Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blogs Comment On Abortion Myths, 'Pro-Life Atheists,' PEPFAR, Proposed HHS Conscience Rule

The following summarizes selected women's health-related blog entries.

~ "Abortion Myth About Depression Falls Before Science," Bonnie Erbe, U.S. World and News Report's Thomas Jefferson Street blog: The claim by antiabortion-rights advocates that abortion can lead to mental health problems is "another claim [that] fell prey to scientific accuracy" with the release of a Johns Hopkins University review that said there is no study to-date that supports the argument, Erbe writes. "The list of myths propagated by the right-wing abortion foes goes on and on," she writes, adding that the "fight to deny women the right to control their own fertility is still going on," despite the election of President-elect Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights. President Bush "is trying to pay off debts to the Christian right" with a proposed HHS conscience rule that would allow health care providers who receive federal grants to opt out of care based on their moral or religious beliefs. Erbe writes that she "remember[s] in 2001 watching President Bush undo so many of the gains women's rights advocates made under President Clinton." She concludes that "this time the pendulum is swinging in the direction of the future, not the past" (Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog, 12/4).

~"Not on Our Watch: Part Two of Two," National Right to Life blog: The "deception" of abortion rights advocates "to make inroads into constituencies that normally would never have given a pro-abortion maximalist like [President-elect Barack Obama] a second thought" is the "fabricated out of whole cloth myth that pro-abortionist and pro-life alike are bent on 'reducing the number of abortions,'" a National Right to Life blog post says in response to a recent Newsweek article on atheists who oppose abortion rights. The blog says that the "strategy" of reducing the need for abortions is one that "Obama and his ilk will nonetheless carry in front of them like a banner." It continues, "provided they offer a rhetorical crumb or two along the way," abortion-rights supporters "are to accept that 'progress' is made in" compromise between the two sides. Although the Newsweek article said "such honest reflection" about the complexity of the issues involving abortion is "progress indeed," the blog concludes it is "nothing of that sort. Far from honest reflection, it is both morally tone-deaf and plagued by an arrogant self-assurance that allows them to believe that if they speak loud enough and long enough and insincerely enough, truth can be turned on its head" (National Right to Life blog, 12/2).

~ "Strengthening PEPFAR: A Plan for Immediate Action," Jodi Jacobson, RH Reality Check: Although President-elect Barack Obama will face "many challenges" when he takes office Jan. 20, "[h]e will also inherit the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief," Jacobson writes. She continues that "PEPFAR presents both opportunities and challenges," including "several controversial policies originally supported by the Bush administration" that "undermine efforts to stop the spread of HIV by denying critical services to the most vulnerable, blocking effective integration of health services and failing to effectively address the social and economic roots of this pandemic." Jacobson's blog post suggests steps that Obama should take to "initiate the change PEPFAR needs, ensuring we simultaneously save more lives and strengthen health systems while making the best possible use of scarce public dollars." Among her suggestions, Jacobson recommends appointing a Global AIDS Coordinator who "embraces both the public health and human rights dimensions of risk and disease and who recognizes that sex and sexuality are normal attributes of being human." She writes that Obama also should "talk about the role of safer sex in prevention" and "immediately direct" the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator "to support flexible interpretations of requirements in the law affecting spending on 'abstinence and be faithful' programs." She continues that PEPFAR funding should also support programs that "equip all individuals ... with the education, information, skills and methods necessary to engage in sexual relations," in order to "move beyond the formulaic 'ABC' approach and away from the 'abstinence versus condoms' debate." Obama also should instruct OGAC "to promote wherever necessary the integration of relevant HIV and AIDS services with broader reproductive and sexual health services." In addition, he should reverse the "Mexico City policy," or "global gag rule," and restore funding for the United Nations Population Fund (Jacobson, RH Reality Check, 12/4).

~ "Still Waiting for Administration to Impose 'Conscience Rule'", Our Bodies, Our Blog: The proposed HHS conscience rule "would likely have the effect of seriously reducing access to legal health care such as oral contraceptives," an Our Bodies, Our Blog entry says. The blog states that "we're watching closely to see it if is rammed through during the last days of the Bush administration." According to the blog, recent newspaper articles "suggest that the rule could still be finalized" even though the Bush administration has "obviously missed" its own regulation deadline of Nov. 1. The blog entry also highlights a recent discussion on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" (Our Bodies, Our Blog, 12/3).

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some Abortion Foes Shifting Focus From Ban to Reduction

Washington Post 11/18/08

Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions.

Some of the activists are actually working with abortion rights advocates to push for legislation in Congress that would provide pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education -- services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies.

Their efforts, they said, reflect the political reality that legal challenges to abortion rights will not be successful, especially after Barack Obama's victory this month in the presidential election and the defeat of several ballot measures that would have restricted access to abortions. Although the activists insist that they are not retreating from their belief that abortion is immoral and should be outlawed, they argue that a more practical alternative is to try to reduce abortions through other means.

"If one strategy has failed and failed over decades, and you have empirical information that tells how you can honor life and encourage women to make that choice by meeting real needs that are existing and tangible, why not do that?" said Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Kmiec, a Catholic who opposes abortion, was criticized by some abortion foes because he endorsed Obama.

Obama supports abortion rights and is unlikely to appoint justices who would overturn the controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed the practice. But during the campaign, he spoke of wanting to reduce abortions and of finding "common ground" in the debate.

The new effort is causing a fissure in the antiabortion movement, with traditional groups viewing the activists as traitors to their cause. Leaders worry that the approach could gain traction with a more liberal Congress and president, although they do not expect it to weaken hard-core opposition.

"It's a sellout, as far as we are concerned," said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League. "We don't think it's really genuine. You don't have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions."

The diverse group that has come together to try a different tack includes prominent pastors such as Joel Hunter; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization; and, a coalition of Catholics and evangelical leaders.

Others include Catholics United, a progressive Catholic lay group; Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center, a prominent Jesuit thinker; and Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law and a Catholic canon lawyer.

Their actions have not come without consequences. Cafardi resigned from the board of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio after writing a column supporting Obama and declaring the abortion battle lost. Kmiec has received hate e-mail, and a priest denied him Communion in April. And Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has criticized Kmiec and several of the groups involved, saying they have "undermined the progress pro-lifers have made and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue."

The activists say the time has come for more cooperation on difficult social and moral issues such as abortion.

"We are not compromising our values, but at the same time we are finding a way we can all accomplish our agenda, or at least a piece of our agenda, together," said Hunter, pastor of Northland in Longwood, Fla., one of the nation's largest churches, and a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals. "There's got to be a way we can take some of these hot-button issues and cooperate, rather than simply keep fighting and becoming gridlocked in this hostility of the culture wars."

The activists are beginning with ad campaigns to raise their profile, advocating legislation and planning rallies. They say they hope to harness the two-thirds of Americans who want a "middle ground" on abortion, according to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Some are working with Third Way, an abortion rights think tank, to build political support among Democratic lawmakers.

Even if Roe v. Wade was overturned, many in the coalition say, the battle would return to the states. And that is no guarantee that abortion would be outlawed.

Overturning the Supreme Court decision "is not going to dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America," said Third Way spokeswoman Rachel Laser. "So here is a whole other way that promises to be very productive in terms of their goals, which is reducing the number of abortions, and that also serves the purpose of healing the divide and reasoning together."

A study sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good cited recent research that found that the abortion rate among women living below the poverty line is more than four times that of women above 300 percent of the poverty level. The authors of the study found that social and economic supports, such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families, have contributed significantly to reducing abortions in the United States over the past two decades.

"Clearly, poverty impacts the abortion rate," said Alexia Kelley, the group's executive director.

But established abortion opponents dispute that approach. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said last week during a meeting of the conference that social-service spending is no substitute for legal protections for the unborn. He also questioned research showing that improvements in areas such as employment and health care can reduce the likelihood that a woman will want to end her pregnancy. "It's still to be proven what the connection is between poverty and abortion," he said.

Undeterred by critics, the activists are pushing for the passage of legislation that would increase funding for social services for pregnant women, such as low-cost health care and day care; provide grants at colleges for pregnant women and new mothers' education; and set up maternity group homes. Two House bills with backing from various groups are the Pregnant Women's Support Act, sponsored by Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), and the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, sponsored by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who oppose abortion.

Those bills are largely opposed by antiabortion groups. "You don't work to limit the murder of innocent victims," said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League. "You work to stop it."

To preserve the coalition, activists have avoided taking positions on the more sensitive aspects of the issue, such as laws that restrict abortions, contraception, sex education and abstinence-only programs.

"There are certain things that we probably all can support, and then there are other things that we're going to disagree about, and you find common ground on what you can, and then you have a political battle on your other issues," said Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners.

Staff writer Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

South Dakota Abortion Ban Fails!


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Two years after South Dakotans rejected a nearly total ban on abortion, the early count in Tuesday's election showed a less restrictive ballot measure also failing.

With about one-third of the precincts reporting, Initiated Measure 11 was losing with 55 percent of the votes against it.

If passed, the measure would likely send a legal challenge of Roe v. Wade to the U.S. Supreme Court, so the issue is being watched closely nationally.

This year's ballot measure was less restrictive than the 2006 measure, which was rejected by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.

The new version would outlaw abortions but included exceptions for rape, incest and pregnancies that threaten the life or health of the woman. Some voters said they wanted those exceptions when they rejected the 2006 measure.

Opponents of Initiated Measure 11 said it would jeopardize the patient-doctor relationship because physicians could be criminally charged for exceeding its bounds.

Supporters said the focus is on preventing abortions in South Dakota, and doctors abiding by standard medical practices would have nothing to fear.

South Dakota Right To Life had urged voters to reject Initiated Measure 11. The group supported the 2006 measure but not the latest one because the exceptions were added.

Jon Schafer, 42, of Sioux Falls voted for Measure 11.

"I'm a little more comfortable with it now," he said of the exceptions.

Inez Grenz, 64, of Eureka said she did, as well.

"It will save 97 percent of all abortions and eventually Roe v. Wade could be overturned," she said.

But Jon Gonzales, 30, of Sioux Falls voted against the ban.

"I believe in choice. It's a no-win thing. They're just kicking at a dead horse," he said of the second attempt.

Ron Kjellsen, 72, of Watertown said he voted against it but with mixed emotions.

"I would say I'm very torn about it. I don't think there should be abortions, one side of me is saying. The other side of me is saying, why should a 72-year-old man be making a decision for a 16-, 17- , 18-year-old girl who got in trouble?"

According to the state Health Department, 748 abortions were performed in 2006, the last year for which records are available.

Monday, October 27, 2008

South Dakota to reconsider vote on abortion ban

The measure is a version of a 2006 one but has exceptions for rape and incest.
By Nicholas Riccardi
LA Times

October 27, 2008

Two years ago, South Dakota voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed ban on abortions that proponents had hoped would set up a Supreme Court showdown over Roe vs. Wade.

Next month, the state ballot will include another abortion ban with similar goals -- but observers say this one is far more likely to pass.

The new ballot measure would allow for abortions in the case of rape and incest, exceptions that were not in the 2006 version. The absence of such exceptions is believed to have doomed the earlier version to failure.

"They said we'd gone too far, that we had to have exceptions for rape and incest," said Leslee Unruh, an antiabortion activist who has backed both measures.

This year's measure permits abortion in cases of rape -- provided the mother identifies the violator, a DNA test proves it is his child and the procedure occurs in the first 20 weeks -- and incest.

But opponents contend the initiative does not provide as much leeway as advertised.

"They tried to twist it to make it seem like there are exceptions, but there are not exceptions," said Jan Nicolay, a former state legislator who is co-chairwoman of South Dakota for Healthy Families, which opposes the initiative.

Though the initiative allows an abortion to protect the mother's health, abortion rights advocates say the standard is impossibly high: the threat of a major organ failure. They note that a pregnant woman with breast cancer, for example, couldn't seek chemotherapy or other treatment that could cause a miscarriage because an organ was not immediately at risk.

They also have publicized a memo from attorneys for the state's largest hospital chain that warns Measure 11 "will require a physician to choose between possibly committing a felony or subjecting a pregnant woman to a higher degree of medical risk than what would otherwise be clinically desirable."

The attacks frustrate Unruh, who hoped for a straightforward discussion of whether voters wanted unfettered abortion access. "The South Dakota law is a reasonable law," she said.

But the continuing abortion battles in South Dakota show that abortion is not a black and white issue, said Elizabeth T. Smith, a political science professor at the University of South Dakota. "The average citizen doesn't have a straight up or down vote on abortion," Smith said. "There are gradations of support based on different circumstances."

South Dakota already has what are considered the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, including a requirement that doctors warn that abortion can lead to increased risk of suicide and a mandatory 24-hour period between the time a woman requests an abortion and has one.

There is only one abortion clinic in the state, in Sioux Falls, and Planned Parenthood flies in physicians from Minnesota because no doctors in South Dakota will risk regularly performing the procedure.

Unruh said her campaign's polls showed Measure 11 slightly ahead. A poll released Sunday by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader/KELO-TV showed a dead heat, with voters divided 44% to 44%. Both sides agree the tally will be closer than in 2006, when voters rejected, 56% to 44%, an abortion ban signed into law by Republican Gov. Michael Rounds.

In allowing the exceptions, the measure's backers have had to deal with some dissension in the antiabortion movement. Some argue that if abortion is truly murder, there should be no exceptions other than for the life of the mother.

"Our biggest battles are with our own people," Unruh said.

The proposed ban also aggravates a rift among antiabortion groups over strategy. Some groups prefer to incrementally increase restrictions on abortion and appoint more sympathetic judges. Unruh and her backers hope abortion rights groups will sue to overturn the measure if it passes, forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe vs. Wade.

Even if the effort fails again, Unruh said activists would try again at the ballot box in 2010.

"I'm not tired," she said. "We're going to continue. We believe in this."

Monday, October 20, 2008

President Ortega vs. the Feminists

NOTE FROM THE COAT HANGER PROJECT: The Sandinistas, a once liberal, revolutionary party of Nicaragua, have sold out women's rights (including abortion rights) to stay in power.

By Tim Rogers
Time Magazine

President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua's macho and mustachioed Sandinista commandante of the 1970s and '80s, may claim the mantle of revolutionary "new man," but Latin America's feminists insist Ortega is a dirty old man. Throughout the continent, Ortega is being hounded by feminist groups over his alleged sexual abuse of stepdaughter Zoilamerica Narvaez during the 1980s. The allegation first surfaced in 1998, but was eventually dismissed by a Sandinista judge without investigation or trial — despite an investigation by the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, which determined that the case had merit. In most democracies, the furor would have been enough to sink any political career. But not in Nicaragua, where Ortega — protected by legal immunity and a judicial system stacked with Sandinista judges — has not only survived but thrived, returning to the presidency in 2007 and amassing more power than ever before. But now that Ortega is trying to reclaim his place in the international pantheon of revolutionary heroes, the feminists are crying foul. Unable to pursue him through Nicaragua's legal system, they are instead subjecting the Sandinista leader to the tribunal of public opinion.

Ortega's accusers are not limited to Nicaragua's small feminist organizations. The minister of women's affairs in Paraguay's new left-wing government, Gloria Rubin, whipped up a media storm in August by calling Ortega a "rapist" and protesting his invitation to President Fernando Lugo's inauguration — an event Ortega eventually skipped to avoid the heat. A week later in Honduras, Selma Estrada, minister of the National Institute of Women, resigned her government post in protest over the official invitation of Ortega to Tegucigalpa. And in El Salvador, feminist leaders are asking their government to declare Ortega persona non grata before he's scheduled to attend a presidential summit there at the end of the month.

Throughout Latin America, the feminist movement has become Ortega's nemesis, challenging his efforts to restore his image as a progressive and revolutionary leader. Although Narvaez last month wrote to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights asking it to close the books on her case — she did not retract the accusation that Ortega had sexually abused her, but simply said she'd made a decision to "find a solution" and asked for others to respect her privacy — the president's problem with the women of Latin America continues to grow. Last week in Honduras, Ortega had to sneak in through the back door of a Central American presidential summit to avoid feminists who were waiting for him out front holding pictures of his stepdaughter.

"This is Ortega's main vulnerability, which is making it very difficult for him to recapture the image of the great Latin American revolutionary leader like Fidel Castro," said Maria Teresa Blandon, an activist with Nicaragua's Feminist Movement.

Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, who has long been accused by feminists of being a silent accomplice in her daughter's alleged abuse, are fighting back with a Sandinista inquisition. Ortega has used all his tentacles — Sandinista media outlets, government ministries and fanatical party structures — to investigate, slander and harass Nicaragua's feminist movement, which is being informally accused of everything from money laundering and conspiring with the CIA, to "illegally" promoting abortion, pornography and "assassinating children".

Murillo has even tried to reinvent the feminist movement in her own image by penning an Orwellian essay called "Feminism and Low Intensity War." Murillo's feminist manifesto is intended to change the way Nicaraguan women look at feminism, but her views will hardly be deemed transformative — she lauds the traditional role of a woman as wife and mother, and rails against other feminists as "counterrevolutionaries" who "dress in the clothing of women, but have never known the sensibility of a woman's heart."

Murillo tried to give life to her new feminist vision through the unveiling of a new women's movement, "The Blanca Arauz Movement for the Dignity of Women's Rights," named after the wife of Sandinista namesake Augusto Sandino. The movement, which materialized overnight, is made up of Sandinista activists who profess their solidarity with "our sister, Rosario Murillo" and denounce other feminist groups critical of Ortega. The "Blanca Arauz" movement recently tried to legitimize itself by requesting a meeting with other feminist organizations in El Salvador, but there wasn't interest in networking with Murillo's group.

Now the Sandinista inquisition is escalating from threats to actions. Last Friday, state prosecutors and police raided the central office of the Autonomous Women's Movement (MAM) and another local NGO that has helped finance the feminist movement and removed all the files, computers and bookkeeping from their offices, in what Public Prosecutor Armando Juarez called a raid to "find evidence" to mount a case against them. The local opposition press denounced the raid as a "Gestapo" tactic, and women's rights activists from across Latin America released a joint statement from Guatemala denouncing the Ortega government's "institutionalized misogynism" and "campaign to criminalize feminists."

Nicaraguan journalist and feminist leader Sofia Montenegro, a central target in the government's crackdown, predicts Ortega's "psychologically vulgar and manipulative campaign" will eventually boomerang on him. Montenegro says the personal nature of the attacks against her have been so crass that even the machista element of Nicaraguan society is rejecting what many view as a cowardly persecution of women. "Men think: that could be my sister, or my wife," she said.

The attacks have only served to "throw more wood on the fire" and reinforce Ortega's misogynistic image abroad, Montenegro said. Even now that Narvaez has withdrawn her abuse case, the protests will continue to grow because the movement is now "out of her hands," Montenegro says.

"The case of Nicaragua has become super emblematic in Latin America because there was a revolution here and it was supposed to bring social change," she said. "If this was Pinochet's Chile, no one would expect differently, but with Ortega, it's doubly hard."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Women on Waves sparks controversy in Spain


MADRID (AFP) — A Spanish pro-life group said it plans to protest the arrival on Thursday of a Dutch boat that is offering to provide abortions that circumvent Spain's strict laws.

The boat is due to anchor off the Mediterranean port of Valencia, the Dutch non-profit organisation Women on Waves said on its web site.

From Friday, it will offer abortions on the ship in international waters under the Netherlands' more liberal abortion laws.

This "symbolic initiative" will allow "abortions outside Spanish law for the first time in Spain's recent history, but without violating it," said Spanish gynaecologist Josep Lluis Carbonell, one of the promoters.

But it has already sparked controversy.

Valencia's conservative mayor Rita Barbera termed the plan a "provocation that has sparked indignation."

The anti-abortion group Provida in Valencia said its members plan a protest aboard a smaller vessels when the boat arrives.

Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985 but only for certain cases: up to 12 weeks of pregnancy after a rape; up to 22 weeks in the case of malformation of the foetus; and at any point if the pregnancy represents a threat to the physical or mental health of the woman.

But the Socialist government last month said it plans to introduce a new law that will offer greater legal protection for women who wish to have an abortion and doctors who carry out the procedure.

The Women on Waves ship visited Ireland in 2001, Poland in 2003 and Portugal in 2004, sparking protests in each country.

Plans to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland shelved

UK Telegraph
By Rosa Prince and Martin Beckford

Pro-choice Labour MPs had been planning to back an amendment to the Embryology Bill that would allow terminations in Northern Ireland, the only part of Britain where the procedure remains illegal.

They have changed their minds after being privately warned by ministers that with the Stormont executive close to collapse, the move could tip the province's politicians into withdrawing from negotiations.

The MPs still plan to push ahead with separate plans to make access to abortion easier in the rest of the country by removing the requirement for two doctors' signatures and allowing nurses to carry out early-stage terminations, however.

But they face determined opposition from pro-life MPs, backed by church groups, when the Bill is debated in the Commons on Wednesday.

Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP for The Wrekin, said the decision not to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland was a ``welcome U-turn'' but added: ``The decision appears to be more about extending the political life of the Prime Minister - rather than the Government extending the lives of the unborn.

``It appears ministers are still determined to introduce 'drive-thru' abortions where mothers can bypass the advice of their local GP, drive straight to their local clinic and place an order for an abortion.''

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which also includes measures allowing human-animal hybrid embryo research and the creation of ``saviour siblings'', has already been the cause of some of the most heated exchanges in Parliament in recent years.

A series of amendments to lower the upper time limit for abortions from 24 weeks was defeated after an impassioned debate in May and the Bill had been due to clear the Commons in July.

But it was suddenly halted on the intervention of Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, who was said to be keen to see the Northern Ireland amendment pass and wanted more time to raise support for it.

Pro-choice MPs had been confident of success when the Bill returns to the Commons next week, particularly given the forthcoming departure from the Cabinet of Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, who as a committed Catholic had forced Gordon Brown to allow ministers a free vote when it was last debated.

But the Ulster political situation has deteriorated recently, with the Executive failing to meet as scheduled as a result of a disagreement between unionists and republicans over the devolution of policing and justice.

While abortion is one area where Northern Ireland's politicians largely concur - with both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party opposed to legalisation - ministers fear that forcing the amendment through could undermine their attempts to broker an agreement.

As a result, pro-choice Labour MPs have been taken aside and warned not to proceed with their plan.

An amendment has been tabled by Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney north, for but without the full backing of the powerful female Labour pro-choice group, it has little chance of success.

The message was underlined at the ``Ulster Fry'' breakfast meeting at Labour Party Conference, where MPs mingled with Northern Irish politicians - who told them they would consider breaking off communication with the Government over the issue.

Around 1,400 girls and women travel from the province each year to have a termination on the mainland, as the 1967 Act which legalised abortion in the rest of the country was never extended to Northern Ireland.

The Fpa, formerly the Family Planning Association, has now launched an online video campaign aimed at MPs urging them to end the ``discrimination'' that pregnant women in Northern Ireland face if they do not want to have their baby.

Julie Bentley, chief executive of the Fpa, said: ``The leaders of the four main political parties and the leaders of the main church groups in Northern Ireland have all demanded that abortion should remain highly restricted but only 16.6 percent of the Northern Ireland Assembly are women.

``So the situation exists that groups of men are making decisions about women's lives and creating a division of rights and entitlement between women, on the basis that they live in different regions of the UK.''

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lithuanian Abortion Vote Looms Beyond Elections

Women's E-News
Run Date: 10/10/08
By Elisabeth Roy Trudel
WeNews correspondent

(WOMENSENEWS)--A bill currently under review by the parliament in Lithuania--which has one of the lowest abortion rates among Baltic nations--would create one of the most restrictive bans in all of Europe.

The bill--formally called the Draft Act of the Republic of Lithuania on the Protection of Human Life in the Prenatal Stage--is currently pending review by the Health Committee, which is expected to wait until after the Oct. 12 parliamentary elections to present its conclusions and recommendations.

Proponents of the ban have kept it low on the political agenda and have successfully avoided making it a major issue during the election campaign.

Women's rights activists have sought to raise awareness about the bill and its impact as they fear it will be adopted in a rush and without a real and open debate in society if socially conservative parties win the elections.

The draft--strongly backed by the Catholic Church--says "all issues on the protection of life in the prenatal stage should be considered as giving priority to the rights of a child."

Exceptions to the ban would only apply when a pregnancy endangers the life or health of the woman, when a pregnancy is caused by a criminal act or when the fetus has been diagnosed with a severe disability.

Abortion is currently illegal in three of the 27 European Union countries. In Malta abortion is prohibited in all circumstances; specific provisions allowing an abortion to save the woman's life were removed from the criminal code in 1981. Abortion has been illegal in Ireland since 1861 and is only permitted to save the life of the woman. Poland first restricted abortion in 1993 following the end of Communist Party rule and reaffirmed its opposition to abortion in 1997.
Soviet Era Abortion Law

Under existing law a Lithuanian woman can choose to legally terminate an unwanted pregnancy for any reason up to the 12th week, as in most Western countries. The current legislation has been inherited from its status as a republic in the former Soviet Union and has not been changed since the country's independence in 1991.

Among its neighbors, Lithuania has a relatively low abortion rate, spurring the Lithuanian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which does not support abortion as a pregnancy regulation method, to nonetheless question the purpose of the bill. There were 14 abortions per 1,000 Lithuanian women aged 15 to 45 in 2004, far below neighboring Estonia and Latvia, where the rates, respectively, were 33 and 27 abortions per 1,000 women.

Algimantas Ramonas, chair of the National Families and Parents Association of Lithuania, is one of the bill's strong supporters.

"Every child has the right to be born and to live," he told Women's eNews. "Of course a woman has the right to decide on her sexual life and plan her family, but she also has responsibilities. A pregnant woman has a human being inside her, which is not just another part of her body, and she should be proud of it."

On the other side of the bill, Esmeralda Kuliestyle, director of the Vilnius-based Family Planning and Sexual Health Association, decries it as a violation of women's freedom to make their own decisions.

"This is a very dangerous step for Lithuanian women," says Kuliestyle. "It could lead to serious health complications and even to an increase in the maternal mortality rate because of illegal and unsafe abortions."
Authors Sit on Review Committees

While earlier versions of the draft legislation were judged unconstitutional by the parliament's legal affairs committee, the latest draft has been approved by this committee and, last April, also by the human rights committee. Two of the five original authors of the bill sit on these committees.

The authors justify their proposal, saying the bill "reflects the teaching of the Catholic Church and John Paul II."

Kuliestyle objects to the heavy involvement of the Catholic Church in the matter.

"Priests are everywhere: They appear on television, on the radio, in newspapers and even on the Internet," she says. "They say that using contraceptive methods is immoral and that abortion is a crime. They have too much influence, particularly on politicians."

The Catholic Church has traditionally played an important role in Lithuania. During Soviet occupation, the church's underground activities in support of dissidents were a major asset in the struggle for the country's independence. Since then, its influence on society has remained high.

The draft law has been criticized for its vagueness, as it does not clearly state which criminal sanctions women and doctors involved with illegal abortions would face. Because the bill seeks to amend the criminal code and would therefore establish a criminal link between abortion and murder, judges would have discretion to sentence violators of the law to several years' imprisonment.
70 Percent Opposed to Criminalization

A survey conducted by the Family Planning and Sexual Health Association shows that, while most Lithuanians would personally prefer to avoid terminating pregnancies, more than 70 percent of the population regards abortion as matter of individual choice and opposes criminalization.

Authors of the bill take both a moral and practical stance, arguing that abortion indicates a "low moral level of society and a critical demographic situation" in Lithuania. The population in the country has continuously declined--by an average of half a percentage point annually--since the beginning of the 1990s, and the total fertility rate decreased from two children per woman in 1990 to 1.3 children in 2006. Supporters of the bill say an abortion ban would encourage population growth.

Kuliestyle rejects that, arguing that its main effect will be to discriminate against lower-income women. "No matter if abortion is legal or not, women who decide to abort will do it anyway. Those who can afford it will travel to nearby countries where the law isn't so strict. Others who don't have money will turn to unsafe underground operations and put their health at risk."

Since neighboring Poland, a country looked upon by supporters of the legislation in Lithuania, passed its strict abortion ban in 1993, the total fertility rate fell to 1.23 births per woman in 2006 from a higher rate of 2.04 births per woman in 1990. This situation mirrors a general trend in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.

Earlier this year 110 members of the European Parliament--out of 785--sent a letter to Lithuanian deputies urging them to reject the bill, describing it as a "serious backlash on women's reproductive health rights in Lithuania."

Women's rights advocates worry that the bill will be passed as anti-choice factions gain ground at the expense of progressive women's rights.

In June the Lithuanian parliament redefined "family" exclusively as a married, heterosexual couple and their children. As a result, single mothers or fathers, unmarried partners and grandparents raising children no longer constitute a family or qualify for the same level of government assistance as a "traditional family."

Elisabeth Roy Trudel is a freelance journalist from Montreal, Canada, who frequently writes on human rights and social issues.

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Palin On Abortion: I'd Oppose Even If My Own Daughter Was Raped

The Huffington Post

In November 2006, then gubernatorial candidate Sarah Palin declared that she would not support an abortion for her own daughter even if she had been raped.

Granting exceptions only if the mother's life was in danger, Palin said that when it came to her daughter, "I would choose life."

At the time, her daughter was 14 years old. Moreover, Alaska's rape rate was an abysmal 2.2 times above the national average and 25 percent of all rapes resulted in unwanted pregnancies. But Palin's position was palatable within the state's largely Republican political circles.

Now that she's John McCain's vice presidential candidate, Palin's abortion policy (among others) is undergoing renewed scrutiny. The Alaska Republican has long declared herself pro-life. And her credentials on the topic make her the belle of the ball among religious conservatives. But Democrats and abortion rights advocates say her stance, specifically her unwillingness to grant her own child a choice to end a pregnancy induced by rape, is drastically at odds with public opinion -- even among many Republicans.

"This is absolutely outside the mainstream. Even in South Dakota they rejected [outlawing abortion in cases of rape] in '06 because it has gone too far and everyone can identify that in a case of rape or incest a woman should have the chance to make the decision with their family or doctor," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro Choice America. "Women voters are going to reject both her and John McCain, and I think we see it specifically because we reach out to Republicans and independent pro-choice women. They live in the suburbs and exurbs. They are very much part of the mainstream America. And woman in general will reject that ticket."

Palin makes no secret of her abortion views. A member of the group Feminists for Life, she told the Alaska Right to Life Board in 2002 that she "adamantly supported our cause since I first understood, as a child, the atrocity of abortion." In an Eagle Forum Alaska questionnaire filled out during the 2006 gubernatorial race, Palin again stated that she is against abortion unless a doctor determined that a mother's life would end due to the pregnancy.

"I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society," she wrote, "we cannot condone ending an innocent's life."

But it's not just abortion policy that has Democrats up in arms over Palin. In that same 2006 questionnaire, the soon-to-be governor said she would fund abstinence-only education programs in schools. "The explicit sex-ed programs," she added, "will not find my support." The stance, which reflected the priorities of the GOP, nevertheless led to an incredulous editorial in the Juneau Empire.

"Abstinence may be a laudable goal, but failing to educate teenagers about how to protect themselves from disease or unintended pregnancy is tragically misguided. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, abstinence-only programs do not reduce sexual activity, teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Every day 10,000 U.S. teens contract a sexually transmitted disease, 2,400 get pregnant and 55 contract HIV. Unintended pregnancies happen to Republicans, Democrats and people of all faiths."

While Palin's positions have drawn the ire and concern of the pro-choice and progressive community, they are largely -- save abortions in the case of rape -- in line with John McCain's own stances. The Senator is against federal funding of birth control and sex education. He has called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade and received a zero rating from NARAL. Once, aboard the Straight Talk Express, McCain was asked if he supported the use of contraception or President Bush's abstinence-only education program to stem the spreading of AIDS.

"After a long pause, he said, 'I think I support the president's policy.' Does he believe that contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV? After another long pause, he replied, "You've stumped me."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Madonna Talks About Abortion (From 1994 Interview)

I found this while browsing around on YouTube. It's an interview from 1994 with Madonna and a Swedish journalist. The journalist probes into Madonna's life to talk about her abortions.

If Roe Goes, Our State Will Be Worse Than You Think

Washington Post
By Linda Hirshman
Sunday, September 28, 2008; B01

In the 1980s, when abortion was severely limited in then-West Germany, border guards sometimes required German women returning from foreign trips to undergo vaginal examinations to make sure that they hadn't illegally terminated a pregnancy while they were abroad. According to news stories and other accounts, the guards would stop young women and ask them about drugs, then look for evidence of abortion, such as sanitary pads or nightgowns, in their cars, and eventually force them to undergo a medical examination -- as West German law empowered them to do.

Sounds like a nightmare of a police state, doesn't it? Like something that could never happen in this day and age -- and certainly not in the United States? But depending upon the outcome of this presidential election, it could happen here. This is how.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain opposes abortion, believing that life begins at conception. Imagine that he's elected to the White House and, not long after, one of the aging Supreme Court justices dies or resigns. President McCain appoints a suitably conservative replacement, and a complaisant or cowed Senate confirms the nomination. Then, an ambitious district attorney in Alabama, Delaware or any one of more than a dozen other states with old abortion laws still on the books or a new, untested abortion restriction prosecutes a local clinic for performing the procedure. (Legal scholars pretty much agree that laws from before Roe v. Wade can be revived.) The clinic goes to federal court; after appeals, the case goes to the Supreme Court, which votes 5-4 to overturn Roe. And we're back to the '60s .

Well, that wouldn't be so bad, you may think. Some states (or even cities and counties) will offer abortion, and others won't. Women will just have to go to New York or someplace else if they want or need to end a pregnancy. A lot of states had pretty liberal laws in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade. Even Georgia, one of the two states involved in that case, allowed some abortions for the health of the mother.

But it's not 1972. The climate then was one of growing sympathy for women seeking abortion, triggered in part by stories of those who sought one after realizing that their children would be deformed by the anti-morning-sickness drug thalidomide. Social liberalism was rising; religions weren't much engaged in politics. Today, the politics of abortion have changed. In addition to old laws that would spring back up should Roe be reversed, the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute lists four states -- Louisiana, Missisippi, North and South Dakota -- as having trigger laws explicitly aimed at making abortion criminal upon Roe' s demise, and seven others that have committed to acting to the extent that the court may allow.

The trigger laws are much harsher than the pre- Roe laws; Louisiana's, for instance, would allow abortion only in case of a threat to the mother's life or to a life-sustaining organ. In 1972, roughly 40 percent of the women who got abortions in the United States did so outside their state of residence. There are now more than a million abortions a year. Can you imagine how many women will travel elsewhere if their home states prohibit abortion unless the mother's life is at risk?

The difference today is that some states with criminal abortion laws will almost certainly also forbid their residents to cross state lines to obtain an abortion. Missouri already allows civil litigation against anyone who helps a minor cross state lines to get an abortion without parental consent. Congress was well along to passing a law making it criminal to take a minor from a state requiring parental consent when the Democrats won in 2006 and stopped it.

Is it possible, you ask, that in a post- Roe world, states would be able to pass valid laws stopping women from leaving to obtain an abortion? It seems un-American. But a lot of law professors have looked at this question, and although they're still debating it, many of the best in the business believe that this is something states probably can do. "To speak of the fetus' " home state, and make the home it shares with the mother "a basis" for controlling a woman's ability to get an abortion might "make sense," Columbia law professor Gerald Neuman wrote in 1993 when abortion rights were last in peril.

Under the American constitutional system, a state does have some authority to regulate its citizens' conduct even when they aren't on its territory. The Tenth Amendment and numerous Supreme Court rulings have recognized the broad reach of state sovereignty. In 1792, the Supreme Court approved Virginia's prosecution of a Virginian for stealing a horse from another Virginian, even though the dastardly deed took place entirely in the District of Columbia.

There are, of course, limits to what states can do to stop out-of-state abortions. They have to comply with the restrictions of the federal Constitution, such as the clause saying that no state may deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Courts apply this due-process clause to prohibit states from taking "arbitrary" actions. A state's decision to prosecute a woman for an abortion that it holds to be illegal but that was legal where she got it could be seen as arbitrary -- meddling in behavior that's none of its business -- unless that state shows that it has a legitimate interest in the out-of-state act.

In some indirect -- but ominous -- cases, the Supreme Court has shown itself to be open to the idea that a state has an interest in its citizens' behavior wherever it occurs. In 1985, the court allowed Alabama to prosecute an Alabama defendant for his wife's murder, even though he had already been tried and convicted in Georgia, where the actual murder occurred. In 1993, the court recognized the interest of a state that forbids gambling in upholding a federal law prohibiting broadcasters from tempting its citizens with advertisements for out-of-state lotteries.

There is one case in which the Supreme Court indicated that a state's interest in prohibiting abortion isn't great enough to support reach beyond its borders. In 1975, in Bigelow v. Virginia, the court protected a Virginia newspaper's right to publish ads for a New York abortion-referral service. In its opinion, the court said that "neither could Virginia prevent its residents from traveling to New York to obtain those services, or, as the state concedes, prosecute them for going there."

Sound pretty definitive? It's not, though. The free-speech provisions of the Constitution already protect newspapers in these circumstances, so the court didn't need to make the above determination. Its ruling was essentially what lawyers call a dictum -- meaning that it was just kibitzing, and later courts don't have to pay much attention.

Will the Supreme Court allow a state to prohibit abortion travel? In Bigelow, the court was very anxious to protect its new Roe decision. The seven justices who had voted in favor of Roe were the same ones who protected the newspaper in Bigelow. The losing justices in Bigelow were the same two -- William H. Rehnquist and Byron R. White -- who'd dissented in Roe. But their once-losing position would become the majority position today if a president opposed to abortion appointed a fifth anti-abortion justice. It hardly seems likely that this new majority would feel bound by some kibitzing from the Virginia case.

Moreover, a Supreme Court that reversed Roe could also rule more broadly that the fetus is a person under the Fourteenth Amendment. Such a ruling would be the flip side of Roe, making state support of abortion a constitutional offense. There are barriers to using the Constitution affirmatively to stop abortions nationwide, but such an ambitious ruling would surely encourage the anti-abortion states' most restrictive plans and increase the pressure on Congress to pass a national law restricting abortion. Don't forget that even many Democrats voted in favor of the late-term abortion ban.

Even if the Senate, uncharacteristically, refused to confirm a McCain nominee -- or nominees, if he kept sending up names -- leaving the court at eight justices, women's options would probably erode rapidly. It's easy to imagine the anti-abortion states pushing the envelope with once improbably restrictive laws, such as one requiring clinics to be licensed by the state and prohibiting women from getting abortions in unlicensed clinics, either in- or out-of-state.

If a clinic went to federal court to enjoin such a law, the case would eventually reach one of the 13 federal Courts of Appeal, 11 of which are firmly dominated by Republican appointees and would probably produce a decision either refusing to follow Roe or, more likely, making some transparent distinction between Roe and the new case. In a divided Supreme Court, four justices would probably vote to affirm the lower court, and four to reverse, leaving the appeals court's decision standing. This means that the states that fell within the Circuit in question would come under an anti-abortion umbrella allowing anything up to explicit reversal of Roe.

How would state laws forbidding pregnant women to leave be enforced? The Hope Clinic in Granite City, Ill., is just 10 minutes from the Missouri border. Police from the prohibiting state can just take the license plates of local vehicles at the abortion clinics across the state lines and arrest the women when they re-enter the state. Or a traffic stop can produce a search. Tips from pharmacy workers, disapproving parents or disappointed boyfriends can alert the police to arrest the pregnant woman for intent to seek an abortion out of state. The state law may allow interested parties to seek injunctions to stop her from leaving.

It seems a long way from McCain's bold statement that life begins at conception to police cars waiting on an abortion clinic side street in Granite City. But it's not. If the law were to take this post- Roe course, Americans' lives would be determined by their state citizenship in ways unseen since the Civil War. Professional legal scholars have traced the developments step by step. As constitutional scholar Richard Fallon of Harvard said recently, "If Roe were to go, it would not go gently."

Linda Hirshman, a lawyer and former professor of law and philosophy, is the author, most recently, of "Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World."

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Can You Be a Feminist and Anti-Abortion?

A NOTE from THE COAT HANGER PROJECT: I disagree with Jennifer Baumgardner's position that you can be feminist AND pro-life. While I agree that one can be a feminist and simultaneously have ambivalence about the termination of life, see it as a sad thing, etc., I don't think one can be pro-life and feminist at the same time. I say this because, at its core, the pro-life position seeks to abolish abortion rights for women. Feminism, as I understand it, is about a woman's right to self-determination, to be in control of her own life. If a woman cannot control her own reproduction, she is not free. So in other words, I see the feminist position and the pro-life position as diametrically opposed. And I think there is a danger in giving credit to organizations like "Feminists for Life" for actually having feminist values. To me, organizations like this have simply co-opted the language of feminism to re-package conservative values as a "new" form of liberation.


By Mandy Van Deven, AlterNet
Posted on September 25, 2008, Printed on September 25, 2008

Abortion is, in many ways, a played-out topic in the women's movement, but activist and writer Jennifer Baumgardner (author of Look Both Ways, Manifesta and Grassroots) continues to breathe new life into this contentious issue. In 2004, she created the "I Had an Abortion" speak-out campaign, which both shocked and awed feminists and non-feminists alike through the dissemination of shirts with the controversial "coming out" statement emblazoned across the front. Today, Baumgardner continues to carve out a space for women's narratives and take an unabashed look at issues that have a tendency to be swept under the rug by the abortion rights movement in her new book, Abortion & Life (Akashic Books, 2008). An excerpt follows.

Mandy Van Deven: Why are abortion narratives important, personally and politically, and what makes this moment in history the right time for them to re-surface?

Jennifer Baumgardner: The history of women's gains in reproductive freedom is tied to women speaking out and telling the truth about their lives. The early days of the women's liberation movement saw women shedding shame and guilt by coming out about their illegal abortions; this lent momentum and urgency to the abortion law reform movement. In fact, it was women speaking out that took the movement from one of doctors, legislators and clergymen advising reform to a much more radical repeal movement. This is the right moment for abortion narratives because the movement needs to evolve again. It's no longer 1973. We know much more about fetal development, women who have unplanned pregnancies nowadays don't face as much societal scorn if they have a baby outside of marriage, and abortions have been legal for nearly four decades. Times have changed, and we need new politics to go with these new times. Thus, we should return to women's (and men's) lives to see where the movement needs to go.

MV: Some might say Abortion & Life gives the anti-abortion movement fuel to add to an already raging fire by criticizing the abortion rights movement. How do you respond to what you call "knee-jerk naivete"?

JB: I used to be resistant to hearing that a woman had a bad experience with her doctor or that she was extremely sad or had regrets about her abortion. I chalked it all up to right-wing propaganda. I see it differently now. These stories aren't necessarily the most common abortion experience (the best guess I have is that they account for less than 10 percent), but to suppress them or not want to hear them is a position of weakness. I don't think the abortion rights movement has to be as defensive as we've been. As a movement, we need to turn away from our commitment to arguing with the protesters and listen to the women again. To not do so gives fuel to the anti-abortion movement because then it is only those who oppose abortion who are willing to hear its complicated stories.

MV: In the book, you alternate the use of words like "fetus" and "child". With language being so controversial, why did you vary yours?

JB: I think there is legal truth around this issue, and then there is personal or emotional truth. In terms of the law, there is a difference between a potential child -- a fetus -- who is totally dependent upon its maternal host to survive and an already born baby who is dependent, but not exclusively on its biological mother. I understand the need for that language, but it is limiting and even alienating for many women who have had abortions. I have met women who think of the child -- their word -- every year on the day it was due to be born. I have read journals in abortion clinics in which women write prayers to their unborn babies, asking them to be guardian angels. I don't think "fetus" fits the bill in describing who they are talking about.

MV: I know you've got an entire chapter on this, but can you be a feminist and pro-life?

JB: Yes. Certainly you cannot bomb an abortion clinic and be a feminist, nor can you prohibit another woman from accessing an abortion and call yourself a feminist. But you can say that you believe that life begins at conception, that you are ambivalent or even deeply sad about abortion, or that you don't want to attend the March for Women's Lives. What you do have to do is find a way to be authentically pro-life that isn't anti-woman. You can work on birth control and sex education. You can become a foster parent. You can work with your place of worship or elected representatives to make sure women who are having abortions are supported. There is so much to do on the pro-life side that simply isn't being done.

MV: Mainstream -- white -- reproductive rights activists have recently begun to co-opt the language and politics of more radical women of color-led groups like SisterSong. There is a long history of white feminists claiming the theory and practice of women of color as their own, and many times getting it all wrong. How do you see this playing out today?

JB: The reproductive justice frame that is emerging was developed by women of color, and it provides a way for the movement to evolve to more clearly represent the diversity of women who get abortions, as you allude. Reproductive justice says that there is no objective experience of "choice" -- that we all make reproductive decisions within a community and have to deal with whatever oppressions act on that community. It also says that we should all have the right to choose an abortion, adoption or raising a child; to choose the conditions under which we give birth; and to parent the children we have.

I see white activists and thinkers, like Marlene Gerber Fried, who really believe in reproductive justice and work in relationship with organizations like SisterSong, but Loretta Ross comes right out and says that, though everyone loves the term "reproductive justice," few want to include the women of color who created it. That's obviously wrongheaded. Ross and others are working on a book that will lay out the theory and strategy more clearly, so I hope this problem will diminish a bit in the future.

MV: Can you talk about how your pro-choice position has changed over time?

JB: I'm clearer than ever that most restrictions on abortion are merely punitive and do not have a pro-life function at all. I'm radically pro-abortion in that I don't want any restrictions, just ways to support women who want to end a pregnancy to have earlier, better abortions whenever possible. I also think that fetuses are human life, and I'm not cold to the process of ending that life. I used to think of an abortion as nothing more than removing inanimate tissue. I've seen abortions now, which challenged me to face its reality. I can face it, and I think it is the moral responsibility of pro-abortion people to not protect themselves from the thornier or grislier aspects of abortion.

MV: You write again and again in Abortion & Life about the humility that you felt throughout the "I Had an Abortion" campaign, and it's been four years since you unveiled the T-shirts. How has this work affected you?

JB: I know! They were on the Drudge Report the night that Planned Parenthood's very courageous Gloria Feldt addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2004, and here we are heading into the convention again. I feel humility mainly because I haven't had an abortion, and I'm not an expert on that experience. I have listened to hundreds of abortion stories, I've visited dozens of clinics, I've interviewed countless activists and lawyers, and I've had an unplanned pregnancy, but women who have had abortions know more than I do. I see myself as a conduit to their expertise, and I'm still open to hearing what I need to learn.


Abortion & Life Excerpt

In 1993, Amy Richards (then the twenty-three-year-old co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation) was on a panel at a local New York City high school discussing feminism, when a sixteen-year-old girl timidly inquired whether one could be pro-life and a feminist. Amy answered promptly: "No. Next question." Amy recalls that Angel Williams, another activist on the panel, looked the girl in the eyes and said, "Being pro-life doesn't make you ineligible to be a feminist." Amy was infuriated by Angel's comment. "The only thing that made me feel better," recalls Amy, "was knowing that I was simply the better feminist, while Angel was willing to compromise feminism's core values."

Years later, after Amy and I had co-written two books addressing third-wave feminism, we became intrigued by that same recurring question. At a certain point in nearly every college classroom we visited, an earnest woman would raise her hand and recount the ways in which she felt she was a feminist ("I directed my campus production of The Vagina Monologues"; "I founded a group in high school to build schools for girls in Afghanistan"; etc.). Then she'd say, "But can you be a feminist and pro-life?"

It's a challenge to combine those identities, but Amy and I have both learned that these women are not asking if bombing an abortion clinic can fall within the realm of feminism. They aren't even wondering if it is okay to keep others from accessing an abortion and still call themselves feminists. They are usually asking if it's okay not to prioritize abortion, not to go to the March for Women's Lives, not to raise money for women's procedures. They are asking if they can believe that abortion is the taking of a life, even a sacred human life, and still be a feminist. If not, then these women (and men) see no alternative than to join the swelling ranks of "I'm not a feminist but ... " They can't suddenly abandon their belief about fetal life. So, are there organizations that represent the pro-life person who doesn't believe that women are second-class citizens?

There are at least two very visible groups that identify as both pro-woman and pro-life: Democrats for Life of America and Feminists for Life of America. Democrats for Life was founded in 1999, initially with four chapters but has grown to more than forty. While their executive director Kristen Day cites a December 2003 Zogby poll finding that forty-three percent of Democrats oppose abortion except in the case of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother, she also concedes that most Democrats do not want to recriminalize the procedure. While Democrats for Life's leaders in Congress include Jim Oberstar, who helped craft the extremely punitive Hyde Amendment, the stated mission of the group is to make good on the party plank holding that abortion should be rare. In 2005, Democrats for Life began pushing "95-10," a plan they hoped would reduce abortions by ninety-five percent in ten years.

The strategy, however, doesn't have a serious plan of action. Their platform doesn't advocate birth control and provides little to inspire a person who wants to be true to both their feminism and the value they place on fetal life. At first glance, Feminists for Life appears to provide a good haven for the pro-life feminist, but their practices echo that of Democrats for Life.

They focus on dismantling abortion without bringing about the pro-woman changes -- in particular, access to family planning -- that might make abortion less common. (They say that "pre-conception issues" are outside of their mission.) They claim that early feminists were in fact pro-life, but have taken the women's comments so out of context that many historians disagree with their conclusions. Certainly it is true that first-wave feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony took up the cause of women like Hester Vaughn, a teenage immigrant in Philadelphia who was condemned to be hanged after she was forcibly impregnated by her employer, cast out on the street, and found with her baby dead -- a series of tragedies then judged an infanticide. Anthony and Stanton organized women to protest -- arguing that Vaughn was a "victim of a social system that forced women, especially poor women, to murder their illegitimate children or face social ostracism," as Ellen Carol DuBois writes in her 1999 book, Feminism & Suffrage. But their critique of Vaughn's treatment cannot be conflated with the message that women should never choose or desire to end an unplanned pregnancy.

Feminists for Life's position that "women deserve better" than the degradation they often face, though, has value. And it is true that if women were more empowered -- free of abusive partners, less poisoned by misogyny, had adequate access to health care and education about sex and their bodies -- abortion would occur far less frequently. (But the need for abortion will never be totally eradicated, according to the late health activist Barbara Seaman, unless society commits to giving vasectomies to all boys after freezing their sperm, and only allowing procreation through in vitro fertilization after demonstrating sufficient income and maturity to support a child for eighteen years. No one has jumped on this policy proposal for an abortion-free world.) The sentiments put forth by Democrats for Life and Feminists for Life work well as an ideal -- women deserve better than to be left holding the bag for a mutual sexual encounter -- but they don't appear to address the fact that people will always have sex.

It's a stultifying myth of feminism that prioritizing abortion rights is the most significant test of your commitment to women. You don't have to go to that march on Washington, you don't have to counsel your friends to have abortions, and you don't have to believe that abortion might be a good option for you. But that is just what you don't have to do. You do have to do something to animate your value system. What does it mean to be authentically pro-life and a feminist? Given how reproductive decisions occur within a social framework of so many other personal values, such as one's religion or family culture or self-image, it might seem difficult to actually lay out pro-life strategies that are genuine and don't conflict with women's freedom. Nonetheless, these parameters strike me as fitting the bill:

Work to make sure women who want to raise their kids have the support to do so: Traditionally, women have taken on the everyday hard work of cultivating the future. In other words, we raise the children. The "future," meanwhile, has it tough. Our often inadequate, frequently cruel foster care system can't handle the more than 300,000 kids thrust into its rigid arms each year, and the "end of welfare" ushered in during Bill Clinton's presidency means that living in poverty is just a part of growing up for thirteen million children in the United States. Yet more and more young women -- child-free and mothers, single and partnered -- are dealing with the collapse of the nuclear family. Feminists for Life is good at pointing out the ways that some pro-choice organizing, particularly on college campuses, can be downright hostile to early parenting. Sadly, though, they don't raise money to provide the resources they are so mad do not exist. Some of those resources might include: recruiting foster parents; providing family court advocates; establishing funds to offer support to low-income or otherwise stressed parents (from formula and diapers to lactation consultants); organizing free emergency babysitting services at trustworthy public locations (like universities) and publicizing them at churches, welfare agencies, and grocery stores.

Loretta Ross has long worked to bridge the divide between women who get abortions -- often lower-income and disproportionately black -- and abortion rights advocates, who are often middle-class and white. "If you're in the field, you know that black women are twelve percent of the female population but get twenty-five percent of the abortions in the country," says Ross, the fifty-five-year-old coauthor of Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice (South End Press, 2004). "Yet black women are saying this is not their issue. I have to ask why not." Ross is national coordinator of SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, an organization that was instrumental in changing the name of the 2004 pro-abortion rights demonstration in Washington from "March for Freedom of Choice" to "March for Women's Lives."

"We couldn't endorse the march unless they recognized the complex issues that women face," explains Ross. "Every woman who is pregnant wonders if she has a bedroom for that child; can she afford to take off the time to raise that child? Why flatten the decisions around abortion to just abortion? When women don't have jobs or health care, where is the choice? There is nothing worse than a woman aborting a baby she wanted because she couldn't support it." Ross notes that black women were the first to resist the pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy. "A very large percentage of (black) women are personally opposed to abortion but are politically pro-choice," adds Ross, who is one of the architects of the reproductive justice framework. "Women of color agree with not giving unborn children more rights than grown women, but even when they're terminating a pregnancy, they call it a baby. This has been going on as long as we have had the debate."

Support birth control and sex education (along with abstinence): Feminists for Life along with other not-so-feminist-friendly pro-life organizations do not support contraception or sex education. A position paper released by the largest right-to-life educational organization -- the American Life League -- reads, The practice of contraception is intrinsically evil and lays the groundwork for other evils such as the act of abortion, and calls for an absolute trust in God and His will with regard to the gift of children. Many pro-life activists consider contraception as the first step in a "slippery slope" that leads to abortion, because, that thinking goes, if you can have sex without fear of pregnancy, you will be more likely to have sex outside of the bounds of marriage. It's undeniable that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the best way to avoid getting pregnant. It's also undeniable that much sexual activity occurs in less than ideal, coherent, and consensual circumstances and that most people have sex more often than the few times it took to conceive their children. However, the best way to truly protect women and men and to improve our bodily health and our potential to reproduce is with honest information about sex, honest talk about personal values, and by modeling the behavior we believe to be most healthy. As the statistics about abstinence-only education attest, people are going to have sex whether or not it's sanctioned.

Work toward early abortion: Later abortions are harder on everyone. They are more expensive ($1,000 to $2,500 or more for a twenty-week procedure, compared to $400 or less for an eight-week procedure) and require greater medical expertise (not to mention up to three days of doctor's visits to complete) and travel expense, as there are very few doctors who do later procedures. They're harder on women (financially and physically) and possibly harder on the fetus (there is contradictory evidence in recent research on fetal pain). A strong abortion rights movement has already meant that women are getting procedures earlier, when the surgery is easier and safer. In 1973, only thirty-eight percent of abortions were performed within the first two months of pregnancy. Today the figure is more than fifty-five percent. Coincidentally, earlier abortions are less controversial among the pro-choice advocates who favor some restrictions (a surprisingly high number of people). It is part of the future of abortion to promote earlier procedures, when the cost is reduced in every way -- on the medical system, on the woman, on the fetus, and even in the field of public opinion. "You can't have choice without knowledge," says Merle Hoffman. "And sometimes that knowledge is hard to bear." But given the myriad of factors that might impact one's decision, it is crucial to be frank and fearless about what we know and don't know about the fetus and let women decide for themselves.

Support EC and medical abortion: To encourage earlier abortions, we need to make mifepristone and emergency contraception more readily available, as well as rethink our restrictions on abortion generally. Researchers James Trussell and Felicia Stewart concluded that if emergency contraception (pills that can be taken within ninety-six hours of unprotected sex) were effectively promoted and distributed, they could address an estimated two million unintended pregnancies per year. If their assessment is correct, this initiative would save billions of dollars each year. A study commissioned by New York State comptroller in 2003 (and revised for 2005), titled "Emergency Contraception: Fewer Unintended Pregnancies and Lower Health Care Costs," estimates "that widely available and easily accessible emergency contraception could result in $233.1 million in savings" for New York State alone, "reducing the 104,776 unintended pregnancies associated with Medicaid-eligible women" by half.

Work against restrictions: For years I have supported the New York Abortion Access Fund, which funded many later-term procedures since women travel to New York City for abortions up to twenty-four weeks. (New York is one of the few places with doctors trained to perform those procedures and a public that supports those doctors -- or at least isn't openly hostile.) When doing intake, we would learn why the individual patient was seeking a later procedure, and almost without exception it had to do with restrictions on abortion. These laws became infuriating to me because they didn't make women change their minds about needing a procedure, they merely punished them, making them jump through demeaning hoops at a time when they needed support. Because of the Hyde Amendment, women on public assistance in some states couldn't get a Medicaid-covered procedure; raising money meant waiting to get the abortion. Ditto, parental consent rules. As girls drum up the courage to tell their parents, the pregnancy develops further. According to Susan Cohen, the director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute, evidence from around the world shows that placing restrictions on abortion makes it less safe rather than more rare. "In the United States, abortion opponents take credit for the mounting state and federal restrictions on abortion," says Cohen, "rather than working to reduce unintended pregnancy to begin with."

Actively condemn violence: Ani DiFranco's wrenching song "Hello Birmingham" is a letter to that city from her hometown of Buffalo, New York. In 1998, Eric Rudolph bombed New Woman All Women Health Care in Birmingham, Alabama, killing a young off-duty police officer named Robert Sanderson and horrifically maiming clinic nurse Emily Lyons. That same year, a Buffalo doctor named Barnett Slepian who provided abortions was murdered in his home, in front of his children. The bravery that is sometimes required for clinic workers just to show up for their jobs is heartbreaking. And the violence is utterly in conflict with any authentic reverence for life. Feminists for Life offered a reward for any information that could lead to the arrest and conviction of the Birmingham bomber, demonstrating that their pro-life worldview can work in concert with feminist goals.

Truly understand adoption, and work to make sure the birth mother has a voice: When Norma McCorvey's autobiography, I Am Roe, was published in 1994, it was dedicated to "All of the Jane Does who died for Choice." Yet by the very next year, she had become one of the best-known anti-abortion activists in history, joining Operation Rescue. She even petitioned the Supreme Court (unsuccessfully) to have Roe overturned. And yet, Norma McCorvey, who never actually had an abortion, nonetheless represents a very silenced, often-mistreated demographic: birth mothers. Just before Christmas of 2006, I attended an event at which adoption scholar Ann Fessler played the audio pastiche of her interviews with birth mothers who surrendered their children in the years before Roe. I perched on the arm of a couch in a Park Avenue apartment and sobbed. I cried for the many women who were conned into relinquishing their children and fed a nonstop barrage of insults, from "You'd be a terrible mother" to "You've brought shame on the family" to "Just pretend this never happened." I cried remembering how intense it was to be pregnant and to give birth -- how hormones and pain and extreme physical duress combined into what felt like a near-death experience.

I recalled how I really understood -- in my loosened pelvis, my stretched-out ribs, and the kicks to my cervix from tiny limbs -- the sensitive factory that is our bodies, arduously creating another human. The thought of going through that and being told it didn't matter -- You don't know this baby anyway -- struck me as unbearably cruel. My tears also reflected the poignancy of growing up in a different era, one in which my unplanned pregnancy and subsequent out-of-wedlock parenting can be celebrated and supported, with two sets of parents thrilled to become grandparents. I read Fessler's wonderful book, The Girls Who Went Away, and was overwhelmed by the emotional pain the women endured. It's not a fair comparison, perhaps, but I found the stories of women who surrendered their babies just as traumatic and heartbreaking as the stories I've heard of women who had abortions pre-Roe.

I spoke with Ann Fessler about adoption. Even if the terrain has shifted radically from the social pressures on girls raised in the 1950s, it's clear that the voice of the birth mother is still very suppressed. "Many (birth mothers) are promised one thing and enter into the misunderstanding that they are committing to a situation with certain protections that, in fact, aren't guaranteed," Fessler says.

In many places, for instance, if the mother leaves the state in which the adoption occurred, the contract is broken and she no longer has the right to see her child. "Over the years, all of the laws have gone the way of supporting adoption agencies' needs," she explains. "In some states, women are asked to sign within twenty-four hours of birth, and it is irrevocable." There is less and less of a space for the birth mother to process the experience of having had a baby at all.

"I'm an adoptee, and I'm not dispassionate to the emotional stress that the adoptive parent is feeling," Fessler reveals. "The bottom line, though, is that it is not their child yet, and even though this is emotional, the birth mother needs a reasonable amount of time to come to grips with this decision."

Ethical adoption is one piece of a pie that includes foster care, a social safety net that supports struggling families, and a commitment to helping parents raise healthy children. Pro-choice organizations such as Backline in Portland, Oregon are opening up space to discuss adoption in all of its facets. No doubt the room created by these activists and parents will shepherd in new understanding of how to support the adoption option that is so glibly proffered by some politicians.

So, can you be a feminist and pro-life? The answer is a resounding "yes." In fact, finding more and better ways to do just that would be, in a word, revolutionary.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sterilization Bill in New Orleans

Metairie lawmaker considers bill to fund sterilizations
by Richard A. Webster Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS - State Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, fears Louisiana may be headed toward an economic crisis if the percentage of people dependent on the government is not decreased.

His solution: pay impoverished women $1,000 to have their tubes tied so they will stop having babies they can’t afford.

The idea came to LaBruzzo after hurricanes Katrina and Gustav when the state was forced to evacuate, shelter and care for tens of thousands of people.

"I realized that all these people were in Louisiana's care and what a massive financial responsibility that is to the state," LaBruzzo said. "I said, 'I wonder if it might be a good idea to pay some of these people to get sterilized.'"

LaBruzzo said he is researching the issue, and if he finds that the number of people on welfare has increased on a dramatic and continuous basis over the past several decades, he may introduce a bill during the next legislative session promoting voluntary sterilization in exchange for monetary compensation.

"If both the welfare and Social Security system keep growing, one day we're going to have a small minority of people working to fund and finance everybody else who isn’t working or producing," LaBruzzo said. "Our kids, who will be working, will be the minority and any vote of theirs will be canceled out. If your livelihood is based on government handouts, why would you ever vote for somebody who is going to lower taxes? They never would. So once we reach that breaking point there's no return."

Reaction to LaBruzzo's proposal has been swift. It has been called racist and reminiscent of the genocidal policies of the Nazis.

Shana Griffin, interim director of the New Orleans Women's Health Clinic, described it as a modern day version of eugenics, a theory that promotes improving humanity’s future by decreasing the number of babies produced by people who are seen as physically, socially or mentally deficient.

It is obvious who LaBruzzo is targeting with this legislation by mentioning welfare recipients and those dependent on city-assisted evacuation — poor, black women, Griffin said.

"If someone doesn't have a car and needs to utilize city-assisted evacuation, that makes them a social burden? The fact that he feels so comfortable and entitled to make these statements is a reflection of our society, that we’re OK with the most vulnerable of our community being blamed for the social, economic and political crises that we’re experiencing,” Griffin said. “If we really want to improve the lives of people in our communities we would think about raising the minimum wage, holistic health care, improving labor laws, employment opportunities for all people and the educational system.

"Instead he wants to use a form of medical experimentation and forced sterilization on poor women of color, using their economic status as a way to make them more vulnerable to the offer.”

Tulane University criminologist Peter Scharf said LaBruzzo's idea is proof that Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is alive and well. In the 1729 satirical essay, Swift proposed solving Ireland’s economic troubles by selling children as food to the wealthy. His essay is subtitled, "For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public."

It is not unusual during times of economic turmoil for people to lay the blame for everyone’s problems on the backs of the black underclass, Scharf said. But in this case, LaBruzzo is out on a raft by himself.

"We're about to go into a major recession or depression and no one economically is blaming it on the black underclass," Scharf said. "They're blaming it on Congress, George W. Bush or the captains of industry. The true victimizers of present-day society live in the corporate boardrooms, and very few of them are black. They’re the people running Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers and AIG.

"We're about to spend $700 billion in a week to save these welfare corporations who have ripped off society, and he's worrying about someone who might collect a welfare check 20 years from now? The irony given the world situation today makes me want to laugh."

But this is not about the problems of today, LaBruzzo said. It is about the future and whether the number of people dependent on the state will continue to grow to the point where the whole system crashes.

LaBruzzo said he is only considering the proposal for now while he conducts research. But backlash from various groups was to be expected, he said.

“The black community will say this is some sort of race-based genocide. And there will be tremendous push back from the ACLU. They'll try to say these people are incapable of making such a decision when their life is in turmoil. That if you're dangling money in front of them, of course they'll make a decision that will affect them negatively.

"My argument would be if they’re incapable of making a decision whether to cease reproduction are they capable of raising multiple children to be good citizens? And if they're incapable, maybe Social Services should take their children."

The church also bears some responsibility for failing to speak out more forcefully against economically challenged women giving birth to multiple children, LaBruzzo said.

"I'm sure many of these people aren't going to church every Sunday and many aren't married before having children and sex. But the church isn't condemning their lifestyle. They’re just condemning anyone who's trying to do something about it."

Despite the criticisms that have been leveled against him, LaBruzzo insists that voluntary sterilization has nothing to do with race.

"The majority of people on welfare in the nation are white. So the people making those arguments are less concerned with helping those people and more concerned trying to convince themselves that they're not prejudiced, that they're these wonderful, good people. The politically safe thing to do is to not touch this, but the train is potentially going off the cliff and everyone just wants to ignore the problem."

Griffin said it would have been to the benefit of everyone if LaBruzzo was the one ignoring the problem.

"Referring to people as social burdens is the same as referring to them as social degenerates," she said. "What he needs to keep in mind is that the people he's talking about sterilizing are the working class who keep this city afloat."•

Voices for choice

The McGill Daily

Reproductive rights are brought to the fore in panel discussion over two new documentaries

Erin O’Callaghan
Mind&Body Writer

On Tuesday night, Canadians for Choice and the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy joined to present two groundbreaking documentaries about women’s reproductive rights.

Abortion Democracy, directed by Sarah Diehl, and The Coathanger Project, directed by Angie Young, address some shocking truths about abortion laws around the world. The screenings were accompanied by a panel discussion with the two directors and representatives from Canadians for Choice and the Centre for Gender Advocacy. The discussion was used as a forum for debate over Canadian reproductive rights and how they relate to broader international issues.

The screenings were organized partly as a response to the introduction in Parliament earlier this year of Bill C-484, which threatened to compromise women’s reproductive rights. Also known as the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act,” the private-members bill proposes to allow separate homicide charges for the death of a fetus when a pregnant woman is attacked. While the language of the bill specifically excludes abortion, the bill’s opponents argue that the legislation could be a step toward the criminalization of abortion in the future.

Reeling it in

The two documentaries, screened at Concordia, look at abortion issues from an international perspective. Abortion Democracy explores an ironic parallel between Poland and South Africa with respect to abortion law. The Coathanger Project deals with the state of the current pro-choice movement in the United States. The films reveal that cross-culturally, women face similar challenges regarding their reproductive rights.

Abortion Democracy addresses abortion rights and access issues in South Africa and Poland. Despite South Africa’s legalization of abortion in 1994, an extraordinary 60,000 to 80,000 deaths are reported per year due to complications resulting from illegal or do-it-yourself abortions. Meanwhile, Poland has gone in a different direction. In 1997 it banned abortion except in very specific cases such as rape, gross deformation of the fetus, or when the fetus poses a serious threat to the health of the mother. Yet paradoxically, today abortions remain safer and more accessible in Poland than in South Africa.

In The Coathanger Project, Angie Young looks at American society post-Roe v. Wade, examining the current generation of women who have grown up knowing legalized abortion, but have no memory of the struggles over reproductive rights that came before their time. The movie was inspired by Young’s experience in South Dakota, where she worked to defeat the absolute ban against abortion proposed by the state government in 2006. South Dakota successfully turned down that ban, but is now facing a second challenge of abortion rights. The film attempts to remind this generation of why it should not take freedom of choice for granted.

Canada’s unborn victims?

The two films illustrate the vulnerable state of Canada’s own abortion laws, and contextualize the importance of Bill C-484.

Although abortions are fully legal in Canada, there are no laws specifically addressing the right to an abortion. In 1995, Diane Marleau, the Canadian Health Minister at the time, declared that an abortion, as a “necessary medical procedure,” should be covered by every health care insurance plan in every province, regardless of whether it is performed in a free-standing clinic or a hospital. However, there remain marked differences throughout Canada’s provinces.

According to Canadians for Choice, just 17.8 per cent of Canadian hospitals provide abortion services. Prince Edward Island does not have any hospitals that do, and New Brunswick has only two. Neither province provides adequate funding for the cost of abortions, technically violating the Canada Health Act. New Brunswick, for instance, only funds abortion at hospitals and does not cover the costs at clinics.

Furthermore, as noted in the panel discussion, women from rural areas often have to travel great distances to reach a clinic or hospital that can perform the procedure, and their travel and accommodation costs are not covered by their health care plans.

The two documentaries screened Tuesday night underscore the importance of upholding the right to reproductive choice. They address not only the difficulties faced by people fighting for these rights, but also the continuing struggle of maintaining reproductive rights where they are already in place. Even here in Canada, as the appearance of Bill C-484 shows, our freedom of choice is vulnerable; although abortion is legal, the choice can be effectively denied if services are not made more accessible.

Angie Young and Sarah Diehl are currently on tour screening their two documentaries across North America. The films will be released on DVD, along with footage from various panel discussions.

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