Birth Control, child birth, health care, pregnancy, women's health

Prosecution of Pregnant Women

            There has been an alarming trend in supposed “pro-life” communities to not only seek to limit abortions, but to penalize women who carry their pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. Yup, that’s right I said healthy babies.Alabamahas a “Chemical Endangerment law” active in the state. This law, in theory is a really good one at least in my opinion.

Its original designation is to protect children (born, breathing children) by making it a criminal offense for parents to expose their children to meth (methamphetamine) labs. The chemicals and process used to produce meth create an extremely hazardous gas which can endanger anyone inside, especially children. On the surface this law seems reasonable. Parents should not be turning their homes, where they are raising children, into meth labs. This is a simple concept that I fully support.

            The problem is that “pro-life” politicians and law enforcement officials have turned this law into something entirely different. Approximately 60 pregnant women have been arrested for being pregnant, giving birth and testing positive for a controlled substance, even if the substance has been prescribed by her doctor. According to an article on RH Reality Check, the “overwhelming majority of these women have given birth to healthy babies.”

            Despite this, they have been arrested and are facing serious criminal charges, all for having an addiction. It is beyond detrimental for the law to be used in this manner. Yes, it is understood that drugs and alcohol can cause harm, sometimes serious, to a developing fetus. However, penalizing the pregnant woman for having an addiction is counterproductive. Addiction is not something choose. Addictions take time and dedication and resources to recover from.

            Many (though not all) addicts are also in the position of being from a lower socio-economic status meaning they already have limited access to the resources that help recovering from an addiction easier. If they are pregnant and know that they may be arrested for having addiction and being pregnant at the same time, they are less likely to reach out for help with their addiction. This needlessly puts both the pregnant woman and the fetus at higher risk for serious complications.

            In a movement that so loudly proclaims to revere ALL life, these actions against pregnant addicts sends the exact opposite message; that life is of a secondary value to them, what they really want is to impose a strict code of conduct on women. One that requires all women to be pregnant and flawless at all times and if they can’t be that then that aren’t worthy of anything.

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Abortion, Abortion Rights, pro-choice, reproductive rights

VA Ultrasound Update

               Hi everyone! Thanks for sticking with us during our brief hiatus. We had a few projects that needed to be completed that took precedence over our blog, but we are back and ready start catching up with all the news we missed. To start we are going to talk about an almost update to the Virginia Ultrasound law.

                To recap: the Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates passed a law requiring women to get an ultrasound prior to having an abortion. This law was watered down to allow women to choose which type of ultrasound she gets as opposed to requiring a transvaginal during earlier gestational time frames. The law is still absurd and the government has no business regulating what a doctor must do prior to performing a legal surgical procedure. If a doctor deems an ultrasound necessary that should be between them and their patient.

                Clearly the State Senate and House of Delegates disagree with that sentiment because they passed the bill and Governor McDonnell signed it into law. It will go into effect starting in July 2012. Democrats in the State Senate opposed the law on numerous grounds, including the cost of ultrasound becoming a burdensome requirement to uninsured and low-income women who would already be struggling with the cost of the procedure. To offset that they proposed an amendment to the states budget that would have required either the state or insurers cover the cost of the ultrasound. It set aside $3.2 million in the budget to cover these costs.

                This seems like a pretty reasonable request to me, but apparently Republicans in the State Senate disagreed and voted the amendment down. The Budget was passed by a 34-4 vote. The budget wasn’t a total loss as Democrats were able to get some of the funding Governor McDonnell had tried to get removed from the Medicaid budget restored which kept 1500 people covered. They would have become ineligible under the originally proposed budget. It also adds $56 million to local public schools and I am always in favor of money going to school systems.

                Once again Republicans have shown an utter lack of concern for women, particularly those who are low income and uninsured. While I doubt this surprises anyone, it is still sad to see that despite being ridiculed in the media and women (in Virginia and other states) making it clear they don’t want the government intruding on private medical decisions, these lawmakers still feel the need to be as much of a burden as possible. My guess is this insistence on focusing so much on opposing not just abortion, but reproductive health care as a whole, is going to hurt Republicans in the fall. My male Republican friends disagree, but if this CNN story is correct it will be the Democrats election to lose.

 

Abortion, Abortion Rights, Birth Control, Emergency Contraception, feminism, pro-choice, reproductive rights

“We’re Not Gonna Take It”

Women (and men) like me have been outraged for quite some time about the ridiculous, antiquated views on women’s roles espoused by conservatives. Feminist activists are not unfamiliar with that feeling of “wait, he/she/they said/did what?!?!” when it comes to proposed legislation and even just speeches made by those with conservative views. We are constantly bombarded by the feeling that the fight against women’s rights is gaining strength. It seems the tide has turned and people with moderate and liberal values but who aren’t likely to become involved in activism are finally catching on to the fact that conservatives will not stop until women are barefoot, pregnant and chained to an oven. They are getting outraged too. Even some Republican women are considering jumping ship from the party because their leaders just won’t stop focusing on women’s bodies.

Want proof of the backlash? Well first I’d like to remind you of the Planned Parenthood vs. Susan G. Komen debacle where the general public made clear that they want Planned Parenthood to stay funded. Then we have the Rush Limbaugh backlash. At last count he had lost over 50 advertisers due to pressure from the general public threatening a boycott of companies that continue to support him. According to this article the stations that air his show are actually losing money and they postulate it’s only a matter of time before he loses his spot as a golden boy of the Republican Party.

The New York Times also reported on a seemingly growing trend in which moderate Republican women are jumping ship and considering voting for President Obama due to the Republican candidates’ inability to focus on anything other than women’s bodies. They want to see them talk about a real plan to fix the economy, not espousing support for things like the abhorrent Blunt amendment.

There is also a massive online movement to coordinate a March against the War on Women in all 50 States as well as D.C. Check out their website here. They have a Facebook page to assist in the organizing as well. As I write this there is an active protest at the Texas State Capitol demanding Governor Perry reconsider turning down federal funding that would go to support health care providers for low-income and uninsured women. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg so if you have examples, share them in the comments.

 I’m not the only person to notice the increased activism in the world of women’s rights. Barbara Hannah Grufferman wrote an article about this over at the Huffington Post and included a list of ways to get involved. The most important (in my opinion) is to share what you are doing with your friends and family. Let them know you are angry and why, get them involved too.

In honor of all the women (and men) who are getting involved I’d like to share this video with you. Watch it, it’s funny and has appropriate imagery for the topic: a woman with her male allies fighting against an oppressive male figure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nwz2AKsm3FY

Birth Control, Emergency Contraception, pro-choice, reproductive rights

Washington State Pharmacies and Plan B

                A lawsuit has been making its way through the Washington State judicial system. On the basis that it violates their religious morals and thus infringes on their right to religious freedom two pharmacies sued against a state requirement stating that pharmacies must stock and provide Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception. Judge Leighton, who presided over the hearing, decided that because the State allows for pharmacies to opt out of stocking and providing medications for non-religious reasons (such as increased risk of theft or the medication being temporarily unavailable from suppliers) then the State must also allows for religious exemptions from stocking medications. This would allow for pharmacies/pharmacists to refuse providing emergency contraception to their customers.

                On one hand, it’s hard to argue against the judge’s decision. If the state allows for secular reasons to opt out of providing a medication than allowing religious exemptions seems like a must. The problem with the decision is that it seriously impacts the lives of people seeking emergency contraception. Emergency contraception is most effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. In rural areas, if the sole pharmacy opts out of providing emergency contraception people who need it will have a much harder time accessing in the effective time frame. Allowing this to happen puts more people at risk of an unplanned pregnancy.

                This decision was released right around the same time that a new study was published in The Journal of Sexual Health showing that misuse is causing a wide range of condom breakage, slippage and leakage. Some of the most common errors the study found were putting the condom on too late, taking it off too early, putting it on/taking it off incorrectly and not lubrication issues. With such widespread misuse, clearly emergency contraception is an important part of preventing an unwanted pregnancy. The purpose of Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception is to be the second line of defense in case of condom failure or other birth control mishaps. Making it harder to access will only increase unintended pregnancy rates.

                Even for people who have learned proper condom use it is still important to ensure easy access to emergency contraception. Although we advocate for condom use with all new and non-monogamous partners, even if you are using another form of birth control, it’s important to recognize that accidents happen and Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception must be available to anyone who needs it.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, Government Policy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

Ultrasound Mandates Become more Popular in Legislatures

                Last week we told you about the national media attention that helped spotlight the intrusive nature of the Virginia ultrasound mandate. Basically, popular comedians pointed out that in most early abortions a transvaginal ultrasound has to be done to get an accurate ultrasound image. In other words women would not be allowed to consent to having something inserted in to their vaginas i.e. rape. This caused Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell to push an amendment which will allow women to choose if they want to have a transvaginal ultrasound, they would still have to undergo an abdominal ultrasound.

                 The amended bill has yet to go up for a final vote but it is clear that the women of Virginia, and in fact the United States, do not support this bill even in its amended format. Logic would dictate that lawmakers would NOT seek to replicate such a hotly contested mandate. Yet they are; in at least 5 other states (including the previously mentioned bill in Pennsylvania) bills have been introduced to require ultrasounds prior to an abortion.

                The question is why, in spite of such vehement opposition are lawmakers still trying to pass these bills? Salon writer Irin Carmon points out that ultrasound mandates are not new, 7 states already have mandatory ultrasound laws in place. This included Alabama, one of the 5 states with newly introduced ultrasound mandates. The difference between these existing laws and the new legislation is that the new bills don’t just require forced ultrasounds, they require the doctor to show the image to the patient and in some cases make the heartbeat audible to the patient. This is to ensure the patient knows they are choosing to abort an actually “person.” Some of the bills will also require the doctor give their patients inaccurate information about what “consequences” they may experience from an abortion.

                Despite what supporters of these bills would have you believe; these laws have absolutely nothing to do with “informed consent.” They are in fact all about shaming women and making abortions more difficult to obtain. By requiring an ultrasound prior to an abortion, the abortion is more expensive. On top of requiring ultrasounds, some of the proposed bills require women purchase not just one, but 2 images of the ultrasound. I can think of no legitimate reason to force a woman to buy an image of an ultrasound for both her doctor and herself beyond making the abortion more expensive and potentially demeaning.

                Forced ultrasounds do not reduce the number of abortions performed. There is no real purpose behind them and anyone who claims this is about “women’s health” has clearly been misinformed about women’s level of understanding about how pregnancy and abortion work.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, pro-choice, reproductive rights

VA Personhood Defeated

               Virginia seems to be a hotbed of reproductive rights news this week. In general it started off bad, but seems to be taking a turn for the better. First Governor McDonnell has decided to rescind his support for the transvaginal ultrasound mandate. This is good news, though he has unfortunately recommended an amendment which would make it so that an abdominal ultrasound is required, if this type of ultrasound cannot determine gestational age then the woman would be able to decline a transvaginal ultra sound. It’s still a mandatory ultrasound which is intrusive and condescending in its own right but it’s good to know that when we stand up for ourselves, politicians do listen.

                As of last week it seems we have more news to be happy about from Virginia. Remember how I told you about the fetal “personhood” bill; the one that had lawmakers deciding on the rights of women in Virginia without any input from those women? Well it seems the national attention the ultrasound law received has them leery about the “personhood” bill.

                The Washington Post reports that the Virginia Senate voted to send the “personhood” bill back to committee saying that it needs more time to consider the full consequences of the bill. Once sent back to committee, the bill cannot be presented for a vote again during this legislative session. In fact it cannot be presented for a vote until next year. Although this means the bill could still move forward in 2013, there is an upcoming election so many of the Delegates and Senators who voted for this bill and the ultrasound mandate may not be around to vote for the “personhood” bill next year.

                Just hours before the bill was sent back to committee it had seemed likely to pass given the Republican majority in the Virginia senate. The bill passed through committee without much effort but women on scene vehemently and loudly opposed the bill and in fact started an impromptu protest after being forced out of the Capitol building for being too rowdy.  Just after this protest the Senate voted to table to bill. Was this a coincidence or a cause and effect situation? I’d like to believe it was the latter, women spoke up and the politicians listened.

                The New York Times reports that it may have been due to something else though. Governor McDonnell is hoping for a vice-presidential nomination in the upcoming election and some supporters of the bill believe he pulled some strings behind the scenes and convinced the Virginia Senate to curtail the bill’s progress until after the election.

                Either way, I’m quite grateful to see the bill pushed to the sidelines. Hopefully this will urge Pennsylvania and Oklahoma politicians to curb their efforts as well. We’ll keep you posted.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, pro-choice, reproductive rights

More on Transvaginal Ultrasound Mandates

               Mandatory ultrasound laws are sadly not a new concept in the world of anti abortion legislation. A few states already have them on the books, including Texas where the State Supreme Court recently upheld the law in spite of the fact that it requires doctors to lie to their patients about the risks of abortions as well as show their patients the image of the ultrasound. When a pregnancy is in the earliest gestational time frames (when most abortions occur) a transvaginal ultrasound is needed to get an accurate result. This means that in states with these laws women are forced to have a transvaginal ultrasound even though they are medically unnecessary to ensuring a successful procedure.

                The Virginia legislature has passed an ultrasound mandate and specifically blocked an amendment to the bill that would allow women to consent to the ultrasound before the procedure. The bill does not include an exemption for women who were raped. So in essence they would have to be raped twice if they wanted to have an abortion. Activists in the world of reproductive rights have been opposing such laws since they were first proposed.

                Finally it seems the main stream media is jumping on board with opposing these laws and more importantly, it looks like the negative attention might be working. The Rachel Maddow show has covered anti-abortion legislation on a regular basis, including ultrasound laws. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live also recently aired skits that pointed out the absurdity of these laws. Along with television, online activism is having an impact too. A protest was organized with in just a few days on Facebook and over a thousand protester showed up outside the Virginia Capitol building for a silent protest against the invasive law.

                Following the media backlash and demonstration against the law, reports are coming out saying that although he had previously promised to sign the bill, Governor McDonnell is backing away from that promise and is recommending an amendment that will require only an abdominal ultrasound. Although this is still a massive intrusion onto women’s rights, it is at least a step in the right direction and it shows the power people have when they stand up for their rights. The Virginia Senate still has to opportunity to vote against the bill for final approval so we will see what happens.

                While all of this has been going on, the state legislature in Pennsylvania has been considering its own ultrasound mandate. Hopefully all the national attention the Virginia bill is getting will cause Pennsylvania lawmakers to think twice.