion, it’s the fanatical religious aspect that keeps stirring people up who are opposed to us.”

It’s a place where the Christian Coalition holds sway over politicians, and many people vote the way they’re told in church. The legislative climate is “very hostile” toward abortion, says Felicia Brown Williams, who oversees Planned Parenthood’s advocacy agenda in Mississippi, one of two states with only one abortion clinic.

Mississippi has passed so many laws governing what abortion clinics can and cannot do that it is virtually impossible to open a second clinic without breaking state law. Mississippi requires permission from both parents for women under 18, except in cases of incest. The state’s conscience clause allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control. And earlier this year the Mississippi legislature passed a “trigger law,” immediately making abortion illegal should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

From ‘pro choice’ to ‘reproductive justice’

In the early-1990s, researcher Loretta Ross noticed the anti-abortion movement was borrowing tactics from the Ku Klux Klan—things like “Wanted” posters and targeted bombings. Ross now directs SisterSong, a national reproductive health collective in Atlanta. She travels the country, encouraging groups like Planned Parenthood to adopt a philosophy that SisterSong terms “reproductive justice.”

“Stopping at the right to terminate a pregnancy is woefully inadequate when it comes to the realities of people of color,” Ross says. “We have to fight for three different dimensions of the struggle: We join our pro-choice sisters to fight for the right not to have a child; but as women of color, we have been subjected to various strategies of population control, like forced sterilization, so we also have to fight for the right to have a child, especially in the context of people accusing us of having babies to get on welfare or to stay in the country. And we have to fight for the right to parent the children we already have, thanks to a criminal justice system that’s trying to capture them earlier and earlier.”

Moving from “pro-choice” to “reproductive justice” may prove crucial in the Deep South—home to a fast-growing Latino population—and towns like Montgomery, Ala., which is about 50 percent black.

“There is an unholy alliance between the legislators who oppose civil rights and the legislators who oppose reproductive rights,” Ross says. “As long as we look at reproductive rights only as the politics of gender, we will be missing the guiding script.”

Each year, Operation Save America (OSA) targets different clinics across the United States. Last summer, the group traveled to Jackson, Miss., for a weeklong “siege” to temporarily shut down the state’s only abortion clinic. OSA members, who compare themselves to Martin Luther King Jr., liken abortion to black genocide and lynching. While the anti-abortion movement has made inroads with some black churches, OSA’s references to lynching and Rev. King went too far.

Jackson’s abortion rights community mobilized to protect the last clinic in Mississippi. With volunteers coming from as far as Canada, they organized a door-knocking campaign, traversing Jackson’s communities of color and poor white communities, educating residents about OSA.

Abortion rights supporters from across the South flooded Jackson that week, in a series of counter-rallies and speak-outs called Reproductive Freedom Summer. OSA’s tactics—burning a Gay Pride flag and pages of the Koran, and picketing two Christian churches—created a local uproar. The clinic stayed open.

So goes the nation

Other states, like New York or Wisconsin, have achieved a kind of equilibrium, with a mass of vocal supporters on both sides. Outside of cities like Atlanta, this isn’t true of the Deep South.

“People are afraid to be seen at pro-choice events for fear of losing their jobs, or being rejected from church, or their kids being ostracized at school,” says Colon, of Mid-South NOW. In some places in the South, abortion is referred to as the “A word”; and many women, upon arriving for an abortion, tell clinic staff they think abortion is wrong.

“Most of the time, women think they actually deserve the ridicule and harassment from the street protesters,” says Ayers, from the Montgomery clinic. “It’s self-punishment: ‘I deserve to be accosted, because this is the choice I’m making.’”

Last year, Deirdra Harris Glover realized her silence implied tacit approval of Mississippi’s proposed abortion ban. So Glover, an admitted “professional geek,” launched to encourage closeted abortion rights supporters to come out. “Shame is an incredibly dehumanizing tactic used by the anti-abortion movement,” Glover wrote in an email. “They’ve managed to paint abortion as too awful to ever be dragged into the light of day.”

The Deep South’s reproductive rights community has few political allies. In Mississippi and Louisiana, Democrats run on anti-choice platforms. “We don’t have any judges on our side. We don’t have many in the media on our side,” says Colon. “The pro-choice allies in the state legislature are the older black men. The women in the legislature sell us out every time.”

And yet thinking that anti-choice zealotry is only an issue south of the Mason-Dixon line is a mistake. Laws restricting women’s access to healthcare have chipped away at abortion rights in almost every state. In fact, only seven states have laws protecting the right to an abortion.

“In some ways, the South is behind; but in some ways, the South is dictating the rest of the country,” says Ross, of SisterSong. “There wouldn’t be a resurgent right-wing if the rest of the country wasn’t becoming Dixie-fied.”

Colon adds: “If we lose the South, the middle of the country won’t be long.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Poland loses ruling in abortion case

Last Updated: 25/09/2007 12:17
Poland loses ruling in abortion case

The European Court of Human Rights today confirmed Poland will have to pay compensation to a woman who nearly went blind after being denied an abortion under strict Polish laws.

Poland had appealed an order by the Strasbourg-based court in March to pay the woman €39,000. Judges rejected that appeal yesterday, a court spokesman said this afternoon.

The verdict in March enraged the conservative government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The ruling coalition has been pushing for a total ban on abortion in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, which already has one of the strictest abortion laws in the European Union.

Polish law allows a pregnancy to be terminated only when it threatens the life or health of the mother, when the baby is likely to be permanently handicapped or when it originates from rape.

In March, the European based court ruled that Alicja Tysiac, whose eyesight worsened after the baby girl was born and who is now registered as disabled, had been denied her human rights under Poland's anti-abortion laws.

Ms Tysiac, who is bringing up three children alone, suffers from an eye disease and cannot see objects more than 1.50 metres away. She receives a monthly disability pension equivalent to €140.

Ms Tysiac became pregnant in 2000. Three doctors told her she could go blind if she gave birth to her third child, but they refused to write her a certificate that would authorise an abortion.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why women face agonizing waits for abortions in Ottawa

By Jenn Gearey, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, September 24, 2007
click here for article


PHOTO: Morgentaler Clinic counsellor Samantha Wood says she refers four or five women a day to Montreal or Toronto to get abortions, where the wait is much shorter.
Julie Oliver, the Ottawa Citizen


In less than five minutes, Jennifer will be called in from the Morgentaler Clinic's waiting room to have an abortion. It can't happen soon enough for her: She's been waiting six weeks, watching her belly grow and feeling her hormones go berserk.

Twenty-year-old Jennifer is 13 weeks pregnant. She's been on a waiting list to have an abortion since the end of July and by now it's Sept. 11.

"The wait has been extremely straining on me and those around me," says Jennifer, moments away from the procedure. "I couldn't believe I had to wait so long. ... I became so anxious and impatient about my situation."

Jennifer, who did not wish to have her real name used in this story, is one of thousands of Ottawa women every year who believed that if they needed an abortion they could get one on demand. It's a wake-up call when they find out otherwise.

Canadians for Choice, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization that tracks the accessibility of abortion, says women in Ottawa face the longest wait times in the country for the procedure.

The average wait for abortion in Canada is an estimated two weeks, the group says. And in Toronto, a woman can usually have the procedure within about eight days. The average wait time in Ottawa is generally at least four weeks.

Patricia Larue, executive director of Canadians for Choice, says that in contrast to Ottawa, she can count at least 11 places in Toronto and 11 in Montreal where abortion is accessible -- and some clinics on a full-time basis. In Ottawa, abortion is only offered at the Bank Street Morgentaler Clinic and The Ottawa Hospital -- two days and one day a week, respectively.

Shayna Hodson, spokeswoman for the Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto, says Ottawa has a different history than Toronto on this issue.

"Looking at the history of Ottawa, it was more difficult to set up abortion facilities there than in Toronto -- there were more petitions," Ms. Hodson says. "But it's not because of a lack of will from doctors or lack of demand. The thing is, the subject is still very much taboo, so you're not going to have droves of women rallying about this because who wants to be the woman publicly saying 'I want an abortion'?"

Ms. Larue says the six-week wait time that Ottawa women encountered this summer was too long.

"By the time a woman knows she's pregnant, makes a decision on what she wants to do, and finds out where to go to get an abortion, sometimes it's too late," she says, explaining that some women have to carry their unwanted pregnancies to term as a result.

Ms. Larue says at The Ottawa Hospital, the time limit to have an abortion is 18 weeks gestation; 17 at the Morgentaler Clinic. And, she says, most doctors in Canada won't perform abortions beyond 22 weeks.

"Abortion law in Canada is unique," says Ms. Larue. "Here, abortion is a decision that's made between a woman and her doctor. There are no restrictions whatsoever. It's up to the clinic or hospital to say at what point they won't give them anymore, and at what point the doctor feels it's unethical for them."

Since some women don't have the luxury of time for a six-week waiting list, Samantha Wood, telephone counsellor at the Morgentaler Clinic, says she refers women to Montreal or Toronto, where the wait is considerably shorter.

"I would say I refer four or five patients a day to different clinics, but there's no way of knowing whether they actually follow up with them," says Ms. Wood. "To be quite frank, I think it's somewhat inhumane to make women wait -- the physical and emotional effects are unnecessary."

Ms. Wood, 22, had the procedure herself in 2005 in her second year of university. She was fortunate that she didn't have to wait as long as many others.

"I always knew what my choice would be if I became pregnant, but I was pretty naive of how the system worked before I got into the situation myself," she says. "I was extremely lucky. I only waited 20 days back then. A couple of weeks ago, the wait was the worst I've ever seen. People get pretty upset."

Summer months and just after Christmas are the worst times to need an abortion in Ottawa.

"The reason wait times go up in the summer is because the hospital's centre closes down for a month in August and they don't do any (abortions) at all during that time -- but the need is always constant," says Ms. Larue. "After Christmas isn't as bad because they only close for two weeks."

One Ottawa abortion doctor, who asked to remain anonymous to prevent harassment and threats, explained some of the dynamics of having an abortion at The Ottawa Hospital's Women's Health Centre. Women who opt to go there, she said, are sent to the hospital's birthing ward for a pre-abortion ultrasound, where they sit with expectant mothers and posters that read "Congratulations on Your Baby."

The Ottawa doctor says there are better alternatives, but she feels proper access to abortion is being ignored.

"Abortion just doesn't get any attention anymore; people think it's solved and not an issue," she says.

She says that with only two abortion clinics operating part-time in Ottawa, the city is still expected to perform abortions for women from the Valley, Belleville, and even Kingston to some extent, since there are no doctors there who are able to perform abortions over 14 weeks -- Ottawa takes in women from Nunavut for the same reason.

"After 12 to 14 weeks, the procedure changes," says Ms. Larue. "So a GP wouldn't be able to do it anymore, they'd need to have surgical training."

Overall, abortion actually appears to be on the decline in Canada, although only slightly. In 2003, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 103,768 abortions were performed in Canada, down almost 1,500 from 2002 and down 2,500 from 2001.

But in Ottawa, abortion doctors and facilitators say they are frustrated that they can't provide the abortion services they say women need.

Since The Ottawa Hospital independently decides how many abortions its doctors will perform every year, the issue rests with its board. A spokeswoman for the hospital said board members would not comment on that decision-making process.

In the case of the Morgentaler Clinic, it's up to the Ontario government to decide how many abortions it can perform -- based on the funds it's willing to give the clinic.

"Every year I apply for more money and every year I get a letter saying I'll get exactly the same amount as I did the year before," says Joan Wright, manager of Ottawa's Morgentaler Clinic, who said she wishes the clinic could operate on more than a part-time basis.

A.G. Klei, spokesman for the Ontario Ministry for Health and Long-Term Care, says the ministry provided enough money for the clinic to perform 2,350 abortions this year.

"Last year, the Morgentaler Clinic requested increased funding for its services that was not approved at the time, but they can continue to request in the future," says Mr. Klei.

But while additional funding for an existing abortion clinic has been turned down for the Morgentaler Clinic, the ministry says there's another reason behind why there are so few clinics in the Ottawa area.

"There have been no other applications to the ministry from interested groups wanting to obtain an abortion clinic licence in Ottawa," says Mr. Klei.

Ms. Hodson says she can't understand why the ministry would consider funding new abortion clinics, but not increase funds for an existing one to deal with the shortage of abortion services in the city.

"Why not expand the existing clinic, which has a great reputation, an excellent safety record, already established infrastructure and overhead, rather than spend taxpayers' money on a new one? It's all circular talk when you break it down."

Ms. Wright is also skeptical.

"If you ask the government for more money for abortion you get kicked," she says. "Health care is dying and (Dalton) McGuinty isn't going to 'up' the money for abortion -- that would have people screaming. And the government certainly doesn't want that during an election ... so it falls between the cracks."

When asked about lengthy abortion wait times in Ottawa, Ben Chin, spokesman for the Ontario Liberal Party, says the party's focus is on hospital lineups: for cardiac procedures, cancer, MRI/CTs, hip and knee surgery, and cataract procedures. He also said the party would work toward wait-time progress for emergency room visits, children's surgery and general surgery. There is no mention of abortion in his response.

When asked the same question, Mike Van Soelen, spokesman for Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory, also responds without mentioning abortion.

"It's shocking that Ottawa is lagging behind provincial wait time averages in many areas--everything from hip replacement to cataract surgery," says Mr. Van Soelen. "Ottawa is the province's second largest city and the premier's home town. Health care has to do better."

As it is, there is no shorter wait time in sight for abortion in Ottawa. And there appear to be several other factors that contribute to that.

"A lot of doctors who fought along with Dr. Morgentaler are now retired and there simply aren't as many people doing abortions now," says Ms. Larue. "These days it's hard for medical students to get access to learn how to do the procedure. Often, they have to fight for it."

To reduce wait times for abortion procedures and accommodate more women, Ms. Wright suggests that in the future an alternative may be drug-induced abortions, which can be done in a general practitioner's office. Surgical abortion is the dominant method of abortion in Ottawa and Ms. Larue says that only one doctor in the city performs drug-induced abortions.

Abortion doctors in Ottawa, meanwhile, aren't optimistic for the future.

With a deteriorating health care system, they recognize that abortion surgery is not on a high-priority list, which leaves women like Jennifer no choice but to wait through an unwanted pregnancy for sometimes months, trying to ignore the physical and emotional signs that just won't go away.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007

Debate continues over rights of incarcerated women in Missouri to obtain an abortion

Appeals court hears Mo. case on inmate abortions
Associated Press Writer
click here for article

ST. LOUIS --Security concerns and the state's limited resources outweigh female offenders' right to abortion, the state argued Monday in defense of a policy against transporting them to an abortion clinic outside of prison.

Missouri's two-year-old policy, since declared unconstitutional by a federal district judge in Kansas City, is reasonable and constitutional, Assistant Attorney General Michael Pritchett told a federal appeals court panel here.

Incarceration by definition means inmates are denied certain freedoms, including "the right to procreate, vote, and travel," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union disagreed, arguing that the state has exaggerated its security concerns and in fact, has shown it can transport offenders without incident to an abortion clinic in St. Louis despite the presence of protesters.

ACLU attorney Diana Kasdan said the state devotes more resources and security measures to accommodate the far larger number of female offenders who carry their pregnancies full term.

Women, no matter what, have a constitutional right to abortion, she said, noting that a handful of courts considering the question have ruled in favor of incarcerated women seeking abortion.

Pritchett argued that an accomplice could take advantage of frequent protests at the St. Louis abortion clinic to free an offender seeking an abortion. But Kasdan said the protesters are relatively few and aren't allowed onto the clinic's parking lot. The clinic provides a separate entrance and waiting room for offenders, and a correctional officer is permitted in the procedure room, she said.

Judge William Riley asked who pays for the care of female offenders who carry their pregnancies to term. "Does that make a difference?" he asked.

Pritchett said the state pays a flat contractual rate to a private vendor to provide health care to inmates, including obstetrics care.

The state used to pay to transport an inmate for an abortion, though not the procedure itself, but the policy was reversed in July 2005.

The state Department of Corrections cited costs, security concerns and a 1986 state law prohibiting the use of public funds, facilities and employees to assist an abortion when it's not necessary to save the life of the woman.

Under the revised policy, the department would only transport an inmate for an abortion if her life or health were endangered.

U.S. District Court Judge Dean Whipple ordered the state to transport a pregnant inmate - referred to in court as Jane Roe - to receive an abortion in October 2005, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.

The case was certified as a class action, leading to Whipple's ruling last year ordering Missouri to take pregnant inmates to abortion clinics when they request the procedure.

A three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case Monday on appeal from Attorney General Jay Nixon.

Since September 2006, the state has transported three offenders to obtain an abortion. The state has transported a total of seven to abortion clinics since June 2005, the Department of Corrections said.

By contrast, from July 2006 to this past July, 52 female offenders - all at the women's prison in Vandalia - delivered babies at area hospitals.

Most children born to offenders end up living with other family members, Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth said. Missouri has no program to accommodate offenders and their children in prison, even for overnight visits, he said.

Zambia stalls on legalizing abortion; calls for more "discussion" on the issue

Zambia: 'State Will Let People Debate On Abortion Before It Acts'
The Times of Zambia (Ndola)
24 September 2007
link to article

GOVERNMENT will only recommend whether or not to fully legalise abortion as demanded by some health experts after the issue is exhaustively debated by members of the public, chief Government spokesperson, Mike Mulongoti, has said.

Mr Mulongoti said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday that the Government would not rush into taking a position on the highly controversial issue because the matter was still being debated.

"We cannot make any recommendations on abortion now since medical and ethical experts are still debating. Let them continue debating. As Government we shall only come in at an appropriate time if need arises," Mr Mulongoti said.

He said the Government would have to go back to Parliament to amend the existing Act on abortion if members of the public strongly felt that there was need to fully legalise abortion.

Mr Mulongoti, who is Information and Broadcasting Services Minister, said Zambia had strict laws, which were still in force and could not be thrown out without following the right procedure.

Health Deputy Minister, Lwipa Puma, however, warned in an interview yesterday that legalising abortion in Zambia would mean lawlessness and would promote unsafe sex leading to increased numbers of HIV/Aids as women would be aborting freely.

Dr Puma advised those making such recommendations to consider the repercussions if the Government went ahead. He also advised stakeholders to include tradition leaders in their debates to be aware of the dangers of unsafe abortions.

University Teaching Hospital (UTH) experts in obstetrics and gynaecology last week blamed Zambia's high maternal mortality rate on illegal abortions conducted illegally by unqualified people and appealed to the Government to fully legalise it to curb such deaths.

The experts said 30 per cent of the maternal deaths at the UTH were a result of unsafe abortion and called on the Government to legalise it so that people could seek professional service.

But anti-choice activists like the Catholic Church insisted that abortion was wrong and vowed to continue opposing it whatever the justification given by the medical experts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Falls Church Planned Parenthood Counter Protest

Last Saturday, I participated in and videotaped a pro-choice counter-protest outside the Planned Parenthood in Falls Church, Virginia. This counter-protest regularly takes place on Saturday mornings outside of the clinic.

Click here to view my footage from the counter-protest on YouTube.

Pro-choice counter-protesting at abortion clinics is an important grassroots response to women's quickly eroding reproductive freedoms. It's also a good way to support women who are coming to the clinic to get an abortion and are bombarded by a hoard of praying, flyering, chanting antis.

If you think women deserve the right to obtain an abortion without obstruction and without masses of antis shouting to them that what they are doing is wrong, please consider starting a pro-choice counter-protest in your neighboorhood. For more information about how to do this, email me at

Friday, September 14, 2007

New Jersey’s Top Court Rejects Suit on Abortion

September 13, 2007
New Jersey’s Top Court Rejects Suit on Abortion
The New York Times
Click here for original post

NEWARK, Sept. 12 — Because there is no consensus on the issue of when life begins, a doctor does not have to tell a woman considering an abortion that the procedure would result in “killing an existing human being,” the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, rejecting a woman’s arguments in a medical malpractice suit.

There are cases pending in Illinois and South Dakota regarding what doctors should be required to tell women considering abortions about when life begins.

In its unanimous decision, the New Jersey court ruled that, contrary to what the woman’s lawyer had argued, her doctor had “no legal duty” to tell her that her six-to-eight-week-old embryo was “a complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being.”

Justice Barry T. Albin, who wrote the 5-to-0 decision, said, “There is not even remotely a consensus among New Jersey’s medical community or citizenry that the plaintiff’s assertions are medical facts, as opposed to firmly held moral, philosophical and religious beliefs, to support the establishment of the duty she would impose on all physicians.”

Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief, welcomed the ruling. “Today’s victory sends a message that New Jersey will not tolerate backdoor efforts to curtail reproductive rights or free speech,” he said. “We will not allow the anti-choice lobby to force its moral or theological beliefs upon others.”

Drew Britcher, representing the New Jersey Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, also in the case as a friend of the court, added, “The court struck the proper balance between the law of informed consent and the law that relates to an obstetrician or other physician’s duty in advising the person who’s pregnant.”

But Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, strongly disagreed with the decision, saying, “Once again the court relies upon an outdated, schizophrenic mentality to the detriment of women, and they are indulging in a game of semantic gymnastics to avoid the indisputable fact that a child in the womb is a human being.”

The decision handed down today reversed a unanimous ruling by a three-judge appeals panel. The case began in 1998, when Rosa Acuna of Bound Brook, a mother of two, sued Sheldon C. Turkish, her gynecologist in Perth Amboy, over an incomplete abortion, and charged that he had not given her sufficient information before she allowed him to perform the abortion.

Mrs. Acuna, now 40, said in court proceedings that when she was in the early stages of pregnancy in 1996, she had asked Dr. Turkish “if it was the baby in there” and that Dr. Turkish had replied, “Don’t be stupid, it’s only blood.”

According to court papers, Dr. Turkish denied having made such a statement, adding that he probably told her that a “seven-week pregnancy is not a living human being,” but rather that it “is just tissue at this time.”

Mrs. Acuna had an abortion, and several weeks later went to the hospital after experiencing bleeding. She said that only after a nurse told her that “the doctor had left parts of the baby inside” did she realize it “was a baby and not just blood” inside her.

In court papers she said that she would not have had the abortion if she had received proper answers to her questions, and that she went on to suffer post-traumatic stress because of the procedure.

Mrs. Acuna’s lawyer, Harold Cassidy, who is widely recognized for his work in anti-abortion cases, said that he had spoken to Mrs. Acuna after the ruling and that although she was disappointed, the decision “deepened her resolve, and she has instructed me to file a petition in the United States Supreme Court.”

Mr. Cassidy is also involved in an Illinois case in which his client alleges that Planned Parenthood of the Chicago Area deceived women seeking to undergo abortions.

In South Dakota, a court case brought by Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota against Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota challenged a state law requiring doctors to tell pregnant women that the embryo or fetus was a distinct, unique human being and that abortion terminated a life.

Because the law was challenged in court, it has not yet been enforced. A trial court ruled that it compelled the speech of doctors in an unconstitutional way, a decision that was upheld by part of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. A decision from the full appeals court is pending.

As for Wednesday’s ruling, Mr. Cassidy said it was strange that the court did not address the doctor’s obligations to the embryo, his second patient, and asserted that women had the right to information about the development of the embryo and how it was affected by an abortion.

“If they are preventing this member of the species from coming into existence, that’s one kind of decision,” Mr. Cassidy said. “If they are terminating the life of a member of the species, that is a qualitatively different decision.”

Only five of the court’s seven justices ruled in the case, as Chief Justice Stuart Rabner arrived on the court after the case was argued, and Justice Helen E. Hoens was recused from the case. No explanation was given for the recusal.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Aurora, IL Planned Parenthood opening delayed

Clinic's opening likely to be delayed

Aurora mayor says permit bid at issue

By Gerry Smith | Chicago Tribune staff reporter

September 7, 2007

The opening of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora likely will be delayed as officials investigate whether the group's occupancy permit application was proper, Mayor Tom Weisner said Thursday.

The site is zoned for medical offices, and the city issued a temporary occupancy permit for Gemini Health Center. Steve Trombley, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood in Chicago, said the group left its name off the application because it did not want to alert opponents that the clinic was being built at 3051 E. New York St.

It is a strategy the agency has employed since a 2004 boycott by contractors stalled work for two months on an Austin, Texas, clinic.

But Weisner said the clinic's scheduled opening Sept. 18 is in doubt because the city has hired an outside attorney to investigate the legality of the permit process, and the investigation likely would not be completed in time.

"We're not going to allow operations to begin until we've accomplished the investigation," Weisner said.

Trombley said the group had "no reason to believe that the city will not complete its review by the 18th," adding that it was critical for the clinic to open that day because several patients have scheduled appointments.

Opponents, led by Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, claim Planned Parenthood duped the city into issuing a permit after hiding the fact that the clinic would perform abortions.

City officials said all they knew about the property was it was zoned for a medical building called Gemini Health Center. They have said it is not unusual for a development company to receive permits without the city knowing the tenants.

Once opponents knew the clinic would offer abortions in addition to other reproductive health services, they began a 24-hour, 40-day prayer vigil. A protest Aug. 16 drew 400.

After remaining largely silent in the face of the protests, Planned Parenthood has launched a public relations campaign, sending a letter to city officials defending its application for an occupancy permit and distributing T-shirts and bumper stickers to supporters.

But Eric Scheidler, a spokesman for the Pro-Life Action League, said Planned Parenthood should have disclosed its plans to open the clinic from the beginning.

"They got caught in a lie and now they're trying to make up for it," Scheidler said. "But it's too little too late."

The city has issued Planned Parenthood a temporary occupancy permit, which expires Sept. 17 and prohibits the clinic from operating.

More protests are planned outside City Hall on Tuesday and near the clinic site Sept. 15, Scheidler said. The facility will be Planned Parenthood's first full-service site in the Chicago area in 20 years and the only one to perform abortions other than a Near North Side Chicago location.

Senate's vote revives overseas abortion issue

Despite a veto threat, 53 senators back overturning a ban on aid to groups that offer support for the procedure.
September 7, 2007
By Richard Simon
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — -- Defying a White House veto threat, the Democratic-controlled Senate voted Thursday to overturn a long-standing ban on U.S. funding for overseas family planning groups that support abortion.

The vote was 53-41, short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto on an issue that has been contentious on Capitol Hill since President Reagan instituted the ban.

Even so, the vote was a sign of determination by Democrats to press for substantial changes in federal policies, even though they have only a narrow majority in the Senate.

The action came during consideration of the foreign operations bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The Senate bill must be reconciled with a House measure, which does not include a provision to overturn the ban. But the House measure includes another provision that has also drawn a veto threat -- one that would permit family planning groups abroad to distribute U.S.- provided contraceptives.

Shortly before the Senate vote, the White House budget office warned that if Congress sent the president a measure that "weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion, he would veto the bill."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a longtime advocate of abortion rights, led the fight to overturn what she called the "global gag rule."

Under existing policy, no U.S. foreign aid can go to organizations that use their own money to support abortion, including counseling.

Repealing the policy, Boxer contended, "could significantly enhance the health and well-being of millions of women around the globe."

The president, she said, "speaks about how democracy should be the centerpiece of our foreign policy. . . . I ask you, what is democratic about gagging people? What is democratic about saying 'You have no right to free speech unless you agree with me'?"

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a leading abortion foe and a presidential candidate, warned his colleagues, "If this is in the bill, the bill will be vetoed."

Reagan imposed the ban, known as the Mexico City policy because it was announced at a conference there, and President George H.W. Bush extended it. President Clinton rescinded the policy, but the current President Bush reinstated it.

Seven Republicans joined 44 Democrats and the two independents in voting to reverse the Bush administration policy. One Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, joined 40 Republicans to vote no.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Abortion in the Philippines: a national secret

FEATURE-Abortion in the Philippines: a national secret
05 Sep 2007 12:05:06 GMT
Source: Reuters
By Carmel Crimmins
click here for article

MANILA, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Minda is a masseuse with a difference. Her caress is used to abort fetuses.

The 50-year-old grandmother has lost count of the number of pregnancies she has terminated in this largely Roman Catholic country where abortion is illegal and strictly taboo, but where about half a million women end their pregnancies every year.

The backstreet abortions performed by healers like Minda may become more common as a United States government aid program plans to stop distributing contraceptives in the Philippines in 2008. This will leave birth control up to the government which under the influence of Catholic bishops advocates unreliable natural birth control methods rather than the pill and condoms.

Most women who seek abortions are like Remy, married with several children and too poor to afford another baby.

The petite 44-year old, who declined to give her last name, paid 150 pesos ($3) for a hilot, or traditional midwife like Minda, to crush her three-month old foetus using rough strokes and pincer-like grips on her belly.

The procedure, which can also involve pounding the lower abdomen to trigger a miscarriage, is called a massage.

"I felt guilty but I thought it was better than having another child that will only suffer because we have no food," she said in an interview in a slum on the outskirts of Manila.

Remy bled for a week after her session with the hilot, passing out with the pain. She refused to let her husband take her to the hospital because of the shame of what she had done and because they couldn't afford the medical bills.

"I just prayed to God and asked for forgiveness," she said.

Before her abortion, Remy had no access to artificial family planning. If she had, she says she wouldn't have become pregnant and resorted to the potentially life-threatening procedure.

Under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a devout Catholic who relies on the support of politically powerful bishops, the central government promotes natural family planning methods such as abstinence when the woman is ovulating.

Poor people, who make up the majority of the population, rely largely on the U.S. government agency USAID, the main supplier of contraceptives in the country for the past 30 years.

But USAID has started phasing out supplies and plans to end the rest of its donation programme in 2008. The agency has said its phase-out is in line with Manila's goal of self-reliance in family planning.


Officials says the central government's reluctance to take up where USAID will leave off will certainly push up the country's rate of abortions, which is already twice as high as in western Europe, where terminations are legal and easily accessible.

"Supplies (of contraceptives) have already run out in many towns and cities so the situation is rather desperate," said Dr Alberto Romualdez, a former health secretary under deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Catholic clerics in the Philippines urge their congregations to use natural family methods rather than the contraceptive pill.

"The natural family planning method is a good option, not only a good one but an effective one," Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, told Reuters.

Over half of women who have had an abortion in the Philippines were not using any family planning and of those that were, three-quarters were using natural methods advocated by the government such as rhythm or withdrawal, according to a survey by the U.S.-based. Guttmacher Institute.

Both methods have high failure rates.

The population, currently estimated at 89 million, is expected to swell to 142 million by 2040 and the rapid arrival of new mouths to feed is already straining the country's creaking infrastructure and choking efforts to cut poverty."


Women who abort their foetuses in the Philippines risk a prison sentence of upto six years, while anyone providing help or assisting faces a similar sentence as well as the loss of any medical licence.

Only one in four women have a surgical procedure according to the Guttmacher Institute. The 4,000-15,000 peso cost, usually in private clinics, is beyond the pockets of most women.

Over 30 percent ingest either cytotec, an anti-ulcer treatment they can buy in pharmacies, or herbal concoctions, often sold in stalls in front of churches.

Around 20 percent take hormonal drugs, or aspirin, as well as other medications and alcohol. Some starve themselves or fling themselves down stairs. Most women only succeed in ending their pregnancy after multiple attempts.

Among poor women seeking abortions, over 20 percent get massages from hilots or insert catheters in their vaginas.

One mother of three, who had two abortions, said the hilot's touch was agony.

"When she squeezed, it was so painful I wanted to kick her. I bit the blanket. I wanted to cry but I felt I had to contain myself," said the woman, who declined to be named.

"The pain was worse than childbirth."

The second time she had a surgical procedure in a backstreet clinic without anaesthetic.

"The room was so close to the street I could hear cars and police sirens," she said. "I was afraid I was going to be arrested with my legs wide open."

Dr Junice Melgar, executive director of Likhaan, a women's health organisation, said a lack of information about artificial contraception and myths about their side-effects was putting some poor people off using them.

"There is a lot of fear among the women," she said. "You have women choosing abortion before family planning because of these fears."

Ignorance and rumours, sometimes spread by pro-life groups and members of the clergy, have led some Filipinos to believe that the contraceptive pill is made from placenta and the tablets accumulate in the abdomen and cause cancer.


Although abortion is rarely discussed publicly in the Philippines, nearly 80,000 women are treated in hospitals every year for complications from induced abortion, according to health reports.

Many are treated roughly by nurses and doctors who abhor what they have done. Painkillers are sometimes withheld. At least 800 women are estimated to die every year from complications.

"Doctors feel that women need to feel the pain so that they will remember and not do it again," said Melgar.

Women who have miscarried sometimes suffer the same ill-treatment because they are suspected of inducing the loss.

Gemma Apelado, a mother of one, said doctors let her bleed all night when she went to a hospital in Tondo, a poor area of Manila, after having a miscarriage at four months.

"They were all standing around me and they were saying that I took something to induce an abortion," she said. "They were telling me I didn't have any conscience."

Minda, the hilot, says her conscience has started to trouble her. The mother of nine administers pills to induce abortion and uses heavy strokes to push the foetus down.

"I worry about karma," she said. "But I also pity those having to undergo abortions".

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What Pro-Choice Presidential Candidates Should Be Saying

What Pro-Choice Presidential Candidates Should Be Saying
Posted August 14, 2007 | 09:56 AM (EST)
by Cristina Page
click here for article

Pro-choice presidential candidates are missing a huge opportunity to win over an unlikely voting bloc: pro-life voters. The debate over reproductive rights has for decades existed in the abstract, a volley of "values" that's been heavy on emotion and light on fact. But the facts reveal surprising truths and they don't bode well for the right to life movement. The facts show the pro-choice movement is doing a better job at what the American public views as "pro-life" goals i.e. reducing the number of abortions, preventing late term abortion, than the pro-life movement. "Pro-life" presidential candidates may campaign on the "immorality" of abortion but the policies they support seem to lead to more of them. The pro-life establishment is expert at finger wagging, but isn't it time to turn the tables? Shouldn't pro-life groups and leaders be accountable for finding solutions to the high rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion, too? Especially since they're the ones who have a problem with abortion? Instead the pro-choice movement alone takes responsibility for finding effective solutions. And here's an unacknowledged fact that must be inserted into the public discourse this election: it's pro-choice policies that result in dramatic declines in the need for abortion. That's something both pro-choice and pro-life voters would be interested to know.

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The pro-choice movement is the only side working on prevention of unintended pregnancy. It, alone, champions wider access to birth control -- fighting for health insurance coverage and even bringing new and more effective contraceptives to market (i.e. emergency contraception, not to mention the birth control pill itself, is available to Americans entirely because of the efforts of the pro-choice movement.) Check out your local NARAL affiliate's agenda and you'll see that most of their work is devoted to increasing access to prevention. Up until Bush took office, the sex education curricula the pro-choice movement promoted was also classified on the Centers for Disease Control's website under the heading "Programs that Work." Their scientists deemed it worthy of that title because of the reams of empirical/quantitative data showing the programs lead to reductions in the teen pregnancy and STD rates.

The right to life movement may have sanctimony on its side but, sadly, sanctimony has proven ineffective at preventing abortion. Study after study suggests the right to life approach is actually the root of the problem: leading to more abortions and later ones too. And here's where pro-choice candidates may discover an attentive pro-life electorate.

Americans, pro-life and pro-choice, support contraception particularly because its the only proven way to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion. (Only 11 percent of sexually active women don't use contraception and from this 11 percent comes 50 percent of the nation's abortions.) But very few voters are aware that not one pro-life organization in the United States supports contraception. Instead, pro-life groups lead campaigns against contraception. Ninety-one percent of the American public strongly favors contraception. When pro-choice presidential candidates make the discussion about prevention, contraception and results, they'll win. No less than 80 percent of self-described pro-life voters strongly support contraception too.

Not only would it be refreshing to see a pro-choice candidate break from the pack and go on the offensive, it would be wise. Voters want results and we have them. Scanning the globe we discover the countries where abortion is most rare have the strongest pro-choice policies. The countries with the strongest pro-life policies are the ones with the highest abortion rates, often twice our national average. These are the nations that have implemented what our pro-life movement strives to: banning abortion, making contraception hard to come by, and preaching abstinence-only to teens. This high abortion/low abortion trend is true even in our country: we witnessed the most dramatic decline in abortion rates ever recorded during our first pro-choice presidency, that of Bill Clinton's. The right to life establishment would like voters to think all of this is coincidental: it's not.

The pro-life war on contraception is not just wacky, it's well-organized, well-funded, and well-underway. Number for number: Bush has delivered his pro-life base more attacks on contraception (Hager appointment, budget cuts to UNFPA and USAID, choosing contraception opponent Keroack to head Title X, stripping contraceptive coverage for federal employees, Title X funding stagnation, routing funding to sex ed programs that ban discussion of contraception, appointing anti-condom fanatic Coburn to Chair the presidential Council on HIV/AIDS) than he has on abortion (Roberts, Alito, federal abortion ban). As Governor of Texas, Bush committed to the full pro-life agenda and sunk large sums of public money in abstinence-only programs that prohibited discussion of contraceptive use. When he left office, the rest of the country was enjoying dramatic declines in teen pregnancy rates, while Texas ranked dead last in the nation for the decline in teen births. Overall, the teen pregnancy rate in Texas during Bush's term as governor was one of the highest in the nation, exceeded by only four other states, including Florida which his brother governed using the same approach. The dramatic decline in abortion rates that took place under Clinton are, no surprise here, slowing under Bush. The opposite strategies can't lead to the same results.

The pro-life paradox appears everywhere its policies are in place. School districts in the conservative South are almost five times more likely than in the liberal Northeast to teach abstinence-only. Southern states also have the highest rate of new HIV/AIDS infections, the highest rate of STDs, as well as the highest rate of teen births. Whereas new cases of AIDS decreased or remained constant in the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the South alone experienced an increase. Seven of the 10 states with the highest Chlamydia rates, all of the states with the highest rates of gonorrhea, and nine of the top 10 states for syphilis rates are all in the South where the pro-life abstinence-only agenda is the order of the day.

Pro-choice candidates need not shirk from the most difficult issues either. Take late term abortion. We have heard an earful about late term abortion over the last decade or two, but what's been missing from that pro-life soliloquy is the data showing that nearly 50% of women presenting for an abortion late in pregnancy cite pro-life restrictions as the cause. In Mississippi, for example, in just a year after passage of a favorite pro-life restriction, mandating a waiting period before a woman can receive and abortion, researchers discovered the second trimester abortion rate statewide had increased by a whopping 53 percent. The law didn't convince women not to have an abortion, it just prevented them from having one early. If the gestational age at which an abortion happens matters, as efforts to ban late term procedures suggest, then pro-life policies guarantee the worst outcomes. In 2003, after Texas law mandated teens have parental permission, researchers discovered a spike in the number of second trimester procedures obtained by 18-year-olds. It turned out that many opted to wait to have the abortion until they could do it privately. The pro-choice movement has worked to make abortion available as early as possible in a pregnancy -- now as early as two weeks gestation. The legalization of abortion alone, allowing many women for the first time to get care locally, reduced the second trimester abortion rate by half.

Results matter. The electorate, having been bamboozled and misled by this administration on so many issues for so long, is hungry for fact, proof, and truth. A wise pro-choice candidate will not skulk and apologize for agreeing with the majority of the American public on reproductive rights matters. A wise candidate will reveal to the American public that the pro-choice approach is effective, safer and in keeping with our values of personal freedom and protection from government intrusion in our most personal matters.

That's why our framers founded our country pro-choice.
Justice fails Afghan women
By Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul
Click here for article

Many female prisoners face rejection by their families after their release [File: EPA]

Afghanistan is building new jails for women. Though there are only 300 female prisoners now, that number is expected to grow.

While there are no signs of a crime wave, one of the reasons for the increase is an unlikely one.

Lacking in transitional houses for released prisoners, a suggested solution includes using jails as secure places where women can stay until they are reintegrated into society.

By some strange logic, funding for building jails is much easier to come by. But again, half of the women in jail should not be there at all.

Imprisoned for what are loosely described as "moral crimes", these women would qualify as victims rather than criminals under any interpretation of international human rights laws, including those to which Afghanistan is a signatory.

A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Afghanistan's female prisoners and their social reintegration drew attention to their dismal condition in a country where women face acute discrimination.

Not only are an estimated half victims themselves, but they are further victimised by the criminal justice process.

And on release from prison, they face victimisation for a third time. This can take the form of, at best, the family leaving the woman to fend for herself, and at worst, a so-called honour killing.

Released in Kabul on Sunday, the UNODC report recommended laws changes, better facilities and improved legal aid to address some of the issues facing female prisoners. These suggestions were debated with representatives of the ministry of justice, the supreme court and other Afghan departments.

Forced marriages

The UN women's fund (Unifem) found that 80 per cent of the violence perpetrated against women in Afghanistan originated in their homes.

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), 60 to 80 per cent of marriages in Afghanistan are forced, some of them involving girls as young as six years old.

Subjected to sexual and psychological abuse along with violence in their marital home, many girls run away. And when they come in contact with Afghanistan's criminal justice system, instead of receiving any protection, they are seen as offenders and convicted.

Opening a seminar organised jointly with the ministry of justice, Christina Orguz, UNODC country office representative, said that many people do not want to talk about the issue of female inmates.

Many are "in prison for things that would make them victims not perpetrators", she said.

Increased awareness

Anou Borrey, a gender and justice consultant with Unifem, said: "There is a need to increase the awareness of women about their rights so they don't end up in prison".

She said simple measures like registering marriages and the birth of a child could prevent adultery charges and stop child marriages.

"Currently the majority of
the female prisoners are being held
for violating social, behavioural and religious norms"

UN Office on
Drugs and Crime
"Currently the majority of the female prisoners are being held for violating social, behavioural and religious norms," UNODC said.

The reason is the lack of a robust formal criminal justice system.

An estimated 80 per cent of all legal cases are dealt with by the traditional justice system, based on customary laws that vary from region to region and tribe to tribe.

Documentation of the customary laws by the International Legal Foundation showed that the laws are at their most discriminatory towards women.

Not only are women penalised disproportionately for crimes, but they are punished on evidentiary standards that discriminate against them. Moreover, some of the customary laws also allow for them to be used as barter for settling other disputes, debts and feuds.

"In the restorative practice of the justice in Afghanistan, women who are regarded as the property of men, are often used as valuable commodities in the settlement of crimes and disputes" UNODC said.

"Rape may be treated as adultery and punished accordingly if a settlement cannot be reached between the two families concerned."

Unclear definition

Even Afghanistan's formal justice system does not clearly define rape as a separate crime, including it under the offence of "zina" or adultery, pederasty and violation of honour.

In practice, a woman often has to prove her lack of consent in a rape case in order to avoid being punished for it.

Although there is no distinct penalty for rape, there is a distinction - the so-called honour crimes. Those who commit them are exempt from the charge of murder, the conviction is discretionary and imprisonment is for a maximum of two years.

A 30-year-old woman serving a six year sentence in Pul-e-Charkhi jail became the victim of this clause of the law.

When her husband killed his neighbour during a dispute, he claimed he had been driven to murder by the man committing adultery with his "property". He received leniency from the court and his wife was jailed for committing adultery.

Mercenary reasons

Several women who were interviewed by UNODC were verbally divorced and had married again, but were later "reported" by their first husbands and jailed. In one case the woman had been in her second marriage for 10 years and had given birth to five children.

"Rape may be treated as adultery and punished accordingly if a settlement cannot be reached between the two families concerned"

UN Office of
Drugs and Crime
The reason is not necessarily malignancy but often mercenary. If a man can prove his "property" has been seized by another, he can claim compensation using the threat of the criminal justice system.

But, as the UNODC report says, being in prison for moral crimes is only part of the problem.

Other women are dealt with outside the formal justice system, a threat that still awaits the prisoners when they step out of jail.

Shukria Noori, the national project co-ordinator for social reintegration of prisoners, says that women may be "threatened, violated and even killed".

Shelters for women do not have the capacity to absorb the large numbers of victims and are reluctant to accept inmates from prison, she said.

Borrey said there is a lack of support from the government, non-governmental organisations and the community to ensure that the women are reintegrated.

Even if she does not become the victim of a so-called honour crime, a female prisoner's chance of survival after her release is very low.

Social mores

In a substantial number of cases, her family refuses to take her back. She has few marketable skills and Afghanistan's social mores make it extremely difficult for a single woman to survive on her own.

"A lot of women in prison are not criminals according to international standards" Dorothea Grieger, a criminal justice programme assistant with UNODC, said.

"But the underlying principles of minimum standard rules apply to them as well. Improvement should be used to help them to lead self-supporting lives after release."

This is something that UN bodies and women's organisations like Medica Mondiale are trying to address.

Legal aid as well as literacy, education and vocational training inside the prisons would empower the women prisoners with some marketable skills that could help them survive.

But most important of all perhaps is preparing them for release.

Mediation with the family, local elders or religious leaders enhances the chances of her acceptance. Sudden releases, like during Id al-Fitr, can actually harm the women more, leaving them on the streets.

Source: Al Jazeera

Why Do Doctors Get to Decide When a Woman Is Old Enough to Have Her 'Tubes Tied'?

Why Do Doctors Get to Decide When a Woman Is Old Enough to Have Her 'Tubes Tied'?
By Bonnie Zylbergold, American Sexuality Magazine
Posted on July 27, 2007, Printed on September 4, 2007
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This article is reprinted from American Sexuality Magazine.

"I'm sending you this email as I can't sleep after the non communication we had after dinner ... I respect your decision not to have children but what I do not understand is why you get so defensive, you never give why? What's helped you make this decision? I could tell my friends and family 10 reasons why I didn't want a child or a husband [when I was your age]. You just place a high wall between us and make statements that I don't understand and you don't explain. IE, it will never happen I'm making sure of that??? Are you having surgery? Is your partner? Are you ill? What does this statement mean? I make a statement, "Never say never," again you get upset. Lauren*, no one knows what life holds for them... There are some decisions you'll make in life that will live with you forever and I want you to realize this. I do understand this will come with time and maturity. I guess we'll always have a wall between us due to our strong wills and selfishness."
-- love mom (Mrs. Green*)

Ever since Lauren Green was a little girl, she knew she wasn't interested in motherhood. While other girls dreamt of dolls that peed, Green fixated on everything but: "I was going to get married as soon as I graduated college, and I would design my houses and I would design my wedding, but there were never any babies involved."

She's been dealing with the ardent disapproval of friends and family ever since. Especially from mom.

According to Green, now a twenty-five year old graduate student, not so cryptic emails like the above are standard between her and her mother, whose dreams of one day being called "nana" are radically out of sync with her daughter's choice to remain child-free.

"My mother just thinks I'll change my mind. I think a lot of people think I'll change my mind," admits Green, by now all too familiar with the weary, knowing smiles of those who think they know her better than she knows herself. People, so it seems, are somewhat inept when it comes to distinguishing womanhood from motherhood.

For now (at least) mama Green needn't worry; though she's tried, and will try again, Green has thus far been denied any permanent form of birth control, specifically tubal ligation.

Tubal ligation -- known more commonly as "getting your tubes tied," -- involves closing the fallopian tubes so that the egg cannot travel from the ovary to the uterus, where, normally, a fertilized egg would develop into a fetus.

"[Planned Parenthood of Boston**] said it was much too permanent and weren't going to give it to me, plus my insurance wasn't going to cover it," recalls Green. What's more, according to Green, "It was all and only about my age." She was twenty-two at the time.

Green's experience is not that unusual. Though no actual laws have ever been put into place, most OBGYNs refuse to provide women under thirty with permanent forms of contraception. Dr. Daniel Wiener, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University in Montreal, is one such doctor.

With thirty plus years of medical practice, Dr. Wiener finds no good reason for putting otherwise healthy patients in surgery: for one, there are anesthetic risks involved. Plus, tubal ligations are considered elective surgeries (assuming the patient can use other, less invasive forms of birth control). More pressing, still, is the fear that a patient may one day change her mind. Sound familiar?

"Twenty-one to thirty, that's a big decade. A huge decade," says Dr. Wiener. "A woman who is twenty-five and says, 'That's it, I've made my choice,' I would probably just have to say, 'You're making a twenty-five year old choice. You sure that's going to be a thirty-eight or thirty-nine year old choice?'"

In other words, come back when you're older.

For Green and the growing number of women forgoing motherhood, waiting till they're thirty just isn't good enough. "It's a vast limitation of my reproductive rights," opines Green, thoroughly unimpressed with Dr. Wiener's approach. "Doctors will say, 'I don't like to prescribe elective surgeries for people who don't need them.' Whereas if you don't want to have a baby, you don't want to have a baby and it feels fairly necessary to me."

"It's an issue of agency, and who gets to make that choice," adds Christine Brooks, a post doctoral fellow studying the purposefully barren at the Institute of Trans Personal Psychology in the Bay Area.

According to Brooks, "The argument that these women might change their minds is a paternalistic argument. It questions a woman's inner knowing, her own path in life. It also suggests that women don't know what's best for them and that they have to defer to a medical authority to make life decisions."

Yet doctors routinely make life decisions for other people. And with more than three decades of practice, Dr. Wiener isn't about to question his proficiency on the subject:

"Why do we arbitrarily choose thirty? Because of the thirty years of practice in my life. Because of the number of years of experience that we, as physicians, have come to see that twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven year old women have, historically, more often than not, told you they regretted their decision to get their tubes tied."

Brooks suggests otherwise. Drawing on her research examining "grounded theory exploration of the early articulation of intentional childlessness," for which she interviewed thirty women, she concludes that the consistency of women maintaining their original choice not to have children is extremely high. The real problem, according to Brooks, "is the dearth of choices given to them in terms of their reproductive freedoms. "For instance, they themselves had very positive self-regard, but had to deal with 'the denial of validity' from others." (Or Mrs. Green, if you so happen to be her daughter.) Not surprisingly, many are turning to the Internet for support.

A number of groups, such as and Childfree by Choice, have made their views known in cyberspace. It only takes a few clicks to realize that Green is far from alone:

"I am almost 22 and do not want to have sex until I get my tubes tied. The risk of pregnancy is just too horrifying to me. In fact, it is my greatest fear. How do I find a doctor who will perform this procedure on someone my age? Do you have to be 30 in all states? Could enough money get me a ligation? Or could I make some kind of appeal with a convincing argument?"

"I don't think there are laws. Most doctors have a general criteria they'd like you to meet (26 w/2 kids, for example,) but some will do it if you want. My own OB said he'll do that on anyone who wants it -- if you know -- than you know! Just keep calling around to different OB/GYNs and ask what their beliefs are on someone with your age & situation. Keep calling until you find someone. Good luck!"

The frustration is palpable. And it doesn't look like things are going to simmer down anytime soon. The National Center of Health Statistics reports that the percentage of women of childbearing age who define themselves as voluntarily childless is growing, from 2.4 percent in 1982, to 4.3 percent in 1990, to 6.6 percent in 1995, in other words 4.1 million women (the most recent statistic available).

With their numbers increasing, the "childless by choice" have already inspired their own five letter acronym: "DINKS," originally referring to any committed couple without children, stands for Double Income No Kids. The word was created in the 1990s, when demographic studies uncovered the self-obvious fact that couples without children have a higher level of disposable income on average. But apart from its ostensibly light hearted tone, the term does little for those assuming its moniker; DINKS are frequently dubbed egotistical, cold, and money hungry. Unnatural even.

"It's still kind of a cultural norm that you will have and want children," Green says. "I think people are very wary of people who don't want kids."

Some, like Suzan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, authors of The Mommy Myth, have gone as far as to tag the backlash the "new momism."

Douglas and Michaels explain that the new momism oppresses all women by reducing their worth to childbearing and rearing; that in an overwhelmingly child oriented society, a woman is not complete without a child; she must be the primary caregiver of that child, and she must devote herself utterly to her children. Lest she be called "selfish" or "immature."

Whatever one's reasons for declining parenthood (some cite financial motives, others, careers -- there's even an entire group citing environmental reasons and overpopulation) most people simply don't take kindly to those who can, but don't, have kids. Particularly in a time where infertility rates are on the rise.

While Green has no way of knowing for certain whether or not she's fertile, she remains undaunted by her "waste of womb."

"I think there's definitely this idea where a woman's function is to have babies cause your body is made to do it," she says. "My body is made to do a lot of things. It's made to run. That doesn't mean I go running every day. Nor should I have to."

As for Mrs. Green, she's got a long trek in front of her. By her only daughter's estimate, "She should be crying a lot over the next, I don't know, how many years before I'm past my prime childbearing years? I'm guessing twenty years."

At least it's not thirty.

* Names have been changed for this article.
** Planned Parenthood of Boston no longer offers tubal ligations and could not be reached for comment.

Bonnie Zylbergold is the assistant editor of American Sexuality magazine.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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