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How to Speak on Reproductive Justice
I recently attended a workshop hosted by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland on how to speak about reproductive justice as an advocate. The first part of that workshop focused on what exactly constitutes reproductive justice and that it’s so much more than the availability of abortions. The second part was actually talking about abortion. The workshop is based on the information gathered by Planned Parenthood in a study that took several years on attitudes towards abortion and how language affects it. Following the layout of the workshop, the first part of this post will cover various aspects of reproductive justice and the second will cover how to speak on reproductive justice.
What is included under the term “Reproductive Justice”?
- Safe and legal abortions available to all who need
- Affordable and available birth control and contraceptive options
- Affordable and available health care (pap smears, mammograms etc.)
- Affordable and Available resources to help under-privileged families
- No forced sterilizations
- Comprehensive sex education
- Affordable and Available sterilization options
- Adoption regulations (no child taken from healthy family, no child without a home)
- Adoption options available for any who want to adopt
- No genital mutilation
- Affordable and available transition options for Trans* folk
- No forced pregnancy or forced abortion
- And much more
It’s important that we look at the intersections of oppression. All oppressed groups based on race, orientation, gender identity, intersex conditions, ability, financial status, designated sex are oppressed in this category and we need to look at how their general oppression affects this. It’s important we look at the underlining cause of these reproductive oppressions, which is racism, sexism, cisexism, heterosexism, and many more. Certain racial, orientation, gender identity, ability, and intersex conditions are sterilized against their will. Health options are limited for people of certain financial status, ability, condition, orientation, or gender identity. Comprehensive sex education is even more difficult to find when you’re not straight, cis gender, dyadic, able-bodied, and neurotypical. People of certain orientations or gender identities may be unable to adopt. Children of certain abilities, races, gender identity, or orientation may be more unlikely to be adopted. Many children of different races are taken away from their countries, communities, and loving families in amoral adoption practices. This occurs even today in the United States, with Native American children being taken away from their families and adopted off to white adults.
Try to think of other ways that someone may be oppressed as it relates to reproductive health.
How to speak on Reproductive Justice
The Planned Parenthood website Not In Her Shoes, although gendering and not inclusive to trans* people is a good resource to check out what information and statistics they have gathered in their studies.
It starts with the words “Pro-Choice” and “Pro-Life”. I have definitely seen in my discussion on reproductive justice and the abortion issue that many people I would identify as pro-choice, those who support keeping abortion legal, don’t identify as such and this can create problems. Instead of sticking to these outdated (and in the case of pro-life, plain incorrect) labels that cause people to have an immediate negative response, Planned Parenthood suggests that we say we are pro reproductive justice, and that we want abortions to be legal and safe. The number of people who say abortion should remain legal and safe are much higher than those who would identify as pro-choice, by changing our language we open up our community to more people and gather more supporters. Two Thirds of American Voters want abortion to remain legal, whereas nearly one third of voters do not identify as either pro-choice or pro-life. By using this language we are excluding one third of our supporters.
Another thing that they found was that although people aren’t really comfortable talking about abortion, they do support it as a personal decision. People respond favorably to statements like, “Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a person, and I don’t believe you can make that decision for someone else.”, “A person should have accurate information about all of their options. Information should support a person, help them make a decision for themselves, and enable them to take care of their health and well-being.”, and “Information should not be provided with the intent of coercing, shaming, or judging a person.” These are good to bring up when we talk about legal limits being put on abortion.
Another thing that they found that surprised me is that it works well if you don’t describe possible situations. Something I and many people who talk about reproductive justice is to try to talk about different situations a person may come from who needs abortion. We think that this helps show the diversity of people who need abortions, and show that it could be anyone. In reality, what the find is that what we think are good reasons for an abortion may not be someone else’s. They may have a direct negative emotional response that closes their ears off to what you are saying. What the research showed was that 79% of likely american voters found this simple statement convincing, “We’re not in their shoes. It’s just not that simple.” It is important to recognize that anyone of any background may someday need or want an abortion, but it is better and less judgmental to just state that everyone’s situation is different.
It’s also important, Planned Parenthood found, to avoid using language like “unintended pregnancy”, “unplanned pregnancy”, and “unwanted pregnancy”. When talking about abortion, more people responded more favorably when just using the word abortion, ending a pregnancy, or a safe and legal procedure, when talking about abortion. When talking about the goal to reduce “unintended pregnancy” with birth control or sex education it’s okay to use that word, but not unplanned and especially not unwanted. Many unintended pregnancies are wanted, I’ve definitely had friends that were “accidents” that their parents wanted very much. People also tend to not respond to the concept that you have to plan a pregnancy, so unintended works best. “Safe and Legal” is also what more people responded to as a good goal. “Safe, Legal, and on demand” may turn off people who may consider themselves more pro-life, while “Safe, Legal, and rare” may turn off people who consider themselves more pro-choice.
Something that really hit me in a strong way was this statement that was used in the workshop, “People don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer treatments. Politicians should not be involved in a person’s personal medical decisions.” This is the bottom line, a person should be making this decision with her doctor, her loved ones, and her own faith. Politicians are not medical experts and have no place in discussing a medical procedure.
A similar message that I thought was important to address was that of when life begins. What they suggested to say about that is that “Questions about life are deeply personal and it’s not simple. It can be cultural, religious, or scientific. All I know is Politicians are not experts.” Many cultures believe that the baby is alive until it is born, takes it’s first breath, or even for several weeks or month after it is born. Different religions have different definitions of life, and as for science it still depends on the person.
For me there were a couple of things I’d like to touch on when talking about language and reproductive justice. For me a lot of this issue comes down to consent. Consent to medical procedures, consent to having children, and yes consent to sex. It’s also about having the education and ability to have informed consent.
It’s also important for me to remain inclusive to trans* people while also acknowledging the sexism in legislation that restricts reproductive rights. Like we touched on earlier, a lot of restrictions come down to the intention of oppressing certain groups. To keep people from thriving as much as others, whether that means refusing gender transition, making them care for a child instead of going to college, never finding a family, or to never be able to have a child. A lot of this does stem from sexism, and it is important to realize it even though more than just women are affected. You can use inclusive language that acknowledges more than just women get abortions or need birth control while still being conscious of the fact that regulations are being used in an attempt to control and oppress women.
What are your thoughts? How will this help you frame the way you think and speak about reproductive justice and justice in general?
How Are You Raising Your Voice in 2013?
We’re in the second week of 2013, and during the first days of every year we evaluate what took place last year, and develop resolutions or goals for things we want to get, where we want to be, and experiences we want have. In doing this, we focus mostly on ourselves and how we want some aspect of our lives to change for the better.
And that’s totally great! But how are you raising your voice in 2013?
2012 was one of the worst (if not the worst) years in women’s health. While major wins such as the United States Supreme Court ruling the Affordable Care Act as constitutional and the birth control mandate beginning in August were exciting, 2012 had the second-highest number of abortion restrictions ever made at the state-level. Not only that, health disparities also continue to run rampant in low-income communities and communities of color, and the politicizing of women’s bodies shows no signs of slowing down.
While fighting for women and girls (especially women and girls of color) to have access to the services that can improve their health and lives can oftentimes feel discouraging, we shouldn’t feel undaunted. Let’s make 2013 the year where huge strides are made in sexual and reproductive health. Not only when it comes to reproductive justice, but for women and girls’ mental, spiritual, and emotional wellness.
How do you want to raise your voice for women and girls’ health in 2013? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
So very important! You may be hearing in the news or on tumblr about a lot of people who are being arrested and even dying because they are trying to get medical help during pregnancy or searching for an abortion. This is an issue that has always been present in low-income communities and communities of color (you’re much more likely to survive a pregnancy or find a way to get an abortion if you are white or upper to middle income), but now it’s getting more press as it’s happening to more and more people. We need to fight back and make sure everyone gets the medical treatment they deserve.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the recipients of a $5 million federal grant designated for abstinence-only education programs. Although President Obama has opposed funding for abstinence-only programs since the beginning of his time in office, social conservatives in Congress forced a choice during the battle to pass Obama’s landmark health care reform law in 2010: in order to support extending to health coverage to more Americans, Senate Republicans demanded to deprive students of accurate and comprehensive sexual health education.
Despite the fact that abstinence-only curricula are ineffective and, in many cases — when young adults make risky sexual decisions after abstinence education fails to equip them with the resources they need — dangerous, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) used the Senate version of the health care reform bill to restore a lapsed program that provides funding for abstinence programs. President Obama eliminated the Title V Abstinence Education program in his 2010 budget, finally doing away with the steadily increasing federal funding for abstinence programs that ballooned under the George W. Bush administration. But Hatch’s bill, which narrowly squeaked by the Senate Finance Committee, forced the Obama administration to reverse that decision in order to pass health care reform.
And earlier this month, the Title V funds that Hatch insisted on tacking onto Obamacare were distributed to nine organizations that provide “mentoring, counseling and adult supervision to promote abstinence from sexual activity.” Of course, abstinence-only curricula advance those goals while neglecting to impart accurate information about methods to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as failing to include comprehensive discussions about sexuality and the LGBT community.
Although the Obama administration attempted to take a step forward by moving to eliminate Title V funds, social conservatives’ insistence on clinging to a misguided approach to sex education has brought the country right back — ensuring that federal funds will be spread over abstinence programs for the next two years. As the spokesperson for the right-wing National Abstinence Education Association put it, “[Obama administration officials] were specifically tasked by Congress to appropriate these funds for an authentic abstinence education program. So they really had no recourse but to do just that.”
You can look up here how much money is given to a certain state for a certain level of sex education and it’s RIDICULOUS how much federal funds are being spent on abstinence only education that has proven to be ineffective and really doesn’t teach a thing.
It appears the anti-choice folks are becoming increasingly more adept at curbing access to abortion in conservative states by creating strict rules and regulations that make it difficult for clinics to operate. In Virginia last Friday, clinics are now being required to make expensive renovations to their facilities or stop providing abortion services altogether.
In this climate, it sometimes feels like we’re losing ground in our struggle for reproductive justice for everyone. In 2012, we can help but ask ourselves, “how is this even possible?”
Instead of being on the defensive, I wonder in what ways can we be more pro-active about maintaining our rights and even expanding them?
Sandra Fluke at the Democratic National Convention.
Look. I have nothing at all against Sandra Fluke personally. But nope. It couldn’t have easily been anybody else.
There are people who speak up ALL THE TIME but no one listens to them because they are black, trans, immigrant, latin@, poor, fat, etc. (unfortunately the list is long). They take big risks to speak up but they do.
And it saddens me that we have had multiple speakers at the DNC talk specifically about reproductive rights and none of them have been women/people of color. On a larger scale, it bothers the hell out of me that women/people of color are the hardest hit by anti-choice laws/regs and yet WE RARELY SEE THEIR FACES OR HEAR THEIR VOICES.
This movement and its leaders need to start (really, should already be) asking hard questions starting with: Are we just fighting for reproductive rights or are we fighting for reproductive justice? On nights like tonight, when I see Cecile Richards tweet about her younger-generation doppleganger, “Sandra Fluke speaks for the next generation,” I know the answer and I don’t like it.(via keepyourbsoutofmyuterus)
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“In Canada, access to health services is guaranteed by the Canada Health Act. Abortion is considered a safe, legal, insured and funded service, meaning that a woman should not have to pay for abortion services in Canada.
However, access is variable across the country and women are charged fees at some facilities. For example:
- There are no abortion services in Prince Edward Island.
- In New Brunswick, to have a publicly funded abortion a woman has to have approval from two doctors to have an abortion in the hospital. If she has an abortion at the clinic, then she will have to pay as the province will not pay for abortions outside publicly funded facilities, such as hospitals.
- New Brunswick funds only abortion care provided by obstetrician/gynecologists, not family physicians as is common throughout the rest of Canada.
Some of these barriers may violate the Canada Health Act and the intent of the decriminalization of abortion in Canada.
Abortion is funded under provincial and territorial health plans, and coverage varies regionally.”
-National Abortion Federation of Canada
I felt like this would be a good resource to circulate. There seems to be some confusion about what is covered in Canada in terms of abortion services and how this coverage varies by region. This chart is pretty handy.
[NB: not only those who identify as women need access to abortion services]
Stay classy, Mississippi
I’d also like to point out that Mississippi has one of the top teenage pregnancy rates in the country. In 2010, it was in the top five states with the highest teen pregnancy rate*. Teenage are the demographic that is least likely to terminate a pregnancy but for those teenagers in Mississippi who DO want to terminate, what are they supposed to do?
Mississippi is just going to increase it’s teenage birthrate, which is already the highest in the country according to the CDC.
*Not that this is the pregnancy rate, not teen birthrate. Those two thins are not the same. The study that is linked goes into more detail if anyone is interested in it.
We’ve Kept Abortion Legal - But What About Accessible?
Lawmakers Playing Doctor:
Two posts by Dr. Jen Gunter (pregnant people, not just cis women):
The Georgia legislature passed a new abortion bill (HB 954). Yet another law (it’s only a matter of time before it’s signed) governing the practice of medicine based on nothing resembling science.
- Fetal pain. The law will make Georgia the seventh state to enact a gestational age limit based on the false belief that a “20 week” fetus can feel pain. The lack of cortical connections as well as the absence of connections between the thalamus and the subplate before 23 weeks means that a 20 week fetus does not have the neural ability to feel pain.
- No rape or mental health exception. Abortions are only allowed after 20 weeks for a congenital or chromosomal anomaly incompatible with life and to preserve the life/prevent irreversible physical impairment of the mother).
- Any abortions after 20 weeks must be done so the fetus has “the best opportunity…to survive” There are 2 ways to perform a 20+ week abortion: a dilation and evacuation (D&E), which is a surgical procedure where the cervix is dilated and the fetus is removed in parts, and an induction of labor, whichcan take several days in the hospital. What this law means is if a woman has an abortion for genetic reasons she must have her labor induced. The life of the mother clause does allow doctors to offer a D and E in specific situations. A fetus can’t survive before viability, so this “best opportunity” seems moot and just another way to make the experience more challenging and expensive, although if you read further it is clearly a set up for…
- “Any baby born alive that is capable of sustained life must get medical aid.” Meaning if you have an induction at 22 weeks for a severe congenital anomaly, a pro-life doctor or nurse can swoop in and resuscitate your baby against your wishes. Of course, nowhere does it say the government will pay for this medical care. This medical aid against the parents’ wishes could also be applied to situations where parents have made the difficult decision not to resuscitate their premature baby.
And finally the mistake? Well, I’m not going to disclose it until after it’s signed into law. I had to read the bill multiple times to make sure I was reading, well, what I was reading. This error makes it crystal clear that no one with any basic medical knowledge read the bill.
But hey, it’s only women’s health care we’re talking about.
The Georgia abortion bill HB 954 has been widely promoted in the press as another “20 week” bill, but it isn’t (and this is the mistake in the bill’s wording that I was referring to in yesterday’s post). I think it wants to be a 20 week bill given it’s aimed at “fetal pain”, but if you read the exact wording it appears as if the lawmakers passed a bill that legalizes abortion (outside of life/health of mother issues) up to 22 weeks gestational age.
The Georgia lawmakers go to great lengths to describe how at 20 weeks post fertilization they think a fetus can feel pain (it can’t, BTW). In fact, the definition of a 20 week fetus in Georgia HB 954 is 20 weeks post fertilization, which is inaccurate medical terminology (and why I wrote yesterday that it was clear no doctor read the bill). At 20 weeks after fertilization a fetus is actually 22 weeks gestational age in medical terms.
This is the exact wording from the bill:
“At least by 20 weeks after fertilization” (in reference to fetal pain). This phrase appears 4 times in the 1st section.
“Probable gestational age is an estimate made to assume the closest time to which the fertilization of a human ovum occurred…” also in the 1st section.
And then specifically in Code Section 31-9B-1 gestational age is defined as follows: “the postfertilization age of the unborn child at the time the abortion is planned to be performed or induced, as dated from the time of fertilization of the human ovum.”
Let’s be very clear. Pregnancy is dated from the 1st day of the last menstrual period (LMP) not from fertilization. Even when an ultrasound is performed, the additional 2 weeks pre-conception (if you will) are built into the dating. It’s even on a pregnancy calendar I downloaded and on every single prenatal wheel that OBs use to date pregnancies.
Think of gestational age dated from the LMP/by ultrasound as metric and correct, and think of the post fertilization age in the Georgia bill as an out of date Imperial system that has no scientific meaning (you sure won’t find it in any medical textbook).
Other states, such as Arizona, actually use the correct medical terminology of LMP/ultrasound in their laws. So, in Arizona when HB 2036 reads “Gestational age means the age of the unborn child as calculated first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman,” it means what doctors everywhere call 20 weeks. As much as I disagree with the bill, at least they have their terminology correct.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which I assume uses the correct medical terminology (i.e. 20 weeks = 20 weeks by LMP/ultrasound), as of April 1, 2012 there are 7 states with a 20 week gestational age limit: Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. Arizona will be the 8th. Despite reports to the contrary, it is clear that Arizona is not imposing the most restrictive gestational age and given the wording in Georgia the Peach State will not be joining Arizona among the 20-week fetal elite.
Imposing gestational age limits is wrong. There are unfortunate circumstances where lethal or very severe anomalies are not detected until the 3rd trimester. I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell a woman who is pregnant with a baby who has no brain and a single eye like a cyclops that she has to go to term. I heard one woman in such a devastating situation say, “It was as if a little bit of me died inside every time some stranger asked when I was due to deliver.” Women don’t ever have late-term abortions out of convenience or on some kind of whim, they have them because of horrible, terrible, genetic calamities. Fortunately, with modern prenatal testing these later diagnosis are becoming rare, but they still happen.
I personally think the lawmakers in Georgia were aiming for a “real” 20 week bill, but were so deer-in-the-headlights about fetal pain!and 20 weeks! and life at fertilization! that they forgot to do any basic research. And that’s exactly who you want writing bills, not scholarly lawmakers who have thoughtfully researched a subject and consulted the experts, but douchebags competing to pass the most misogynistic, evidence-baseless legislation in a bizarre game of one-upmanship. It’s even more concerning because lawmakers are encroaching in the practice of medicine with this misinformation.
With states like Georgia using inaccurate terminology discussions can get confusing. But it is essential to make sure we are using the accurate medical terminology so we can all compare apples with apples, because for me pro-choice is pro facts.