States Took the War on Uteruses to the Next Level in 2015

This Year, States Took the War on Uteruses to the Next Level

Nearly 400 bills were introduced, and 57 of them became law.

—By     Mother Jones  12.30.15

 Reproductive rights took a beating in 2015. According to a year-end report released by the Center for Reproductive Rights, nearly 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced across the country in 2015, up from 335 provisions introduced in 2014. The bills ranged from regulation of medication abortions to all-out bans on the most common method of second-trimester abortions, and the Guttmacher Institute reports 57 of them were enacted. The few pieces of good news can be found in access to contraceptives: Oregon became the first state this year to expand access to birth control medication by offering it over the counter for up to a year’s supply, and California passed a law that allows women to get birth control directly from a pharmacist.

In the final days of 2015, Gov. Cuomo in New York signed legislation that permits pregnant women to enroll in the state’s health insurance exchange at any point during the year by making pregnancy a “qualifying life event.” For everyone without a qualifying life event, enrollment is only available from October through December. New York is the first state to pass such legislation.

But generally, the good news has been limited. Here are some of the most impactful state restrictions that became law this year—and that are likely to affect millions of women of reproductive age:

Medication abortion restrictions: Arkansas’ HB 1578 requires providers to tell patients that the effects of the “abortion pill“—a drug called mifepristone, or RU-486, which is used in conjunction with another pill that is taken at home—can be reversed. This claim has been refuted by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and in medical studies. In the same measure, abortion counselors are required to include in their sessions inaccurate information about fetal pain during the procedure and women’s mental health problems after it. Multiple studies have debunked the claim that most women regret their abortions after the fact.

The state Legislature in Arkansas, which was ranked the second-worst state for women’s and children’s well-being by the Center for Reproductive Rights for its mass of restrictions this year, also passed laws banning telemedicine when it’s used for medication abortion. The technology—involving video conferencing and an automated drawer that pops out and contains the medication—has allowed physicians to administer mifepristone remotely. This method is particularly beneficial for women who live in rural parts of the state and cannot afford the time or money to drive to a clinic in a metropolitan area.

Arkansas implemented an additional restriction on medication abortion that requires doctors prescribing mifepristone to adhere to the original FDA-approved dosage. This sounds reasonable, but it actually decreases the effectiveness of the drug and increases the likelihood of nasty side effects. (Molly Redden reported on increased restrictions around medication abortion in Mother Jones‘ September/October issue.) Idaho also passed laws banning telemedicine specifically when it’s used for medication abortions by requiring physicians to be physically present while administering mifepristone. Doctors who administer the medication must also have admitting privileges at local hospitals or a written transfer agreement with another doctor who does have those privileges. These requirements often disqualify physicians from being able to offer abortion services.

Unprecedented bans against the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions: In April, Kansas passed legislation that made it the first state to explicitly restrict the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions. The wording of the law is ambiguous and does not use medical language—for example, it refers to the fetus as an “unborn child”—and it bans what is referred to as “dismemberment abortion.” In the law, the procedure is defined as “knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus.” The focus of the law appears to be on the use of the dilation and evacuation method, a method considered by medical professionals to be the safest way to terminate a pregnancy, and which is used in most abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. A Kansas district court judge, Larry Hendricks, blocked the law less than a week before it was to take effect, and the Kansas Court of Appeals heard oral arguments regarding the law’s constitutionality in early December. However, because the case is being presented before all the appeals judges rather than the traditional three-judge panel, the timing for a final ruling is uncertain.

Oklahoma passed a similar law targeting dilation and evacuation abortions, using even more gruesome language. The law defines “dismemberment abortion”—a popular term among “right to life” advocates—as ” purposely dismember[ing] a living unborn child and extract[ing] him or her one piece at a time from the uterus through use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slice, crush, and/or grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body to cut or rip it off.” A temporary injunction in October was also applied by a judge in this case, and the law is pending a final ruling.

Waiting periods: North Carolina extended the waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours, tripling the time between state-mandated abortion counseling and actually receiving an abortion. All 12 states in the Southeast have state laws that mandate a waiting period, with the exception of Florida, which tried to pass a 24-hour waiting period this year, but the law was blocked by a circuit court judge and is pending a final ruling. Oklahoma also passed a law that expanded the state’s 24-hour mandatory waiting period to 72 hours.

Tennessee Legislature scales back abortion access: Amendment One, which passed in late 2014, amended the Tennessee state constitution to declare that it does not protect a woman’s right to an abortion or funding for abortions (despite the well-known fact that state and federal dollars cannot legally be used to fund abortion, anyway). The amendment, which was one of the most expensive ballot measures in the state’s history, gave state lawmakers more power to control abortion access and opened the door to a number of restrictive measures in 2015. Twelve bills restricting abortion access were presented before the Legislature this year, including a mandatory 48-hour waiting period. Also in Tennessee, a woman who attempted to self-induce a miscarriage in her bathtub after 24 weeks of pregnancy now faces a first-degree attempted murder charge.

Less than six months after Amendment One was approved, Tennessee also passed a law requiring clinics performing more than 50 surgical abortion procedures per year to meet standards of ambulatory surgery center, which basically amount to hospital standards. This is an example of a TRAP law (short for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), which focus not on women seeking abortions but on the practitioners who provide them. The additional construction, infrastructure, and maintenance costs can bankrupt these providers, as Mother Jones has previously reported.

Parental consent: By adding yet another requirement, Arkansas’ lawmakers tightened restrictions for women under the age of 18 who are seeking an abortion without parental consent. In order to waive the state’s parental-consent requirement, these young women must go through a judicial bypass procedure in which they appear before a judge to receive permission to have the procedure. But they now must also undergo an “evaluation and counseling session with a mental health professional” so that a judge can rule whether there is “clear and convincing evidence” that a minor is mature enough for the procedure and that an abortion is in her best interests.  The law does not mandate any kind of time limit on the court proceedings, so it’s possible a slow-moving petition could delay a teen’s pregnancy until it is illegal for her to go through with the abortion. The law also requires that a minor file the petition in a court in the county where she resides, further compromising her privacy.

Ban after 20 weeks: This year, West Virginia became the 15th state to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Although the governor vetoed the legislation, the state Legislature overrode his veto and passed the bill into law. The law is especially restrictive, offering no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, and it only provides a highly limited exception for women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy or for fetal abnormalities. Arkansas lawmakers passed a similar ban on abortions after 12 weeks, but the measure was struck down in the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. “By banning abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation, the act prohibits women from making the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy at a point before viability,” the appeals court said.

Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, said that even though 2015 was a tough year, it could get worse in 2016. “In 2016, abortion restrictions are again expected to be on the front burner in many state legislatures,” Nash said. “It does not appear that the pending US Supreme Court case is slowing down abortion opponents. We expect to see a host of abortion restrictions in 2016, including restrictions related to medication abortion, bans on abortion in the second trimester and TRAP laws including the disposal of aborted tissue.”

Becca Andrews is an editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Before moving to the Bay Area to attend UC-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, she worked for newspapers in the Nashville area. Follow her at @kbeccaandrews or email her at bandrews@motherjones.com.

Bill Cosby To Face Criminal Charges For Sexual Assault

Bill Cosby To Face Criminal Charges For Sexual Assault
by Zack Ford  ThinkProgress   12.30.15

Bill Cosby -Credit AP/Phelan M EB

Bill Cosby -Credit AP/Phelan M EB

Prosecutors announced Wednesday morning that Bill Cosby will face criminal charges for a sexual assault he allegedly committed in 2004 against a former Temple University employee. He is expected to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.

Kevin Steele, First Assistant District Attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, explained the charges at a press conference. The statute of limitations in such cases is 12 years and has not yet expired. A new investigation opened this summer found that Cosby established a relationship with the victim. The victim, Steele explained, “came to consider Mr. Cosby her mentor and her friend.” Before the night in question, he previously made two sexual advances that she rejected. The night of the violation, he encouraged her to take pills with wine, and then sexually assaulted her, the prosecutor alleged.

The official charge is “aggravated indecent assault,” a felony under Pennsylvania law. According to the official criminal docket, the charges include assault without consent, assault while complainant is unconscious or unaware, and assault that includes impairing the complainant. Steele explained that similar accusations from other women about Cosby’s use of Quaaludes was a “significant factor” that prompted officials to consider the charges.

Though more than 50 women have accused the comedian of sexual assault, this will be the first time that Cosby actually faces criminal charges. He previously settled a civil suit with the victim, Andrea Constand, after authorities declined to press charges. In that case, Cosby admitted to giving women Quaaludes to facilitate having sex with them.

Cosby has denied the many accusations against him, and has even filed countersuits against seven of the women who have claimed he sexually assaulted him, calling them liars.

The Kinky Sex Lives of Insects

From Lehmiller.com

Video: The Kinky Sex Lives of Insects
October 28, 2015

“Sex in insects is more interesting than sex in people.” – Marlene Zuk

birds, bees, & flies

birds, bees, & flies

In this fascinating and humorous TED talk, evolutionary biologist Dr. Marlene Zuk offers a look into the sexual practices of a wide range of insects, from dragonflies to honey bees to kadydids to ants. Zuk reveals that insects break many of the rules we think we know about male and female mating practices. In fact, this video will undoubtedly lead many views to question some of their most fundamental ideas and assumptions about what’s “normal” and “natural” when it comes to sex and mating.

Gloria Steinem Dedicates Book To The Doctor Who Changed Her Life

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who had an illegal abortion when she was 22 years old, dedicated her most recent book to the doctor who performed that procedure for her.

Steinem’s book My Life on the Road, which recounts her lifetime of travel and activism, opens with a dedication to Dr. John Sharpe, the doctor who helped Steinem end a pregnancy in London in 1957. At the time, elective abortion was still criminalized In England, but Steinem was desperate to avoid going through with the pregnancy and ultimately tying herself to a man who wasn’t right for her.

In the book’s dedication, Steinem writes that Dr. Sharpe referred her for an abortion at “considerable risk” to himself, and asked her to promise something in return:

Knowing that she had broken an engagement at home to seek an unknown fate, he said, “You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.”

Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I’ve done the best I could with my life.

This book is for you.

In a recent interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Steinem said she also attempted some of the “foolish things” that women of her generation did to terminate an unwanted pregnancy in the absence of legal abortion rights, including throwing herself down the stairs.

“I just knew that if I went home and married, which I would’ve had to do, it would be to the wrong person; it would be to a life that wasn’t mine, that wasn’t mine at all,” Steinem said in that interview. “It seems to me that every child has the right to be born loved and wanted, and every person has the right to control — male and female — to control their own bodies from the skin in.”

Research has confirmed that many women in the United States choose to end pregnancies for similar reasons. According to a qualitative study from the Guttmacher Institute, most women who have abortions say that they could not afford a baby, they did not want to be a single mother, or they did not want to have a child amid serious relationship problems with their partner.

There’s also evidence that reproductive health options are critical for allowing women to pursue their goals over the course of their lifetime. Women say that the ability to plan and space their pregnancies gives them the freedom to work toward becoming financially independent or getting a college degree.

Steinem wasn’t open about her decision to have an abortion until years later, when she was in her mid-30s and working as a reporter for New York magazine. She told Gross that, as she was covering an abortion speak-out and listening to other women talking about their own decisions to have illegal procedures, she suddenly realized that she wasn’t alone.

India’s Daughter & Rape Culture

[Two articles below about India’s Daughter film of 2012 rape in India]

India’s Daughter review – this film does what the politicians should be doing

By Sonia Faleiro, author of 13 Men The Guardian, March 5, 2015

gbviolprotest India’s Daughter is director Leslee Udwin’s stirring documentation of a crime that triggered what she has described as “an Arab Spring for gender equality” in India.

The December 2012 Delhi bus gang rape resulted in the death of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh at the hands of six men. The men threw Singh and her male friend out of the bus before gleefully divvying up the pair’s belongings.

One rapist got a pair of shoes, another scored a jacket. There was, however, an item that Singh had left behind which the men didn’t want. So they wrapped the innards they had wrenched out of her in their frenzy of violence in a piece of cloth, and pitched it through the window. “They had no fear,” Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus and one of four men to be convicted for Jyoti’s rape and murder, tells Udwin.

The interview with Mukesh Singh, whose death sentence is currently in appeal, is a coup for Udwin, who is the first journalist ever allowed to talk to him, or any of the men. She will likely be the last. Yesterday the authorities banned the film in India after claiming that Udwin had failed to get the requisite permissions. Shortly afterwards the parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu described the film as “an international conspiracy”.

Naidu’s allegation is bewildering, given that the film reveals little that is new either about the crime, or the mindset of the man convicted of it.

Journalists have reported on the rape in detail. And surely it comes as no surprise that someone who participated in a gang-rape and is now on death row will place blame just about anywhere it might stick in the hope of a reprieve – the grinding poverty that he was born into, the overbearing nature of his older brother, who is believed to have masterminded the assault, even his victim.

A whining Singh comes off as genuinely unconvinced that he should be in jail. “She should just be silent and allow the rape,” says Singh, implying that if Jyoti had only done the right thing and let the men take from her what was theirs – her body – she would still be alive today.

In fact audiences, in India at least, are unlikely to flinch at anything Udwin has to show them. If she thinks that she is holding up a mirror, she should know that Indians have been looking into it for some time now and are as eager for reform as those outside India demanding it on their behalf.

Even the statements of the two lawyers for the men, in which they describe women in terms as disparate as diamonds, food, and flowers – objects all, of course – before finally admitting that “in our culture there is no place for women” will sound familiar.

But it is the dismaying familiarity of the views expressed by Singh and his lawyers – which are now mainstream in India, echoed by everyone from politicians to high school students – that makes this essential viewing. Some will argue that the unapologetic misogyny revealed in these interviews is a skewed representation of the Indian male mindset. But it is, in fact, widespread.

Delhi protest

‘No rape’ message during a demonstration in New Delhi. Photo Mahesh Kumar/AP

 Singh’s interview also confirms that Indian jails restrain; they do not rehabilitate. It is obvious, given the views he expresses to Udwin, that were he to be released today he would walk the streets of Delhi still convinced of the lopsided inevitability of relationships between men and women: what men want, women must promptly give, even at the pain of death.

Udwin has opted for a tight focus, but some viewers may wish that she had embraced a broader view of the rape crisis in India. The country’s history of anti-rape agitation, for example.

The protests that followed the death of Jyoti Singh may have been the largest against rape, but they were certainly not the first. Earlier high-profile crimes such as the 1972 Mathura custodial rape case also led to legal reform, and laid the groundwork for the development of the protest constituency that filled Delhi’s political corridor from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate that December, in what ultimately turned into a war zone of tear gas, lathi strikes, and police violence.

But Udwin, like any good field reporter, doggedly pursues this one case from start to present, unable to tear herself away even for a minute. Her intimate focus allows for a more affecting narrative.

Jyoti Singh’s parents emerge as superheroes, radiating courage and strength. Her father Badri Singh, then an airport loader, comes across as exactly the sort of modern, forward-thinking, male feminist that India would be so lucky to have many millions more of. And her mother, Asha, who says of Jyoti’s birth “we celebrated like she was a boy”, was surely the propeller that allowed her daughter’s soaring ambitions to take flight.

Udwin skilfully contrasts the light in Singh’s young life with the darkness that engulfed the lives of her rapists.

The Singhs were poor, but they cared for their children fiercely. Jyoti, their only daughter, grew up well-adjusted and focused, but also deeply empathetic. One of her friends recalls that after the police picked up a street urchin for snatching her purse, Singh, rather than berating the boy, took him aside and asked him what made him do it. Because I want what you have, he said – shoes, jeans, a hamburger. Singh, recalled her friend, promptly took the boy shopping and bought him everything on his wish list. Her only stipulation was that he not steal again.

The word “happy” repeatedly comes up in reference to Jyoti. She was happy, said Asha Singh. She had only six months of her internship left, recalled Badri Singh. “Happiness was a few steps ahead.”

In contrast, the six men who would take Singh’s life appear never to have encountered happiness. The juvenile left his home in a village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh when he was just 11 years old and didn’t return. His mother thought him dead. The others were familiar with poverty and violence. In turn, they were violent towards others. “There is nothing good about him,” Singh says of one his co-conspirators. Of another he admits: “He was capable of anything.”

A psychiatrist in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where Singh is lodged, tells Udwin that he knows of rapists who have committed as many as 200 rapes before they are ever caught. Two hundred rapes that they remember, that is.

Given Singh’s own statements it isn’t a stretch to say that had the men got away with raping and killing Jyoti, they would have raped and killed again. Or, that neither Singh’s mindset nor even the manner of the rape, during which an iron rod was inserted into Jyoti, was, as the court declared in its judgment, truly “the rarest of the rare”. As recently as February this year, a woman was gang-raped by nine men in Rohtak, Haryana for over three hours. The men violated her with bricks and asbestos sheets. Sticks, stones and condoms were found stuffed in her private parts.

India’s Daughter doesn’t malign India, but Naidu’s statement about a “conspiracy” does demonstrate, with an acute lack of self-awareness, what lies at the heart of the nation’s rape crisis.

Naidu isn’t implying that rape is shameful; but that talking about rape is shameful because it draws attention to the fact that it happens at all. This fear is exactly what prevents rape victims from filing police complaints, and, as a result, emboldens rapists to strike again and again. In fact, Udwin has done what India’s politicians should rightfully be doing: investigating rape cases thoroughly and discussing them openly.

While eloquently expressing his love for his daughter, Badri Singh tells Udwin: “I wish that whatever darkness there is in the world should be dispelled by this light.”

The Indian government has thwarted his wishes. By banning this documentary it has deprived the Singhs of the opportunity to share the story of their daughter widely within India. In attempting to push a conversation about rape back into the closet, it has stigmatised the subject further. It has done more damage to India’s reputation, and, far worse, the fight against rape, than any film ever could.

****

 

Why India gang-rape film row is extraordinary

By Soutik Biswas  BBC Delhi correspondent  03.05.15

A documentary by a British film-maker on the 2012 gang rape and murder of a female student in Delhi has kicked up a storm in India.

The courts have issued an injunction stopping it from being shown in India, and the home minister has promised an inquiry into the making of the documentary.

The film and the row it has generated are extraordinary for four main reasons.

Incredible access

British producer Leslee Udwin gained some of the most extraordinary and rare access that any film-maker has ever had inside an Indian prison.

She interviewed convicted rapist Mukesh Singh for 16 hours over three days. She says the crew was given permission by the jail authorities and the ministry of home affairs.

Activist Kavita Krishnan wondered how Udwin was allowed access to convicts inside jail when authorities “prevent most human rights campaigners in India from speaking to, let alone filming, prisoners”.

The hour-long film also includes extensive interviews of the victim’s parents, families of the convicts and their lawyers, interspersed with reconstruction of the incident.

Remorseless rapist

Mukesh Singh, who is facing the death penalty along with three others, expressed no remorse and blamed the victim for fighting back.

Times Now news channel promptly took the lead in whipping up a campaign against the film, which it has described as “voyeuristic” and against “all norms of journalism”.

Some media analysts believe this has more to do with the channel’s rivalry with NDTV, which had the rights to broadcast the film.

Critics of the film have variously accused it of glorifying the rapist by giving him a platform, encouraging copycat crimes, or prejudicing the appeals of the rapists and spurring demands to fast-track their executions.

Others have been outraged that Indian audiences have been “exposed to the remarks of such a brutal man” on prime-time news. Although, it has to be said, Indians are accustomed to some pretty shocking stuff on prime-time news.

Official outrage

A Delhi court has blocked the film “until further orders” after police said Mukesh Singh’s “offensive and derogatory remarks” were “creating an atmosphere of fear and tension with the possibility of public outcry and law and order situation”.

A cynical friend suggests most of this outcry and potential danger to the law and order situation is confined to the TV studios and social media.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has promised an inquiry into how the prison authorities gave permission to the film-maker and said he was “deeply shocked” by the interview.

Some say India has sadly become a country of bans – films, books, and in a recent case, even beef.

It is not clear though whether the film’s ban was provoked by a touchy Indian government led by the image-conscious Prime Minister Narendra Modi or because the home ministry was embarrassed.

Free speech

Many believe that the ban on the film hurts India’s reputation most.

When Mr Modi is trying hard to spruce up India’s global image as a favoured destination to invest and visit, such ham-fisted and impulsive reactions cannot really help.

“It is patronising to control what people see about their own country,” an American artist said on my Twitter timeline.

“Nobody sensible is suggesting banning the film,” says writer Salil Tripathi. “That is wrong”.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Senior minister Venkaiah Naidu talks about a “conspiracy to defame India” and says the “country will be harmed if Ms Udwin’s documentary is broadcast outside India”.

Many believe India’s image will be harmed because India’s government is not seen to be supportive of free speech, and not because of Mukesh Singh’s odious remarks.

Why don’t they let Indians watch the film and make up their minds about it? Why can’t the state be less paternalistic?

Battle Of Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman’s Body Transformed Her Family Into Political Activists

The Battle Over A Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman’s Body Transformed Her Family Into Political Activists

by Tara Culp-Ressler March 2, 2015   ThinkProgress

Munoz2

Erick Munoz, center, husband of Marlise Munoz is escorted by attorneys. AP Photo/Tim Sharp

National media may have moved on from last year’s battle over whether Marlise Muñoz, known in headlines as the “brain-dead pregnant woman,” was allowed to be released from life support in Texas last year — but her family hasn’t. In a new documentary, they’ll have a chance to talk about their journey from grieving loved ones to political activists, as well as the complex issues animating their cause.

Tentatively titled The Pregnancy Exclusion, the forthcoming documentary has been filming over the past year in the hopes of giving the family a different and more expansive kind of platform.

“After January, when Marlise had been taken off life support, it was suddenly like — poof! — the story was over. But they felt like they had been through the wringer and their story was not over,” director Rebecca Haimowitz told ThinkProgress. “It’s a story that deserved to be given more attention, and shown in a way that delves into all the complexities of the issue and really humanizes it.” Haimowitz is currently working on raising money for the film’s production costs.

It’s no wonder the story captured national attention at the time. The Muñoz family waited two months before they could bury Marlise’s body, an act of closure that was denied to them because Marlise was pregnant when she died. After she suffered a massive blood clot and was pronounced brain dead, the hospital refused to take her off the respirator — citing an obscure state law that stipulates Texas may not remove “life-sustaining treatment” from a pregnant woman, even if that goes against her end-of-life wishes. Although Marlise was legally deceased, officials wanted to keep her hooked up to machines until the fetus that she was carrying could be delivered.

The family’s saga went on for weeks, as Marlise’s husband and parents told the press how painful it was to watch her body slowly decompose as she remained breathing with the help of a ventilator. Eventually, a federal judge ruled in the Muñozes’ favor, determining that the hospital could not apply the law in this situation because Marlise was already dead. One year later, however, the controversy over the rights of pregnant women is being renewed.

Just last week, a Texas lawmaker introduced a bill in direct response to the Muñoz case that would appoint legal representation for fetuses in future disputes over whether pregnant women should remain hooked up to life support. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Matt Krause (R), says his proposal will “give the pre-born child a chance to have a voice in court.” If the measure advances to a legislative hearing, the Muñoz family is planning to testify against it.

Marlise’s relatives are also readying legislation of their own. Before Texas’ legislative sessions ends on March 13, they’re planning to partner with a different lawmaker to announce an effort to change the current law regarding pregnant women’s end-of-life wishes.

The competing legislation could dredge up the same issues that arose over the high-profile battle for Marlise’s body. Reproductive rights proponents condemned the hospital’s actions as frightening and dehumanizing, decrying Texas for using a dead woman’s body to incubate a fetus, while anti-abortion groups lamented the fact that the federal judge didn’t fight to protect the unborn child.

But the issue doesn’t fall neatly along the traditional battle lines in the abortion rights debate. Marlise’s family members have always maintained that their quest to honor her end-of-life wishes wasn’t “about pro-life or pro-choice.” They said Marlise never wanted to be hooked up to machines, and they wanted to honor her memory — and say goodbye.

Haimowitz agrees, and says that’s why she was compelled to focus on the case. She was interested in using the documentary format to bring more nuance to the complicated questions surrounding bodily autonomy, pregnant women’s rights, and the far-reaching consequences of laws that are framed in terms of fetuses.

“I think a lot of people, when they hear about this case, they tend to think it’s a really black or white issue. But actually, one of the biggest questions this film asks is — who do you think should have the right to make this choice?” Haimowitz said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about the film who start off by saying, I want you to know I’m pro-life, and I don’t believe in abortion, but I feel really strongly that the government overstepped its bounds in thinking it could make this choice for this family.”

Haimowitz is hoping to finish her project next year, and is optimistic that it might spark more conversation about the issue of gender-based discrimination in advanced directive laws. Right now, more than 30 states have a “pregnancy exclusion” in their policies governing wills, advanced directives, and end-of-life care. These laws ensure that women don’t have the same freedom to plan for their deaths as men do, because their wishes may be invalidated if they become pregnant.

“The security that people are given by being able to write wills, make out advanced health care directives, make plans for their families is very important,” Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told ThinkProgress. “It’s one of many laws that really make it clear that there really is a second-class status for people who have the capacity for pregnancy.”

Paltrow’s organization closely tracks the impact of fetal harm laws on women. In addition to pregnancy exclusion laws, there are other ways that carrying a fetus makes women more vulnerable to gender-specific legal scrutiny. Overly broad “fetal protection” or “unborn victims of violence” laws allow states to prosecute pregnant women for activities that allegedly harmed their pregnancy, like using drugs or attempting suicide. In states with these laws on the books, unexpected health events like miscarriages or stillbirths can put women at risk of being charged with doing something to provoke the pregnancy loss. In 2013, Paltrow and her colleague Jeanne Flavin published a study that confirmed these laws are being used not to protect pregnant women from crimes committed against them, but rather to target those women themselves for prosecution.

Many Americans simply aren’t aware that these policies exist, according to Paltrow, and are really surprised to discover that so many states don’t have to honor a pregnant woman’s end-of-life wishes. Cases like Marlise Muñoz’s are bringing more awareness to the controversial legal precedent of discriminating against people who become pregnant, as well as providing a powerful illustration of the ways in which laws that target women can end up hurting entire families.

Haimowitz echoed that sentiment. She wasn’t aware that so many states had pregnancy exclusion laws on the books until the Muñoz case unfolded in the headlines. “The idea that the state could have that control over someone’s body, even over their dead body, was just shocking to me,” she said.

As the information becomes disseminated more widely, Americans are increasingly motivated to action; in addition to the upcoming legislation in Texas, lawmakers in Wisconsin have already proposed a bill to repeal the pregnancy exclusion in that state’s advanced directive policies. Haimowitz, who interviewed Paltrow for her forthcoming film, hopes her documentary might be an agent for that type of change.

“I think a good documentary film will really humanize a social issue in a way that few other things can,” she said. “Next year is an election year and I think people should be talking about this issue, and I think a documentary would be an excellent vehicle to get them talking about it again.”

Every Sperm Is Sacred

 There are Jews in the world, there are Buddhists,
there are Hindus and Mormons and then
there are those that follow Mohammed  -but-
I’ve never been one of them. -Monty Python

The movie “Sacred Sperm” is described as:

“A personal journey of the director Or Yashar, an orthodox religious Jew after one of the most difficult and Important prohibitions in Judaism – the “waste of Sperm” that for its violation there is almost no forgiveness or atonement. The film creates a daring first exposure on the way parents, rabbis, teachers, pedagogues and therapists within the Orthodox Hasidic Jewish Community educating their male children from infancy to adolescence, to avoid spilling their sperm.”

“According to the Talmud, male self-pleasure is forbidden, as it wastes the seeds of potential life.”

&&&&&&

Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

Let the heathens spill theirs, on the dusty ground.
God shall make them pay for each sperm that can’t be found.

Let the pagans spill theirs on mountain hill and plain.
God shall strike them down for each sperm that’s spilled in vain.

Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is good,
every sperm is needed, in your neighborhood,
Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

Hindu, Taoist, Mormon, spill theirs just anywhere
but God loves those who treat their semen with more care.

God needs everybodies, mine, and mine, and mine.
Let the pagans spill theirs on mountain hill and plain.
God shall strike them down for each sperm that’s spilled in vain.

Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is good,
every sperm is needed, in your neighborhood,
Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

Full Lyrics (From Monty Python)

‘Sacred Sperm’, Religion & Taboos

‘Sacred Sperm’ Film Explores Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Taboos

AP By Tia Goldenberg  Published by the Huffington Post

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who's the cutest of them all?

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who’s the cutest of them all?

JERUSALEM (AP) – Like so many parents, Ori Gruder was grappling with how to talk to his 10-year-old son about sex. Being a member of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious community, which tends to keep discussions of sexuality to a whisper, made the task even more difficult.

So Gruder created “Sacred Sperm,” an hour-long documentary in which he tries to tackle the hard questions he can expect from his son. The film presents an intimate, informative and at times awkward look at the insular religious community and its approach to sexuality, fleshing out deeply entrenched taboos in the conservative society.

“What is it about that little sperm that looks like a tadpole and has everyone so hot and bothered?” Gruder ponders in his narration of the film.

Gruder, a 44-year-old father of six who once worked for MTV Europe and didn’t become religious until age 30, gives the viewer a rare peek into private ultra-Orthodox lives, taking the camera into his own home, into ritual baths and circumcision ceremonies, to the religious school system and more.

"Sacred Sperm"  (AP Photo/Gliad Kavalerchik)

“Sacred Sperm” (AP Photo/Gliad Kavalerchik)

The film already has been shown in Jerusalem, London and California and is touring the U.S. festival circuit, including Atlanta on Feb. 15.

It begins with a visit to a rabbi, who grants Gruder his blessing to create the movie but implores him to do so “modestly.” Gruder’s wife expresses reservations about the project because it could elicit unwanted attention from the community.

“Maybe that’s why I should do it, because people don’t talk about it,” Gruder responds.

Under Orthodox Judaism, masturbation is forbidden, seen as a violation of an age-old covenant with God that promotes and encourages procreation. Sex is viewed as a sacred act and intercourse is permissible only after marriage.

“One who spills his seed literally kills his sons,” Prosper Malka, one rabbi interviewed in the film, tells Gruder.

Gruder explains the theological reasoning behind the Jewish ban on spilling sperm: “The reproductive organ is called the ‘covenant.’ Spilling one’s seed is called ‘damaging the covenant.’ And abstaining from masturbation is called ‘guarding the covenant.'”

While other world religions such as Roman Catholicism take a similarly dim view of masturbation and premarital sex, the film makes clear how much more ultra-rigorous the ultra-Orthodox Jews are. They live strictly regulated lives according to Jewish law that governs everything from diet to dress. Procreation is seen as a “mitzvah,” or commandment from God. For this reason, large families are common in Orthodox communities.

But talking freely and openly about sex is taboo. Many Orthodox Jews do not touch members of the opposite sex except their spouses, and the sexes are usually separated in school and prayer. Sex education is largely not taught in schools, although young brides and grooms are given counseling before they wed.

Gruder brings viewers into an education session for a soon-to-be-married young man, in which the perplexed bridegroom is told that “all positions are permitted, but our sages tend to say that the best way is for the husband to be on top of the wife.”

The film details the precautions that many ultra-Orthodox men take to prevent themselves from becoming aroused. It’s not merely a matter of averting their eyes from women.

One rabbi, longtime friend Yisrael Aharon Itzkovitz, holds up his baggy white underpants – and explains he buys them a few sizes too big, because snug-fitting undies might stimulate the wearer by accident. Many ultra-Orthodox men do not touch themselves when they urinate, Itzkovitz explains, even if that means they misfire.

Gruder describes his own journey from secular to Orthodox Jew, recounting the guilt he felt knowing that he previously had sinned. To repent, he said he has taken seemingly countless ritual baths, fasted, given to charity and rolled around naked in snow at a ski resort in northern Israel. He said that was a purifying experience.

Judaism expert Menachem Friedman said the movie, which was shot in Israel and Ukraine, offered a unique “anthropological window” into the ultra-Orthodox world. “It is about a very intimate subject which nobody talks about,” he said.
Gruder expressed hope that the film would help ultra-Orthodox Jews to become better understood by outsiders.

“It’s a first look into a keyhole that needs to be opened more,” he said.

Lawmakers Nationwide Launch Concerted Assault on Women’s Rights

Lawmakers Nationwide Launch Concerted Assault on Women’s Rights

Since the start of the year, anti-choice bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country.

by Deirdre Fulton  Common Dreams   February 20, 2015

"As an increasing number of states pass the same type of restriction on abortion, the anti-choice community is able to declare that the policy is gaining momentum," says Tara Culp-Ressler. (Photo: Karol Olson/flickr/cc)

“As an increasing number of states pass the same type of restriction on abortion, the anti-choice community is able to declare that the policy is gaining momentum,” says Tara Culp-Ressler. (Photo: Karol Olson/flickr/cc)

An array of anti-choice legislation is being rolled out in state houses around the country, putting women’s health at risk and illustrating how Republican gains in the 2014 elections have exacerbated the fight over reproductive rights.

Already, 57 percent of American women of reproductive age live in states that are considered ‘hostile’ or ‘extremely hostile’ to abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world.

That percentage could go up if recent proposals are enacted into law.

In Ohio, for example, lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected—as early as six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy.

In Arkansas on Tuesday, the state Senate approved legislation that would require a physician to be in the room during a chemical abortion and bans telemedicine abortion—a procedure already unavailable in Arkansas.

Just this month, Minnesota legislators have put forth five anti-choice bills, “each designed to make safe abortion less accessible in the state,” writes Nina Liss-Schultz, reporting fellow at RH Reality Check. She explains:

“Two identical bills, SF 800 and HF 607, would bar Medicaid and other public health programs in the state from covering abortion services—policies that would have an outsized impact on low-income women.

… Two other bills, SF 794 and HF 606, also identical, would require free-standing reproductive health facilities that perform ten or more abortions each month to be licensed in the same way as outpatient surgical centers, and would allow the state to inspect those facilities with no notice.

… A fifth bill, HF 734, would require a prescribing physician be physically present when abortion drugs are administered.”

The Senate Health Committee in Arizona recently passed legislation barring women from buying optional abortion coverage on insurance policies purchased through the federal marketplace.

Of such restrictions, Janet Reitman wrote for Rolling Stone earlier this year: “While cutting insurance coverage of abortion in disparate states might seem to be a separate issue from the larger assault on reproductive rights, it is in fact part of a highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception.”

In South Dakota, a conservative lawmaker is pushing graphically worded legislation targeting dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, which may be used in a second-trimester abortion. On Tuesday, the state’s Health and Human Services committee voted 11 to 2 along party lines to approve the bill; now it awaits debate and vote by the full South Dakota house, in which Republicans hold a wide majority.

“If D and E were to be banned, women would have only labor induction or hysterotomy (a mini-cesarean section) as options for second-trimester abortions,” David Grimes, former chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Carole Joffe, professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in an op-ed published Thursday. “These archaic methods were largely abandoned decades ago in the United States.”

They continued:

“The specifics of abortion methods can be unpleasant to the lay public. However, this is true of most operations that remove tissue from the body. Surgeons choose operations based on what is safest and most appropriate for the patient, not on what is pleasant for the surgeon. The same professional standard applies to abortion.

Even if it is an effective strategy for anti-choice activists, considering these methods separately from the women who need abortion care is wrong. D and E abortion should not become a political football. D and E abortion is not a problem, any more than a mastectomy is a problem. Both are solutions to a problem.”

It’s not just Republicans who are to blame for the latest wave of attacks on women’s rights.

In the West Virginia state House, a bipartisan majority, including a majority of Democrats, passed a bill Wednesday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy—similar to extreme legislation withdrawn by Republicans in the U.S. House earlier this year. A similar bill was approved by the majority-Republican state House in South Carolina on the very same day.

And in a separate piece for RH Reality Check, Liss-Schultz notes that as of last week, “Maryland is the latest state dominated by Democratic majorities to see a 20-week abortion ban proposed this year.”

To be sure, such a coordinated assault on reproductive health was expected when Republicans cemented their ‘supermajority‘ in state legislatures during the 2014 midterm elections.

“[B]race yourself for 2015,” Molly Redden wrote at Mother Jones in December 2014. “Next year, Republicans will control 11 more legislative chambers than they did in 2014. Lawmakers in Texas and North Dakota are back in session, and there are no major elections to take up lawmakers’ time or cause them worry about war-on-women attacks.”

The anti-choice approach could be even more convoluted than it appears on the surface, ThinkProgress health editor Tara Culp-Ressler wrote on Thursday.

In several states, such as Arkansas, lawmakers are introducing, debating, and passing anti-abortion laws that have little practical impact on the residents there, Culp-Ressler pointed out.

“There’s…a clear political strategy at play here,” she declared. “As an increasing number of states pass the same type of restriction on abortion, the anti-choice community is able to declare that the policy is gaining momentum. More laws on the books represent an important symbolic victory. And, within the context of that goal, ineffective laws are actually some of the best tools available. They’re less likely to be overturned because they’re harder to challenge in court.”

She added: “Anti-abortion lawmakers are effectively creating a patchwork of laws that ensures U.S. women’s constitutional rights differ depending on where they live.”

What to Do When ‘I Do’ Is Done

What to Do When ‘I Do’ Is Done

LGBT activists and funders are debating the movement’s post-marriage priorities.

By Peter Montgomery  The American Prospect  February 14, 2015

Equal Rights

Equal Rights

In the year and a half since the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, federal and state courts have been overturning laws against marriage by same-sex couples at a dizzying pace, sometimes more than once in a single day. Giddy activists have joked about the challenge of keeping color-coded marriage equality maps up-to-date. News stories about gay couples marrying in places like Oklahoma, Utah, South Carolina, and Idaho are now so common they hardly seem surprising.

With the widely shared expectation that the Supreme Court will soon return to the issue of marriage and may strike down marriage bans nationwide, LGBT leaders find themselves asking a question that would have seemed improbable just a few years ago: What should be the priorities of the LGBT movement once legal marriage equality has been achieved?

The most likely candidate for the kind of coordinated, national- and state-level strategy that fueled the marriage equality campaign is a push to get all LGBT Americans covered by laws barring discrimination against them in employment, housing, health care, and public accommodations. Brutal persecution of LGBT people around the globe, often with the collusion or encouragement of American anti-gay activists, is another growing concern. Those issues are likely to draw support from across the ideological spectrum of LGBT organizations.

Some movement strategists also want to address the effects of economic inequality and institutionalized prejudice on the lives of LGBT people. Efforts to move those issues to the center of LGBT activism, however, may run up against another current: the well-funded effort to make LGBT equality more palatable to Republicans and other conservatives.

Of course, while marriage equality is a reality in 35 states and Washington, D.C., it is not yet a done deal nationally. Lawyers are still staying up all night writing and filing briefs. Equality advocates are still sparring rhetorically, legally, and politically with anti–marriage-equality religious and political leaders who are fighting to the bitter end. And even if the Supreme Court overturns remaining bans and all 50 states turn blue on marriage equality maps, Navajo equality activist Alray Nelson wants it to be known that people living in more than 500 tribal nations will still lack marriage rights.

Still, with those cautions noted, the end does seem to be in sight, and that has LGBT funders and leaders looking ahead, considering what lessons can be drawn from the marriage equality campaign, how to keep LGBT activists and supporters engaged in the movement, and where to direct the energies and resources that have poured into campaigns for marriage equality. “I believe it’s not about pivoting from marriage,” says Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson. “It’s about harnessing the marriage work and success to getting success on other fronts.”

One important accomplishment of the national conversation about marriage is that it has had a humanizing impact on how many Americans view LGBT people, couples, and families. The marriage movement has been “a powerful vehicle to express the shared humanity of LGBT people,” says Janson Wu, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), a Boston-based legal group that has played a key role in both the marriage equality campaign and the broader LGBT equality movement. The resulting advances in overcoming prejudice should support progress on other issues facing LGBT people. “Marriage vocabulary is powerful, connective vocabulary that helps transform people’s understanding,” says Wolfson.

Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Arcus Foundation, agrees that marriage equality campaigns encouraged a humanizing dialogue about LGBT people. The downside, he says, is that marriage has so dominated public conversation that people who aren’t intimately familiar with the LGBT community may think it is the beginning, middle, and end of what the community needs. In reality, he says, “marriage equality will affect a fraction of the LGBT community, and a fraction of a fraction of that movement’s needs.”

The Philosophical and Political Divide

What are those community needs? In October, longtime LGBT strategist Urvashi Vaid received a Spirit of Justice award from GLAD. Vaid ran through a set of issues that are barriers to full-lived equality for many LGBT people, including poverty, racism, misogyny, violence, immigration policies, policing, and detention. While organizations have been working on all those fronts, she said, the LGBT movement lacks sufficient focus on many of these issues, despite the fact that women make up half the LGBT community and people of color a third of it. “The question that confronts the LGBT movement today,” she said, “is whether we are willing to retool our movement to push for the redistribution of economic resources and political power that is needed to change the lived experience of LGBT people in all parts of our very diverse communities.”

Just a couple of weeks later, after Republican victories in the midterm elections, Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, posed a very different question. “This is really a time of choosing for LGBT advocates on the left,” Angelo told the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson. “Do you support the left agenda, or do you actually support equal rights for Americans? Those who fall in the latter category are going to be the ones who are going to be com[ing] to the table with Republicans and find[ing] solutions, ways to pass things, like employment protections for LGBT individuals, that also reach consensus among Republicans.”

The philosophical and political divide reflected in these two approaches, sometimes framed as assimilation versus liberation, is as old as the LGBT movement itself. “The tension between the equality frame and the liberation frame has been present since the moment of Stonewall, if not before,” says Andrew Lane, executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation and advisory board chair of the Movement Advancement Project. In recent years, as the movement has focused on gaining access to institutions such as marriage and the military, some progressive advocates have been frustrated about the lack of attention given to less conventional goals.

Doubts about the marriage equality campaign have been somewhat muted by its successes. But some advocates fear that rhetoric used in the marriage campaign could make it harder to ensure that people in less traditional, nonmarital relationships have legal protections. Nancy Polikoff, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and author of Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, supports marriage equality but says marriage “doesn’t solve anything for people who aren’t married, people who don’t want to get married, or people who have their lives organized around relationships that don’t resemble marriage.” She worries that some of the campaign rhetoric about the unique nature and importance of marriage could make it harder, once marriage equality is achieved, to assert the need to protect all forms of family.

Wu and Vaid both say the movement can and must do both equality and liberation work, and identity politics and progressive organizing. But time and resources are always limited, and the pre-existing fault lines within the LGBT movement may become more visible once marriage is no longer dominating the conversation.

Will Money Talk?

These fault lines could be exacerbated by another characteristic of the marriage equality movement: the emergence of major conservative funders such as hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer and activists such as former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who helped get the Republican votes necessary to pass marriage equality legislation in New York.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to Singer’s American Unity Fund, says the involvement of conservative funders and activists has had “a profoundly positive impact” by changing the perception among Republicans that LGBT equality is only an issue for those aligned with the left. He says that while more than 230 Republican state legislators have stood for the freedom to marry, only a small number have lost their seats. Center-right lawmakers no longer need to see support for LGBT equality as a death knell for their career.

But that’s just one piece of the picture. LGBT journalist Michelangelo Signorile has noted that Singer “backed some of the most anti-gay politicians—and defeated others committed to full LGBT equality—by pouring millions into superPACs and the Republican Governors Association.” Signorile worries that publicity focused on Singer’s support for a handful of pro-equality Republicans may be aimed at making moderate Republicans feel better about voting for the GOP. Meanwhile, he wrote in August, “Singer is undermining LGBT rights—and all progressive causes—by helping opponents of equality win more House races and helping Republicans win control of the Senate.”

Cook-McCormac says the involvement of center-right funders and activists “has fundamentally changed the way the gay rights movement does business.” He means helping achieve bipartisan cooperation on pro-equality legislation. But others worry about the potential that donors could push the movement’s broader agenda to the right. That’s a valid fear, says Get-EQUAL’s Heather Cronk, because money always comes with strings. Urvashi Vaid says of Singer that it is “outrageous to ignore the fact that he is virulently anti-choice and raised millions to oppose the most LGBT-supportive president we have ever had.” She acknowledges that coalition politics is partly about tactical relationships and opportunistic work but is clear that she does not view these conservatives as spokespeople for her or the broader movement.

Peter Montgomery is a senior fellow at People For the American Way Foundation.