Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Coat Hanger Project featured in "Words of Choice" Blog!

I'm thrilled that notable pro-choice activist Cindy Cooper gave TCHP some love on her Words of Choice blog. Thanks for the shout out!

About the blog:
This blog is about airr -- artistic investigations of reproductive rights & essential human rights for women. Creativity opens breathing space for new and positive conversations about women's freedom and reproductive justice. This blog shares the ways!

About "Words of Choice"
Words of Choice is dynamic pro-choice theater. Created by Cindy Cooper, the play is a collection of savvy and sophisticated works by a dozen writers and performed by three actors. We've traveled to 20 states to open new conversations about choice.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Harvey Karman, 84; invented device for safer, easier abortions

By Elaine Woo
Los Angeles Times

May 18, 2008

Harvey Karman, a flamboyant psychologist whose invention made a key contribution to women's reproductive health, particularly by making abortions simpler, cheaper and less painful, died May 6 at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. He was 84.

The cause was a stroke, said his son Kenneth, of Los Angeles.

Activist, inventor, educator and rogue, Karman was drawn to the plight of women facing unwanted pregnancy in the 1950s, when abortion was illegal. While training in psychology at UCLA, he started an underground abortion referral service and eventually performed abortions himself, for which he was convicted and sent to state prison for 2 1/2 years.

In the early 1970s he developed a soft, flexible tube, or cannula, for a device that was widely adopted in the United States and developing countries to perform early abortions. He freely demonstrated its use for doctors and other medical professionals and in 1972 was part of a humanitarian mission to terminate the pregnancies of 1,500 Bangladesh women and girls who had been raped by Pakistani soldiers. His cannula is still widely used today.

"Harvey Karman did more for safe abortion around the world than practically any other person in the world," said Dr. Malcolm Potts, Bixby professor of Population, Family Planning and Maternal Health at UC Berkeley, who accompanied Karman to Bangladesh 35 years ago.

"Karman's name is not known, yet his ingenuity and to some extent his courage has made safe abortion available to literally millions of women around the world."

Doctors later found other applications for the Karman cannula, including using it in the diagnosis of uterine cancer, said Dr. Philip Darney, chief of gynecology and obstetrics at San Francisco General Hospital.

The tube, which Karman never patented, is so inexpensive and easy to sterilize and re-use that it has "dramatically reduced healthcare costs in treating uterine bleeding, one of the most common reasons women come to the emergency room," Darney said.

Karman also had many detractors, particularly because of his attempt to revolutionize second-trimester abortions with a device called the super coil, which was inserted into the uterus and expanded when exposed to moisture, causing a miscarriage. It caused serious complications, including hemorrhaging and infection, when it was used on about a dozen women in Philadelphia on Mother's Day in 1972.

"Harvey engaged in some very irresponsible experimentation on women's bodies," said Carol Downer, who co-founded feminist women's health clinics in Southern California in the 1970s.

The incident was investigated by the national Centers for Disease Control, where Darney worked at the time. Darney called the super coil a "bad idea" but added, "I don't think that offsets the importance" of Karman's other contributions.

Downer agreed, calling Karman "a real change agent" whose invention gave momentum to the abortion rights movement in the period before the procedure was legalized by the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade. "I would never take away from the importance of a lot of the work he did," she said.

Karman was born Harvey Walters on April 26, 1924, in the tiny northwest Oregon town of Clatskanie. He did not know his father, and his mother, who led a transient lifestyle, often left him in orphanages. When she married, he took the last name of his stepfather.

A high school dropout, he joined the Army Air Forces and was stationed in England during World War II. After completing his military service, he used the GI Bill to attend UCLA, where he earned a bachelor's in theater and a master's in psychology. He later became director of psychosomatic research at San Vicente Hospital in Los Angeles.

He became interested in abortion when he was conducting research at UCLA on the emotional aspects of therapeutic abortion. During this time a student with an unplanned pregnancy committed suicide and another died from a botched abortion. Karman responded by helping women obtain illegal abortions in Mexico. Unhappy with the high prices and poor care some of the women received, he began performing abortions himself.

His ultimate goal, according to Darney, who met Karman in the early 1970s, was to "make it possible for women to safely do their own abortions using the simplest possible equipment."

Working with Merle Goldberg, a medical writer and women's health activist, Karman developed a method for extracting menstrual blood during the first weeks after a missed period with a vacuum syringe and a flexible plastic tube about the width of a drinking straw.

The device could be manually operated and, because of the narrowness of the tube, caused less discomfort than the larger metal curets that were normally used in abortions.

The procedure Karman and Goldberg developed took a matter of minutes, leading some to call it the "lunch-hour abortion." Karman offered the procedure at his Community Service Center clinic in West Los Angeles. Studies found that complications were rare.

Some doctors were quoted expressing reservations about do-it-yourself abortions, warning of the risk of infection and other problems. Anti-abortion forces attacked Karman as an illegal abortionist. But Karman was undeterred and proceeded to train many mainstream doctors as well as paramedics and others, including Downer and other feminist healthcare activists.

In 1973, the New York Times reported that the method was available in 45 states and cost no more than $80.

After the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, when Bangladesh gained independence, he was part of a five-member team of abortion experts invited by the Bangladesh government to perform abortions on rape victims and train native doctors and paramedics in his method. Most of the victims were between the ages of 10 and 16.

"Many victims were actually being driven from their homes and villages by husbands and families who felt disgraced. And many committed suicide," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1972.

He said the team visited outlying villages and taught midwives, village chiefs, young girls, "anybody who wanted to learn," how to use the cannula for an abortion. The method is still used widely there, although it is called menstrual extraction because abortion is banned.

Karman "is responsible for saving the lives of countless women throughout the world through this innovative technology," Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive of the National Abortion Federation, a professional association for abortion providers based in Washington, D.C., said in an interview last week.

Along with advances in local anesthesia and suction equipment, his little tube, she said, was one of three major innovations that dramatically improved abortion care in the 1970s.

Karman spent much of the late 1970s and early '80s in Bangladesh, India and China, where he championed women's rights and safe, easy abortions. He lived for some years in London, where he also had a psychotherapy practice. He retired in 1992 to Santa Barbara.

In addition to his son Kenneth, Karman is survived by three other children, Kathleen, Steven and Janice; and six grandchildren.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Maverick Steps Back in Line

By Carole Joffe
RH Reality Check
Created May 16 2008 - 8:00am

In 2000, in a debate just before the South Carolina primary, John McCain confronted his opponent, George W. Bush, for the latter's failure to disavow the Republican party's plank on abortion. McCain repeatedly asked Bush, "Do you believe in the platform on abortion the way it is written -- with no exception for the life of the mother, no exception for rape or incest?"

McCain appeared incredulous that Bush could support such an extremist platform, without those exceptions. In 2007, McCain reaffirmed his commitment to change the Party's platform to reflect these changes.

That was then. Now it is widely assumed that McCain will drop his call for these changes. In the words of Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, for McCain to continue to call for a revised platform, "would be political suicide...I think he would be aborting his own campaign because that is such a critical issue to so many Republican voters."

Are Perkins and other Christian conservatives courted by McCain, such as Senator Sam Brownback, co-chair of the nominee's Justice Advisory Committee, correct in their view that a challenge on the abortion plank would doom his run for the presidency?

This question, of course, captures the larger dilemma swirling around McCain's candidacy -- go too much to the Center and lose the base, swing too much to the Right and lose the independents and moderate Republicans (yes, there still are some left). Which is more costly a strategy for him? Or put another way, how long can McCain get away with at one moment seeking the endorsements of right-wing preachers whose statements are every bit as incendiary as those of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and at the next, go on the Daily Show and act like a very charming and hip person who could not possibly believe the outrageous positions he is forced by circumstances to take?

McCain's "maverick" image has misled a considerable number of voters into believing he is for abortion rights.

In fact, he has long been opposed to abortion. The differences now is that the "straight talker" appears more than willing to overlook his previous more thoughtful positions in order to please his extremist friends. Several years ago, McCain was on record as saying reversing Roe would not be a good idea, because of the likelihood of women resorting to illegal and dangerous abortions; today, he calls for the immediate overturning of Roe.

While McCain struggles to keep both the right and the center happy, it is our job, as progressives, to let the American people know what his party -- and presumably, he -- is capable of supporting. The utterly draconian nature of the Republican party's official position on abortion has not gotten the attention it deserves, either from the media or, surprisingly, from abortion rights advocates themselves. No exception for the life of the woman?!

Recall that South Dakota voters in 2006 voted down a ban on abortions that had a life exception, but did not have one for rape and incest. Assuming there are reporters and debate moderators willing to call him on it, how possibly will McCain defend a position on abortion that, even if symbolic, is breathtaking in its callous disregard for women?

There is no question that in the coming general election campaign Barack Obama (assuming he will be the Democratic nominee) will be targeted by antiabortion forces because of his support for abortion rights. In particular, we can expect that Obama's expressed disagreement with the most recent Supreme Court decision on abortion, Gonzales v. Carhart, will be relentlessly revisited in TV and radio ads to selected audiences. Obama's statement after the decision voiced his concern [8] that the Court for the first time upheld an abortion law that did not allow an exception for women's health.

Since this decision involved a ban on a rarely used procedure, that has been successfully sensationalized for years by opponents as "partial birth abortion," and which many Americans find upsetting, we can expect Republicans to hammer him on this point.

But I believe that if Americans are told that John McCain, and the party for which he is a standard bearer, stand behind the proposition that it is preferable that women die, rather than have an abortion, that will be substantially more upsetting. Words matter. If McCain insists on placating the fanatics in his party, let him start paying a price.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Safe abortion steps inaccessible to rural women

The Telegraph

Ranchi, May 18: A recent survey carried out in the Arki block in Ranchi district revealed that only three of 25 women opted for a safe abortion.

Lack of human resources, negligible number of NGOs, ignorance of scientific methods and heavy reliance on quacks and ojhas have increased unsafe abortions in the state.

Few trained doctors coupled with low awareness among women have made the situation worse. Moreover, there exists a social stigma and secrecy surrounding abortion in the state.

The MMP (maternal mortality programme) — death per 100,000 live births — in the state is 371 while the national average is 301. The number of induced abortions in Jharkhand is 146,000 per year while the number of safe abortions per year is 97,000.

Even though abortion up to 20 weeks of gestation is legal, safe but legal abortion services are not easily available to poor, rural women.

“Unsafe abortion endangers 4 million women in India every year, damaging the health and fertility of thousands and causing an estimated 15,000 preventable deaths,” said Usha Rani, a city-based gynaecologist.

While Vanoj Manin, country head of IPAS, an international NGO protecting women’s health and advancing women’s reproductive rights, said two-thirds (67 per cent) of induced abortions are carried out in unsafe conditions.

The IPAS programme, which was established in India in 2001, has helped establish safe abortion practices in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand.

“The proportion of maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions is gradually on the decrease. It has come down from 12 per cent in 2001 to 8 per cent in 2006,” Manin said.

IPAS works with the state government in rural areas. “People in rural areas are superstitious. But the state government is training doctors to handle abortion cases,” he added. “Besides, limited primary health centres exist and women come here only after developing complications,” said Manin.

In fact, senior gynaecologist Rani, who is also a member of the National Association of Gynaecologists, said: “Members should show their commitment in increasing the number of doctors, promoting expanded use of appropriate technologies and increasing awareness among women.”

The survey carried out in Chandankiari block (Bokaro) revealed rural practitioners often used ayurvedic and allopathic methods for abortion. Besides, wrong pills were also prescribed, Rani pointed out.

Some of the rural practitioners are trained by qualified doctors of Chas and Bokaro. Besides, several medical agents who refer cases earn around Rs 200-300 every day while medical practitioners charge Rs 800 for the abortion. Traditional midwives, however, refer to herbal practitioners and rely on drugs and herbal medicines.

“There are no abortion services in government health centres in Bokaro. The study also revealed four death cases due to abortion. Only two women had opted for medical care while two women used oral contraceptive pills. Only one man used protection,” added Manin.

Friday, May 9, 2008

GOP Cognitive Dissonance

The Republican state convention delegate was discussing with a prominent Utah GOP elected officeholder the issue of immigration when the delegate whined that a fence should be constructed to span the entire USA-Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants.

GOP OFFICIAL: What happens when they climb the fence?

DELEGATE: You electrify it. Then they won't touch it.

GOP OFFICIAL: But what if they touch it? You would let them die?

DELEGATE: It would be their choice.

GOP OFFICIAL: What about a mother with a baby strapped to her back? You would let the mother and the baby die?

DELEGATE: It would be the mother's choice to kill that baby.

GOP OFFICIAL: Then you're in favor of abortion?

[Dead silence]

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What if Abortion Became Illegal?

By The Editorial Board

A lot of elected officials say they want to see Roe v. Wade repealed, clearing the way for abortion to be made illegal. But few of them go the extra step and say what they would like to see done to women who have abortions. Throw a scared 17-year-old woman in jail? For how long?

Since a couple more Supreme Court nominations could doom Roe, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, an offshoot of Naral Pro-Choice New York, is trying to inject this question into the presidential campaign. They’re doing it in a TV commercial aimed at John McCain, who –unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — is strongly anti-choice.

The ad aims to focus voter attention on the harsh real-world consequences if Roe were overturned and abortion became a criminal act.

Here’s the ad:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

In Colorado, Playing "Who Hates Abortion More?"

By Wendy Norris
Created Apr 30 2008 - 8:07am
RH Reality Check

Steve Curtis came out firing on all cylinders. And, in a bit of internecine political warfare rarely seen in these parts, the former Colorado Republican Party chief was gunning for the state's presumptive GOP nominee for U.S. Senate.

Curtis, the vice president of American Right to Life Action, took ex-Rep. Schaffer, a fellow staunch anti-abortion advocate, to the proverbial woodshed following a series of news stories chronicling the congressman's support of guest worker policies on the Mariana Islands as a possible model for the continental United States' migrant labor woes.

The Marianas are long known for squalid sweatshop practices -- including accusations that the primarily Chinese and southeast Asian female workers were forced to undergo abortions and young girls were pushed into prostitution.

Schaffer's guest worker proposal and a later press statement that he never personally witnessed 1 any forced abortions while on a $13,000 "fact-finding" trip to the Marianas in 1999 (paid by associates of now-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff) were met with howls of derision by the press, bloggers and the public.

Curtis, an outspoken proponent of a controversial proposed state ballot measure 2 to prohibit abortion by conferring constitutional rights on fertilized eggs, seized the media controversy and ran with it.

He excoriated Schaffer in the Colorado press this week as being soft on abortion. Later, he accused Schaffer of lying about not having an opinion on the ballot measure that has caused deep fissures 3 in the local anti-abortion movement.

While Schaffer has since retreated 4, his camp, notably campaign manager Dick Wadhams, hit back, calling Curtis "attention-starved" and referencing National Right to Life unceremoniously dumping Curtis' Colorado affiliate after its members attacked Focus on the Family 5 founder James Dobson for not being anti-abortion enough in newspaper ads last year.

Then, two days ago, Curtis suddenly backed off. His public statements softened. He claimed the whole thing "got off issue" and was simply "political battles in the heat of the moment."

Except the battle is now being waged elsewhere -- far from public view where Curtis' involvement in the hard-line anti-abortion movement runs deep.

On April 26, another of Curtis' tax-exempt charities,, which bills itself as "America's premier pro-life ministry," is hosting a fundraiser [PDF] 6 at a hotel ballroom in Westminster, Colo., a conservative suburb northwest of Denver. The group produces provocative television ads on emergency contraception 7, abortion and eugenics.

Event organizers released a late-breaking update this morning gleefully announcing a "surprise guest" -- Shiu Yon Zhou, who claims she was forced to undergo an abortion in China.

The event will also feature a presentation by the Rev. Bob Enyart, who refers to himself as "America's most popular self-proclaimed right-wing, religious fanatic, homophobic, anti-choice talk show host." Enyart said on his Thursday radio program, "If China was killing Jews, would [Bob Schaffer] still vote for most-favored nation trading status because of the overarching economic and political considerations?"

A press release issued on Thursday by American Right to Life Action -- after Curtis claimed to the press that the disagreement was over -- cites Zhou and Curtis himself ramping up the anti-Schaffer rhetoric even higher:

"The pro-life movement will no longer give a pass to candidates like Bob Schaffer who look the other way when Chinese women are forced to abort their children," said Steve Curtis, former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and spokesperson for American Right To Life Action. "At best Schaffer was negligent investigating coerced abortion in the Mariana Islands. Worse, he has voted (May 2000) for permanent normal trade relations with China, rewarding the regime that forces women to abort their children."

The vice president of Colorado's largest pro-life organization agrees. "At Colorado Right To Life, one of our dearest members, a young woman named Shiu Yon Zhou, is the victim of Chinese forced abortion policy," said Leslie Hanks. "While Bob Schaffer supported (1990s) most-favored nation trading status to Communist China, that government was literally forcing women like Shiu Yon down on operating tables and killing their unborn children."

"As a Chinese woman, I know the horror and shame of forced abortion," said Shiu Yon Zhou. "And I beg Mr. Schaffer to not look the other way, and to apologize for being part of the problem. He calls himself pro-life, but how can he be when he is not outraged by Chinese forced abortion? That is worse than pro-choice."

Also sharing the event dais will be Colorado for Equal Rights' Kristi Burton, the putative leader of the group sponsoring the "egg as a person" ballot measure -- the very issue that ignited Curtis-Schaffer kerfuffle.

Coerced Abortion Bill Harms, Not Protects, Women

Pamela Merritt, RH Reality Check on April 28, 2008 - 8:28am
RH Blog

Flowers are blooming, the temperature is rising and Missouri lawmakers are trying to work another anti-choice bill through the legislature.

It must be spring!

The Missouri House has approved House Bill 1831, which "changes the laws regarding the consent requirements for obtaining an abortion and creates the crime of coercing an abortion." As a Missouri native my initial reaction was to ask what this bill was in response to. I haven't noticed a flood of news stories about coerced abortions here and pro-choice is the antithesis of coercion. But, true to form, this bill is not in response to a rash of complaints by women who have been coerced into an abortion. Rather, House Bill 1831 (Senate Bill 1058) is about devaluing the intelligence of women and questioning our ability to make decisions about our medical care.

In the mythical Missouri represented in House Bill 1831, women are fragile gullible creatures that need to be protected from manipulative forces that seek for us to have an abortion we don't really want to have. Under the provisions of the bill a man who asks his partner to have an abortion is guilty of coercion even if his partner was not actually pregnant and never actually had an abortion. A business would be guilty of coercion simply for threatening to reduce a pregnant employees pay and/or cut that employee's benefits. Oh but wait, it gets better! A business would also be guilty of coercion for threatening to terminate the employment of a pregnant employee.

Under House Bill 1831 schools would risk prosecution for coercion simply by threatening to revoke a pregnant woman's scholarship. Terminating a pregnancy resulting from rape would be considered coercion and physicians would face a felony charge for performing that abortion.

Pamela L. Sumners, Esq., Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, points out that the House Bill 1831 recently approved by the Missouri House was much better than what was originally proposed.

"Believe it or not, this bill is so much better than it was when first it was introduced. It made leaving or even attempting to leave one's pregnant wife because she did not want to have an abortion a crime, ditto with threatening twice (but not just once!) to move out under these circumstances, or calling a lawyer about separation papers under these circumstances, or telling her you don't want to be a daddy so she better hit the road if she doesn't have an abortion."

Sumners added that NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, Planned Parenthood, and domestic violence lobbyists worked very hard to strip the most constitutionally objectionable provisions from the bill.

"I want everyone to know how hard we work to keep the most utterly egregious provisions out of legislation. We still despise the glorious instrument you see today, of course. We do not like the premise of creating a crime of 'coercing' an abortion, although we at NARAL, like any other people of good taste and right reason, abhor the notion of coercion. We simply think that battery, assault, and stalking laws would adequately address any legally actionable "coercion" in this context."

House Bill 1831 (Senate Bill 1058) remains horribly flawed. The bill imposes personal investigative requirements on doctors requiring that they ascertain whether a patient seeking abortion services has an athletic scholarship that may be revoked or if she has been told her job will be negatively impacted if she is pregnant. A physician who fails to meet these investigative requirements will have committed a Class C felony.

What I find most alarming about House Bill 1831 is the creation of the crime of coercion. I can not imagine how this law would be enforced or how the legal system would determine that the law had been violated beyond a reasonable doubt. Add in the potential of false accusations and this mess just gets messier.

The Missouri Senate will soon take their version, Senate Bill 1058, under consideration. Given all that is wrong with this legislation, Missouri Senators should take this opportunity to lead by example and put an end to this insulting and unconstitutional nonsense.